Andy ran as fast as she could and was nearly half way back to the house before she began to calm down. A quick glance behind her reassured her that no one was following her and she began to slow down the pace. Relaxing her grip on Patricia’s leash, Andy took a deep breath and calmed herself even more. Easy, she told herself, you’re fine, it’s not a big deal, he just knew a bunch of stuff… it’s all online somewhere. She slowed to a walk and continued to calm herself. He’s just a kid. No one’s following you, no one’s watching you, it’s okay, you’re fine. Taking regular deep breaths, Andy’s thoughts turned toward the girls. Calm down now, you can’t let the girls see you upset, it will only upset them too. This is nothing, no need to worry yourself or the girls. It will just give you wrinkles. She grinned a little bit because that last bit of reassurance she’d given herself had sounded distinctly like Miranda in her head.
By the time she’d gotten back to the townhouse, Andy was almost completely back to normal and she smiled as the girls basically tackled her when she walked through the door.
“Hey guys…” She managed to stay on her feet. “What’s up?” Both girls began to talk at the same time and Andy tried, but couldn’t sort much out of the jumbled words. “Okay, I got, ‘study group’, ‘meeting’, and ‘place’.” She grinned at both sets of eyes rolling. “One at a time, please?” She pointed at Caroline. “Tell me again.”
Caroline took a breath and nodded. “Study group is tomorrow, but since tomorrow is the last day of school we don’t have a place to meet. We have a faculty sponsor,” she added. “But, Ms. Bax said she wasn’t sure if it was... um... appropriate for us to meet at her house, especially since she hadn’t met all the parents yet. Can we meet here?”
“The group decided today at lunch that we could take turns meeting at each other’s houses once or twice a week, during summer break, but since there are two of us.” Cassidy pointed from herself to Caroline. “We sort of volunteered to be first. Ms. Bax said that once we’d visited all the student’s houses and she’d met the parents, if it was okay with them then she would let us meet at her house when it was her turn.”
Andy nodded. “Of course,” With the barest of glances at Cassidy, Andy smiled, “I’d love to meet your friends.”
“Yes!” Caroline wrapped her arms around Andy’s middle and squeezed. “I’ll go call them!” She ran upstairs, leaving a subdued Cassidy and Andy alone.
Bending down to unlatch Patricia’s leash, Andy gestured for Cassidy to follow her into the kitchen. “Wanna go grab a snack?”
Cassidy nodded and joined the woman in the brightly lit room. She watched Andy put the leash away, wash her hands and open the fridge.
“What sounds good?”
“Peggy made a veggie tray.” Cassidy pointed to the second shelf. “We asked for carrots earlier.”
Nodding, Andy pulled the small platter out and set it on the island counter. “Where is Peggy?”
“Upstairs.” Cassidy said absently and reached out to take the cover off the snacks.
Concentrating, Andy could just hear the sound of the vacuum. “Ah.” Picking up a small floret of broccoli, Andy dipped it in the ranch sauce and watched Cassidy carefully. “So, will she be here?” The brunette quickly popped the vegetable in her mouth to chew so she wouldn’t grin or laugh at the blush spreading across the girl’s face.
“Yes,” Cassidy sighed. “I want you to meet her, but I don’t want you to freak out…”
Andy’s eyes narrowed. “Um… freak out?”
“You know… like, stare at her, or make her feel weird…she.. um… she doesn’t know I like her.” She wished she’d never told Andy, but Andy was the only one who could possibly understand.
“I wouldn’t do that.” Andy shook her head. “Why would you think I’d do that?”
Cassidy remained silent for a long moment. “You’ll meet her tomorrow.” Then you’ll see.
“Okay then.” Andy picked up a carrot stick and changed the subject. “So… Birthday’s coming up.” She knew better than to ask the child directly what she wanted, but… “What do you think Caroline will want to do for that?” She tilted her head and smiled as the girl latched on to the subject change. She listened to Cassidy’s ideas on what her sister would want, for presents and for the party. Andy was sure that Caroline would be just as enthusiastic telling her what Cassidy would like to do for the big day as well.
Caroline had finished her calls and joined them in the kitchen. They were all munching on the veggie tray and chatting about the upcoming birthday. Surprisingly, Caroline had been in near agreement with Cassidy. Andy wished the wedding things could be that easy to decide. Her phone vibrating made her jump and they all laughed as she dug the thing out of her pocket. A quick glance at the screen made her smile and she answered cheerily, winking at the girls, “Hello, Beautiful.”
Miranda’s breath caught in her throat. “Andrea,” she let out an exasperated sigh. “You are so…incorrigible.”
Andy laughed and chided. “You wouldn’t have me any other way.”
“Wrong.” Miranda’s smirk came through the phone connection loud and clear. “I’d take you any way I could get you.” It was Andy’s turn to be silent for a moment and Miranda chuckled then sighed. “I’m calling because I’m going to be late tonight. Some things have come up that I need to deal with, here.”
“Ah,” Andy’s smile faded and she gave Peggy a ‘hello I’m back from my walk’ wave as the woman entered the kitchen but continued to speak to Miranda. “So, you won’t be here tonight for supper?”
“No, I’m sorry, I have a mountain of work to do and it’s just impossible for me to get away tonight.” Miranda closed her eyes and waited for the onslaught, the cries of how unfair it was, the subtle jabs at how Runway was more important that her own family. Andy’s concerned voice in her ear forced the editor to swallow hard. It was so unexpected that she almost didn’t hear it, didn’t believe it, and asked for it to be repeated. “What? Did you say you’d send something…?”
“Miranda, if you are going to be stuck there this evening you at least need to eat. Yes, I’ll have something sent over for your dinner.” Andy’s eyes twinkled at the girl’s grins and got an idea. “Don’t worry about us,” she assured the woman. “We’ll be fine.”
“I love you, Andrea.” Miranda’s voice was a bit shaky.
“I love you too.” Andy smiled into the phone and chuckled. “Now concentrate on finishing up your work and getting home at a decent hour.”
Miranda smiled and knew Andrea could tell as she responded. “Yes, Dear.”
Chuckling as the call was disconnected; Andy informed the rest of the household of what they’d already surmised. “Miranda won’t be home for dinner tonight.”
The twins’ disappointment was obvious just by the look on their faces and Andy couldn’t really blame them. “She just has to work…”
“She always has to work!” Cassidy had hoped things would be different this time, with Andy, but it seemed like her mom was just starting down the same ‘work-first’ path she’d always followed and they weren’t even married yet!
“She says she’s going to change and she never does.” Caroline scoffed. “How long will it take her to drive you away, Andy?”
“Whoa!” Andy understood their frustration, but their leap to her leaving Miranda was just out there. “Let me make one thing perfectly clear. I love your mother and I am not leaving her, not ever, not for anything.” She tried to make them understand.
“Miranda isn’t like most other people. Her job, isn’t just a job for her, it is part of her, part of what makes her unique. If she didn’t do what she does, she wouldn’t be the woman we love.” The girls looked at each other and swallowed hard then looked back at Andy, their eyes wide as the brunette continued. “Tonight she has to work late and she’s very sorry about it. I know she’d rather be here with us…” holding up her hand to stop the girl’s from saying ‘well then why isn’t she’ or something to that effect, Andy shook her head. “…but she needs to be there for a while.” Andy glanced at the clock and knew it was time for Peggy to leave. “You taking off, Peggy?”
The housekeeper, nodded. “Yeah.” She pointed to the oven. “I have the casserole set to finish at your regular evening mealtime.” She shrugged. “Thought sure she’d be home tonight.” Miranda had been doing so well lately, coming home to be with the girls.
Andy nodded. “Thanks.” She waved. “Have a nice night.”
Peggy glanced at the girls and rolled her eyes. “You too.”
They all watched the door close behind the woman and the girls sighed. Caroline shook her head, resigned not to see her mother until tomorrow at least. “I suppose I’ll go read a book until dinner’s ready.”
“Not so fast, Munchkin.” Andy grinned as the girl turned an intense look on her. Just like Miranda, Andy marveled. “You aren’t gonna have time for that. We have a Mohammed impression to do.”
Caroline snorted. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Cassidy laughed, hearing the inflection in Andy’s voice and knowing exactly what the woman had in mind. She grinned at the look in Andy’s eye. “…it means we’re going to Mom’s office.”
The office was quiet, she’d sent Emily and Bethany home an hour ago, much to their surprise. There was no noise in her office now aside from the occasional distant ding of the elevator as yet more employees left for the evening. It wasn’t even that late but the images in front of her went blurry for a moment. Only sheer concentration focused them again. Taking off her glasses, tossing them on top of the mountain of photo proof sheets she’d been staring at for the last forty-five minutes and rubbing the bridge of her nose, Miranda took a deep breath. She wanted to get this done and get home. It was so frustrating, If only I didn’t have to choose, she thought and longed for the ability to simply pick up the red pencil and circle four of the pictures then go home. They were all pretty much the same pictures, the same vacant expressions staring out from the same hollow eyes. But so far each photograph had been dismissed due to some tiny flaw. Why does it have to be perfect? She recalled Dorothy’s assessment of one of the layouts in The Book and asked herself outloud. “Why can’t I just settle for ‘fine’?”
“Because if you did that… you wouldn’t be you.”
Miranda’s eyes flew open and met a trio of smiles. “This is a surprise!” She stood quickly and found herself enveloped in a double hug, then a much welcome embrace from Andrea, although Miranda was concerned at the tension she felt there.
“Are you okay?” Miranda’s brow furrowed as she massaged her young partner’s shoulders. “What’s wrong?”
Andy shook her head. “Nothing really.” She smiled and kissed the editor’s cheek lightly. “We can discuss it later.” Forcing herself not to think about the incident in the park or the mail she’d received and returned, Andy asked, “Can you take a break to eat with us?” At Miranda’s nod, Andy guided the editor to the table in the corner of the office. The twins had already set out the casserole they’d brought from home, along with some vegetable side dishes and a small basket of bread rolls. “I got a letter from Gram today. She wanted to know if it would be okay to bring a guest when she and Ma come to help with the wedding.”
“A guest? Of course, we have plenty of room…” Blue eyes narrowed, “What’s that look for?”
“The guest will be Mrs. King,” Andy pressed her lips together then shrugged, “And I don’t think she’ll need a room separate from Gram.”
“Oh?” Miranda’s eyebrows rose significantly. “I…see.”
“Are you okay with that?”
“It would be rather hypocritical of me not to be, now wouldn’t it?” Miranda shook her head, “It does seem rather sudden though, her husband only passed away a short time ago.”
Andy admitted, “I could be mistaken.” But I don’t think so.
“It doesn’t matter,” Miranda leaned forward and kissed her fiancée lightly on the lips. “Whoever you want to be here with you is fine with me.”
Caroline had wandered over to Miranda’s desk and was looking at the photo sheets. “What are you doing tonight, Mom?”
“I must choose four of those to illustrate an article highlighting the designer's work.” Miranda walked up behind her daughter. “This is for an article in next month’s issue.”
“Next month!” Caroline blinked. “But the print deadline for that is…” Saturday.
“Exactly.” She smiled tiredly at the girl. “That is why I must do this tonight.” She knew that Caroline was aware of the fact that all the article content had to be set days before the actual deadline in order to finalize the Book for printing. With a deep breath she motioned with her hand and waved away the problem. “At the moment though, I have the company of my three favorite people and what smells like a lovely meal to eat.” Offering her arm to the child, Miranda grinned. “Shall we?”
Taking the offered arm, Caroline smiled up at her mother. “Yeah.”
“Ah,” Andy held up her hands to stop the pair, gesturing them to turn around. “Wash your hands first, please.”
Miranda’s eyes narrowed as Andy sat a bottle of antibacterial hand gel on the corner of her desk before joining them at the bathroom sink.
Andy and Cassidy were still nibbling on some dinner rolls, but Andy nudged the girl with her shoulder and gestured toward the desk where Caroline stood next to Miranda who was seated in her chair.
“Why not this one?” Caroline pointed to a picture that had been marked as rejected, but it was almost identical to the one next to it.
Sensing an opportunity, Miranda looked down through her glasses at the photos and threw the question back at her daughter. “Why not that one?”
Caroline looked at the sheet again and hesitantly took the magnifying glass her mother used to examine the proofs. “Oh, I see.” She set aside the glass and nodded. “There’s a weird shadow across her left pantleg.”
A smile touched Miranda’s lips and a gleam of pride appeared in her eye. From her seated position she circled the girl’s waist with her arm and squeezed with a bit of a jostle. “That’s right.”
Andy watched with a small smile as Miranda pulled Caroline into her lap and they continued looking at the proof sheet.
“Ma?” Cassidy whispered, not wanting to disturb her mother and Caroline. “Can we go down to Sight and Sound? I saw Mr. Edmonds at the music store the other day. He said they were getting some new equipment in to review, it sounded cool.”
Nodding, Andy gathered up the leftovers. She grinned as she labeled the containers ‘M. Priestly’ and thought whoever looked in the break room fridge tomorrow was going to have a mild heart attack. She also took a prescription bottle with three pills in it and quickly stashed it in Miranda’s private bathroom, for the next time Miranda had to work late, which would, of course, be tomorrow night.
No one would be snooping through the editor’s bathroom, but the break room fridge was a different story. Anyone going through the food stored in the refrigerator tomorrow would pretty much freak and think, Miranda doesn’t actually eat this kind of food, does she? Casserole and vegetables, that’s so… so common!
“Hey, Boss?” Andy smiled as two eerily similar sets of pale blue eyes looked up and she lifted the containers of food slightly. “I’m going to take these to the break room fridge, then Cassidy and I are gonna go wandering. We’ll probably end up on eleven.”
Miranda nodded. The Sight and Sound offices were on the eleventh floor. Cassidy loved going there to see what new gadgets had been introduced in the world of music and sound manipulation. “I don’t know if anyone will still be there.”
“We’ll just check it out.” Andy winked at Cassidy.
Cassidy was nearly jumping in place. “There’s almost always someone there, they usually update the website right about now.”
Nodding, Miranda turned back to her task. “Very well then, have fun.”
Andy patted the pocket with her phone in it. “Call me if you need us.”
Miranda nodded and reached out, touching the phone on her desk lightly, then pulling her hand away. “I will.”
“Have fun, Cass.” Caroline smiled at her sister and tried not to be too jealous that Cassidy was going to spend time alone with Andy.
Cassidy grinned at her mirror image and tried not to be too jealous that Caroline had found a way to have time with their mother. “You too.”
Much later that evening, Miranda and Andy stood side by side at their respective sinks removing their makeup for the day. The girls were snug in their beds, dreaming of the last day of school no doubt and Miranda cleared her throat quietly. Andy finished her task and waited for the woman to say what was on her mind.
“I’m probably going to be late from now until Saturday. The print deadline is looming and there is still quite a bit to do.” Contrite blue eyes avoided looking at their dark companions in the mirror, especially when Andrea spoke in that sort of resigned tone.
“I’m on my own for a while then, eh?” The brunette tried to smile. She wanted to talk to Miranda, to discuss what had happened at the park, to tell her about receiving the letter in the mail. But I can’t do that to her, she thought, Miranda’s so stressed at work, I can’t add to that. Maybe on Sunday, after the issue is done.
Miranda’s shoulder’s sagged, “I’m sorry, Darling. It just can’t be helped. Being gone on vacation for two weeks has set the schedule back too much for me to ignore.”
“Miranda, I know you have to work.” Andy tried to reassure the woman. “It’s just been a long day for both of us.”
“I know the girls are out of school tomorrow. I spoke with James earlier today. He said he could take them for a few days beginning Thursday.” Miranda now wondered at the wisdom of that. “Would you rather they stay here to keep you company?”
Shaking her head, Andy rolled her eyes. “I’ll be fine Miranda. I don’t need them to ‘keep me company’.” She shrugged. “If they aren’t going to be here, and you aren’t going to be here, I may as well not be either.” The sharp gasp Miranda gave to that statement immediately moved her into the editor’s arms. “It’ll probably do me good to go into the office for a few days.” She hummed as the arms around her tightened. “I’m getting to be a very lazy writer.”
“Andrea,” Miranda smiled against the young woman’s shoulder. “Whatever are you talking about?”
Laughing, Andy walked Miranda backwards all the way to the bed, pushing her down lightly. “You know exactly what I’m talking about Ms. ‘I-don’t-have-to-be-in-until-ten’. You spoil me!” She looked down at Miranda sprawled on the bed, “As a matter of fact, I think you should be punished for the way you’ve corrupted me.”
Blue eyes widened considerably and Miranda pointed her index finger at her own chest. “I’ve corrupted you!?” She blinked. “I… have corrupted, you?”
Andy grinned as Miranda’s laugh echoed through the room. It wasn’t something she would ever tire of hearing, a genuine Miranda-laugh. “Yep.”
“Andrea, you are ridiculous.” Sitting up using the muscles in her stomach alone, Miranda grabbed her partner and pulled her down to the bed. “I am the one who used to be the hard-working executive. That I now cancel appointments on a whim and cavort in bed until all hours of the morning just proves that I am the one who has been ‘corrupted’.” She lazily began to unbutton the pajamas Andrea wore. “I would never do those things without your influence.”
Laughing, Andy wriggled as her shirt parted. “That was entirely your decision.”
“You really think you’ve been corrupted?” A crushing kiss drew a moan from both of them and when they parted, Miranda grinned her most evil grin. “You haven’t seen anything yet.”
Swallowing hard, Andy managed to whisper. “Should I be scared right now?”
“Scared is acceptable, so long as you are equally aroused.” Miranda’s blue eyes twinkled, knowing the fifty-fifty of emotions in Andrea was just that combination, arousal and terror in equal measure. The scales tipping, favoring one or the other with any given heartbeat was only a bonus. Slowly Miranda began to trace her fingernails along the outline of her lover’s face, trace the curve of her neck, trace the slope of her shoulder… not with her fingertips, but the nails; hard and impersonal moving along Andrea’s skin.
“Shhhhh…” Miranda watched fascinated as pinkish-red lines appeared, showing her exactly where her touch had been. She asked, absently. “Does this hurt?”
“No, Miranda.” Andy closed her eyes against the sensation that wasn’t really pain, but wasn’t exactly pleasure either; it was a combination, just as her emotions were. Half of her wanted to ask Miranda to please touch her, to beg for Miranda’s soft hands on her, and half of her wanted the fingernails to scratch harder, dig deeper, mark her. Feeling the nails moving back toward her throat, Andy tilted her head to give Miranda better access and released a contented sigh. “I love you, Miranda.” The wandering fingers tangled in her brown hair and held her head in place. Miranda murmured against the skin at her neck as the editor began to cover the quickly fading pink lines she’d made, with soft kisses.
“And I you.”
The next morning after her usual run and shower, Andy was waiting for Miranda at the bottom of the stairs. She smiled as the woman descended the staircase looking perfect as always. “Okay, Roy said he’ll be here in five minutes, so I’ll catch a ride with you and go into the office for a while.”
Nodding, Miranda reached the bottom step and stopped. “Very well.” She smiled as Andrea took two steps to close the distance between them. “What will you be doing for lunch?”
“Um... Jo called earlier, while I was running, she said she had something to talk to me about.” A worried look passed across Andy’s face and sincere brown eyes studied her fiancée. She loved it when she could look directly into Miranda’s eyes and thought, Steps are awesome. “You aren’t in any trouble are you?”
“Me?” Miranda smiled. “Whatever would I be in trouble for? The Good Detective wants to speak with you, not me.”
Andy shook her head. “The hard drives?”
“Andrea,” Miranda lifted her hand to caress the woman’s cheek with her fingertips. “I’ve told you a hundred times. I had nothing to do with that.” She sighed. “I suppose I’ll just have to prove it to you.”
The soft touch distracted Andy. “Miranda…”
“We will discuss it later.” The editor exhaled dramatically. “I’m stuck for a late lunch today with Donatella. I’ve put her off for as long as I can and now she insists I tell her the entire story of our ‘undying love’, her words.” Miranda rolled her eyes. “Italians.”
Andy laughed. “What are you going to tell her?”
“As little as possible.” Miranda chuckled. “The woman is a hopeless romantic, so even a tiny portion of the truth will be enough for her.”
“Such as?” Andy prompted.
“I will regale her with tales of your beauty. How you call me a Goddess but it is, in fact, you who have that distinction. How your eyes capture my soul with every glance.” Miranda smiled. “How your lips are so soft I cannot help but kiss them.” She leaned in to do that very thing. She loved stairs and the way she was able to put her lips even with Andrea’s when standing on the bottom step.
Slowly parting, Andy rested her forehead against Miranda’s. “You aren’t really going to tell her all that, are you?”
“She likes flowery declarations of love.” Miranda shook her head. “I have no idea what I’ll tell her, but whatever it is will not go any farther than her ears. She can be surprisingly discrete, especially when it comes to matters of ‘amore’.”
“Oh, I spoke with the girls about their birthday party, they are both in agreement.” Andy chuckled. “They want a Twilight Party.”
Miranda groaned, “Still fascinated with the paranormal…”
“I thought maybe we could get Emily to plan it… since she’s looking at caterers and all that stuff already.” Andy grinned at her fiancée, “The birthday is going to be here soon, sooner than the wedding.”
Andy’s phone vibrated and she fished it out of her pocket quickly. “Roy’s here.” Her forehead furrowed at the message. “‘The horde has returned.’ What’s that supposed to mean?”
When they opened the front door to leave they found out. More reporters and photographers were there than the second day of their public announcement. None of them had been there when the girls had left for school. Worse than their presence, were the questions the reporters were throwing at the women.
“Andy! Is it true that you cheated on your boyfriend while in Paris on Runway business?” “Andy, how long did your affair with Christian Thompson last?” “Did you sleep with Miranda too?” “Miranda, are your ex-husband’s previous allegations true? Did you have an affair while you and Andy were in Paris?”
Andy’s first instinct was to run back inside and slam the door, but Miranda grabbed her by the elbow and propelled them both to the waiting car. She didn’t acknowledge any of the reporter’s questions except the one who had asked. “Have you ever taken advantage of your employee’s before?” Him she glared at for a full second before entering the relative calm of the vehicle.
“Oh My God, Miranda… What the hell was that?” There were only three people in the world that knew she’d slept with Christian; her, Miranda, and Christian. So for it to leak to the press, he had to have been the one to tell. Miranda’s next comment confirmed her reasoning.
“Apparently, Mr. Thompson needed some publicity.” Miranda was seething. “It’s too bad he chose this way to get it.” Mock pity seeped into her voice, “Such a shame.” Reaching up, she casually pushed a lock of white hair out of her eye. “He seemed to have had a promising career too.”
Andy’s eyes widened. “Uh… what does that mean?”
Miranda’s expression clearly showed her surprise at the question. “I’m going to ruin him, of course, because I am in complete agreement with you, Andrea.”
“With me?” Andy blinked and thought. What does that mean?
With a nod and a smile that would make anyone shiver, Miranda spoke quietly.
“Nobody messes with my girls.”
To be continued