Clouds rolled in over the fields surrounding the town of Stavnsdal, rendering it a foreboding ambiance that made Andrea Sachs, who usually went by Andy, hold on harder to the handlebars of her bicycle. The cobble street made it dicey at best to navigate on a bike, but in poor lighting and, God forbid, if it rained, it was downright dangerous. She wanted to look over her shoulder, make sure she wasn't followed, but didn't dare to take her eyes off the street. Andy knew she was late, way too late, and curfew would begin within minutes. This meant the whole town going dark, no street lights, no lights shining out from the windows of the townhouses, and if she was caught with the bicycle light on, she could be arrested.
Then again, if she was late getting back to the department store, Miranda would string her up by her shoelaces and have her for dinner. Andy knew she was pushing it when she pedaled faster. She could see the department store at the center of the main street, and she figured if she just pressed a little harder, she could do it.
The car came out of nowhere. A German military jeep, naturally without its headlights, turned into the street just in front of Andy and she tried to brake, but drove her bicycle into its left back wheel. Everything happened so fast; one resounding thud and she went airborne, hovering above the pale German faces of the men occupying the backseat.
Andy hit the cobble street on the other side of the jeep and for a moment she blacked out. When she looked up, she expected pain to be overwhelming, but she couldn't feel a thing. Four men, all wearing uniform, gazed down at her.
"Fräulein," the highest ranking of them said. "Are you all right?" Andy wasn't sure, but he looked like he held the rank of a major, maybe captain. He looked friendly enough, but she knew better than to trust anyone belonging to the occupying forces. Many good-looking German young men had propositioned her, but so far she had always managed to avoid them. Concerned why she wasn't hurting from the impact with the jeep and the street, Andy carefully moved her legs. They seemed to be working.
"Am I hurt?" she asked the men. "I can't feel anything."
"Your scalp is bleeding, Fräulein." The high-ranking officer pulled out a handkerchief from his pocket. "Here, press this against the wound." He carefully lifted her up, and now the pain hit all at once.
"Oh!" Slumping back, Andy moaned.
"What's your name? Show us your papers and tell us where you live." the officer commanded. "We will drive you home."
"Home?" No, no. Andy thought fast. She couldn't let these men know that she lived alone, seemingly defenseless, in a cottage on the outskirts of the village. "My name is Andrea Sachs. I
was going to my employer. Can you help me to Nordia department store? I would be so grateful. I can fish out my papers once we get there." She motioned toward the makeshift bandage.
"Yes, of course. Right up the street from here?" The officer placed Andy on the front passenger seat. He ordered the young man behind the wheel to go to Nordia.
Andy clung to the seat, pressing the handkerchief to her head with one hand. She was hurting all over, but nothing seemed to be broken. Relieved about that, she was still battling a cold, gutting fear that the soldiers would somehow subject her to a strip search or an interrogation. She refused to even think of what was hidden under the insole of her worn shoes.
The jeep pulled over outside the Nordia department store. As the last remnant of luxury, despite the curfew where its beautiful window displays were covered with large, black drapes, it rose five stories high in the center of Stavnsdal. The department store was located on the first four floors, and Miranda Priestly, its owner, resided on the top fifth floor. She was the daughter of Nordia's founder, Colin Priestly, who'd left London for Stavnsdal seventy-five years ago to marry the mayor's daughter. Now his only child counted almost as royalty, and she was admired and feared by most.
One of the lower ranking soldiers held up the door to the store as the officer helped Andy inside.
Squinting at the suddenly piercing bright light inside the store, Andy tried to look for Emily, the hostess that greeted the customers as they entered the first floor.
"Andy!" Sure enough, Emily's piercing voice grated on Andy's nerves and not to mention her brain, as the hostess approached, her heels clacking hard against the floor. "Ah, gentlemen, what can I do to—Andy, whatever happened to you?"
If Andy's head hadn't hurt so badly, she would've found Emily's tone of voice switch hilarious. "I fell. I mean I hit a car. No, I think the car hit me. I'm not sure." Staggering to the side, Andy tried to find something to sit on.
Emily rushed over to the counter and came back with a wooden stool. Andy's knees gave in and she sat down, holding on tight to the seat with her free hand.
Andy winced at the sound of the low, sonorous voice of her employer. Slowly turning her head, her hand shaking as she kept adding pressure on her scalp, Andy looked at Miranda Priestly with apprehension.
Tall, slender, but curvaceous, with her trademark silver-white hair styled in an elegant, austere twist, Miranda walked up to Andy. She was dressed in her usual dark grey skirt, and white cotton blouse, and now she cupped Andy's chin, gently tipped her head back. "What have you done to this girl?" she asked, her voice still low, but Andy could distinguish the underlying fury.
"It was an accident, Miranda," Andy said. "I didn't see them."
"The girl came speeding down the main street," the officer said. "She is right. It was an accident."
"Very well." Her cool blue eyes not leaving Andy's face, Miranda waved her hand dismissively toward the Germans. "I will deal with this. Auf wiedersehen."
"There is the small matter of filing a report why a young girl was speeding down the center of town at this hour—"
"I see." Miranda finally turned her attention to the officer. "Did she violate any laws?"
"No, not really, but—"
"Did she break curfew?"
"She had a minute or two to go—"
"Then I think we've settled that no reports are required, unless Ms. Sachs wants to press charges?" Miranda turned to Andy. "Andrea?"
"Eh, no. No, of course not. It was an accident." She felt herself begin to slide sideways. "I—I just need to wash up…"
"Very well." The German officer snapped to attention. "I'll leave you to tend to your employee. Guten abend."
"Good night." Emily politely escorted the Germans to the door.
"Andrea. How badly are you hurt?" Miranda supported Andy as she began to slide off the chair. "You probably have a concussion. We need to look at that head of yours. Silly girl, you were going too fast again, weren't you? How many times do I need to tell you to be safe?" The question was clearly rhetorical. "Emily, you close up the store and oversee the cash registers and the safe. I will take care of Andrea upstairs." She helped Andy to stand up. "Can you walk to the elevator, or should I have Roy carry you?" Roy was her driver and chef.
"I can walk." Standing up, the floor seemed unusually uneven and slanting, but Miranda wrapped a steady arm around Andy's waist. As much as her head pounded, Andy felt the touch to her core, and her breathing became labored. Grateful for the support, Andy walked with Miranda to the elevator that took them up to Miranda's floor. Half of the top floor was storage and Miranda's apartment made up the rest. Andy had only visited the hallway and the study, when she handed over the receipts and reports from the sales every day. Now Miranda led her to a door at the far end of the hallway that opened up to a bathroom. White tiles covered the walls and the floor was black and white in checkered pattern. Crisp white towels hung on the wall, helping to make the bathroom look entirely pristine. Andy sat down on the toilet seat with a moan.
"I'll just sit here and rest for a bit before I clean up—"
"And you make absolutely no sense. You need help. If I let you out of my sight, no doubt you're going to pass out and hit the other side of your head."
"Yes. Oh." Shaking her head, Miranda helped Andy take her coat off. She busied herself at one of the cabinets and then approached Andy with a washcloth that she just wrung out under the faucet. "Now let's see what mess you caused your poor head."
Andy didn't want to let go of the handkerchief. She had tried earlier and knew it was stuck to her hair in the most painful way. Now she slowly removed her hand and sure enough, the handkerchief didn't fall off.
Miranda's eyes narrowed, but she didn't look repulsed. Instead she carefully examined the wound, dabbing with the washcloth until she could remove the handkerchief. She tossed it in the sink. "Good news is that it stopped bleeding. Bad news is you're going to need stitches. I will call Dr. Andersen once I've cleaned you up and gotten you into bed."
What? "Bed? What do you mean?" Feeling dazed, Andy tried to focus on Miranda, but she stood so close it was impossible. Her scent, Chanel No 5, filled her senses and Andy dug her nails into her palms to keep from pressing her face into Miranda's neck. She wanted to greedily inhale the enticing perfume and press her lips to the beautiful skin above the modest neckline. This was crazy.
"For heaven's sake, Andrea, you can't stay in that dreary little cottage alone when you're most likely concussed. You need supervision." Miranda kept cleaning the wound, still sounding annoyed, but there was something else, something soft in her eyes and hard around her lips, that Andy found even more confusing. Probably the concussion talking, she surmised.
"Can you start unbuttoning while I go find you a nightgown and give the doctor a quick call?" Miranda didn't wait for a reply, but left the bathroom, her three inch heels clacking against the hardwood floor in the hallway.
Andy fumbled with the buttons of her cardigan, only now noticing that her arms ached a lot. Her right elbow was throbbing and when she pushed the cardigan all the way off, she saw how swollen it was. "Oh, damn." Andy sighed and unbuttoned her light-blue cotton blouse. She wore a white brassier underneath and she'd be damned if she was removing that in front of Miranda. Instead, she unzipped her skirt, but when she tried to stand up the whole bathroom began to spin and she quickly sat down again. Instead she pushed her shoes off. Moving her feet made her right hip begin to hurt even more.
"This will do— Andrea, your elbow!" Miranda rushed into the bathroom, carrying a dark blue nightgown over her arm. "You haven't broken the skin, but I'm glad I got ahold of Dr. Anderson. He is on his way."
"I don't like doctors," Andy muttered.
"Well, I don't really care. He's going to make sure you're all right."
"I just need to…to lie down. Really. I'm just a little dizzy…" The bathroom began to sway.
"Oh, no you don't." Miranda grabbed Andy and pressed her close to her, keeping her from sliding to the floor. "Stay with me now. Andrea, you hear me?"
"I hear, I hear. No need to shout," Andy slurred.
"I'm not taking any chances. We're getting you to the bedroom before you faint and break your lovely neck."
Had Miranda just said "lovely neck" or could concussions make you hallucinate? Andy had no idea and hope this wasn't true. She rather liked Miranda to think any part of her was lovely. Feeling Miranda tug at her arm, Andy blinked and tried to keep her balance. Miranda had to be
stronger than she looked because she hauled Andy to her feet and more or less dragged her out of the bathroom and into the bedroom right across the hallway.
Andy looked at the room, and wondered how a guestroom could look so lived in. Reading glasses sat on the night stand, on top of a pile of books. Silk stockings hung from the back of a chair…this was Miranda's bedroom. Andy flinched and stumbled.
"Here, sit down before you fall over."
A thought of something important, no, crucial pierced Andy's foggy brain. "My shoes. You have to get my shoes."
"I'll get them. Now, sit down."
"No, you don't understand. My shoes. I have to have my shoes. Now."
"God almighty, you must really be concussed, girl." Shaking her head, Miranda left and quickly returned with Andy's discarded shoes and clothes. "There. Happy?"
"Give me the right shoe."
"Clearly not happy yet." Miranda handed over the shoe and watched, looking bemused, as Andy tore the insole out. Underneath it was a small parcel made of waxed paper. Her hand trembling now from pain and fatigue, Andy offered it to Miranda.
"I met up with Fredrik and Mette. They had the new code for tomorrow's broadcast."
"That's why you were…? But you go to the farm on Thursdays." Miranda took the parcel and then tucked it under her blouse into her bra. "Why didn't you let me know?"
"I saw Fredrik in the market, he was selling his vegetables, and he told me they'd gotten word via contacts in Sweden. They've changed their route and schedule again. I needed to act quickly. There wasn't time."
"I see." Miranda stood silent for a few moments. "Good job."
Andy's mouth fell open. Miranda's highest form of praise was normally something along the lines of "that wasn't too shabby," or "I'm not entirely displeased." For her to say "good job," was unheard of. At the age of fifty-one, the beautiful owner of Nordia department store was also the fearless leader of the underground resistance movement for their part of the Danish mainland. With the large city of Aalborg less than 40 kilometers away, it meant being in charge of several large cells. After almost eighteen months, Andy still found it mind-blowing that she was Miranda's aide-de-camp. Andy figured being a young woman who was very proficient with explosives, knew her way around firearms, and who was physically strong, was something of an asset in Miranda's opinion.
"Let me help you out of the skirt and into the nightgown. Dr. Andersen will be here any minute." Miranda didn't wait for Andy to acknowledge her words, but helped her to her feet and pushed down the skirt and the slip Andy wore underneath.
Andy sat down again, shivering. Miranda suddenly wrapped her arms around her, while looking over her shoulder. Andy could hardly breathe as more of the Chanel No 5 perfume wafted toward
her. As Miranda straightened, she held Andy's bra in her hand. Her cheeks just a faint pink, Miranda reached for the nightgown, which was made of a thin, soft cotton fabric, and slipped it over Andy's head. "There. Can't let you get any colder. Now, your stockings. Oh my. They are in a bad way. Did you break the skin on your knees?"
"I—I don't know." It was true. Andy's head pounded with each beat of her heart and her elbow and hip as well. Had she damaged her knees, her body was probably so busy aching everywhere else, there wasn't enough room for any more ache to manifest itself.
Miranda rolled down her thick, and not very stylish, stockings. Who would go for style when it was still so cold despite them being half-way through April? Unless your name was Miranda Priestly and you could afford to use whatever your car ran on and go places in a warm vehicle. Andy had been on several stakeouts with Miranda, though, where the other woman had proved she was by no means only a pampered hothouse flower. Granted, after such events, she spent a whole day at the department store's own beauty salon, but still.
"Looks like you didn't skin your knees, at least. Good." Miranda threw the stockings into a wastepaper basket. "I don't want to see those ugly things on you ever again."
"They're warm…" Andy said, slurring, as Miranda helped her into the bed, covering her up with a sheet and blankets. The bed smelled of Miranda, and not only the Chanel, but of her, her own special scent. Andy rubbed her cheek against the pillow, feeling as if that somehow helped take the sting out of her scalp on the other side of her head. As tired as she was, she was still mindful of not messing up Miranda's expensive bed linen. Andy glanced up at Miranda. She was hovering above Andy, looking closely at her, a slight frown pulling her perfect eyebrows closer together. She looked concerned, and mystified. Andy wondered why, if it had anything to do with her.
The doorbell rang, startling them both.
"That'd be Dr. Andersen," Miranda said and left the room. She returned with a middle-aged balding man who placed a large black bag on the nightstand and gazed down at Andy.
"I see you've done quite some damage to your head, Ms. Sachs," he said brusquely. "Still, nothing we can't fix."
"Good. Stitch me up and get it over with. Please," Andy added as an afterthought. She really disliked having to deal with anyone remotely connected to the medical profession. As a child she had undergone several painful procedures, and now she made a point of staying away from doctors and nurses.
"Not so fast." Dr. Andersen examined her closely, and Andy had to concede that he was fast, thorough, and quite gentle. Still she was grateful that Miranda stayed in the room. She sat on the other side of the bed, not taking her eyes off Andy.
"Does she need stiches?" Miranda asked, as if Andy wasn't even in the room.
"Yes. As for numbing, all I can offer is ether—"
"No." Andy was suddenly completely alert. "I hate the stuff. Makes me throw up and I feel sick for days. "Just do it."
"You don't understand," Dr. Andersen said, drumming his fingers at the nightstand. "It is a matter of at least eight stitches. It will hurt."
"Andrea. Let him use the ether."
"No. I'll throw up all over your pretty bed and not just once. Last time they used ether on me, I threw up for three days and got a migraine that lasted just as long." Andy knew she was starting to hyperventilate, fearing they might force her. "Please, Miranda. Please." She scooted back against the pillows, feeling trapped. "Don't let him," she whispered.
"I don't have time for this kind of drama," Dr. Andersen said and began to pull out instruments.
Miranda moved closer to Andy and took her gently by the shoulders. "Andrea, listen to me. You don't have to. If you can handle the stitches without the ether, then that's what we'll do."
Dr. Andersen huffed, staring at the two women, clearly displeased. "This is not what I advise."
"Perhaps not, but that's the way it's going to be." Miranda's voice left no room for more objections. It was obvious who was in charge, and it wasn't the doctor.
Relieved, Andy placed herself on her side and let the doctor clean and prepare her scalp for the procedure. She was glad that she got to keep her back to him the whole time, facing toward the left side of the bed. Once the doctor announced he was ready to proceed, Miranda shocked Andy by climbing up on the queen size bed, taking both Andy's hands in hers.
"Just focus on me, on my voice, Andrea. If it gets unbearable, tell us, and the doctor will take a little break. Won't you, Doctor?"
"Sure." Dr. Anderson answered grumpily, but Andy trusted Miranda to make sure he did.
"Tell Andrea when you begin so she's prepared."
Andy loved how Miranda pronounced her name. Her English accent came through much more, making it sound so soft. Glancing over at the other pillow, where Miranda rested her head while overseeing the doctor's work, Miranda looked calm and collected as usual.
"You will feel the first stitch go in now," Dr. Andersen said, not sounding grumpy at all, but instead entirely concentrated.
The first stick wasn't so back, nor was the second. When the doctor tied the skin flaps firmly together and pulled, it hurt so much, tears were pouring from Andy's eyes down onto Miranda's pillow. Miranda magically produced a handkerchief, much like the German officer had, but this one was scented and entirely feminine. She silently wiped at Andy's tears. When the fifth stitch was in, Andy was finding it hard to breathe.
"Wait. Wait-wait-wait." She gasped for air. "I'll be all right. Just let me…breathe…"
"You're fine. He's almost done."
"Really? For sure?" Andy stared into Miranda's ice blue eyes, looking for something…something she couldn't even describe to herself. Miranda's flawless complexion, her pink lips added to the stunning beauty and still there was more. Indefinable and esoteric, Andy felt something pass between them and she was stunned when the pit of her stomach clenched as in fear and arousal at the same time. "Miranda…"
"You ready, Andrea?" Miranda placed a gentle hand on Andy's neck and slid it in under her hair.
Andy knew it was only because of Miranda's gentle touch and unwavering eyes that Andy managed to go through the tying of the knots another four times. Afterward she was exhausted. She barely registered when Dr. Andersen told Miranda what she needed to know about Andy's expected recovery. Soon the lamps in Miranda's room were turned off, all but one, and Andy saw she was dressed in a similar nightgown as the one she herself wore.
"I didn't mean to take over your bed like this. Surely you have a guest bed I can use, or a couch?" Andy tried to sit up, but Miranda firmly pushed her back against the soft, luxurious pillows.
"Dr. Andersen explained I need to make sure you don't take a turn for the worse tonight. I don't mind, but I won't spend the night in a chair. I fully intend to sleep in my bed as usual." Miranda folded back the bed sheet and the blankets and slipped in next to Andy.
This stole the last breath Andy had left in her lungs. Without makeup, Miranda looked different, but also softer and more approachable, which Andy knew was an optical illusion. Miranda had taken down her white hair and wore it in a braid down across her left shoulder. It reached almost to her breast— Andy stopped her thoughts right there. Absolutely no way would she graze the thought of Miranda Priestly's breasts. Not even once.
Still, having Miranda so close, and simply knowing she was there, was enough for Andy to relax and let sleep take over. She thought she felt a hand on her shoulder, and a voice whispering, "Just sleep, Andrea. I'll be right here if you need me," but it might just as well have been a dream.
Miranda Priestly kept to strict routines each morning. She always woke up around 6 am, and pulled on a navy blue silk robe. After a quick visit to the bathroom, she had only one thought in her head; coffee. Nowadays, real coffee was damn near impossible to come by, and she had to settle for the coffee substitutes, which taste horrible, but gave her enough caffeine to not be in the mood to kill her entire staff on sight.
After the much needed coffee, she returned to the bathroom and had a quick, steamy bath. She donned her impeccable makeup and swiftly put up her silver-white hair in her trademark style, with one lock almost covering her left eye. She had not been clear on whether to be amused or annoyed when she some of the junior sales women try to copy her. Miranda usually wore a dark skirt and a white cotton blouse, no jewelry, except for a gold watch she inherited from her mother years ago.
Miranda didn't allow herself to become nostalgic or too philosophical, but it was something about mornings, about waking up alone, that sometimes corroded her steely resolve. That's when thoughts of the twins surfaced, and when that happened, Miranda almost felt sorry for her staff, and for her resistance fighters. She would be in such a bad mood, only her business sense would help her remain cordial to customers…and to the Germans.
The Germans. Hitler and everyone who carried out his instructions, his blood thirst and prejudice convictions –Miranda hated them all. She had brought her young girls with her from England to Denmark, but in two years ago, in 1940; she had received words only a few days before April 9
that an invasion might be imminent. Miranda decided to stay in Denmark, but she wanted her girls out, so she sent them back to live with their father in the English countryside. Her former husband had been a lousy husband, but he did love his children and Miranda knew Caroline and Cassidy would be safe. She also knew she would miss them, but she hadn't counted on it feeling like being gutted with a dull knife.
This morning, however, Miranda's normal routine was completely thrown out the window. When she woke up, she flinched as she realized that the weight she'd struggled with was an arm belonging to someone else. Someone who was snuggled up behind her, spooning her closely, like a lover would.
Her mind fuzzy, Miranda tried to figure out if she'd gone too far in her way to lull the Germans' suspicious mind by taking one of them to bed. Just then, the hand belonging to the arm around her waist began to move upward, and Miranda grabbed it quickly, as it neared her right breast. She glanced at the hand. It was decidedly female, well-manicured, but bruised and swollen. Andrea!
Miranda pivoted, Andrea's arm moving around her. Her hand ended up at the small of Miranda's back. The way the young woman curled up next to her created goose-bumps on her arms and thighs. Chastising herself, Miranda checked Andrea's bandage, relieved to see it was dry and no sign of infection or bleeding.
"Mm. No." Andrea frowned and squirmed, her hand around Miranda's waist restless. "Got to, got to hurry. Don't. Don't hurt…her…" Andrea's lips began to tremble and it became clear to Miranda that she was having a nightmare. Carefully, Miranda touched Andrea's upper arm.
"Andrea. Wake up. You're dreaming."
No reaction other than a soft gasp and a solitary tear escaping through ridiculously long lashes.
"Wake up, Andrea. Com e on now." Miranda held Andrea's shoulder gently and shook it. "Open your eyes. Everything is all right." At a loss what to do to shake Andrea out of whatever was tormenting her, Miranda leaned over her, feeling her forehead. To her relief, Andrea's forehead was cool, so it wasn't feverish hallucinations.
"Take me instead," Andrea murmured. "Just don't hurt her. Please. Please…" Now gasping for air, Andrea opened her eyes and stared up at Miranda. "You have to hide. Please, don't let them take you, Miranda. They'll torture you. I've heard horrible stories that they—Miranda?" Suddenly sounding more awake, Andrea stared up at her boss, blinking repeatedly. "What happened?"
"You tell me." Miranda sat up, acutely aware of her body's betrayal as she came to the conclusion that Andrea had been dreaming of her. "You had a nightmare. What was it about?"
"Oh. Right." Blushing profusely, Andrea picked at the blanket. "I, eh, I dreamed of the Germans. Of interrogations. You know." She shuddered.
So, Andrea was too embarrassed to admit dreaming about her? Thinking back to the words Andrea had muttered and the torment in her voice, it was obvious that she had feared something bad happening to Miranda. Not about to put Andrea on the spot, Miranda began to pull back.
"Well, it's time to go up, so—"
"Miranda." Wide-eyed, Andrea placed a trembling hand on Miranda's arm.
Miranda returned Andrea's startled gaze. Nobody touched Miranda Priestly, unless she instigated it. Miranda felt the tremors in Andrea's hand, and something alien flooded her, something close to protectiveness, perhaps even tenderness. This shocked her even more since she had put a fortified lid on such emotions from the day she shipped off the twins. Suddenly angry and embarrassed, Miranda stood, tugging on her robe.
"As I said, time to go up. I will have the cook prepare breakfast for you. Dr. Andersen will no doubt stop by later today to check on you. Take the opportunity to rest until he does. Once he says it's all right, you can return to work."
"Yes, Miranda." Andy's voice sounded subdued, and she swallowed hard. "Thank you."
"I—I will be in my office all day. In case you need something, just use the telephone. That's all." Miranda tightened the belt and left the bedroom, trying to avoid the truth hiding in the back of her mind. Surely the urge to hold Andrea was merely a temporary weakness on her part?
Andy only remained in bed until she heard Miranda exit the apartment. She listened intently for a few moments and then she carefully put her feet on the floor. Standing up, she was relieved to find that the dizziness and headache from last night was almost gone entirely. She padded into the bathroom, wincing at the sight of her bruised face, and wondered how much makeup it would take to cover it. How would she be able to get back to work in the department store when she looked like a walking train wreck? She stuck her tongue out toward her reflection. Maybe Miranda could let her work in the office, or the warehouse?
Looking around for her clothes, Andrea couldn't find them anywhere. Granted, her stockings had been torn to shreds, but surely her skirt and blouse had made it?
"Ms. Sachs?" A female voice behind her made her jump. Andy turned around too fast, nearly toppling over.
"Oh, you startled me."
"I'm sorry, miss." The older woman was dressed in a blue dress and a white apron. "I'm Rakel, the cook."
"Rakel. Oh, that's right. I recognize you. Eh…I was just looking for something to wear."
"Ms. Miranda told me to tell you, you could pick anything from her closet."
Baffled, Andy stared at Rakel. The cook was a stunning, dark haired woman in her early sixties, her temples greying, but with young skin and a proud stance.
"Are you sure, Rakel?" Andy frowned. "Her closet?"
"Yes. It is the door just inside her bedroom. I'll go with you, Ms. Sachs. I might as well make the bed."
Afraid that Rakel would see that they'd shared the bed, Andy tried to forestall it. "No, I can manage, I—"
It was too late; Rakel was already inside the bedroom. Andy sighed and followed her in. Feeling her cheeks warm as the other woman stopped momentarily and just looked at the bed, Andy fled
toward the closet. To her relief it was a large walk-in closet, which held a multitude of stunning clothes. Andy limped inside, suddenly feeling her knee stinging under the bandage. She looked for something that would be comfortable and not too luxurious, which seemed a futile mission until her eyes fell upon several hangers at the far end of the closet. She knew Miranda sometimes shocked the more conservative ladies of Stavnsdal by wearing trousers and Andy had always thought it looked so comfortable. It would surely be clever to hide the bruises and bandage on her leg. Curious as to how they would fit her, Andy grabbed a pair of charcoal grey trousers and a white cotton blouse. As for underwear, she was going to have to dig deep for courage and look in Miranda's dresser in the bedroom.
Andy tiptoed past the busy cook and opened the top drawer in the large oak dresser over at the far wall of the bedroom. Ignoring her reflection in the mirror hanging above it. She felt her cheeks warm at the sight of the silk underwear. The thought of wearing something of Miranda's against the most private part of her body caused her fingers to tremble, but she merely grabbed the panties laying on top, and what looked like a matching sleeveless top. She didn't even consider Miranda's bras since that's where their bodies seemed to be most different. Andy was by far the most voluptuous in that department. She hurried out as fast as her stiff knee would allow and stepped into the bathroom.
Carefully, to not disrupt any bandages, Andy washed up, reveling in the scent of Miranda's soap. The washcloth felt wonderful against her skin, and it reminded her how it had felt to wake up practically in Miranda's arms. Or with her arm around Miranda as it were. Andy had been aware of her crush on her stern, demanding boss for some time now, but she had never even dared to dream about Miranda touching her. Andy knew there were rude words for women who went for other women, but in no way could she make those vile insults fit in with how Miranda made her feel. People were quick to judge, she mused as she slipped into Miranda's underwear. They assumed that if they didn't know or understand, then it was plain wrong and men of the church called such things an abomination. Andy, who had to fend for herself since she was fourteen, was less prone to judge anyone, knowing that survival meant having to do things you never thought you'd ever do. Couldn't the same be said for love? You fell in love, and if that was in an unconventional way, then you did what you had to do for your heart to survive. Wait a minute, she thought, stopping as she'd pulled the sleeveless silk top over her head. It strained a bit across her breasts, but helped keep them from bouncing and moving around. Wait a damn minute. 'Love'? Where did that concept come from when she thought of Miranda? Yes, a crush, certainly. A bit star struck with the stylish, collected English woman, for sure, but that was far from actually being in love. Andy shook her head as if it was possible to rid herself of such a silly notion that way.
Donning the trousers were a little more difficult than she had reckoned with, due to her stiff knee, but eventually she fastened them around her waist and pivoted to glance over her shoulder, checking her backside in the mirror. Not a bad fit, considering they were probably tailor made for Miranda's slightly more curvaceous hips. They seemed to have the same waist measurement though. Andy put on the blouse and tucked it into the waistband of the trousers. Smiling at herself, at how different she looked, taller, even, she located her shoes under the sink. They still looked all right so she put them on. There. Once the doctor had checked on her, she would be able to return to work.
Work. Andy grimaced at the bruises on her face. Well, not looking like that. Bolder now, since Miranda had given her permission to use anything in her closet, she opened the cabinet to the right of the mirror. There, a multitude of makeup bottles, lipsticks and such competed for space on the crowded shelves. Andy recognized a few of the brands, and lit up when she saw several Max Factor pan-cake foundations. She wasn't used to wearing makeup either than some lipstick, but it wasn't hard to gently apply some coverage to the bruises and the rest of her face. She looked quite different, not her rosy self, but instead pale and…well, kind of interesting, if you disregarded the impossible hairdo, due to the bandage. Suddenly a thought struck Andy and she
hurried back to the bedroom and found a drawer full of scarves. She picked a dark grey one, to match the trousers, and tied it around her head and finished it around her hair in a sort of low ponytail.
"Not too shabby," Andy murmured and then jumped when there was a knock on the bathroom door.
"I have prepared breakfast for you, Ms. Sachs—"
"Andy. Please, call me Andy, Rakel." Opening the door, Andy smiled at the cook. "I think we should be on a first name bases, as we are both employees here."
"Very well," Rakel said, her smile a little warmer than before. "Do you wish to eat in the dining room or the kitchen?"
"Oh, please, the kitchen," Andy said, startled. "I don't think I'd be comfortable sitting perched in the dining room. Too posh for me."
This made Rakel chuckle. "Then I will keep you company if it's all right."
"I would love some company. To be truthful, I feel a bit wobbly still."
"I can tell from your bruises, or I should say, I could tell before you magically made them disappear, that you'd been in a bad accident. Ms. Miranda didn't give me any details either than you needed something to eat, and to expect Dr. Andersen in a few hours."
As they sat down at the kitchen table, which was dressed in a flowery table cloth, Andy told Rakel about her ordeal the previous night, leaving out the reason for her being out so late. "And since it was closer for them to bring me to my employer than to my cottage on the outskirts of Stavnsdal, that's how I ended up here." Andy cleared her throat, suddenly embarrassed again. "I'm sure it must seem weird that I spent the night in Miranda's bed."
"It's none of my business, Andy, but I'm sure Ms. Miranda wanted to have you close by in case your condition became worse."
Relieved, Andy exhaled. "Yes. That's exactly it." She sipped the coffee Rakel had just poured. "Oh, my goodness. Not bad for being substitute."
"Ms. Miranda makes sure she gets her hands on the best." Rakel grinned, something that altered her severe features. Her dark brown eyes glittered. "Another perk to be employed here."
They finished their breakfast in amicable silence, and when Andy was done, she was quite happy to go back to the bedroom and curl up on the bed. Rakel ended up supporting her the last few steps as she became increasingly lightheaded. "I'm just going to have a little nap," she told Rakel who now looked concerned again. "Head is just hurting a little bit."
"Dr. Andersen should be here soon."
"Mm? All right. Wake me then, please?" Andy felt slurry, and she pulled a pillow from the opposite side of the bed close and curled up around it. It smelled of Miranda and she inhaled the oddly comforting scent. "Miranda," she whispered and drifted off to sleep.
Miranda lifted the receiver, frowning at being disturbed again. Nobody seemed to be able to make a decision on their own today, to save their lives.
"Miranda," she barked.
"Ms. Miranda, this is Rakel."
"Something wrong with Andrea?" Miranda found herself on her feet before she realized she stood up.
"No. Well, I'm actually not sure. She became very tired after breakfast and I had to support her when she went back to bed. She was actually slurring."
"Slurring. Is Dr. Andersen there yet?"
"He just arrived and is in there with her now. I just figured you would like to know."
"I did. I'll be right up. Don't let the doctor leave before I talk to him."
"I won't, Ms. Miranda."
Miranda walked past her assistant who frowned and checked her watch. "Your meeting with Mr. Christoffersen—"
"Postpone it to this afternoon."
Dashing up the stairs, Miranda thought the sound of her own heels was ear-deafening. She flung the door opened and strode through her hallway toward the bedroom. Inside, she felt her heart skip several beats as Dr. Andersen had pulled all the pillows away and had Andrea lying flat on her back.
"Now, follow my finger with your eyes. No, not your head. Your eyes, Ms. Sachs." He moved his finger back and forth, and then hummed enigmatically. "You are not quite fit for duty yet, Ms. Sachs."
"Oh, but I have to be," Andrea said, sounding indeed slurry. "I must work. Miranda won't want me to just…just…"
"Just what, Andrea?" Miranda stepped up to the bed. "Doctor?"
"Ah, Ms. Priestly. Ms. Sachs is definitely showing symptoms of a mild concussion and I recommend she will take it very easy for two, three days. She can be up, and if accompanied, she can take walks, but she shouldn't be alone, and above all, she shouldn't work."
"Naturally. I'll make sure she rests and that she's monitored." Miranda nodded briskly. "Please bill the department store, Doctor."
"What? No. N-no." Andrea struggled to sit up, and Rakel showed up from nowhere and pushed some pillows back under her head.
"You will not argue, Andrea." Miranda sat down on the bed. Andrea had clearly found her makeup since the bruises had disappeared, unless you know exactly what to look for. "Your cottage might look cute, but it is a drafty old house where you have nobody to care for you. You will stay here."
"I feel I'm imp-imposing." Andrea shuddered and the doctor felt her forehead.
"Better put one more blanket on her. She's running a slight fever. I don't see any signs of infection anywhere, but I will leave a prescription at the pharmacy in case she begins to show definite signs."
"Very well. Anything else?" Miranda asked.
"Same as ever. Plenty of fluids. Rest." Dr. Andersen smiled. "And call me tomorrow if you have any questions. Naturally before then if Ms. Sachs gets worse."
"Thank you, Doctor." Miranda looked down at Andrea who was returning her gaze with slightly glazed over eyes. "Listen. You are not imposing. You're my employee, and thus, my responsibility. Just relax and let me and Rakel take care of you. All right?" Miranda knew she acted completely out of character by not barking it as an order, but rather asking the girl to stay at her apartment.
"I…I had to borrow your underwear, Miranda. I'm sorry." Her lips quivering, Andrea looked embarrassed.
"Naturally. I threw your dirty clothes in the hamper and the torn ones in the garbage. I told Rakel you could use anything of mine. When you are feeling better, you can pick a few items out in the store."
"I can't afford that. I mean, I would love to, they're lovely things, but I can't."
"As a gift, naturally." Miranda frowned. "You're saying I don't pay you well enough to shop here?"
"No, no, it's not that. I have—responsibilities." Andrea looked away, her face blank.
Miranda was curious now, but knew this was not the place to ask about personal matters. She noticed how Andrea clung to the pillow Miranda had used the previous night and inhaled deeply. This stirred something in Miranda, something that fluttered from her chest down to the pit of her stomach. She glanced over her shoulder and saw that Rakel was escorting the doctor to the door. Not concerned for a moment what Rakel might think, Miranda went to close the bedroom door.
Returning to the bed, Miranda sat down, cautiously feeling Andrea's forehead to get an idea how hot she was. She glanced down at the white blouse, and the trousers, and had to admit that Andrea knew how to assemble and outfit.
"Just relax now," Miranda said and placed a hesitant hand on Andrea's shoulder. "You're safe here."
"Whatever for, silly girl?" Miranda frowned.
"I just don't understand," Andrea said, tugging the blanket closer. "I really don't."
"Well, that makes two of us," Miranda said. "We will deal with everything in due time. Just close your eyes. I'll sit here a while."
Andrea turned her glossy brown eyes on Miranda. "I'd like that."
"Then close your eyes and just relax. That's it." Miranda saw the tension slowly leave Andrea's features and she found she couldn't take her eyes off her. The soft full lips seemed to beg for kisses, especially the way they looked now, without lipstick.
"Smell so good…" Andrea murmured. "Always."
Miranda valiantly resisted the urge to outline Andrea's face with her fingertips. Instead she tucked the blanket around her, inadvertently touching the side of Andrea's breasts. She was clearly not wearing a bra. Gasping, Miranda pulled her hands back, her heart now thundering painfully in her chest. What the hell was going on? Had she gone out of her mind, to react to an employee, a woman, no matter how beautiful, this way? Miranda had not indulged in any personal relationship since her girls left Denmark. Really not since after the divorce. It simply wasn't worth all the hassle. To endure such a powerful physical reaction, and to a girl nearly half her age, was deeply disturbing. Still, all Miranda had to do was look at the sleeping Andrea, and the way she clung to the Miranda's pillow, to feel the exquisite tremors begin anew.
Miranda stood, affording Andrea one more pensive look before leaving the room to inform Rakel of the new arrangement.
The local restaurant, or kro, as the more guttural Danish language designated it, was quite fashionable for being a countryside establishment. Miranda, who years ago was spoiled by dining and entertaining at the most luxurious restaurants and clubs in London, thought of the ochre tinted house as a mixture of being cozy and elegant. White tablecloths, dark hardwood floors and dark wooden chairs added to the ambiance. As she made her way among the tables, her eyes locked on two men and one woman at the far corner, she deliberately shook the lingering image of a sleeping Andrea. Sleeping in Miranda's bed, hugging her pillow. Annoyed at herself, Miranda forced herself to focus as she approached her dinner companions. She bent down and kissed the air next to their faces. There was a reason why they'd chosen this constellation; they were meant to appear as double-dating couples. Granted, the men were more rugged than handsome, and the woman very much Miranda's junior, but it had worked well so far.
"You're late. You're never late." Mads, one of the men murmured. "Anything wrong?"
"No. Well, nothing I can't handle on my own. One of my girls ran into the Germans last night."
"What? She get caught?" The other woman, Bente, flinched. "Who?"
"Andrea. And no, she's fine. She's recuperating and the Germans seemed clueless. Still, it's a warning to all of us. Even if it is a clear cut accident, we cannot afford to be careless. Andrea carried vital information on her body when she collided with one of their jeeps."
"Oh, God," Mads said, rubbing his face. "She was lucky, then."
"If you call being concussed and with a sprained arm lucky, yes." Miranda opened her menu. The waiter, a young boy she recognized from their last sabotage mission appeared at her side. "May I take your order, ma'am?"
"I'll have the pork chops, please. No potatoes."
"Very well, ma'am." He gathered everyone's menus and hurried toward the kitchen.
"So, any news?" Miranda glanced around them, pleased to see that the restaurant was practically empty at this time on a weeknight.
"Bad ones." Bente frowned, her grey eyes several shades darker. "They've started rounding people up in Aalborg. You know. Unwanted ones. Jews, homosexuals, anyone with communist beliefs. Word is they're going to ship them to some sort of work camp in Poland."
"I've heard rumors about that for a while now," the second man, Bjarne, said, looking grim. "There are reports coming in from Poland, Holland, and France. Belgium too. Jews are rounded up like…like cattle."
Miranda drew a deep breath, her mind immediately going to her cook, to Rakel. She knew Rakel and her three children lived alone since her husband had left for England to fight. Miranda knew it was most likely just a matter of time until the Germans began vacuuming the countryside and not just the cities, for undesirables.
"We have to get the ones within our territory out," Miranda said, her jaws clenched. "And this can't wait. We can't risk using the usual routes, not when it comes to a large operation like this."
"First, we must have our local people estimate how many people we're talking about here," Miranda said. "Then it's a matter of getting them across Kattegatt." Kattegatt, the part of the Atlantic Ocean that separated Denmark from Sweden, could be rough at times. Still, Miranda knew the fleet of fishermen, sturdy, hardened men, forged by their constant battle with the sea, would not balk at the idea of conning the Germans.
More people entered the restaurant, and the four resistance fighters put on their usual show of eating and drinking beer, laughing and flirting. Miranda loathed this part of it, of having to pretend and have one of the men put his arm around her and kiss her cheek. This time, she deliberately cut it short, as she was anxious to get back and check on Andrea. The entire evening, she'd had the feeling she ought to hurry, and though she was far too pragmatic to believe in signs or premonitions, Miranda was relieved when they were done.
"Let me walk you home, Miranda," Bjarne said, and helped her with her coat. "It's not safe for a woman to walk alone at this hour."
"Really. I'm sure I'll be fine."
"I insist." Bjarne offered his arm and Miranda took it with a muted sigh. She wondered if Bjarne took their roles a little too much to heart. Lately he had shown up unannounced at Nordia, and
he acted like a true boyfriend around her more and more. Maybe this was a good thing, getting him alone and set him straight.
"You are very kind," Miranda said matter-of-factly, as they strolled down the sidewalk. "I just want to point out that I'm divorced, I have two children, albeit they live with their father right now, and I'm not in the market for a boyfriend, fiancé, or husband."
Bjarne flinched. "We work well together," he said, sounding defensive.
"We do. And we are good friends after all we've been through. Still, I don't want you to think it can ever be more. We are friends and comrades in arms, that's all."
"Things can change." He sounded stubborn, and a little hurt.
"They can, but not in this case. However, I've seen how Bente looks at you. She's not happy that you are walking me home, instead of her."
Bjarne stopped so abruptly, Miranda nearly tripped, her high heels doing little to steady her. "Bente? Looking at me? But, she's—she's with Mads."
"As a front. Like us. We're a front." Miranda resumed walking without holding Bjarne's arm. "If you hurry, you may catch her. I think she's walking home alone. I'm almost at my door, you know."
Bjarne looked doubtfully at Miranda, then he grinned broadly. "Well, you can't blame a guy for trying. Good night, Miranda. Hurry home, it's close to curfew." He dashed off down the street.
Miranda smirked. How fickle men could be, she mused. She was relieved that Bjarne wasn't hurt, though, because he was a nice man and a true asset when it came to the resistance. If Bente saw something special in him, good for her. Miranda knew she didn't. Instead, her mind immediately returned to the wounded young woman, even younger than Bjarne, who waited in her bed.
Waited? Her cheeks burning, Miranda chastised herself for the slip. Andrea was resting, preferably sleeping, in Miranda's bed. She wasn't waiting for anybody. She was healing.
The elevator seemed slower than usual, but eventually Miranda could unlock her front door and step inside her apartment. Her sanctuary. Here, there were memories of the twins, of happier days. There had been many lonely days too, during the last two years, but Miranda forced her thoughts away from that as she hung her coat on the rack inside the door.
She peeked inside her bedroom and found the bed empty. Startled, she gazed around the room, and only then she heard the splashing sound coming from the bathroom. Smiling faintly, Miranda walked up to the bathroom door, which was almost closed.
"Andrea? I just wanted you to know that I'm home now."
"M-Miranda?" A strange shiver in Andrea's voice made Miranda frown.
"Eh…I, uh, I took a bath, I mean, I really needed one and my knee looked okay enough to soak, and—"
"What's wrong?" Miranda knew she sounded stern and impatient, but she was concerned at Andrea's nervous babbling.
"Nothing. No, not really. I mean, in a way, but I'll figure it out."
"Can I come in?"
"No!" More splashing and now also coughing, as if Andrea had swallowed some of the bathwater, filtered through the barely open door.
"Andrea?" There was no answer. "That's it, I'm coming in." Bracing herself, Miranda pushed the door open, trying to tell herself that they were both female after all. Inside, the mirrors were all misty, and Andrea's nightgown sat neatly folded on the lid of the toilet. Andrea had placed two towels by the bathtub, and there she was, her arms crossed over her chest, shivering.
"Miranda! Please. I can manage."
Miranda merely dipped her fingers in the bathwater. "This is cold. How long have you been in here without being able to get up?" Pulling the plug, Miranda began to drain the tub.
"I…I don't know. An hour?"
"An hour?" Miranda shook her head. "Silly girl, are you determined to kill yourself?"
"N-no." Her teeth clattering, Andrea was blushing profusely. "I just felt so…unclean and I stayed in too long. I got dizzy."
"All right. Water's gone. Let's get you out of there." Miranda took one of the bath towels and, bending down, wrapped it around Andrea. The tub was of the old type, with lion's paws, and fairly high. Lifting gently, Miranda tried to support Andrea as she struggled to get up. "Place your arms around my neck," Miranda said.
"Your dress. I'll ruin it."
"It's just water, for God's sake." Impatient, and a bit flustered, Miranda eased Andrea over the edge of the tub. "There." She held on while Andrea steadied herself.
"Thank you. I'm so sorry." Andrea sighed. "I just wanted a bath so badly. It's such a rare thing for me—" She broke off and yanked her hands from Miranda's shoulders.
"Baths are rare?" Miranda kept the towel securely wrapped around Andrea, trying to keep her own breathlessness in control.
"I normally use the shower in the staff's restroom area here. I don't have running water at the cabin." Andrea tried to take hold or the bath towel, but Miranda had the ends meeting behind her and didn't let go.
"I cannot believe that you live under such primitive circumstances." Miranda scrutinized Andrea's full lips, her golden brown eyes and the masses and masses of damp chocolate brown hair
tumbling down almost to her waist. She smelled of Miranda's favorite soap. Miranda lowered her eyes, embarrassed, which was an emotion she detested, but her eyes fell upon a madly fluttering pulse on Andrea's neck. The urge to press her lips at this enticing sign of life, of excitement or nerves, startled Miranda. She tugged at the towel, and directed Andrea to the white leather stool over by the vanity. "Sit."
Andrea sat obediently, and gasped when Miranda let go of the towel, which made it open up in the back. Pulling at it frantically, she eventually gave up and shrugged, her cheeks pink.
Miranda fetched her first aid kit and knelt in front of Andrea, who inhaled with a gasp. Ignoring her, Miranda pushed the towel up over Andrea's sore knee and examined it closely. "I think you didn't do too much damage to it. A small bandage should be enough." She proceeded to cover the broken skin on Andrea's kneecap, grateful that she was able to keep her hands from trembling. She was well aware of the soft skin of Andrea's naked thighs only inches away. "There." Miranda didn't know what to think. She had done this to her girls more times than she could count and it had nothing in common with how this felt. She looked up at Andrea who stared down at her, eyes wide, looking, if possible, even more taken aback than Miranda felt.
"Did you find a new nightgown? I think we need to put you back into bed immediately." Miranda rose on unsteady legs.
"No. I thought I could use the same one."
"Absolutely not. Wait." Miranda hurried to the bedroom and pulled out a fresh nightgown, this one sleeveless, of pink cotton. She pulled it over Andrea's head and helped her move her injured arm through. Andrea quickly wiggled into the nightgown and stood, looking less pale, allowing the garment to fall around her legs.
"Thank you. I can never repay you for taking care of me this way. I'm sure this wasn't what you had in mind for tonight at all." Andrea looked sad.
"Don't be ridiculous. I'm only doing what anyone would do."
"I'm not so sure." Andrea tilted her head, chewing on her full lower lip. "I mean, sure, help a person out, but this, letting me stay, in your bed and everything." She shrugged.
"Ah, that." Miranda coughed. "You don't want to tell other people that. Rakel knows, but she is very trustworthy. Other people might not understand, though."
"Eh, what? What do you mean?" Andrea looked confused.
"Some would argue it was morally questionable."
Andrea was indeed an innocent in many ways, Miranda mused, groaning inwardly at having painted herself into a corner. "What if I was a man?" Miranda guided Andrea to the bed and helped her get back under the covers.
"I can understand why some would think that was morally wrong." Andrea nodded pensively.
"This isn't much different." Miranda cursed her own insecurities.
"But you are a woman. I mean, we both are."
"Your power of observation is amazing." Miranda's frustration made her cynical side reappear.
"But we are!" Andrea looked unhappy, half sitting against the pillows. Her damp hair lay in large, messy locks around her. Miranda had never seen anyone more beautiful.
"Have you ever kissed a boy, or a man, Andrea?" Miranda couldn't believe they were having this conversation, but she had to make Andrea understand. She sat down on the side of the bed, looking intently at Andrea.
"Yes." Andrea was breathing deeper and faster now, her full breasts moving the pink cotton fabric of the nightgown.
"Have you ever kissed a girl or a woman, I mean, on the lips?"
"No? No." Andrea gasped. "Oh."
"I didn't even think, I mean, that anyone would…I see. I see now what you mean."
"It never occurred to you that people might suspect something like that? Maybe because of the age difference?" Miranda became rigid, clasping her hands on her lap.
"No, not that. Because there was no way someone like you would ever see me like that," Andrea blurted and then slammed her uninjured hand over her mouth, blinking rapidly.
Miranda opened her mouth and closed it again, trying to decipher what Andrea had really said. It was sort of a compliment, wasn't it? "Why wouldn't I—I mean, someone like me?" Miranda asked against better judgment.
"You're joking, right?" For the first time, Miranda detected anger in Andrea's voice, or was it perhaps frustration?
"You're rich, successful, stunningly beautiful, elegant, and influential." Andrea's eyes were nearly black as she glowered at Miranda.
"And old enough to be your mother."
"Age has nothing to do with it."
"Sure it does," Miranda maintained. "Sex has to do with attraction, and you can only be so much attracted to wealth and influence."
"You conveniently skipped beauty and elegance."
"Then what about love?" Andrea, less angry now, but all the more eager to make her point.
Drops of perspiration ran down Miranda's spine when Andrea leaned so close to her, the neckline of the nightgown billowed out, showing Andrea's breasts. As hypnotized by the enticing view of the perfect, pale, rosy tipped globes, Miranda couldn't tear her eyes away.
"Miranda?" Andy was beginning to worry as Miranda merely stared at her; or rather at her chest…she glanced down and saw that she had inadvertently exposed herself. "Oh, I'm sorry. I simply can't behave properly, can I?" Naturally Miranda was shocked since Andy kept flaunting her nakedness the whole time. How was she going to be able to convince Miranda that it was not deliberate?
"It doesn't matter." Miranda pushed an errant silver-white lock away from her forehead. "As long as you realize why you can't tell anyone that you're sharing my bed."
"Eh…Miranda?" Andy didn't know how to put it any other way than directly, even if she was cringing. "Why am I in your bed? I mean, still? You have several bedrooms."
"Because you are still suffering from concussion, and you have only been fever free for half a day. Only a few minutes ago you were unable to stand on your feet. I can't keep going up in the night to check on you. It makes perfect sense to keep you near."
"Perfect sense." Obediently echoing her words, Andy still wondered about the tremors in Miranda's hands and the slight flustered look. "I understand, Miranda. I won't breathe a word to anyone that we sleep together."
"Oh, God." Miranda winced and shook her head. "Either you are completely innocent or you enjoy tormenting me, Andrea."
"Tormenting you?" Andy lost track of the conversation yet again. "I…I…"
"You meant it literally."
"Yes. Of course." Andy finally caught on. "Oh."
"Indeed. Oh." Shaking her head, Miranda stood and left for the bathroom.
Andy snuggled down and reached for Miranda's pillow like she had all day, only to catch herself at the last second. Miranda would need her pillow, of course. Yawning, Andy felt exhaustion flood every part of her body, including the injured parts. She carefully patted the bandage on her head, relieved that she hadn't lost it in the tub. Closing her eyes, she pulled the covers up over her shoulders. She'd thought she knew Miranda. Strong, feared, even disliked sometimes, by her staff, but also admired. Beautiful, of course, and definitely unapproachable. Cold even, many times. Certainly not the type that would take an assistant, who also happened to double as her right hand when it came to their work in the Danish resistance, into her bed because she was hurt and had nobody else to take care of her. Neither would Andy have guessed that Miranda would stir entirely new, confusing feelings inside her. Granted, Andy was inexperienced, but she had not even responded this way when Peter Larsen kissed her after the cinema. Peter was the most handsome young man in Stavnsdal, which it turned out that he knew better than anybody, which efficiently extinguished any tiny flutters of pleasure. Andy wondered how merely being close to Miranda, having her tend to a sore knee, would cause a whirlwind of flutters? How could this make sense?
Miranda came padding back to bed, switching off the light as she walked through the bedroom.
"Can we leave a tiny light on?" Andy asked. "The curtains are up and secured. Rakel saw to that before she left for the day."
"Very well." Miranda left a small window lamp on; its pink velvet shade rendered the bedroom a soft glow. Crawling into bed, Miranda sighed, sounding as exhausted as Andy felt. "Think you'll be able to sleep?"
"Yes." Now that Miranda was there, next to her, Andy could finally relax. She turned one her side, facing toward Miranda. Closing her eyes, she let sleep overtake her.
Miranda slept erratically, waking up with her heart thundering in her chest several times. Andrea slept in the same position for so long; Miranda had to feel her forehead twice. This time, Andrea had shifted, moved closer, her arm flung across Miranda's belly. Suddenly Andrea whimpered and her arms twitched.
"Andrea?" Miranda murmured. "You all right?"
Another whimper, another twitch. Miranda felt Andrea grab a fistful of her nightgown and pull.
"Andrea!" Worried and concerned at what was going on, Miranda turned in bed, taking a gentle grip of Andrea's hand since it was the injured one.
"Oh, please, please…" Andrea moaned, clearly having some sort of nightmare.
"Wake up, Andrea. Come on now." Miranda leaned closer, gently shaking Andrea's shoulder. "Wake up."
"No, no, no…" Andrea tugged at Miranda's shirt, pulling it up along her thighs.
Miranda was starting to worry that Andrea would actually manage to disrobe her entirely before Miranda woke her up. Just as she felt her nightgown slide up over her hips, Andrea finally opened her eyes, tears clinging to her eyelashes.
"Andrea. Stop it. You're fine. It was just a dream," Miranda said, acutely aware of Andrea's hand on her hip on top of the bunched up nightgown.
"I saw them," Andrea gasped, her body trembling. "I saw them and there was nothing…nothing, I could do." She took a few deep, raspy breaths. "Nothing."
"A dream, Andrea. Listen to me. A nightmare." Miranda's heart ached at the sight of the panic in Andrea's eyes.
Andrea moved and was suddenly lying with her face pressed into Miranda's neck, her shoulders shaking. "I wish it was. Oh, Miranda, I wish it was." She clung to Miranda, who now knew this was going to hell. She couldn't push Andrea away, not when she was in complete agony from the dream, or perhaps from whatever caused the dream. The disastrous part of it was that Andrea had not only pushed her nightgown up above hip level, but actually was touching the naked skin of Miranda's left thigh.
Not sure how else to handle this, Miranda let Andrea rest against her until the tears dried up. Eventually she calmed down, and this, Miranda knew, was when things became really embarrassing. Her heart was torn between thundering due to the accidental touching, and painful contractions because of Andrea's distress. Now when Andrea had stopped sobbing, she had to go into damage control mode.
"Miranda," Andrea whispered, her voice broken. "I didn't mean to do this. I'm so dreadfully sorry. I really am, and…oh, God, what did I do?" Andrea's voice became shrill and she pushed back, her eyes huge. "What? Did I hurt you?"
"Stop it." Miranda could see Andrea's mind racing, no doubt conjuring up all sorts of conclusions. "I said, stop it." She wrapped an arm around Andrea's waist, fearing the girl might scurry back so fast she'd fall onto the floor on the other side of the bed. "You didn't do anything wrong. Do you hear me? You didn't do anything wrong."
"I—I—really? Nothing? But you're, uhm, half naked."
"So true. Mind if I rectify that?" Miranda pushed her nightgown down with her free hand. "There. Better. Now listen to me, Andrea. You had a nightmare. A quite horrible one, as far as I could tell. You reached for me, well, I guess for someone, and my nightgown slid up. It doesn't matter."
"May I ask something?" Andrea tensed as if she braced herself for something. "I mean, it's personal and I don't want to offend you, or come across as inquisitive."
"I suppose you can always try," Miranda said cautiously. Deep down she was actually curious what Andrea was so eager to know that she broke two cardinal rules. All Miranda's employees knew never to ask questions, especially stupid ones, and if there was any golden rule, it was to never try to get personal.
"Have you ever kissed a girl? I woman?" Andrea's eyes had never been bigger, and her full lips quivered as she fidgeted with the top bed sheet.
"No." Miranda felt the question like a sucker punch. Still, there was no sensationalism in Andrea's expression; instead Andrea held her breath, looking paler. "Why do you want to know this?" Miranda countered.
"I suppose I could blame the concussion, but that would be a lie, because I've had all these strange feelings lately…for months, really, and I'm thinking there might be something wrong with me." Andrea took a deep breath.
"You've wanted to kiss another girl?" Miranda was shocked at her own body's reaction to Andrea's words. Her belly warmed and the heat spread to her chest and to the inside of her thighs.
"No." Andrea swallowed hard. "A woman."
"Ah. Well, I understand. There is indeed a difference." Who did Andrea want to kiss? Emily? No, she was hardly a woman, more a girl close to Andrea's age. Who else? I had to be someone among Nordia's staff. Or perhaps a fellow resistance fighter? Bente had inquired about Andrea today, quite pointedly. Her mood darkening, Miranda burrowed her eyes into Andrea's. "Do I know her?"
"Uhm, yes." Andrea seemed to bitterly regret bringing up the subject, but Miranda was concerned now.
"Has this woman tried to, you know," Miranda waved a hand in the air, "take advantage of you?" She felt ridiculous about her choice of words, but she was worried.
"No, no, no. Nothing like that. On the contrary. It's the fact that she hasn't, despite everything, that makes it so hard to understand." Andrea sounded sad. "It was to be expected of course."
"Why? What do you mean, Andrea?" Miranda shook her head, which did little to clear her thoughts. "You're not making sense."
"It doesn't matter. It really doesn't. Nothing will ever come of these emotions." Andrea yawned and sighed deeply. Her eyelids grew heavy and Miranda could tell Andrea was falling back asleep.
"Go to sleep, Andrea. Things will work out in the end." Miranda hoped that was the right thing to say.
"I doubt it," Andrea murmured. "She's fed up with me by now. Can't probably wait to get rid of me, having taken up most of her bed…used her clothes…her tub…everything."
Miranda flinched. "What?"
"Mm, so beautiful," Andrea slurred and curled up next to Miranda. "So out of my league, but…part of me keeps hoping she'll see me, like I see her." Andrea murmured something more, something inaudible, and then her even breathing showed she was fast asleep.
Staring up at the ceiling, Miranda's thoughts kept repeating Andrea's words, over and over. Had she misunderstood, or was Andrea hoping for Miranda to kiss her? And, if so, what kind of kiss were they talking about? Would Andrea be this embarrassed and worked up if it was all innocent? Miranda doubted it. Sure, Andrea was inexperienced, she'd admitted to that, but it was pretty obvious that she had talked about a romantic, lovers' kiss. The heavy, sweet sensation in the lower part of Miranda's abdomen surged again, making her moan silently. Did she want to kiss Andrea's full lips?
Andrea closed the bag around the clothes Miranda had insisted she'd keep. Having been imported from France and London before the war, they were of the finest materials, and classic models that would sustain through time, Miranda had explained, as if she was trying to persuade a customer rather than an employee.
"I will miss having you around for company at breakfast, Andy," Rakel said from the doorway. She had not with a single word expressed any curiosity or concern why Andy had spent three nights in a row in Miranda's bed. The third night had certainly not been called for, and Miranda's mumbled reason that they might as well save her housekeeper and cook from washing any extra bed sheets had been ridiculous. Still, Andy hadn't argued. She knew she would never get another chance to be this close to Miranda again, so why waste it?
Andy had hardly slept at all, afraid to miss out on the last opportunity to inhale Miranda's scent, to her the soft breathing, and during a few, breathtaking moments when Miranda had placed an arm around Andy's waist, or a hand on her hip. Logically, Andy knew that Miranda had no idea who she was touching, or that she was touching anybody at all, but for a precious moment, she could pretend. Soon enough Andy would be back in her grandmother's old cottage where the fire stove was moody at best, and she had to keep six buckets and four pans ready in case it rained.
Andy knew she would keep the memories of practically sleeping in Miranda's arms with her, cherish them, and no doubt compare everyone else to the formidable woman. Naturally there could be no comparison. Miranda was unique.
"'Bye Rakel, and thanks again." Andy kissed Rakel's cheek. "You've been wonderful and very patient."
"You be careful now, Andy." Rakel pushed a tress of Andy's hair behind her ear. "There are evil people out there, ready to do harm. It's already bad, but it will get worse."
"I know, Rakel. I know." Andy impulsively hugged the other woman. "I hope I see you soon."
"I do too."
Andy took the elevator down to the floor hosting the office part of the department store. The office consisted of Miranda's large corner office, the assistant's desk area, a room for two typists, and a small switchboard. Andy was going back to work the next day, but felt she needed to tell Miranda she was going home and to thank her.
Emily was at the assistant's desk and now she actually smiled politely. It actually looked more like an eerie grimace that didn't reach her eyes. Emily was an ambitious young woman who made no secret of the fact that she considered herself to be Miranda's crown princess. It had to eat her alive from the inside that Andy had spent time in Miranda's private apartment. Very few of the employees had ever seen the inside of the luxurious rooms. "You seem to be recuperating. No doubt the tender loving care of Miranda's cook has helped to heal you." Emily shook her head, clearly faking a pitying look. "Were you here to see Miranda? She's very busy—"
"Is that Andrea?" Miranda's low voice carried easily out to her assistant. "Send her in, Emily."
"Yes, Miranda." Her eyes cold now, without pretense, Emily motioned for Andy to follow Miranda's request.
Andy smiled sweetly and thanked Emily before entering Miranda's office. She had been inside several times, but never really taken the time, or allowed herself to relax enough, to notice any details. Miranda sat behind an oak desk, working on some documents. Behind her, cabinets, also oak, covered the entire wall, and to Miranda's right, windows held a view of the main street and the town square. Today was a farmers' market occupied the square and that meant the town being crowded with people. Andy thought that was a good thing, it would make her moving along the streets and back to her cottage less conspicuous. Especially if she bought some bread and vegetables and let it hang from the bicycle basket— "Oh, damn," Andy blurted out, realizing that her bike was totally destroyed.
"I beg your pardon?" Miranda looked up, her left eyebrow raised.
"I'm sorry. I just remembered that my bike was reduced to metal scrap. I will just have to walk home." Andy shrugged. "What can I do for your, Miranda?"
"What do you mean?" Miranda folded her arms, glaring at Andy.
"Eh…what I mean? I mean, I mean to say thank you for having me as your guest while I recuperated."
"You are nowhere near recuperated." Miranda stood up. "What's to say you don't have another dizzy-spell and fall down before you're home?"
Stunned at force behind Miranda's words, and the way she pressed her lips together, Andy didn't know what to say. Surely Miranda would be glad to have her apartment to herself and not have to cater to an employee? "I'm fine. I wouldn't want to outstay my welcome," Andy said weakly, trying to smile. She was fairly sure it only amounted to half a grimace.
"And walk home?" Miranda spoke as if Andy hadn't said anything. "I've never heard such a ridiculous thing. How far is it to your—your shed?"
"I don't live in a shed!" Slowly getting angry, Andy clenched her hands into fists. "I live just outside of Stavnsdal, and before I could afford a bicycle, I walked to work every day, no matter the season. Today is a lovely day, and I'll walk home and start saving up for another bike. I will be in to work tomorrow as usual."
"You will not." Miranda's voice was low. Deadly.
"What?" Andy knew it. Her temper had finally gotten her fired. Great. No doubt she would find herself removed from their resistance cell, perhaps kicked out completely. Her mind whirled and the burning sensation behind her eyelids seemed to have a direct connection to her throat that began to convulse as she tried to swallow the threatening tears.
"Tomorrow is Friday. I do not wish to see you back at work until Monday at the earliest."
Oh, thank God. "All right. See you then." Andy looked longingly at the door. "Thanks again, for everything."
"Stay away from the Germans." Miranda grabbed her fountain pen. "That's all."
Andy would never have admitted it to anyone, least of all herself, but she virtually fled from the department store and Miranda's apartment. Had she stayed a minute longer, she would have begged Miranda to stay one more day, which would have meant one more night surrounded by her scent, and, oh bliss, perhaps her arms. As much as Andy would have loved it, very little scared her more.
The small cottage had one thing going for it, if nothing else, Andy thought as she put more firewood in the stove. It heated fairly quickly. She hated the outhouse. Having had access to modern facilities at Nordia, Andy was disgusted with the freezing cold winters and the flies it gathered in the summer.
Andy wrapped herself up in the heavy wool blanket and curled up on the narrow bed in the corner. A small table with two chairs and a worn armchair in the opposite corner made up the rest of her furniture. Andy knew it was fruitless to envision Miranda's lovely rooms, her bathtub with endless amounts of hot water. No fairy godmother would swoop down from a cloud and
magically turn the nearly condemned cottage into a palace. Being honest, Andy knew it wasn't Miranda's apartment she kept thinking about. It was its owner.
Miranda Priestly had employed Andy not because she was the most brilliant saleswoman she'd ever come across, or for her sense of style or fashion. Instead, Andy guessed, Miranda had seen a hunger in Andy to go somewhere, to get ahead and rise above her background. Once when Emily had said something snotty about Andy to Miranda, Andy heard her boss actually mention what she described as "Andrea's fighting spirit." It effectively shut Emily up at least.
Andy didn't know any other way to exist these days. She didn't have this 'gung-ho' disposition in her from the beginning. Andy had early memories of her mother, a sweet-natured woman with ash-blond hair who often sung to her. Her father had died before she was born, and her mother passed away when Andy was five. Growing up with Aunt Thilde, her mother's great aunt, in the cottage, she had inherited the old house when Thilde died over four years ago, when Andy was twenty. That's when she started to change. Before, Andy had been as sweet and trusting as her mother, but when she found herself alone with only herself to rely on; she knew she had to toughen up. "Toughen up and learn to use a shotgun." Andy snorted and buried the cold tip of her nose in the blanket. One of her friends from school, a nice boy called Jens who'd always had a bit of a crush on Andy, taught her how to use the shotgun. They had practiced at his parent's farm behind the barn, aiming at old tin cans. When the Germans marched into Denmark, Andy knew that a shotgun would not be enough. As soon she heard of the resistance movement through Jens, she joined. Now she owned two handguns and next to the disgusting barrel under the outhouse, a small storage space for additional ammunition and explosives. "No wonder I hate using that place," Andy muttered and turned up the kerosene lamp. She didn't like the darkness. "One of these days, I'm going to blow myself to kingdom come when I pee."
Andy had worked at Nordia for six months before she went on her first major sabotage mission with Jens and four other resistance fighters. The person behind the plan, who briefed them in the basement of an abandoned structure in the outskirts of Stavnsdal, was none other than the stylish and wealthy Miranda Priestly. She had of course known about Andy belonging to one of her cells beforehand, and the lopsided smirk revealed that she quite enjoyed Andy's shocked gasp. The mission had been a success, and it didn't take long for a pattern to evolve when Andy became the voice between Miranda and the group. Now, some eighteen months after joining the resistance, Andy had become Miranda's unofficial second-in-command, which should have been enough explanation why Miranda wanted to make sure Andy was okay after her accident.
But it wasn't. Andy knew she'd be lying to herself if she pretended that something entirely new, and deeply personal, hadn't transpired between them the last three days—and nights. Miranda had acted out of character, more so than Andy. For Andy to hero-worship Miranda was not such a stretch, but for Miranda to hover over Andy, to fabricate reasons for Andy to stay an extra night in her bed—it was mind-blowing. Andy shivered and snuggled further into her favorite, well, her only blanket. Several times, Andy had woken up with Miranda's arm around her, and at least twice Andy had found her own arm tucked around Miranda. Once, Andy had laced her fingers into Miranda's soft hair. Never had Andy been so relieved when she saw that Miranda slept soundly. She slid her fingers free, with equal parts gratitude and longing. Miranda's hair was so silky and rich. Feeling it against her palm and fingertips had made Andy's stomach clench and her fingertips tingle.
Andy had now spent two whole days merely resting and reading in the light of her only lamp. It was Saturday night and she knew some of her friends from work went to the dances arranged by the church youth club. Normally Andy would tag along, but even if she felt all right again, she was still a tired. She hoped that after yet another day of rest, and perhaps a nice Sunday walk over the meadows, she would be fit to go back—and to face Miranda again—on Monday.
Reaching for another library book, this time an old favorite, one she'd borrowed so many time that the librarian had begun to gently tease her, Andy read the first two chapters of Sigrid Undset's 'Kristin Lavransdotter', before she was interrupted by a sharp knock on the door.
Andy glanced at the old clock on the wall. It was eight in the evening on a Saturday. Could it be her friends who wanted her to go dancing after all? She doubted it. Another knock, this time harder, catapulted Andy out of the warm blanket. She reached under her pillow for her Luger, quietly cocking the handgun as she walked over to the door.
"Who is it?" Andy stood to the right of the door that opened outward. In case someone would fire through the door, they wouldn't readily hit her.
"It's Miranda. I have Rakel with me." The soft voice sounded unusually strained.
Cautiously, Andy unlocked the door and opened it. She hid the Luger behind her back. "Miranda? Rakel. What's going on?"
Suddenly it seemed as if the cottage was filled to the brim with people. It wasn't just Miranda and Rakel. Miranda also ushered three young children and a woman looking slightly older than Andy inside. "This is Rakel's daughter and her three grandchildren," Miranda said. She pulled the door close and locked it. "Children. Sit down over there and be quiet," she commanded. The boy and the two girls quickly did as they were told, their eyes huge. The youngest girl had tears in her eyes and clung to the boy who looked to be around ten.
"What's happened? Rakel, are you all right?"
"They are rounding people up. We need to get them out. Now," Miranda said, her lips pale.
"They? The Germans?" Furtively tucking her gun into the waistband of her skirt, Andy tried to wrap her brain around the information. She had heard rumors what went on in other occupied countries.
"Of course the Germans!" Miranda moved over to the window and carefully lifted the corner of the thick black fabric. "You have any coffee?"
"Uhm. Coffee. Well, not real coffee, naturally."
"I realize that." Impatient, Miranda sighed loudly. "Any hot beverage will do."
"All right. Hot beverages coming up." Andy shook her head to clear the foggy feeling. Turning to the children, she smiled and winked. "For you, I think I can do better than coffee. I can do hot chocolate."
The youngest girl's eyes lit up and she pushed herself free from her brother's arms. "I like chocolate."
"Well, do you think you can give me a hand if your mom think's it's all right?" Andy looked over at the girl's mother who nodded.
"I will help you as well," Rakel's daughter said. "I apologize for barging in like this. My name is Hanna. This is Benny, Sara, and My."
"My real name is Miriam, by everybody calls me My," the youngest girl said and looked up at Andy with a broad smile. "Grandma says we're going on an adventure."
"Adventure, eh? Well, then you're definitely in need of my hot chocolate. It has a secret ingredient."
"A secret ingredient?" My's eyes widened. "Oh, please tell us."
"Hm." Andy eyed the three siblings carefully as she busied herself by the small fire stove. "I could tell you, I suppose. I've never disclosed this information since it's been handed down one generation at a time."
"We won't tell." My looked sternly at her siblings. "Will we?"
"No. We'll keep the secret." Even Benny looked intrigued and came to stand next to his little sister.
"All right." Andy reached for a small jar on the shelf above the stove. "Look. Just a pinch of this, and the chocolate will taste better than any other chocolate you've ever tried."
"Better than grandma's?" Sara said. "What is it?"
"Come here," Andy said, making a big production of whispering to the children. "It's actually white pepper."
"Pepp—Ow!" Sarah said as My pinched her.
"It's a secret," My said pointedly.
"No pinching," Hanna said calmly as she measured up the chicory substitute.
Andy kept an eye on the water she set to boil on the stove, but most of her attention was directed toward Miranda who kept glancing out the window. Eventually she seemed to relax marginally and walked over to Andy, who now poured hot chocolate into her aunt's best cups.
"Bjarne is on his way with some a few more families. We need to get them to a safe-house just outside Hals. We have to gather all the people the Germans target and ship them over to Sweden."
"Ship them? As in…on fishing boats?"
"Exactly. Fishing boats, yachts, sailboats…God damn rowboats if we have to." Miranda spoke through clenched teeth. "Is that coffee?" she suddenly asked Hanna who was pouring a cup for Rakel."
"Yes, Ms. Priestly."
"Call me Miranda, please." Miranda greedily clung to the hot cup. Sipping it, she winced a little, but still seemed to enjoy it. "And the kids are having hot chocolate, I see?"
"Not just that, Miranda," young My said proudly. "It's a secret hot chocolate. Everything we do tonight must be a secret."
"Ms. Miranda didn't mean for you to call her by her first name," Rakel quietly admonished the child.
"It's fine. Don't worry." Miranda waved a hand dismissively. "I prefer my given name."
"It's a pretty name," Sarah said. "What does it mean?"
"I honestly don't know," Miranda said.
"It means 'wonderful' and 'admirable'." Andy spoke without thinking. The sudden silence made her aware that knowing what Miranda's name stood for, was perhaps a bit above and beyond the call of duty at Nordia.
"Thank you, Andrea," Miranda said, her voice husky as she clearly tried to make light of the moment.
Andrea's cheeks burned, and she unconvincingly tried to tell herself it was for standing so close to the stove.
After a few moments, they all had something hot to drink and everybody found somewhere to sit in the tiny house, except Miranda who remained by the window, checking through a tiny gap next to the curtain every now and then.
"This is a cozy cottage," Rakel said. "Thank you for helping us, Andy."
"I wouldn't call it cozy, exactly." Andy shrugged. "I've had to reinforce the south wall twice this summer. I don't know if it'll last through the winter. If we have as much snow as last winter, I think the roof might just cave in."
"Where will you go?" Hanna asked, frowning.
"She can come with us," Benny suggested, smiling broadly. "Andy should come with us and make us secret chocolate every day."
Andy laughed when she saw his smug face. His sisters beamed, obviously siding with their brother. Glancing over at Miranda, Andy winced at the solemn look in her eyes. Narrow slits, she glared at Andy as if she was the one thinking about leaving. Didn't Miranda understand that Andy had no plans on going anywhere?
Suddenly the sound of an engine filtered through the wall. Miranda leaned over the table and turned down the kerosene lamp almost completely. She opened the door, and in the faint light, Andy saw the outline of a handgun in Miranda's hand. Ready to pull out her own, Andy glanced over Miranda's shoulder. "Is it Bjarne?"
"Yes. He's brought Bente as well. Stay here. I'll be right back." Miranda slipped out the door.
"Where are we going now?" Sara asked, her voice trembling. She held My close with one arm and clung to her mother with the other.
"We're going to help you, Sara." Andy ruffled the girl's shiny, brown bangs. "You'll be together with your mom and your grandma. And your brother and sister."
"B-but I want to go home."
"That's not possible right now." Andy ached for the confused child. "Once it's safe, you'll come back."
Sara looked like she doubted Andy's words, but she nodded and pressed her trembling body closer to her mother's.
Miranda came back inside, now with the weapon tucked away. "All is well. Their truck has plenty of space, so Andrea and I will go with."
Andy knew what this meant. This was a risky transport, and if they ran into trouble with the Germans, they needed the firepower of four resistance fighters, rather than two. Andy also knew that having Miranda with them and access on her ability to think on her feet would increase their chance of success.
"I'll help Bjarne get them as comfortable as possible while you change. Dress warm." Miranda ushered the children outside.
"We better hurry." Rakel finished her coffee, and took a deep breath as she rose from the chair. "We're risking everybody."
"I'll be right there." Andy placed her gun on the kitchen table and pushed the skirt off. Donning a black coverall, she pulled her hair into a bun at the nape of her neck and hid it with a men's cap. Black rubber boots completed her not-so-stylish outfit. Andy tucked her Luger and extra ammunition in her big pockets. Going outside, she left the cottage unlocked, which was the custom on the countryside.
Bjarne and Benny had brought two more Jewish families in the back of the large truck. Running on wood gas, it noisy and clumsy, but it would get the families to the safe-house.
"Bente will ride in the back with the families and you will sit up front with me. Bjarne is used to driving this monster, but he'll need us to help. He can't turn on the headlights, no matter what."
"I understand." Andy made sure the tarp was tied properly and then climbed into the front of the truck. Miranda sat in the middle, which didn't leave much space for Andy to squeeze in to.
"You sure, Miranda?" Andy asked, hesitating. "It'll be awfully crowded." Andy doubted Miranda would like it if she ended up on her lap."
"Just sit down. We'll manage." Miranda sounded peeved, and Andy obeyed reluctantly.
It was pure bliss and complete agony to sit pressed up against Miranda Priestly. Even dressed in a coverall and a wool coat, Miranda smelled wonderfully, and Andy inhaled greedily. She wanted to lean her head on Miranda's shoulder, but instead she sat ramrod straight and looked out the windscreen.
The small gravel roads were bumpy and sometimes muddy and Andy had to brace herself and hold on to the door handle to not slam into Miranda. Her sore elbow and her knees ached, but she was determined not to let it show. With any other leader, she might have tried to opt out of this mission, but with Miranda there, it was not an option.
It took them almost two hours, since they had to drive so slow and take the less traveled routes, but eventually Bjarne gave a tired smile and motioned ahead. Andy looked out the windscreen, but saw only darkness. Eventually she could make out the outlines of several structures.
"We're here." Bjarne sighed. "That went fairly well."
"Yes. Let's get everybody sorted." Miranda nudged at Andy who dreaded climbing out of the truck.
"Hold on to me," Miranda whispered. She took both of Andy's hands in hers. "Just ease down and try not to reinjure yourself. All right?"
"Yes. I mean no. I mean yes."
Miranda snorted. "I think your concussion is back, Andrea."
Andy merely slid down from the seat and out the door. Outside, Bente was helping the families out from under the tarp. Most of them were huddling together under blankets, in the cold autumn air. Rakel stood with Sara and My, their faces pale in the faint moonlight. Hanna and Benny remained on either side of her, warming their hands under the blanket.
A door opened behind Andy and she turned around, half expecting a myriad of German soldiers pouring out of the low farmhouse. Instead, a compact man hurried toward them, carrying a shielded flashlight.
"This way. This way." He waved for them to follow him to a house tucked in behind the barn, not visible from the main road. From the outside, it looked twice as run down as Andy's cottage, but it was clearly maintained because inside it was warm and clean.
"Welcome," a woman in her sixties said, smiling as she greeted them. "My name's Lotte, and this man-of-few-words is my husband Svend." She directed Rakel, Hanna, and the children to a room in the far back. Andy went with them to make sure they'd be comfortable. The room had three beds, which meant they'd be crowded, but at least they were safe for now.
"Oh, God." Rakel drew a deep, trembling breath.
"Rakel, I'm sorry this is happening to you." Andy placed a hand on Rakel's shoulder.
"Andy, I don't worry about myself." Turning, Rakel's stony expression was only skin deep. "I just want to make sure Hanna and the children are safe." She put her hand above Andy's, squeezing hard. "Promise me. No matter what happens to me, get them to safety."
"We will get you all to safety." Andy swallowed past the lump in her throat. "Take the time to rest and we'll be back to get you across to Sweden as soon as it's arranged. Miranda has the connections to make it happen. You know she does."
"I trust Ms. Miranda." Rakel relaxed a little and patted Andy's hand before letting go. "And also, Ms. Miranda has you, doesn't she?"
"Eh, yes, sure."
"She needs you. Now she needs you more than ever. Don't leave her." Rakel looked seriously at Andy, her dark eyes unwavering. "Ms. Miranda has let her guard down with you. I've never seen that happen. Ever. Stay with her."
Andy's heart thundered in her chest. "I—I promise."
"Come on, we have to leave. If the truck is spotted, this is all over." Bjarne called from the front door."
"I have to go. We'll be back to ship you out. Soon." Andy quickly kissed the children and said goodbye to Hanna and Rakel. As she hurried back to the truck, she was surprised to see Bente sitting up front in the passenger seat.
"In here, Andrea." Miranda called from the back of the truck. "We might as well try to get some rest and be comfortable. You must be sore."
Andy carefully climbed in the back. Bjarne closed the tarp and it was nearly impossible to see anything.
"Keep walking. There is a mattress back here. It seems reasonably clean." Miranda's cool voice guided Andy and soon she felt her foot hit something soft. She bent down and felt with her hands. Suddenly Miranda grabbed her by the waist and guided her to sit down. The truck hummed to life and Andy slumped back. Miranda's arm was still around her shoulders and somehow this seemed completely natural.
"Will we be able to save them, Miranda?"
"I'm in the process of contacting every single person within the resistance that has access to a boat. We'll ship as many as we can and it has to be done all at once. The German's won't expect us to pull it off in one big effort."
"Can that be done?" Andy was in awe at the daring plan.
"It has to. It's our only chance."
Andy nodded and leaned back at the ledge behind them. The bumpy road made it press uncomfortably into her back.
"This is damn uncomfortable," Miranda said. "Lie down, Andrea."
"Lie down. I'm not going to sit against this torturous bar for hours." Miranda nudged at Andy to move.
Feeling again with her hands, Andy squinted and tried to see how the mattress was arranged. She curled up on her side and tried to leave enough space for Miranda to stretch out. The narrow mattress forced them close together and Andy lost her breath when she felt Miranda settle in behind her, flush along her back. Praying that Miranda wouldn't notice how she trembled, Andy forced herself to breathe evenly.
"Are you comfortable? Cold?"
Cold? Was Miranda kidding? Andy had never felt so hot, burning, scorching hot, in her life.
"You're shaking. It's only natural," Miranda said quietly, rubbing Andy's arm and shoulder. "We've been transporting people whose lives are in danger. Afterward, the adrenaline can cause a reaction."
"I…it's not that." Shut up, Andy. Just shut up. "I'm fine."
"All right." Miranda didn't sound convinced. To Andy's amazement, she slid her hand around Andy's abdomen and placed her hand on her stomach. "This is the only way to keep warm back here. Share the body heat."
Andy wondered if she was imagining things or did Miranda seem out of breath as well?
"I'm afraid for them, Miranda." Andy leaned her head back, in under Miranda's chin. "We'll save them, won't we?"
"Yes. We will." Miranda pushed her face against the back of Andy's neck, her breath hot against her skin. "Andrea…"
"Come home with me."
"To your apartment? To Nordia?"
"Yes. Rakel won't be there. I have plenty of space. You can have your own room."
"Is cute, but it won't survive the winter. You'll be killed when the roof caves in under the snow."
"Are you sure you want me to stay in your home?" Andy knew Miranda hated repetition, but this was important.
"I said so."
"If you change your mind—"
That was probably true. Miranda was decisive and once her mind was made up, she engaged her tunnel-vision and went for it. Andy wanted to ask why Miranda wanted her to stay at the apartment. She could have offered to help Andy find other accommodations after all. 'Ms. Miranda has let her guard down with you. She needs you.' Rakel's words echoed in Andy's mind.
"I'll come home with you. Let me just pack—"
"No. Come with me tonight. I'll send Roy over to pack up your things tomorrow. I don't want you there anymore." Miranda's voice sounded raw, naked.
Andy knew what her answer would be—had to be. "Yes, Miranda."
For the second time in less than a week, Andy stood fidgeting in Miranda's hallway, not sure what to say. Bjarne had dropped them off several streets from Nordia, and Andy had cursed the necessity for caution when her legs ached as they hurried through the freezing cold Stavnsdal to avoid any patrolling Germans.
"Which room—Miranda? Which room should I use?" Andy tried to catch Miranda's attention. Miranda was striding between the kitchen and the bedroom and back to the kitchen again. Andy had no idea what she was doing. "Miranda?"
"Yes!" Miranda stopped, hands on her hips. "What is it?"
"Which room do you want me to use?"
Miranda suddenly seemed on edge, her fingers drumming on against her hips. "I don't know yet."
"You—you don't know." Andy was confused. As far as she knew, there were at least two, if not more, guest rooms, and that wasn't counting the absent twins' rooms.
"I haven't decided yet."
"I wish you would. I'm exhausted." Andy couldn't believe she'd just spoken to Miranda like that. People had gotten fired for less at Nordia. Still, Andy was tired, that was true, and she was getting increasingly annoyed. It was Miranda who insisted Andy stay with her after all. After having curled up together for "shared bodily warmth" inside a freezing cold truck, Andy needed to have a bath and then crawl into bed. Since Miranda seemed at a loss for words, and hadn't fired her yet, Andy continued, "All right if I have a bath?"
"By all means." Miranda spoke curtly and hurried back into the kitchen.
Andy drew a deep sigh of relief when she closed the bathroom door. She pushed her coverall off, groaning at the soreness in her arms and legs. Feeling her scalp, she was happy to notice the hat had covered the bandage and protected it. She ran the faucet and chose one of the luxurious bath salts, pouring it into the hot water. The lavender scent, mixed with vanilla, permeated the air and she inhaled it greedily. Quickly ridding herself of her underwear, Andy slipped into the tub, moaning loudly. "Oh, God."
"Andrea? Are you all right?"
"What? Oh, yes. Yes. I am."
"I have some herbal tea. Here. Can I come in?"
Andy looked around for something, anything, to cover herself with. The bath salt had made the water kind of milky, but it was still transparent. Her eyes fell upon a stack of washcloths. Grabbing one, she placed it across her chest, hoping it would hide most of her breasts. It was
just that she was rather well endowed, and, she groaned again, her breasts were kind of floating, looking even bigger.
"S-sure. Come in." Andy sank as low as she could into the tub without drowning herself. "Thank you."
"I know we're both miserably cold." Miranda handed Andy a mug, her face slightly pink. She was carrying one for herself and now, oh good Lord, she sat down on the vanity chair next to the tub. Was she going to have the discussion about rooms now?
"You look cold too," Andy said, using the mug as well as the washcloth to cover her buoyant breasts. "I'll be out of here in a second if you just give me a mo—"
"No, no. You just stay there." Miranda waved her hand dismissively. "You need it more than I do."
"I'm not so sure." Andy focused on Miranda's hands. "You're shivering."
"I'll be warm in a little bit. I've turned up the heat and put hot water bottles in the bed." Miranda's cheeks grew redder. "I didn't mean to snap at you. I honestly appreciate you staying here with me." She rapped against the mug with her nails, her eyes drifting to the small window. "After the girls left for England, I—I was grateful to have Rakel. She's been with me for a long time, and I've grown fond of her daughter and grandchildren. They provided a substitute family when my own were…scattered."
"Being alone is highly overrated." Andy cleared her throat.
"Yes. It is." Miranda turned her attention back at Andy, blinking. "You've been on your own for a while, haven't you?"
"A couple of years." The mug felt slippery in Andy's hands.
"That's a long time for a young woman to…" Miranda put her mug down on the vanity. "To live alone in that remote sh—cottage."
"It was my home for a long time." Andy didn't want Miranda to frown upon the cottage. It may be on its way to collapse around her, but it used to be her home. "Right now, I'm virtually homeless."
"You're not!" Miranda shocked Andy by suddenly kneeling beside the tub. "You have a home here now. You're safe here."
"I do?" Andy whispered, barely drowning out the sound of her thundering heart. "I am?"
"Yes. Nobody will hurt you here."
Except you. It was true. Miranda had the power to hurt her. Andy watched in horror how Miranda reached for the washcloth and a bar of soap. She lathered the washcloth carefully before looking at Andy. "Lean forward."
"Wh—?" So used to following Miranda's orders, Andy stopped thinking and merely did as she was told. Sitting up, she put the mug on the narrow ledge between the tub and the wall. She leaned forward, hugging her knees close to her chest.
Miranda began running the washcloth along Andy's back, washing her gently with long, soothing movements. She kept going, lathering again, washing some more, and lathering again.
"Your arm," Miranda said quietly.
Andy extended her left arm, and Miranda washed it carefully, all the way from Andy's shoulder to her fingers.
"The other arm."
This was a bit more problematic, since Miranda would have to lean over the tub, to reach it.
"Oh, I see." Miranda sighed. Standing up, she removed her clothes and stood for a moment, dressed only in cotton underwear.
Andy knew her jaw had lost all cohesion. Certain that she had whacked her head again, and was hallucinating in a hospital bed, Andy could only stare as Miranda unhooked her bra and pulled it off. When she pushed her thumbs under the waistband of her panties, Andy jerked and snapped her eyes forward. There was no way, hallucination or not, she was going to ogle Miranda stark naked. How would she be able to work for the woman if all she could saw at any given time was this vision of naked beauty?
Insistent hands pushed at Andy. "Forward a bit. Come on, I'm freezing here."
Andy slid forward, her mind reeling as she tried to comprehend what was going on. Surely Miranda wasn't going to—oh, she was.
Miranda stepped into the tub and soon Andy felt slender legs on either side of her hips as the other woman lowered herself into the hot water with a quiet moan.
"God, I needed this." Miranda sighed and pulled Andy back against her, sliding them both under the water to their chins. "For heaven's sake, Andrea. Breathe."
Andy gasped, not having realized she'd forgotten how to inhale and exhale. She felt Miranda's breasts cushion her from behind, and a flat, soft stomach pressed into Andy's lower back. This was too much. First the adrenaline shock of Rakel and her family being in mortal danger, then snuggling on a mattress with Miranda, and now this.
"I didn't say hyperventilate. Just breathe. We were both cold, and we cannot afford to get ill. You, especially, are still vulnerable after your accident. This was the most efficient way."
"What is it, Andrea?" Miranda sounded exasperated, like she was at the end of her rope when it came to patience. Not that Miranda was well-known for being the most patient woman in the world to begin with.
"This—I've never—I mean…I can't…" Andy gave up. There was no way she could articulate the confusing, contradictive emotions that whirled through her. She let her head fall back against Miranda's shoulder and closed her eyes. Suddenly a sob broke free and silent tears ran down her temples and into her damp hair.
"Andrea." Low, reverberating, Miranda's voice didn't do anything to stop the tears from running. Instead, the soft timbre against Andy's ear caused her to shiver.
"Don't speak." Miranda took the washcloth and lathered it again. Slowly she ran it across Andy's collarbones, back and forth from shoulder to shoulder. Sliding it down between her breasts and up again, Miranda then proceeded to wash Andy's right arm.
Certain that the oxygen was about to run out in Miranda's bathroom, Andy turned her head sideways, hiding her face at Miranda's neck. "Thank you."
"For what, Andrea?"
"Bathing you?" Miranda had an obvious smile in her voice now.
"That too." Andy knew she had to get a grip of herself and show Miranda she wasn't some whimpering weakling. She thought of her options, how to reestablish herself as Miranda's fearless aide-de-camp. It was high time to show Miranda that she didn't need looking after, no matter how good it felt.
Without thinking too much, which would no doubt make her chicken out, Andy pulled her legs up and turned around. It was Miranda's turn to gasp in shocked surprise. Her cheeks burning, Andy pushed her legs out on either side of Miranda and as she pulled Miranda toward her, she bent her legs at the knees to wrap them around her boss. This was probably a miscalculation, Andy thought, since she'd lost her breath again, since it brought them face to face, and chest to chest in a very intimate embrace.
"What are you doing, Andrea?" Miranda asked, struggling to sound cool and raising an eyebrow. Andrea's maneuver had taken her by complete surprise and Miranda wasn't the one who willingly relinquished control to anyone else.
"Reciprocating." Andrea reached for a new washcloth and dipped it into the bathwater before lathering it up. She began to wash Miranda's arms and shoulders, which left goose bumps in the wake of the washcloth. Miranda forced her eyes to remain open and her face expressionless. This had worked out well until Andrea leaned, in further, reaching around Miranda's shoulders. The softness of their breasts pressed together and Miranda drew a whimpering breath as Andrea washed her back.
"Doesn't that feel nice?" Andrea whispered. "I haven't had anyone wash my back since I was little."
Miranda leaned her forehead against Andrea's shoulder. Could Andrea really be that innocent? Was this about caring for Miranda, rather than a way to seduce her? "Yes." Miranda cleared her
throat. "Nice." She lifted her head hesitantly and met Andrea's eyes. Soft and brown, her dilated pupils showed that she was, if not completely aware, then definitely affected by their nude proximity. "Andrea. You realize this…this situation, is unconventional. I would never. Normally, I mean." Hating how she began to almost stutter, Miranda tried to calm her raging libido enough to complete a sentence. "I don't jump into the tub with other people as a habit." God, that sounded even more ridiculous.
"I never thought you did. Tonight was dangerous. Cold and dangerous." Andrea shrugged. "Nothing wrong with tending to a…a friend." She looked shyly at Miranda, probably regretting the audacious use of the term 'friend.'
"True. Nothing wrong at all." Miranda shivered. "The water's getting too cold. Time to get up." Now this was going to be awkward.
"Yes, all right." Andrea shifted, pulling her legs back from Miranda's hips, and managed to get up on her knees. "I'm not crushing you, am I?"
"No. You're fine. Just don't slip."
Andrea stood slowly. Miranda couldn't help it. Her eyes roamed greedily over the soft, pale skin on display right before her eyes. Then she saw all the bruises, more than she remembered, that marred the skin Andrea's on her legs and hips. "Oh, my." She must be so sore, and adding the cold weather tonight… "Andrea."
"What? Oh, no. They look worse than they are. I mean, worse than they hurt. I promise." Andrea stepped out of the tub and wrapped a bath towel around herself. Without asking, she grabbed another one, holding it up to Miranda.
Miranda stood on uncertain legs, her heart skipping several beats as Andrea wrapped the towel around her.
"Got it?" Andrea frowned. "You're shivering. Here." She took yet another towel and put it around Miranda's shoulder. "So much for getting warm in the tub. You're trembling more now than you did when you stepped in."
"Well." Miranda didn't know what to say, since the truth was she shivered because of the dark haired beauty standing so close, only dressed in a towel. "Time to go to bed."
"Yes. As I tried to ask you before, which room—"
"Come with me." Miranda pulled the plug to drain the water, turned off the light and grabbed Andrea by the hand before padding across the hallway into her bedroom.
"You need another nightgown."
"Oh. Right. Yes."
Miranda opened a drawer and pulled out a cotton nightgown, handing it to Andrea. Nerves made her stomach lurch, as she dreaded Andrea's response. "Stay in here."
"H-here?" Andrea frowned. "But—"
"Please." A word that few people, and certainly none of her employees had ever heard. Miranda wanted to close her eyes, but no matter what, she wasn't a coward. She kept her gaze steadily on Andrea, trying to judge what was going through her head.
"You have plenty of bedrooms. I'm not concussed, or in need of supervision." Andrea held on tight to her towel, looking flustered but not intimidated.
"I'm well aware of how many bedrooms I have." Knowing she sounded testy, which was completely detrimental to her purpose, Miranda sighed and briefly covered her eyes with her hand.
"Because I need you!" Miranda took a step back, shocked at how she'd just raised her voice. She, who never said please and she never raised her voice.
"Oh. All right." Dropping her towel onto a chair, Andrea slipped the nightgown over her head and crawled into bed.
Miranda stared at Andrea, knowing she was dangerously close to becoming slack-jawed. She kept standing there for a few moments before she understood that Andrea wasn't going to question her motives any further. At least not now. Quickly, she let go of the towels and donned a nightgown. Getting into bed, it already felt warm from Andrea's presence. Miranda wondered why the idea of a cold and lonely bed was suddenly not only unappealing, but utterly horrible. Could it be that once she'd shared her bed with Andrea, the thought of losing that alluring warmth, the small sounds she made in the night, and the dazed look in her beautiful eyes in the morning, was unimaginable? Until now, Miranda had been sure that nobody, except her daughters, could have such an impact on her life. And still, when she crawled into bed, and heard Andrea sigh softly, Miranda had an irrational feeling of the world finally righting itself.
"I like wearing your scent again," Andrea murmured.
"Yes? Why is that?"
"I just do." Andrea shifted, suddenly seeming restless.
"What's wrong? You uncomfortable?" Miranda pushed herself up on her elbow.
"No. Well, I…It's really strange, but I'm still cold. Inside. You know?"
Miranda had left the small light on and now she could see Andrea was trembling, just like she herself was. "All right. We know how to deal with this, don't we? Turn around."
Andrea rolled over, glancing at Miranda over her shoulder.
"Lift your head." Miranda remembered how her right arm had gone to sleep when pressed in between her and Andrea in the truck. Now she pushed it in under Andrea's pillow, and this made it possible for her to curl up tightly against the other woman. It was remarkable how soft Andrea felt, and how well she fit against her.
"Mm. Yes." Andrea yawned. "That feels so nice."
There was that word again. "Yes. Nice," Miranda repeated. She buried her face in Andrea's hair, closing her eyes. Uncertain where to put her left arm, she placed it along her own hip. To her surprise, Andrea reached back and pulled forward, around her waist. She placed Miranda's hand between her breasts.
Miranda was certain she wouldn't be able to sleep like this. How could she, when she was almost touching those beautiful breasts that Andy had pressed against Miranda's in the tub only minutes ago? Determined to not make a fool of herself, or shock Andrea right out of her bed by acting on impulse. The burning sensation, which slowly warmed her from inside, felt like it could ignite at any moment. Images of Andrea's naked body, her satin skin, and the sensation of her gentle touch flickered through Miranda's mind. Burying her face into Andrea's hair again, Miranda closed her eyes and tried to relax. Afterward, she had no idea how it happened, but she fell asleep instantly.
It was interesting, in a lethal sort of way, to observe Miranda's behavior the upcoming days. During daytime, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Andy worked at her counter in the ladies tailor department. This part of Nordia catered to the wealthy women in the area, who could afford to have tailor made clothes. The war inexorably made it impossible to carry the fine fabrics imported from Asia or South America, but Miranda had stocked up before the occupation, and so far they were doing quite well. It had only taken Andy a few hours to get up to speed with the seamstresses and which orders they had yet to deliver.
Miranda stalked the different parts of Nordia, from flowers, to men's wear, toys, kitchen appliances, and best grossing department, women's wear. Like a lioness on the prowl, Miranda could show up, fast, as out of thin air, and her minions shook in their pumps. Behind her, Emily usually scurried, taking notes while glaring at anybody that might risk attracting Miranda's wrath.
During the nights, a different Miranda showed up. As soon as Nordia was closed, and Miranda and Andy ascended to the apartment using the elevator, she seemed in a strange way deflated, at least for a moment. This normally changed once they were in a more private setting. Once they had their dinner, and settled in by the radio to listen to music and read, there was an unexpected sort of normalcy that Andy found comfortable and enticing. She knew this wouldn't last, but was set on enjoying every second of this mesmerizing woman's company. When they retired to bed, Miranda curled up next to Andy, and it was clearly implied that Andy was not to bring up the subject of sleeping in another bedroom. Miranda never touched Andy in any intimate way, and it was starting to wear on Andy. She wasn't quite sure why she had these feelings of longing, other than she truly cared for Miranda. Having slept close to her almost a week now, Andy had to force herself to not caress Miranda. Andy had heard rude words for women who liked other women 'that way,' but she couldn't associate what she felt for Miranda with such crude terminology. She could look at, and listen to, Miranda for hours without growing tired of it. When she was surrounded by Chanel No 5 and what had to be Miranda's own special scent, Andy knew her feelings were about love. Which type of love, she simply didn't care about then; she only knew that there was nothing wrong, or crude, about how she felt for Miranda Priestly.
"Andrea. Come. I have instructions for you." Miranda spoke in her customary, terror inducing low voice as she held up the door the apartment. Andy tried to estimate which mood Miranda happened to be in tonight as her eyes were narrow and her movements less graceful than usual.
"I need you to break curfew and go to your backup contact. I received word that things are happening really soon. I need to know when." Miranda walked into the kitchen.
"Wh-what? Back up contact? Something happened to Laurits?" Aghast, Andy thought of the round, jovial farmer, who kept a powerful radio in his barn.
"I'm not sure. The Germans picked him up and from what I heard, they're going to keep him for a while. His radio was removed immediately by our people."
"Oh, fantastic. The radio is rescued. Never mind Laurits being questioned. Even tortured?" Bile rose in Andy's throat, making her words reckless.
"Andrea." Miranda's voice is low as usual, but her eyes fierce. "Our contact at the German headquarters keeps us informed. I will get him out of there. This is a risk we all take."
"But, his wife, and, oh God, his kids." Andy's eyes filled with tears. "They must be so afraid."
"Stop it. You're not helping him by losing it like this. Get a grip. Go do your job. If we don't get word out in time, we're going to get a lot of people killed."
"I will. I will." Andy swallowed the threatening tears. She refused to give into the feeling of buckling under the pressure.
"Very well." Her eyes flat now, Miranda turned to walk away. She turned around before entering the kitchen. "Andrea. I usually don't care for speaking the obvious, and I know I don't have to say this. While you're out there—use caution." She swallowed and her eyes darkened
"Of course. I wouldn't jeopardize our mission."
"That's not what I meant, and you know it. Be safe, Andrea. Please."
Please? Andy blinked at the 'non-Miranda' word. The hallway seemed to slowly stop spinning as her heart settled. "I will. I promise."
Andy's teeth clattered as the cold wind permeated the coverall and her wool underwear. It was unfathomably cold this dark night, and she wrapped her arms around herself, trying to maintain some warmth. Andy made her way up the narrow gravel road to the inconspicuous farm, which lay hidden behind a patch of pine trees. Even during daytime, you had to know exactly where the farmhouse was located to be able to spot it. Tonight, the stars made the pine needles on the road look like shreds of silver as they lit her way to the darkened house.
Andy knocked three times and stepped into the small hallway. Nearly tripping over several pairs of clogs, she pulled the door close behind her. A faint light from the kitchen showed that someone was awake. Farmers went to bed early.
"Preben? Hello? It's Andy. I've come about the eggs." A rather ridiculous way of greeting someone, Andy thought, realizing that she was using a Miranda-expression. Still it was true. 'I've come about the eggs.' Please.
"Come in, Andy." Preben Larsen, only about five years older than Andy poked his head through the door to the kitchen. "There's new information, and also, someone I'd like you to meet."
"What?" Alarmed, Andy hesitated before she stepped into the warm kitchen. A pot of boiling water sat on the fire stove, and the scent of coffee substitute made Andy's mouth water.
"Here. Have some coffee," a stranger's voice said.
Andy reluctantly accepted a cup from then hands of a blond man.
"This is Christian, from Copenhagen," Preben said. "He's made a delivery for us."
"Hello." Andy didn't smile, but shook Christian's hand. "A delivery?"
"We came across a truck load of weapons, ammunition, that sort of thing," Christian said, smiling broadly. "We thought we'd share with our provincial cells."
Andy didn't like the way Christian sneered when he said 'provincial.' "I better bring the new message back, Preben," she said.
"Need help with that?" Christian asked, smiling lopsidedly.
"No, thank you. I'm fine."
"Yes, you are. Better than fine, if you ask me."
Was he flirting with her? Andy wanted to step impatiently on Christian's foot, but smiled noncommittedly as Preben brought her the document. He wrapped it in a protective waxed paper. "This should keep it dry and safe."
"It usually does."
"You're sending it with her, just like that?" Christian looked darkly at Preben. "I thought you were supposed to let me have a crack at decoding it."
"Eh…" Preben's ears colored. "I—there's no time. I mean, Andy needs to get going."
"Preben, there are strict protocols in our group how the decoding is done, isn't that right?" Andy asked pointedly. Who the hell was this Christian to think he could waltz in from Copenhagen and mess with their system? After all, it was a system that had kept most of them out of German hands.
"Hey, no hard feelings, I just wanted to see if you all use the same technique as we do." Christian shrugged and fired off another toothy smile at Andy. "I mean, granted you're running your little operations from farms and cottages, but someone should make sure you don't accidentally reveal anything that could harm the big city movement."
"Oh, please," Andy said. "First of all, Aalborg is not exactly rural, and secondly, Denmark consists of more than Copenhagen. We are part of the European mainland here, which Copenhagen is not. We can use a lot of things here among the farms and the cottages," she spat, "but an overbearing—"
"Here, Andy. Hurry home now. Christian and I will divide the shipment between the usual storage places."
"And you are certain that you should bring him? What do you know about him? Really." Andy glowered at the now somber Christian.
"He has quite the reputation, actually," Preben said, sounding just a little too star struck for Andy's taste. "See you soon."
"All right. Just be careful, Preben." Andy didn't bother saying goodbye to Christian, but left the farm and hid among the trees before she inserted the document under the sole in her shoe. Moving as fast as she could, knowing that Miranda was waiting, Andy cursed not having a bicycle anymore. Still, she was probably safer walking and running, than trying to navigate a bike without the lights on.
When she had half an hour of walking left, Andy knew her luck had run out. She heard the sound of several engines approaching and saw the muted headlights approaching from Stavnsdal. Not hesitating, Andy through herself into a ditch, crawling through the mud to hide behind withered tall grass. The vehicles sounded so loud in the night as they passed. Andy carefully peered through the grass, and saw two German cars, ominously sleek and black, and one truck covered with tarp, much like the one she had ridden in the other night.
"What the hell's going on?" Andy murmured. Cursing inwardly at how dirty she was, and how cold, she pushed out of the ditch.
The fourth vehicle seemed to appear out of thin air. Suddenly headlights blinded her and Andy shrieked and threw herself backward into the ditch again, ending up on her back. Pushing frantically with her legs, she tried to regain her footing, to put as much distance between herself and the vehicle. The driver slammed the brakes and soon flashlights scurried like nightly insects and agitated German voices called out orders.
Andy forced herself to hold her breath and stay motionless. She tried to figure out what the soldiers were saying, but they were all talking at once.
"Ruhe!" a dark voice called out, drowning out the others. "Sie können nicht weit erhalten haben."
Andy knew some German, enough to realize that they had seen her, or something, and would search until they found her. Carefully, she pushed her hand down the deep pocket on her right hip and pulled out her gun. Squinting, she tried to estimate how many of them there were. She counted six plus the man giving orders.
The men were noisy as they searched the ditch and the trees farther from the road, and this worked in Andy's favor. She pulled herself back, putting distance between her and the flickering flashlights. The mud made it hard to find foothold to push back, but Andy used both elbows and her free hand to dig into the sodden ground.
One of the flashlights began to come too close. Andy whimpered inwardly and pushed back harder, while also trying to stay low. The light suddenly went out and now she had no way of
knowing where the man was. Holding still, trying to quiet her gasping breaths, Andy thought she saw an outline against the starry sky. Then, large boots landed less than a meter from her.
Thinking fast, knowing that everything could soon be over, Andy pushed forward and kicked both feet out at knee height. The man went down with a grunt, landing half on top of Andy. She pushed her gun against his head while finding his mouth with a muddy hand.
"Shh!" Andy shoved the gun harder against the back of the man's head as he began to flail his arms around. He stopped, gasping against her hand.
Andy knew she risked suffocating him with the mud, but if she let go, it would all be over. She glanced over to the rest of the Germans, they had all gone further south and in among the trees. So far, nobody seemed to be missing the man she held at gunpoint. Andy knew she had to make a decision soon, or he would risk breaking free, or call out for the others. Shooting him was only a last-moment choice. Too noisy. They'd be on her like hawks. If she had been able to reach the knife she kept strapped to her leg that could've been an option, but also quite messy, and perhaps not as quiet as you would assume. As Andy saw it, she only had one viable option, and she had to do it now, while the others were far away.
With a tinge of regret, but without hesitation, Andy moved her hand fast, turning the gun around, slamming it down against the base of the soldiers' skull. He collapsed against her. Andy pushed herself free, clutching the weapon tight as she moved toward the tree line away from the soldiers.
Miranda heard the elevator move. It was past midnight and her stomach had been in knots for the last couple of hours. Andrea was late. Beyond late. She opened the door and at first she couldn't see anybody in the elevator. Lowering her gaze, she spotted a figure sitting on the floor, knees pulled up, their face hidden.
Andrea's head snapped up. "Miranda. Hi." Her eyes were huge, impossibly dark in the muted light. She rose, but didn't exit the elevator. "You better not touch me. I—I'm f-filthy."
"Come inside." Something was wrong. Terribly wrong. Miranda could feel it.
"Stay back. I've got mud everywhere. I tried to scrape it off outside, but—but I heard voices, and I—and I…" Andrea's voice died.
"Come." Forcing her voice to sound commanding, Miranda stepped aside to let Andrea pass. She could smell the mud now. "Another bath for you, Andrea." Miranda closed the door behind them, and turned to look at her. She couldn't hold back a gasp at the sight of the dirty, shivering woman. "My God."
Andrea looked at the floor, wincing. "Oh, I'm so sorry. I'll clean it later."
"Never mind the floor. Take your clothes off where you stand. I'll draw a bath for you." Miranda knew she had to step back for a moment, to get a grip of the turmoil inside her. Whatever the reason for her protectiveness and affection for this young woman, it wouldn't do to fall to pieces in front of Andrea when she needed Miranda's care. The sense of déjà vu was surreal to say the least as she began to fill the tub. She stared down at the whirling water, poured lavender bath
salts into it and then returned to the hallway where Andrea stood in her underwear, prying another envelope out of her shoe.
"Here. I know it's important." Andrea laughed mirthlessly. "It better be. I might have killed a boy for it."
"What?" Miranda took the envelope and placed it on a small table by the wall. "Andrea, what happened?"
"Germans. Lots of them. One nearly caught me. I had to hit him over the head with my gun to get away." Monotonous, Andrea's voice was contradicted by the pain in her eyes. "I didn't get a good look at him. He sounded…felt…young. I had to hit him really hard."
Miranda ignored Andrea's dirty hands and wrapped an arm around her waist, pulling her toward the bathroom. "It was you or him. It's rationalizing, I know, but that's the nature of the beast— the beast being the war." Miranda hated what this damned war was doing to young people like Andrea. And, to be fair, to the young German man Andrea had to fight to do her job.
Miranda helped Andrea remove her underwear and into the tub. Sinking down to her chin, Andrea closed her eyes, tears trickling down her cheeks. She didn't sob. In fact, her silent tears had all the more impact on Miranda because they were soundless.
Andrea startled Miranda when she ducked under the surface, staying under for several moments. She broke the surface with a gasp. "Shampoo?"
"Here." Miranda handed her the bottle. She stood next to the tub, watching Andrea scrub her scalp furiously. She ducked again, still scrubbing, pushing the shampoo out of her long strands.
Miranda reached for the handheld showerhead from the wall and turned it on. Andy surface again, blinking against the water drops clinging to her lashes.
"Let me rinse you off," Miranda said.
"What? Oh, all right." Andrea removed the plug from the drain and stood on slightly unsteady legs, holding on to the small ledge where Miranda kept bath salts and soaps. Miranda directed the spray at her, wanting the warm water to keep Andrea from shivering.
"Let me have it." Andrea took the shower hose and rinsed her hair. "There. Done."
Miranda turned off the water and grabbed a towel. Her heart thundered in her chest at the sight of Andrea, and she wrapped the bath towel around the young woman and kept her in a fierce embrace.
"I can't lose you." Miranda was shocked at how raspy her voice sounded. "I can't."
"I was so scared."
"I thought if I failed, if I didn't get the message through—Rakel, her family…"
"Andrea." Miranda didn't feel guilty for thinking of Andrea first. Of losing her. "You have to eat something."
"I can't." Andrea pressed her face into Miranda's shoulder. "I don't want anything. Just hold me. Please."
"Come to bed, then. Let's go to bed. It's late." Miranda pulled gently at Andrea, grateful when she was steady enough to walk next to her to the bedroom.
"The message," Andrea said as they passed the table.
"I've got it." Miranda grabbed the small parcel and placed it on the nightstand. "Just climb into bed." She meant to help Andrea put on a new nightgown, but Andrea simply slipped into bed, huddling with the covers pulled up to her chin.
Miranda sat on the side of the bed, and since Andrea kept looking at the message she'd risked her life for, perhaps killed for, Miranda chose to open it in her presence. Until now, Andrea had never personally seen any of the messages she had couriered, only delivered them and awaited new instructions. She trusts me implicitly. Miranda's stomach clenched around the words echoing in her mind. Andrea was too trusting. As savvy as she was, trained through experience how to survive, she was still so sensitive, so—innocent.
Blinking hard, as if this would help clear her mind as well as forestall ridiculous tears, Miranda looked at the message. It was written in code, of course, an alternating system using literature. Miranda took a copy of HC Andersen's fairytales from her book shelf. Opening the pages in a certain sequence, she used a pencil to write the deciphered message below the code. Once she was done, Andrea had fallen asleep. Miranda read the message one more time. Glancing over at Andrea, tucking the blanket over a naked shoulder, Miranda sighed. Andrea would need all the rest she could get. In two days, the boats would be ready and their lives would be on the line again.
This thought stayed with Miranda as she got ready for bed. She was aware of the fact that Andrea was naked under the covers when she slipped into bed. Murmuring, Andrea turned toward her as Miranda switched off the bedside lamp. The little red lamp across the room cast a warm, muted glow over them.
"Miranda…" Andrea cupped Miranda's cheek, looking at her with drowsy eyes. "Message?"
"I'll let you know tomorrow. Nothing has to happen right away. We have time." Time. Well, not much, Miranda thought. Just a few hours before a new day began. Forty-eight hours approximately until they moved forward with the rescue operation.
Miranda pushed an arm under Andrea's pillow, too tired to concern herself with what was appropriate or not. When Andrea pushed closer into her arms, a soft whimper escaping her lips, Miranda's carefully maintained control failed. She wrapped her arms tight around Andrea, grateful beyond words she was able to hold her, feel her breath and her heartbeat. Miranda pushed the damp, long tresses of hair from Andrea's face, and then traced her full lips with trembling fingertips.
Andy felt safe again. Warm, safe and quite dizzy. The bath had restored her temperature, and cleansed her, at least externally. She refused to let her mind wander to that muddy ditch.
Instead she inhaled Miranda's scent, the perfume, the soap, the special combination that made her tremble for an entire different reason.
Miranda pushed Andy's hair back, making it possible for Andy to look up into her beautiful blue eyes. Touching Andy's lips, Miranda seemed to be trembling as much as Andy was. Not sure where the feelings came from, this all overshadowing desire, Andy parted her lips and slid her tongue across two of Miranda's fingertips.
Miranda's eyes widened, and gasping she bent over Andy kissed her. Miranda. Was kissing. Her. This completely strange idea left Andy so aroused and breathless, all she could do was cling to Miranda. The kiss was soft, their lips barely touching as their breaths mingled. Andy lost all thought of why, or even how. She wanted only to feel Miranda's hands on her body, and her lips pressed against her own. This soft kiss was not nearly enough. She needed to feel alive. Andy wanted to know without a shadow of a doubt that she was live, that blood thundered through her veins with every heartbeat. Right now, right here, it seemed only attainable by Miranda's touch. Eager to taste more of Miranda's lips, Andy dug her fingers into Miranda's silver locks, pushing them tighter together. She tilted her head more, opening her mouth.
A growl emanated from Miranda, from deep inside her throat, and she slipped her tongue into Andy's mouth. Exploring, their tongue tasted their counterpart, over and over. Andy had never kissed anyone with this passion, or experienced such arousal. Her nipples hardened and moisture gathered between her legs. She ached for more, more caresses, more kisses, more of Miranda.
"This is insane." Miranda breathed against Andy's lips. "This is pure insanity. I just can't leave you be. I just can't."
"I don't want you to."
"What?" Blinking, Miranda looked down at Andy, suddenly pulling back.
"I don't want you to leave me be." Andy realized that Miranda must have misunderstood at first. "I need you, Miranda. I need this." To her relief, Miranda relaxed against her and pressed her lips against Andy's.
Miranda's nightgown had ridden up during their heated embrace. She found Andrea intoxicating, her taste so fresh, so soft and new. Miranda had never kissed a woman before, only polite air kisses at the most. It was different, softer, and in a strange way, so much more passionate and sensual.
Then she felt Andrea's hand on her leg, sliding up on the outside of her thigh. Barely touching her, just with very careful fingertips, Andrea caressed up and down, up and down. Miranda moaned into the kiss. Needing to breathe, she slid her lips down Andrea's jawline, nuzzling and kissing her way towards Andrea's delicate ear. Miranda pressed her lips against the spot on Andrea's neck that fluttered wildly with each beat of her heart.
"Miranda!" Andrea shifted restlessly. "You…what are you doing to me?"
"To you?" Miranda gasped for air. "You're the one…setting me on fire."
"How can this be?" Andrea moved, and suddenly Miranda found herself on her back with Andrea half on top of her. A very naked Andrea. "How can this happen? All I can think of—" She bent to kiss Miranda on the lips. "—is to kiss you, hold you."
Miranda slid her hands down Andrea's back, reveling in the feeling of the smooth, warm skin. When she reached Andrea's rounded buttocks, she was about to yank her hands back, but Andrea's heartfelt moan stopped her.
"May I?" Miranda asked politely, her hands trembling.
"God, yes. Please."
Miranda squeezed gently the generous curve of Andrea's bottom. The silky smooth skin felt wonderful to touch and when her fingers dipped in between, almost accidental, Andrea whimpered and arched against Miranda's hip. Her squirming movements sent tingles throughout Miranda's body.
"You talk about fire," Miranda murmured. "Want me to put the fire out for you, Andrea?"
"Yes." The answer came so readily, Miranda was sure Andrea had not quite understood the question.
"Am I to understand you want me to make love to you?"
"Yes!" Teary-eyed, Andrea undulated, looking unaware at how hard she pressed herself against Miranda. "Please. I need you, Miranda."
The heartfelt plea, so without pretense or deception, but instead so honest, struck Miranda square in the chest. "Then you will just have to trust me." She was so aroused, Miranda had to calm herself, if she was going to be of any use to Andrea.
Miranda kissed Andrea, this time with equal parts tenderness and passion. Her own libido simmered, but she knew that part could wait. Somehow, this was now all about Andrea. Miranda suspected that Andrea was either a virgin, or very inexperienced, and she wanted her to love what they were doing.
Andy found herself on her back again, the covers completely off, and above her, Miranda stood on her knees, pulling her nightgown all the way off. Andy stared. She had never seen anyone so beautiful before. In the muted light, Miranda appeared as a forest creature, a spirit so enchanting, all Andy could do was to reach for this vision and hope she wasn't dreaming.
Slowly, Miranda lowered herself down, kissing a trail of slow, hot kisses down Andy's chest. Eventually her mouth was on one of Andy's breasts, sucking her aching nipple into the hot, moist cavity. Nibbling, sucking, whatever she did, Andy couldn't remain quiet. She groaned and pushed both hands into Miranda's hair, holding her closer. Miranda still slipped easily over to Andy's other breast.
"Oh, so good, so good." Andy breathed hard. "You make me feel…alive…"
"You are. You're alive and you're here. Where you belong. With me." Miranda spoke harshly, but her smoldering eyes locked on Andy spoke of an overwhelming tenderness. She reached down and nudged Andy's legs apart. Gently, careful fingers explored Andy's drenched folds, and she willingly allowed it, loved it, craved it. The yearning was bordering on pain.
"It hurts, Miranda," Andy whimpered, trying to explain.
"What hurts?" Miranda stilled her hand, looking concerned.
"Don't stop!" Close to panic, Andy pushed her pelvis up, trying to force Miranda's hand closer again.
"Oh, that hurts." Miranda smiled the most gentle smile, transforming her cool beauty. "Well, then. I can help with that." Long fingers slid around the tender ridge of nerves, the part that hurt the most, massaging it with perfect pressure.
Andy felt convulsions begin in her lower abdomen, pierce her thighs and her sex.
"Ah!" Throwing her head back, Andy felt Miranda close her mouth around one of her breasts. This sent a new river of pleasure through her entire body and Andy bucked, unable to stop her body's reaction. She wrapped her arms around Miranda, needing her close, skin on skin. Andy felt as if she'd dislodge from herself, and having Miranda hold on to her, to really feel her, grounded her in the moment.
"Goodness, you're so responsive, so utterly wonderful," Miranda whispered in Andy's ear. "Who would've thought you'd want me this much?"
"I did." Andy gasped. "I do."
"Then show me." Miranda took Andy's right hand and pushed it down between her thighs. Hot and wet, Miranda's center felt much like Andy's. She mimicked how Miranda had touched her, and Miranda helped by undulating into Andy's hand.
"Go…inside…oh my God."
Andy found Miranda's entrance and slipped two fingers inside. Immediately she felt Miranda's inner walls squeeze her, welcome her, and suddenly Miranda fell on top of her. Now it was her turn to convulse and moan as she pressed her face against Andy's neck. Andy turned her head and found Miranda's lips, kissing her tenderly. "Was that good?"
Miranda slid off Andy, but only far enough to catch the bedcovers before they fell off the bed. She covered them both and then wrapped her arms around Andy, one arm under the pillows, like she had before the passion overtook them.
"You think you can sleep again?" Miranda kissed the back of Andy's head.
"Yes. Promise you'll wake me when you go up? I don't want to wake up alone." Andy hoped she didn't sound annoyingly needy. "I mean, not after this."
"Oh, sweet girl." Miranda drew a trembling breath. "I promise."
Miranda woke and knew instinctively what time it was. She had always had the ability to guess the time correctly, give or take ten minutes. Now, she was glad she woke up early since her arms were full of a naked, sleeping Andrea. They had half an hour before they needed to face the day.
Andrea stirred and murmured something inaudible against Miranda's skin.
"I have you. Shh." Miranda wanted Andrea to rest. They had turned to each other twice more during the night, the passion igniting again and again, and Miranda had never known she could give herself over so freely, with such trust. Andrea had gone from shy to voracious, and every single touch of hers was passionate and loving. She gave so willingly of herself to Miranda; it tore down every one of her defenses.
"Miranda." Andrea pushed up on her elbow, her long brown hair a mess across her face.
"Good morning." Miranda smiled and combed her fingers through the wild masses of hair, brushing it aside. "You're in there somewhere, right?"
"I need a haircut." Andrea returned the smile drowsily.
"No. Please. Don't cut your beautiful hair." Miranda loved how the silky strands felt against her, push her fingers through it, and, most of all, to hide her face in it when she climaxed in Andrea's arms, moaning her name.
"All right. I won't." Andrea dipped her head and gently brushed her lips across Miranda's. "Mm."
"Greedy, aren't you?" Miranda smiled against Andrea's mouth.
"Your fault." Andrea kissed along Miranda's jaw bone. "You showed me this…this heaven of being in your arms. Spoiling me."
Shivering and with a sudden twinge in her chest, Miranda pulled Andrea on top of her in sudden urgency. Not sure why somebody walked over her grave so abruptly, Miranda wrapped arms and legs around the young woman in her arms. "Andrea. Kiss me."
Andrea did as requested, but it wasn't enough.
"No. Kiss me." Miranda parted her lips and met Andrea's kiss with full force. She managed to roll them, ending up on top, and kept kissing Andrea till they were both close to asphyxiated.
"Miranda, easy, easy," Andrea whispered, stroking her back in long, languid movements. "There now." She didn't seem shaken by Miranda's sudden attack; in fact, she had met every passionate
stroke of Miranda's tongue with her own. "Tell me. Talk to me, Miranda. What do you need me to do? I can tell there's something you want. Tell me."
Miranda hadn't thought it possible for her to display any sort of shyness. She knew she was tough and even hard at times, and certainly never bashful or shy. Now, however, in the arms of this lanky, gorgeous young woman, half her age and, until last night, quite innocent, Miranda had to bury her face in Andrea's hair.
"Miranda? Is something wrong? Did I do something wrong?" Panic had entered the perimeter of Andrea's voice.
"No! No." Miranda pressed her lips against Andrea's ear, whispering hotly. "I just can't get enough of you. I don't want to even think about leaving this bed. I can't believe how much I crave you."
"Oh." Andrea caressed Miranda's back. "I feel the same way. I could stay like this forever."
"Yes?" Her heart feeling a little lighter, Miranda pressed her lips against Andrea's neck. "You want me too?"
"Oh, yes. Please, Miranda, tell me what you want me to do. Right now. Tell me and I will do it."
The juxtaposition between Andrea's clear voice and the passionate meaning behind her words sent more wetness between Miranda's legs. She slid one leg between Andrea's and the sensation of damp curls and hot flesh against her thigh, made it impossible for Miranda to hold back a moan.
"I need to taste you," Miranda said, trembling now. "May I, my darling?"
"Yes…anything, Miranda. But how?"
"Like this." Miranda moved between Andrea's legs, parting her, pushing her legs up and out. Completely on display, Andrea now whimpered, trembling all over.
Andy had never felt so exposed in her life. Had anyone told her only days ago that she'd be naked in Miranda Priestly's bed, with an equally undressed Miranda about to perform some sexual act Andy had not even heard of before; she would've thought them mad. Yet, here she was, looking up at the tousled, stunning woman that was her boss, her leader, and who held her heart.
"Don't be afraid." Miranda cupped her cheek. "I would never hurt you."
"I know." It was partially true. Andy knew Miranda wouldn't want to hurt her, but also that by allowing themselves to get this close to each other, they risked a lot. Giving herself to this woman , and making love with such abandon, was like handing Miranda a sword and exposing her neck. Some of the danger was due to the uncertain times of war, but most of it was for opening her heart. Andy trembled under Miranda's touch as it dawned on her that if she lost this, lost her, it would forever scar her.
"May I?" Miranda asked, gazing into her eyes.
"Yes." Andy wasn't quite sure what she agreed to, but also knew she simply couldn't deny Miranda anything. Her touch was mesmerizing and the arousal so sweet, it bordered on pain.
Miranda kissed the area between Andy's breasts and licked a blazing trail up her neck. "Just so you know, darling, you're not the only 'virgin' here. I may be more experienced than you, but that was with men. I have never made love with a woman before you. I'm just as…nervous." Miranda didn't look nervous, but there was a tremor in her voice that strangely enough settled Andy.
"I love how you make me feel, Miranda," Andy whispered, cupping her face. "Surely you feel it?"
"I do. I feel it. I can see it." Miranda moved back and very pointedly gazed down between Andy's legs.
Andy was amazed and a little embarrassed at how much additional moisture Miranda's glance produced.
"I can't wait any longer." Miranda lowered her head, and when she licked along Andy's soaked folds, gently probing with her soft tongue, over and over. Andy cried out and pressed up against her. She had never dreamed of anyone caressing her like this, but since it was Miranda, and because Miranda clearly enjoyed it, humming and moaning against her, Andy let the fire engulf her.
"Mm. That's it," Miranda murmured against the sensitive nodule that was so sensitive. Andy knew if Miranda put her lips around her clitoris she would burst into flames and incinerate. Then Miranda did just that and Andy arched, closing her eyes hard. "Miranda!"
Miranda felt Andrea slump back after crying out, gasping for air. She kissed her way up to Andrea's lips, and became concerned when she realized how still her lover was. "Andrea? Are you all right?"
Drowsy eyes opened and Andrea looked up at her, decidedly unfocused. "Miranda?"
"Oh, goodness. You startled me, darling."
"Did I faint?"
"If not, so close to it." Miranda kissed her gently. "You are so sensitive, so responsive and beautiful to make love to…" Miranda knew they had to get up, it was time to start the day and to set all the plans in motion, but this also meant she wouldn't be able to hold Andrea like this for a while. She simply didn't want to let go, couldn't let go. To her horror a sob broke free from her throat and she trembled against Andrea. Instantly, Andrea's arms moved around her and held her closer.
"What? What's wrong?" Andrea rolled them over, covering Miranda with her body. She looked so upset; it nearly broke Miranda's heart.
"Nothing." Another sob shook Miranda and she hid her face against Andrea's neck. "I…I hate feeling weak."
"Shh. I won't tell anyone."
Miranda couldn't help but chuckle through the tears at the conspiring whisper. "Thank you."
"You're welcome." Andrea caressed Miranda's body and settled between her legs. Rubbing their centers together, she elicited another groan from Miranda who couldn't believe the all overshadowing arousal that permeated every single cell of her body. Arching, she pushed herself harder against Andrea, in a desperate attempt at fusing them. This attempt at extinguishing the blazing flames of desire backfired immediately. Crying out at the escalating ache between her legs, Miranda froze when Andrea pulled back, allowing cool air between their damp bodies.
"Shh. I'm not going anywhere." Andrea gave a tremulous smile. She pushed her hand down, between Miranda's thighs. "Oh. You're so wet." Sounding in awe, Andrea surprised Miranda by simply taking her. Plunging two fingers inside Miranda, she curled them slightly and somehow she found a spot that triggered new tremors, and an even sweeter ache.
"Yes. Like that. Oh, yes." Miranda ground her body against the fingers inside her. "Oh, please."
"Like that, Miranda? That good? I love how you feel around me…against me. I love how you sound when you are about to…" Andrea struggled for the right word, completely void of the correct terminology.
Miranda didn't seem to mind Andy's vagueness, for once, and instead pulled her lover's head down to her breast, her desire obvious. Andy gladly latched on to Miranda's right nipple, sucking it in rhythm with her fingers' action below. The sensation of Miranda's sex gripping her, pulling her in, and the incredible slickness that made making love to this extraordinary woman so easy, so beautiful, was definitely going to Andy's head, and down between her legs.
"I…you're burning me…oh, God." Miranda shoved her fingers through Andy's hair, tugging almost painfully at it. "Deeper…I need you. I need you deeper. With me."
"Yes!" Andy dared to venture further in, as far as she could without hurting Miranda. Silken walls began to pulsate around her fingers and Miranda arched, moaning incoherently. Andy moved to the left nipple and when she gently closed her teeth around it, Miranda locked her thighs around Andy, screaming.
"Andrea!" Miranda's arms went around Andrea's neck, clinging to her, pressing breathless kisses all over her face. "Oh, God, Andrea. Oh, yes." Another convulsion tore through her before Miranda began to relax, her breathing still labored.
"Incredible." Miranda said, sounding decidedly husky. Always so soft-spoken, even when she was upset and the most lethal, no doubt Miranda's vocal chords weren't used to screaming.
"Yes, it was." Andy rolled them over on their sides. "You're amazing. So beautiful." She touched a lock of the silver-white hair reverently.
"Not in the way you are." Miranda smiled faintly, her eyes roaming greedily over Andy's features. "You're beauty is undeniable. Natural. You rarely wear makeup, and yet you put all your colleagues who do, to shame."
Andy gaped. That simply wasn't true. Some of the counters in the department store were run by stunning, modern looking girls. Still, it pleased Andy to no end that Miranda was biased enough regarding her to think so.
"I—I care about you, Miranda." Andy tried to explain, without using words she wasn't ready to say, not yet, and that she assumed Miranda was absolutely not ready to hear.
"Andrea." Miranda didn't say anything else, but the tone of her voice, longing, affectionate and more than a little said, spoke volumes.
Miranda looked at her comrades in arms where they had gathered. Twice, she had made last minute changes when it came to the locale for their last briefing. After Andrea's run in with the German convoy, security had to be paramount, or their attempt at getting the refugees out would end in disaster for all involved. The thought of Rakel and her family entered her mind, but she pushed it out just as fast. Miranda needed to stay focused.
"As you can tell by the list over on the far wall, I have divided you in teams of four. You will be responsible for a group of refugees each, and make sure you get them to the right vessel. We have every type of water craft at our disposal that can be found on the east coast. Smaller freighters, fishing boats, sail boats, motor boats, even larger rowboats. Once your group is aboard their boat, one of each team will accompany the refugees and assist the boat owner, or fishermen, in returning the boats to their respective harbors. We have one night to pull this off. If we need more time, the word will be out how we did this, and the Germans will up the number of soldiers standing guard. Any questions?"
A couple of the men raised their hands, but their questions were valid. Mostly it was about the logistic on how they would get the refugees to the beaches and harbors.
"Most of them are already in safe-houses along the coast line. Our comrades in other resistance cells are doing exactly what we're doing, both here on the mainland, and on the islands Sjaelland and Fyn. This is an unprecedented, joint effort, and as our leaders sees it; our only chance." Miranda walked among the men and women, giving each one an opportunity to approach her personally, but mostly they seemed content just to be reassured. "All right. Time to head out. Curfew is not yet in place, but we still need to move inconspicuously. Be careful, everybody, and return home safely."
Only when the four in Andrea's group remained, did Miranda approach her lover. She wanted to hold her close in her arms, but this was not the time or the place for such demonstrative gestures. Instead she tried to feel reassured that Andrea looked calm and efficient. She seemed ready.
"All set?" Miranda stopped next to the group of three men and Andrea.
"We are." Andrea's eyes took on a definitely warm hue when she looked at Miranda. "We're going to drive directly to the farm since we have the farthest to go. After we get there, it should only take us an hour to get to the docks. We have three fishing boats at our disposal, and Peter here will be the one staying to drive the trucks back before dawn. The rest of us are going on the boats.
Miranda thought her heart was going to stop beating. She had expected Andrea to be the one driving the trucks back to their owners, and the men going on the boats. Trust Andrea to turn the tables. Miranda knew she couldn't undermine Andrea by protesting in front of her comrades. Instead she made sure Andrea left the building last, so she could squeeze her hand hard. "You come home to me, Andrea."
"I promise. You be safe too." Andrea walked over to the bicycle stand. She stopped with her hands on the handlebars, her head tipping forward. Letting go of the bike, she dashed back to Miranda and hugged her fiercely. "I love you." She didn't wait for Miranda to reciprocate, but rushed back to the bike and the men who looked confused at her. Not looking back once, she pedaled down the empty street.
Miranda stood in the doorway until she couldn't see Andrea anymore.
Andy helped the last children off the truck. They were pale, but quiet where they clung to their parents.
"Andy? Will we all fit on this boat?" Rakel came up to Andy. She held on to her youngest granddaughter, My's, hand. Nervously eyeing the closest boat, a small open fishing-boat. "It looks…well, not very steady."
"Miranda said all the seamen are experienced. The sea is pretty calm. Not much wind, and thank God, not much moonlight. That works in our favor." Andy put her arm around Rakel's shoulders. "I'll be accompanying you. I won't let you out of my sight until you and your family is safely in Sweden."
"Will you make the secret chocolate, Andy?" My's shrill tone grasped at Andy's heart.
"Not on the boat, sweetheart." Andy knelt in front of the child. "But when you're in Sweden, you know the secret and you can help your grandmother and your mother to do it the right way. Just a tiny pinch, remember?"
"I remember." My smiled tremulously. "I'll keep the secret."
"Good." Andy leaned in and kissed the girl's cheek. "We should get your onboard now."
Andy consulted the man guiding a large group onto the biggest fishing boat. "How many can I put on that one?" She pointed at the smaller vessel.
"About ten, including the skipper and yourself. He'll need you to assist on the way back."
"All right." Andy motioned for Rakel and her daughter to bring the children onboard. Two elderly women and a young man joined them. They huddled together as the night was chilly, and the children's teeth clattered. Andy had to clench her own teeth to not do the same.
"We're ready to depart in ten minutes," a weathered man in his early fifties said. "I have more blankets in that box in the stern. You need to cover them." He glared at Andy. "I wasn't aware they'd provide me with girl as a helper."
"She's not just a girl," Rakel said, her voice calm and confident. "You're lucky to get her and not one of the gung-ho lads I met earlier. Trigger happy, I'd say. This young woman is an asset. To anyone."
"Yes, ma'am." The fisherman looked quite chastised.
Soon the armada of fishing-boats of all sizes, together with sailboats, harbor pilots, and even two smaller yachts, made their way out of the harbor. Andy looked out of the water, and further down the coast, at the horizon, she could vaguely make out what looked like black beads of different sizes against the blue-black velvet sky.
"I'm nervous. What will become of us?" Rakel's daughter Hanna sat next to Andy, taking her hand. "Where will we go? We don't know anyone in Sweden."
"Sweden has accepted refuges from man occupied countries in Europe. Their neutrality is a godsend in that respect. Sure, many Danish voices criticize Sweden for not taking a stand against the Germans, but if they did, where would we take you? Switzerland is too far away."
"True. So they are…accommodating?"
"Yes. There is a rather large Jewish community in Sweden, so if you want, you'll be able to contact a rabbi and get some guidance that way."
"That would be good. I hope our own rabbi in Aalborg is on one of these boats. And what about our oldest, and our sick?"
"Some are on the larger boats and the yachts, where they're more comfortable." Andy squeezed Hanna's hand. "This effort is the largest, most coordinated ever. We're not about to leave anyone behind for the Germans to get their hands on."
"I hate them. I know they're people. I still hate them." Hanna sobbed. "This boat is so small. What if we all end up in the water? The children can't swim."
"Then we'll help them and one of the other boats in the convoy will pick us up. But it won't happen, Hanna. The captain is used to much worse circumstances when he's out fishing. I promise." Andy tried to convince herself as much as Hanna. "Just look at him. He is strong as an ox."
"He looks quite impressive."
"That didn't keep him from standing at attention when your mother told him off."
Hanna chuckled. "She's a force of nature. Much like Ms. Miranda."
Until now, Andy had managed to keep her thoughts off the topic of the woman who was now her lover. Whom Andy had expressed her love to only hours ago. She could still see the image of Miranda when she closed her eyes. Impeccably dressed, her hair in a perfect, modern updo and with those piercing blue eyes probing Andy's as if she was reading her mind. As if Miranda had to. Andy had the feeling she wore her heart in plain view, easily hurt, entirely visible, and in danger of being broken. Yet, Rakel has said Miranda needed her, in fact, the former housekeeper had insisted Andy not abandon Miranda no matter what. As if that would ever happen. Miranda might grow tired of Andy one of these days, but Andy could not see herself not love the passionate, difficult woman that was her boss and fearless leader. Ever.
The boat began to fall behind a little in the wake of the bigger vessels. There were still some other boats of the same size in front of them and behind them, which Andy was grateful for. She would find the ocean even more intimidating if they were out there all alone in the dark.
"Which harbor are we heading for?" Rakel asked.
"Either Varberg or Halmstad. It depends on what the skipper thinks is best. Our friends on the Swedish side will have people to greet us in both locations." Andy stood and walked over to the skipper. He was the only one with a roof over his head as he steered the boat from the tiny bridge. "How's it going? We on track?"
"Track?" the skipper huffed sounding exasperated. "If by that you mean are we on schedule, yes, we're doing all right. Keep the children close to you. The sea will get rougher from now on. If anyone needs to puke, lean over the railing away from the wind. Just don't go overboard."
"Aye, aye, Captain," Andy said, mimicking a little salute. The rough fisherman tried to hide a smile.
"Go sit down, girl."
Andy was glad she took his advice because suddenly the boat acted as if a sea monster was playing with it. The waves where not very high, but they were long and tossed the boat in strong, nauseating rolls. It didn't take the children and Hanna long to clutch their stomachs and moan. Andy held My halfway over the railing while the little girl vomited violently.
"Poor sweetie, that's awful for you. You'll feel better soon. This will calm down eventually." Andy prayed she was right. Soon she felt her own stomach rebelled, but she forced the bile down by sheer willpower. The thought of doing this again when going home was less than appealing.
Eventually the children and Hanna had emptied the content of the stomachs, and rested half lying down against Rakel and Andy. The old couple and their young man who turned out to be their grandson seemed not as affected, but the woman sobbed heartbreakingly every now and then.
The time seemed to stand still as the fishing boat convoy valiantly stomped across the ocean toward Sweden. Andy felt as they'd been aboard the boat for days, when the skipper called out to get her attention.
"Land in sight, girl."
"Oh, thank God." Andy sighed in relief. "Did you hear that Rakel. We're definitely on Swedish water now. We're safe. You'll be ashore soon."
"Andy, I can't believe it." Rakel wiped at the tears running down her cheeks. "Can this be true? Are we really safe?"
"Yes. Yes, you are."
And they were. The boats entered the harbor of Varberg, where they were met by the Swedish resistance sympathizers. Andy took a tear-filled farewell of Rakel, Hanna and the children, hugging them, and promising they'd be together again once the war was over. She had only known them for a short time, but they were closer to her than most people, not counting Miranda.
"We need to return. We have only five more hours before the sun's up." The skipper spoke curtly. "Come on, girl."
"I got to go with Mr. Charming here," Andy said, smilingly wryly. "Take care and try to write us when possible. Please."
"We will, Andy." Rakel hugged her one last time. "And tell Ms. Miranda thank you. Take care of her."
"I will." Andy drew a trembling breath. "I love her, Rakel."
"I know. I can tell. You'll be good for her. No go. And be safe, Andy."
"I will. Bye." Andy jumped into the boat, which now looked big and abandoned. The skipper pulled out and soon they were heading back, all in all eight of the smaller fishing-boats. Andy checked her watch, barely able to see in the faint light from the moon above the clouds. 3AM. They would barely make it before dawn. This could get tricky.
Miranda looked out over the dark water. Her part of the unnerving night was over and all she could do now was wait. She had talked to Bjarne, and her stomach turned at the thought of Andrea facing two long across open sea in a very small boat.
'I love you.' Andrea's words haunted her. Miranda had never felt her entire inside melt like it had at those words. She stood mute and watched Andrea leave on a borrowed bicycle, and all Miranda really wanted was to call out and stop the young woman from leaving.
Miranda shifted and checked her gold watch. Almost 7AM and dawn was breaking. Soon the sun would be climbing and if the boats weren't back, the Germans would know.
"Any sign of them?" A dark voice next to Miranda made her flinch. Bjarne was back.
"No." Miranda squinted at the horizon. "Unless…I think I see something."
Bjarne raised his binoculars. "You're right. The first boats are returning and they're approaching fast. Very fast." He sounded concerned.
"What's going on?" Miranda tore the binoculars from his hand. She watched two yachts and a larger fishing boat approaching and they were indeed going very fast. Behind them, several smaller vessels began to appear. Tapping her foot, Miranda let the binoculars scrutinize every boat within sight, but at this distance, it was impossible to say which one was Andrea's.
Soon the first boats docked and Bjarne and two other men helped with the ropes as they greeted their comrades. Miranda didn't wait. She stepped into the group of burly men and skewered the first captain with her eyes.
"How many boats are we waiting for still?"
"Eh. Ma'am. Let's see…" The bearded man glanced around him. "The five smallest ones, two sailboats and one of the pilots. They're not as fast and when the planes came so close—"
"What planes?" Miranda hissed. "Luftwaffe?"
"Yes. Six of them, in formation. We dissolved the convoy to make it harder for them."
"You left the smaller ones to fend for themselves?" Miranda's voice was a low growl.
"With all due respect, Ma'am, they're smaller targets, harder to hit. We couldn't risk these boats. We might need them again."
Miranda knew he was right, but the knowledge that Andrea was still out there, with German planes buzzing around them made her tremble. She swallowed the hot, searing pain that consisted of tears of terror, and walked out on the farthest point of the pier. She hated feeling helpless, and she loathed the fear that she might lose this amazing, bewildering young woman, her Andrea, before they even had a chance to fully understand what was going on between them.
Another hour passed and two more boats arrived, one barely afloat and towed by the other. Miranda helped the men ashore; one had his arm in a makeshift sling.
"Report," Miranda barked, but her hands were gentle as she helped the older man sit on a crate. "Blanket," she urged Bjarne. "He can't go into shock. It could kill him."
"They came at us from everywhere, Ma'am." The fisherman sighed. "We moved in circles, all of us, but they still got one of the boats really badly. It…it overturned."
"Oh, my God." Miranda pressed her lips together. Suddenly she felt deprived of oxygen and the morning mist was so cold and pierced her very soul. "What happened?"
"We were too far away, but two other boats tried to perform a rescue. The damn planes kept firing throughout the whole mess. The worst thing was, we were still so far out. I'm not even sure we were even on Danish water. They sure took us by surprise…" The man paled. "I think I might just faint for the first time in my life." He slumped sideways.
Miranda and Bjarne caught him. "We need a stretcher of some sort." Miranda snapped her order out. "And I mean now."
"Here. We keep old ladders around for this purpose." Another fisherman came running with one and they placed the semi-conscious man on it.
"You were very brave tonight," Miranda murmured close to his ear. "You have saved a lot of good people."
"Thank you, Ms. Miranda."
Surprised that he knew her name, Miranda looked around, but nobody had heard him as far as she could tell. "You're welcome."
"I knew your father. I knew you too, when you were just a young girl," the man whispered. "You're a courageous girl. You always were." He smiled weakly and closed his eyes.
Miranda blinked at new threatening tears, annoyed at her emotional state. She motioned for some of the men to take the fisherman to be treated. A local doctor belonged to their group and he would be standing by in case of emergency.
Another grueling hour passed and then a slow moving convoy approached. The local pilot boat was towing two fishing boats. No sign of the third fishing boat or the sailboats.
Miranda didn't wait for the men to secure the pilot boat. She jumped aboard and climbed the ladder to the bridge. "Report." She saw several people huddled in the aft section of the vessel. They were wrapped in blankets and two were covered completely. Miranda's heart nearly stopped right then and there.
"We've taken heavy fire, Ma'am." The pilot didn't try to get up from his chair and only then did Miranda spot the pressure bandage around his calf. "I'm all right. Just a flesh wound from some wooden splinters. It's worse down there."
Miranda's feet finally moved again. She jumped off the ladder and rushed to the aft section. "Andrea?"
Nobody moved, but two women poked their head out from the blankets. "Are we home?" one of them, a young woman, asked, her voice trembling. "My sister needs help."
"Hush, Bettina, I'm not that bad off. Just a sprained wrist," her sister said, sounding calmer. "That girl over there is much worse off. We've gave her all the blankets we could spare that the pilot had. She's so cold after being in the water so long."
Miranda knew. She just knew. Falling to her knees next to the almost entirely covered body of someone very slender, she pulled the top blanket away. Masses of chocolate brown hair, now tousled and matted by seawater, and a bruised, naked shoulder came into view.
"Oh, Andrea…" Miranda groaned. She touched Andrea's cheek and was shocked to feel how ice cold it was. Was she dead? Miranda pushed a trembling hand into the blankets and placed it between Andrea's breasts. Small movements betrayed shallow breathing. Relieved, but still more frightened than she'd ever been, Miranda whipped her head around at the men on the dock.
"What are you waiting for? Bring the damn ladder and get the wounded out of there. Start with this woman. Bring her to my car."
"Aye, Ma'am." Bjarne had obviously used his head and brought several ladders over. He jumped into the pilot boat. "I talked to the other guys. They say the sailboats drew the fire away from these boats and set course for a port further south. Perhaps Grenå."
"Good." Thank goodness. If they hadn't, no one on these boats would be alive. "What about those two?" she pointed at the two covered bodies over in the corner as she got ready to accompany Andrea to her car.
"They drowned. One was Andy's skipper, and the other was the pilot's shipmate. As far as I know, the rest are still alive, but we don't know about the sailboat crews of course."
"Keep me posted. And the refugees?"
"All were delivered safely to Sweden. No word of anyone getting capture anywhere, so far."
"Very well. I place you in command for now, Bjarne. I have to be highly visible at Nordia or it might become obvious that I was involved with the rescue effort."
"I understand. Bente and I have things under control. Get Andy back to Stavnsdal. Don't worry about our people. Just take care of her."
"I will. Stay safe." Miranda hurried to the car where the men placed Andrea on the backseat. It ran on a charcoal gasifier and the bulky contraption created a distinctive sound as Miranda started it and drove off towards Nordia and her home, praying that Andrea would be all right.
Andy tried to open her eyes. She had already attempted to open her mouth to tell the agitated voices close to her to shut up, but it was impossible to even make the faintest sound. If she only could see who it was. Her eyelids felt glued together, and she was so cold, so cold.
"Why isn't she waking up?" a female, strangely familiar voice barked.
"Ms. Priestly, the girl's been through a lot. We have no way of knowing how long she was in the water and if she's inhaled—"
"Are you suggesting there is nothing you can do, Dr. Andersen?" The woman hissed, her voice menacing. "I can't lose her."
"Her vital signs are stabilizing. She needs to get warmer. She's in bed with four warm water bottles and several duvets. If her brain isn't injured, she'll wake up soon."
Dr. Andersen? That sounded familiar. It made Andy think of having stiches in her scalp.
"So, what do I do? Just watch over her until she wakes up?"
"Yes. I'll be staying with my brother just down the street. Here is his number. You can call me if she needs me and I'll be here within minutes."
"Very well." The woman sounded calmer. "Thank you, Doctor."
"You're welcome, Miranda. Trust me, this girl is strong."
"It's just, she's been through so much lately. I fear for her."
"Just keep her warm. Make her feel safe." The doctor said farewell and the room went silent. Andy forced her hand to move, trying to feel around her, to judge where they had taken her. Soft sheets surrounded her and as the doctor had said, thick duvets covered her body. Andy relaxed and tried to get warm.
Suddenly the memory of cold, salty water closing over her head made her flinch. Her body began to tremble, the water surrounded her, filled her nostrils, her mouth. Andy's arms flailed around her as she tried to swim to the surface, and yet she sank further into the deep, dragged down by her thick coverall. She kicked her boots off, and now she could use her legs properly and swim.
Another body hit the water right next to her, and she made out the outline of her skipper, the grouchy man who called her 'girl' with barely convoluted disdain. Still, there had been a sort of protectiveness about her too.
Now he sank past her and automatically, Andy's arm extended enough for her hand to grab his collar. She swam to the surface, her lungs close to bursting, and they almost did when they reached it. Holding on to the listless Skipper, Andy yelled for help. Coughing, yelling, and then
coughing up sea-water, she tried to make herself heard over the roaring wind and the gunfire from the Luftwaffe. Over and over, weaker and weaker, her voice rang out, and still they sank under the surface, over and over as well. Andy knew now that they were both doomed. They were going to drown and she would never see Miranda again.
"Andrea, please. Open your eyes for me. You're dreaming. You're safe, darling. Please." Miranda had crawled into bed with Andrea once Dr. Andersen left, and now she held the shaking young woman close. Surely if she was dreaming, even if it was a horrible nightmare, her brain was intact?
"M-Miran-da?" Andrea moaned. "Cold."
"I know, darling. I know. Just open your beautiful eyes and look at me. I'm warming you. Can you feel me?"
"Yes." Slowly swollen eyelids open to reveal slightly bloodshot, brown eyes. "Miranda."
"Andrea. Oh, thank God." Miranda looked so pale, but also so lovely, her snow white hair loose around her shoulders, and void of all makeup. "How are you feeling?"
"Aching all over. Cold. Am I…home?"
Miranda whimpered. "Yes, darling. You're home. Home with me, here, in our bed."
"Good." Andrea closed her eyes briefly. "I couldn't save him. I t-tried. I really t-tried. I'm so sorry." She began to cry, muted sobs as if her heart was breaking.
"I know. Everyone knows. We thought we lost you too. It's a miracle that you're back." Miranda pressed trembling lips against Andy's temple. "You're such a brave soul, Andrea. We all recognize it and it's just like you to be so humble, so sure that you're not." She rocked Andrea, felt the coldness leave the young woman's body.
"So, this is my home now?" Andrea spoke with trepidation.
"It is. For as long as you want." Miranda gathered her courage. "I can't imagine you not being here."
Andrea pressed her face against Miranda's neck. "I think I can go back to sleep now."
"You do that. I'll be right here."
Andrea wrapped a weak arm around Miranda's waist and pressed her face into her chest. Nuzzling Miranda's breasts, she sighed and promptly fell asleep.
Miranda stood in the doorway, watching the bundle curled up in her bed in the half-darkened room. Andrea had slept for two whole days after waking up shortly the same morning she brought her home. Now it was evening on the third day, and Andrea had been a little more awake, even sitting at the kitchen table while having her dinner. Miranda had come up from her
office at Nordia to check on her several times, and though Andrea had been awake twice, the young woman seemed remote, as if she wasn't quite there.
Dr. Andersen had seen Andrea every day and he reminded Miranda to be patient, a trait she admitted wasn't one of her more prominent ones.
"Andrea is in mourning, of sorts," the doctor said. "She has to come to terms with not being able to save the skipper of her boat. After risking her life to save him, all she can think about right now is that she failed."
"Failed?" Miranda said, aghast. "She helped save thousands."
"And lost one of the heroes in the process. She is second-guessing her actions, her ability. Give her time."
"She can have time, but I can't watch her suffer like this." Miranda paced behind her desk. "I can't sit idly by and watch her blame herself for what was clearly not her fault."
"Intellectually she knows that." Dr. Anderson pinched the bridge of his nose. "She agrees that being attacked at sea by the Luftwaffe's planes are not ideal circumstances, but in her heart, she feels she should have held her breath longer, acted swifter, and done more."
"So, in your opinion, what will help her the most? And don't give me that loosely phrased 'give her time' concept, I realize it won't happen overnight, but I need a clear course of action here."
"All right. Don't contradict her too much, even if you want to. Let her mull it over, but if she gets too agitated or shows sign of self-destructive tendencies, then you have to distract her. Be loving and affectionate."
Miranda's head snapped up at the last comment. How much did Dr. Andersen know, or guess?
"Miranda," he said, looking tired, but not unkind. "I don't mean to overstep any personal boundaries, but it's clear that you care for the girl. You have hardly eaten, nor getting enough sleep, I suspect, and if she was just another employee, you'd be acting much differently. I take the doctor-patient confidentiality very seriously, so you need not fear anything you tell me, or anything I observe, becoming common knowledge."
Miranda relaxed marginally. The doctor was a good man. She knew this, and he'd been turning a blind eye to gunshot wounds and other injuries sustained by resistance fighters over the last years, no questions asked. "Thank you, Åge," she said quietly. "I appreciate that. I will try to be patient and give her time. When will you need to see her next time?"
"I'll come by after the weekend. She's physically out of the woods, but I think her mental state of mind needs monitoring still."
Miranda had thanked him again, quite forgetting for a moment that 'thank you' were not words she usually bestowed upon people.
Andrea shifted in bed, breaking Miranda out of her reverie. "Miranda?" Her voice was husky, but stronger than just a day ago. "You all right?"
"I think that's my line, Andrea." Miranda sat down on the bed. "Did you have a nice nap?"
"I did, actually." Andrea sat up, rubbing her eyes. "No nightmares for once."
"That is wonderful. You do look more rested. Hungry?"
"No. Thirsty though."
Miranda poured some water from a pitcher sitting on the nightstand into a glass. "Here you go."
"Thanks." Andrea drank it all with thirsty gulps, some of the water spilling down her throat. The pink cotton nightgown absorbed the water. "Oh. Sorry."
"It's just water." Miranda watched the moist trail on Andy's skin. Her own mouth suddenly dry, she poured a glass for herself as well. Sipping it, she avoided Andrea's curious glance for a moment.
"You going back to the office?" Andrea asked carefully.
"No. It's six-thirty. We're closed." Miranda placed her glass on the nightstand and did the same with Andrea's. "So you're not hungry, and you've had some water. Anything else I can get for you?"
"You don't need to wait on me, Miranda." Andrea blushed faintly. "It's not…not right, somehow. I mean, I work for you."
"And…" Miranda narrowed her eyes. Was that it? Had Andrea's ordeal shed light on the fact that Miranda was old enough to be her mother, and that Andrea wanted, no, deserved, better?
"And, even if we've been intimate, you don't owe me any special treatment." Andrea was trembling now.
Miranda fought to remain calm, speaking matter-of-factly even if her heart was beating so painfully in her chest; she thought it was starting to shatter. She forced herself to speak lightly, as if they were discussing something impersonal matter. "So, if I was hurt and in need of your attention and care, you'd expect me to fend for myself, or employ a nurse, some stranger, to take care of me?"
"Wh-what? No. No! That's not what I mean. I'd move heaven and earth to be there. To take care of you. They'd have to fight me to get to you." Andrea breathed hard after her outburst, only to stop gasping for a few moments and then go, "Oh."
"Yes. Oh." Miranda scooted closer. "I feel the same. I need to take care of you. I want to be here, to help you come to terms with what happened. Hold you." Miranda wrapped her arms around Andrea's shoulders, shocked at how thin she felt. "Will you please let me do that, Andrea?"
If Miranda hadn't been so overwrought, she would have chuckled at the surprise in Andrea's eyes, most likely at the word 'please.' Another uncommon expression for her.
"I…yes. Yes." Suddenly Andrea flung her arms around Miranda's neck. "Yes. Oh, I've been so scared."
Frowning, Miranda let Andrea cling hard to her for a while before she pulled back enough to see her face. "Why have you been afraid?"
"I l-let you down. Everybody. I let everybody down. I figured…I thought, once I'm able to function, you'd want me gone." She blinked repeatedly, her eyes filling with tears.
Miranda could almost hear the clatter in her chest as a piece of her heart fell off. Shattering. A heart can actually break. "Andrea. Listen to me. You haven't let anyone down, least of all me. Can't you feel how much I love you?"
The look on Andrea's face was one that should have been saved for posterity. Her cheeks paled, only to go a lovely shade of pink moments after. Her big, brown eyes filled with wonder and tears in equal parts, and her lips, oh, that full, curvaceous mouth, trembled and parted slightly. "Wh-what?"
"I love you, Andrea. Unless you've gone back on your own statement, I believe you harbor similar emotions for me?" Miranda knew she trembled as much as Andrea did and now she made it worse by holding her breath.
"No, I haven't. I do. I love you so much, Miranda, and words are not enough to describe how that feels."
"For once your lack of eloquence is understandable. I myself find this hard to describe." Miranda pressed her lips to the young woman's hair. "All I know is I can't be without you. I need you to work very hard to regain your health. If something happened to me, you'd leave a lonely, withered shell of a woman behind."
"I will, Miranda. I will." Andrea pushed shaking hands into Miranda's impeccable hairdo and tugged her in for a kiss. It was so long ago, and the kissing felt brand new, and yet comfortingly familiar.
Miranda parted her lips and ran the tip of her tongue along the inside of Andrea's upper lip. She repeated it with her lower lip, and Andrea moaned with such breathless abandon, Miranda pushed the shoulder straps of her nightgown down her arms.
"May I?" Miranda whispered huskily. "May I, Andrea? Is it too soon? I understand if it is."
"No. It's not too soon. It's not soon enough." Andrea began unbuttoning Miranda's blouse, only to clearly lose her patience. She tugged at the fabric, sending buttons flying in her attempt to remove it.
Miranda didn't care about the blouse. She was thrilled that Andrea seemed to have come out of that invisible fog that had followed her home from the ocean. Miranda pushed Andrea's nightgown down further, revealing her breasts with hardened nipples. Her bruises were almost faded, barely visible through a yellow hue. She bent down to kiss one of the alluring globes when Andrea suddenly pulled Miranda close and over onto her back. Miranda stared up at her lover through her disheveled hair. "Andrea?"
"I'm sorry. Or not. I just have to look at you. I need to see you. All of you. Please. Let me look at you." Andrea seemed as intent on 'looking' with her hands as they roamed freely under the torn blouse.
"As much as you require. You can look as much as you want," Miranda whispered. "You can do anything you want. Anything."
"Yes?" The innocence in Andrea's eyes was still very much present, but there was also something that resembled predatory, but Miranda suspected it was more of a feral need, than anything.
Andrea unzipped Miranda's skirt, then changed her mind and merely pushed it up, bunching it above Miranda's hips. Unhooking the garter belt, she rolled the silk stockings off Miranda's legs, her hands mapping every part them.
"You have pink toenails." Andrea sounded breathless. "They are so small. So…endearing."
"There is nothing endearing about me," Miranda objected, groaning inwardly at the warmth in her cheeks. "Honestly, Andrea."
"Your toes are." Andrea slid her hands upward again, hooked her fingers around the hem of Miranda's panties. "May I?"
"I did say 'anything'."
Andrea swiftly pulled off the undergarment. Miranda knew she should feel exposed in the semi-lit up room. In a way she did, but since it was Andrea, she was fine. Andrea impatiently pushed her hair behind her ears. "Arch your back."
Hot hands slid underneath her and unhooked her bra. Andrea pushed it up above Miranda's breasts. Moving to sit between Miranda's legs, Andrea pulled her nightgown off completely.
"Oh!" Miranda felt wetness flood between her thighs at the sudden sight of a naked Andrea. "God, darling, are you trying to give me a coronary?"
"You should talk," Andrea muttered. "You, with your flawless skin, your stunning hair, your scent, and those eyes of yours…those damn eyes…" She drew a trembling breath. "Turn your head sideways." Miranda complied. Quickly, Andrea removed the hairpins and combs and combed out Miranda's hair with her fingers. "Oh, yes."
"I take it you approve."
"You take it correctly." Andrea smiled faintly. Her lips were blood red, and even fuller than usual. "I'm sorry. I will have to make you mine now."
"You already did that, quite some time ago."
"Then I need to repeat it."
Andy pushed Miranda's pale legs wider apart, coaxing her lover into bending them at the knees. She was nervous, but also so amazingly certain what she wanted to do to Miranda. Do with her. For her. For herself. It all merged in the all overshadowing urge to map out the whole landscape
of the woman before her. The fact that Miranda allowed it, no, more than that, desired it, wanted it, and loved Andy, was what burned in her chest right now.
Cupping the sides of Miranda's waist, Andy pressed heated kisses, mouth open, and tongue agile, against the perfect skin. Slowly she explored Miranda's breasts, which elicited more and more urgent moans from her lover. Eventually Miranda was so delirious with obvious arousal, she began to become incoherent. "Please, oh, please…Andrea…darling, like so, no, more, more. Don't stop. Oh, God, plea-please don't stop." Dampness matted them against her skin, and her legs trembled as Andy pressed her shoulders between them. Not about to delay, wanting to please Miranda and heal herself, Andy slipped her tongue through the drenched folds.
"Andrea!" Miranda cried out loudly and arched into the mouth that latched onto her. "You don't have to…oh, but it feels so good, so good, so good…" Again incoherent, Miranda gripped at Andy's hair, tugging gently. "Burning…you burn me. Burn right through me."
Wiggling her tongue, flattening at the hard bundle of nerves, Andy reveled in how crazy she was making Miranda. She remembered how fantastic this had felt when Miranda did it to her, but she had no idea what this would do to her own body. Andy managed to pull Miranda's right leg down and in between her own. She needed relief to for the overpowering sweet ache there, and rubbing against Miranda's leg as she kept up caressing every part of Miranda's sex with her tongue was the only thing she could think of. As Miranda began a telltale keening sound, Andrea knew neither of them would last much longer. She pushed her tongue inside Miranda's entrance and was met by such copious wetness; it startled her for a fraction of a second. Once she got herself together, she lapped at Miranda in long, languid strokes before she simply attacked the sensitive bundle and sucked it into her mouth.
Miranda came with such violent sobs it nearly frightened Andy at first. Still, her own rubbing against Miranda's leg were creating delicious friction that began as a sizzle along her veins, grew into a roar, and when she climaxed, Andy could still hear Miranda's voice as she came and came in one shudder after another.
Andy exploded, hard and suddenly, against the perfect skin of Miranda's leg. Suddenly persistent arms pulled her up and close. Miranda held her close and pulled at the bed-sheet, covering her eyes as she began to cry.
"Miranda!" Forgetting the lovely afterglow, Andy pulled the woman she loved into her arms. "Miranda, please, what's wrong?"
"No-nothing." Miranda curled up against her, gasping with every breath. "Nothing is wrong."
"Then everything is all right?" Andy tried.
"Good." Andy made sure they were covered by the duvet as their bodies began to cool off. "I'm glad."
"As am I."
"I love you, Miranda. I didn't think I be able to keep my promise to you."
"What? What promise?" Miranda poked her head up, her eyes slightly puffy from the tears.
"You told me to be safe and I said I would be."
"Oh, darling, yes. I feared that too. While I waited for all the boats with our people to come back, it was all I could think of. You realize this is your third time."
"Third time? What do you mean?"
"Exhibit one: You ran your bike into a German vehicle and hit you head. Exhibit two: You ran into German soldiers and were nearly caught. And now, exhibit three: you nearly drowned." Miranda glowered at Andy, but there was a bright, blinding light in her eyes. "I guess I will need to repeat the orders every day for a very long time. A lifetime."
"Yes. Be safe, Andrea. Stay alive, Andrea." Miranda appeared to hesitate. "Be mine, Andrea?"
Andrea hiccupped as a violent sob shook her. "Yours? Yes. Yes. And yes. I'm yours. You needn't ask. It's been a done deal for a long time. I love you, Miranda Priestly."
They held onto each other, eyes probing eyes. "I love you, Andrea Sachs."
Andy sighed contentedly, feeling a lot better than she did before Miranda came home. She glanced around her. Home. So surreal and so wonderful at the same time. Closing her eyes, Andy snuggled down next to her woman. The future still hung in the balance, mostly because of the war, but also because they from now on would live controversial lives.
Miranda's arms were soft and steady around her as Andy closed her eyes. There was nothing she wouldn't do for this woman, as Miranda held the key for Andy's happiness, both right here and now, and in the uncertain future.
"It was a man named Christian." Miranda's voice was hollow.
"What?" Andy looked up from her breakfast toast. "Which Christian—oh."
"He was responsible for what happened to Laurits, and he was also responsible for alerting the Germans about you. Well, not you per se, but the location of someone of rank in the resistance when you went to Preben's farm to obtain the message regarding the rescue effort. I believe you met him there."
"I sure did. What a sleazy man. He flirted with me." Andy made a face.
"Did he now. Then it doesn't weigh one little bit that Preben and his men dealt with that traitor once and for all." Miranda spoke curtly and sipped her coffee. "He sold you out, and he sold out the rescue effort with devastating repercussions. Good thing he got the time wrong. Had he been more accurate, the planes would have fired upon boats filled with refugees out to sea."
"Thank God that didn't happen."
"Yes." Miranda's look was still icy. "His double-agent days are over. Preben said they managed to get some disinformation over to the Germans before he was…dealt with."
Andy cringed. She knew how harsh the resistance fighters could be when they found a traitor in the midst. Andy knew Christian was a liability, but the fact that he'd been so calculatingly dealt with, was still unnerving. Miranda on the other hand looked positively predatory where she cupped her mug with both hands, her eyes lost in the distance.
"It's time you started utilizing me again, Miranda," Andy said quietly. "I'm all better now. I need to pull my weight somehow around here."
"It's too early," Miranda said darkly.
"No. I need to start working, both at Nordia and within the resistance. Even Dr. Andersen says it's time to move on."
"Move on." Miranda looked suspiciously at her. "Move where?"
"It's a figure of speech, Miranda," Andy said patiently when all she really wanted to thud her forehead against the kitchen table. "You know what I mean."
"I do? Very well. I do." Miranda laced her fingers together on the table right before her. "I assume you can go anywhere you want."
"Only if I get to go there with you," Andy said, smiling carefully. She still maneuvered with caution through this proverbial minefield when Miranda did her powder-keg-with-short-fuse impression.
"So this 'moving on' is metaphorically speaking and something you suggest I do too? With you?" Miranda's voice didn't telegraph anything.
"Yes. With me." Andy took one of Miranda's hands and held it against her cheek across the table. "Always with me. I can't do without you. Ever."
Miranda softened just like that. As if Andy was a magician wielding a wand, chanting a spell, or pulling a rabbit out of a hat, Miranda's mood changed to that of a loving partner. "Always with you. The things you do to me, Andrea, when you speak like that."
She did to Miranda? Didn't Miranda know what she did to Andy yet, just by looking at her, homing in on her with those search-light-blue eyes?
"I love you. I need to work again." Andy kept Miranda's twitching hand firmly between hers. "I love you. I need to get in touch with all my contacts and check on Laurits and his family, especially."
"I know." Miranda sighed and came over to Andy's side of the table. Without any preamble, she straddled Andy's legs, her grey silk robe riding up her thighs. "I love you, Andrea." She held on to the backrest of the chair, her arms effectively locking Andy's in place. "I know what you need to do. What you must do for our people, and ultimately for Denmark, but listen to me. You belong to me. You're mine. You know me well enough to realize that what is mine, I keep. I do not take kindly to anybody breaking or mishandling what's mine. If anyone objects to this possessive part of my nature, frankly I don't give a damn. There was a time, a very brief time, when I could have let you go, but that was a long time ago. Long before you ran into the Germans with your bike."
Andy didn't dare say a word, because this was news even to her. Holding her breath she tried to will Miranda into continuing.
"So, you see, my love, you take on a great responsibility. Do your duty, do what you feel you must, and what needs to be done. Just know that I fully expect you to return to me, unharmed, in one piece." Miranda's voice trembled now; the public persona was all by erased. "Because if you don't…I'll have no chance of personal happiness ever again. Nobody will ever compare with you. I would go on, for my girls, but the part of me, the very big part of me, that loves you beyond anyone and anything else, would not exist anymore. I would no longer be whole. Do you understand, Andrea?"
Andy did understand, and there was a reason for that. A reason that clearly hadn't yet dawned on Miranda. "Everything you just said, every part of it, goes for me as well, Miranda." Andy wiggled her right arm free. She pushed it gently down between them, knowing Miranda wore nothing under the robe. Cupping her lover gently, she spoke intensely, wanting Miranda to understand. "You're my everything. Everything. So, yes, I'm yours." She let her fingertips barely touch the slick folds and the nerve endings that made Miranda moan, tipping her head back. "And be assured, Miranda, you're mine."
Miranda whimpered, "Yes," and rubbed herself against Andy's hand. "Yes. Yes. Yes."
Slowly, and with all the love she felt for this amazing, impossible woman, Andy brought Miranda to inevitable bliss, and watched her disintegrate before her eyes as the powerful convulsions tore through her.
When Miranda finally opened her eyes and looked at Andy with her emotions readily visible, Andy knew it would never cease to amaze her. When Miranda cupped Andy's face and kissed her with the same intensity that was in her eyes, Andy knew without a doubt; this was right, this was love. This was home.
Gothenburg, January 6, 1943
Dear Andy and Miranda,
I hope this letter reaches you. The previous ones came back 'return to sender'. I feel I can't stop trying until one of them does reach you, because I worry for you so. So many questions swirl in my head. Did Andy make it back all right? Did you two stay together like you were always meant to? Are you safe?
We are doing quite well here in Gothenburg. We found our rabbi and followed him and his wife here, together with the older couple and their grandson that was in our boat coming over. I am working as a cook for a wealthy family in Örgryte, and Hanna found work in a lumberyard. She works in the office and the best part is that she is engaged to a young man who also works there.
The children are in school and doing well. Young My wants me to tell Andy that she still is adamant about keeping the hot chocolate secret.
Please try to get word to us if you can. We live in an apartment in the part of Gothenburg called Olskroken. Our address is on the back of this letter.
I can never thank you enough. Miranda for what she did, and Andy for seeing safely over to our new home. When the war is over, my greatest hope is to go back home, find the two of you happy and in good health, and finally get a chance to thank you in person.
With all our love,
Rakel, Hanna and the children
-~o0o~-The END -~o0o~-