DISCLAIMER: The Devil Wears Prada and its characters belong to Lauren Weisberger and 20th Century Fox. No infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To emeraldorchids[at]outlook.com

Always at My Side
By emeraldorchids



Working from home had been an excellent decision. I stayed in bed until Andrea returned with my computer, and even then, I simply threw on my robe and sat in the study. Such were the joys of working from home. Emily had postponed a few meetings until next week—which was sure to be hellish—but I was still able to talk to Nigel about Victor's apprenticeship and the revised accessories layouts, which he sent over with Andrea in the morning. Andrea, who was at the moment curled up on the couch with Patricia at her feet.

Smiling, I went over to join them, quietly making the St. Bernard give up her warm seat. There wasn't much space left with Andrea spread out on the couch, so I curled against the arm rest and closed my eyes—another joy of working at home: early afternoon naps. Several minutes later, I woke to Andrea lacing her fingers in mine, tugging me down to lay with her. "We can both fit," she said, turning on her side and draping her arm over me.

"Mmmh," I sighed. "You're spoiling me," I said, adjusting my robe since I was wearing nothing but my black silk lingerie underneath. "I could get used to this, you know.

"Me too," she said softly.

Again, I desperately wanted to know what she meant by that, but I was afraid of pushing her, as there was a chance she wanted nothing more than friendship. At this point, I would take whatever she was willing to offer me, as I couldn't imagine my life without Andrea Elizabeth Sachs, the formerly-frumpy girl who held my heart.

"I have been thinking about calling the girls," I whispered after nearly thirty minutes of silence. "The Orchid Show opens next weekend at the Botanical Gardens."

"That would be a great idea, Miranda," she said.

"I guess I'm just nervous. I mean, it will take a few hours, and we can't exactly talk about flowers the whole time," I said. "And I don't even know if they're interested in that type of thing. Would you come with?"

"Miranda, I don't think—"

"Forget it, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have asked," I quickly said, not wanting to hear her turn me down.

"Miranda, wait, listen to me," she said. "I would love to go with you. And I would love to go with you and your daughters; however, while I may not know them that well, I am fairly certain they are not stupid. Think about what their reaction might be if they think you've invited them and all of a sudden you're there with someone else and they're just tagging along?"

"I suppose you're right," I said. Of course she was right.

"I have another idea," she said. "What if I just happen to be there at the same time and we run into one another?"

"You would do that? Go by yourself and wait around for me?" I asked.

"Of course. I also happen to love orchids," Andrea said.

"Would you be interested in going to one of their cocktail evenings? They're sold out, but since I'm on the board I just need to make a phone call," I said, suddenly incredibly nervous as I essentially just asked my assistant out on a date—a very public date.

"You're on the board for the New York Botanical Gardens?" she asked in disbelief.

I relaxed. Maybe she didn't see it as a date after all. "Yes, why do you think they never have freesia shows?" I said with a smirk, even though I know she couldn't see my face.

"You're incredible," she said, squeezing her arm around my waist. "Yes, I would love to go, thank you."

"Great, I'll make the call as soon as I get up. But back to the girls," I said. "I don't know what to say to them," I said.

Andrea awkwardly sat up on the couch, forcing me to sit up as well. "Just be honest with them. Lower your ego a few notches," she said. "Here," she stood and retrieved my blackberry from the desk. "Call them now, they're already home from school."

I don't know why I didn't question her. Maybe there was something to be said about having someone else—someone I could trust—make decisions for me. I took a deep breath and dialed James' number.


"Hi, James," I said.

"Miranda, how are you? Is everything alright?"

"Good, yes it's fine. I—I was thinking that maybe I could do something with the girls next weekend…that is, if they would be interested. There hasn't been anything in the press about the divorce, and I don't expect anything for a few months until it's official. And, I just…god, James I've been such a fool. I just don't want them to hate me," I said.

He must have sensed the change in my tone, as his softened considerably. "Mira, they don't hate you. They don't really know you."

"I know, and I want to change that," I said, trying to sound sincere. I reached over and took Andrea's hand, tightly lacing our fingers together.

"You know, I've been waiting for this day, but let's be honest, I thought you would have come to your senses after Harriet died," he said.

"I should have," I said. "But instead I pushed everyone away. Well, now I'm ready, if they'll still have me."

"I think the real you can win anyone over," he said. "Let me call them downstairs."

I waited for several seconds, staring into Andrea's eyes until I heard them in the background. "Do we have to?" I heard Caroline ask. I bit my lip and held my breath, willing the tears not to fall.

"Hi, Mom," Caroline said.

"Hi honey," I said, surprised that James forced her to speak with me. "Is your sister there, too?"

"Yep," Cassidy said.

"I've missed you girls so much—I want you to know that I think about you every single day. I—I was wondering if you'd maybe like to go to The Orchid Show on Saturday a week from tomorrow at the Botanical Gardens, and maybe we could have lunch or something, too," I said. I closed my eyes as I waited for their response. Andrea squeezed my hand.

There was silence for several seconds, and I could just imagine them silently communicating before responding. "Yeah, that sounds cool."

"Our science teacher was telling us about it."

"Oh wonderful," I said, letting out the breath I didn't know I was keeping in. "How about we plan for 11am Saturday—we can walk around, then grab lunch after?"

"Sure. There's a basketball game at 6pm at Dalton and we're both going, so as long as we're home to get ready for that, should be fine," Caroline said.

"That's perfect. You'll be home in plenty of time. I'll pick you up at about quarter to eleven, and then we can walk from my…we can walk from our house to the Gardens, is that okay?" I asked.

"Sure. What should we wear?" Cassidy asked.

"Whatever you like. There may be photographers because it's opening weekend," I said, "but I want you to be comfortable."

"Ok, thanks Mom, see you next week—I gotta run," Cassidy said.

"Bye Cass, see you Saturday."


"I'm still here."

"I want you and your sister both to know how much I love you, okay? I know I haven't been the best mother. In the past few years, I have hardly been your mother at all, but I want that to change, okay? You two are so precious to me, I can't lose you," I said as tears began streaming down my cheeks. "Your father and I both love you very very much."

"Thanks, Mom. I love you, too, and I know Cass does, too. And we love it here with dad, but sometimes we really do just miss having you around—like our friends' moms are," she said.

I cringed, thinking that my daughter recognized how little time I spent with them. "Of course, honey. I know I can't go back in time, but I do want to be there for you two as much as possible. Now I'll see you Saturday morning, okay?"


"Have a good night, I love you."

"Love you too. Here's dad," she said, handing the phone to James. I could tell he was waiting to say anything until Caroline was out of earshot.

"Jesus Miranda," he whispered, "what the hell did you say to her? She had tears in her eyes when I came back in the room!"

I couldn't help but smile, "I guess she takes after me," I said, with a sniffle. "I simply told her how much I loved her—how much we both love her—and apologized for not really being a mother."

"Oh," he said, knowing how emotional Caroline was inclined to get. "So what did you guys plan?"

"Orchid show. I'll pick them up next Saturday at quarter to eleven and we should be back by three."

"Great. They'll be ready."

"James, thank you again," I said.

"Don't mention it," he said, hanging up.

I set my phone down and buried my face in my hands, sobbing. I hadn't talked to them in weeks. There was so much I didn't know about them—so much I wanted to know. I was so overwhelmed with emotions, I hardly even noticed Andrea leading me into my bedroom and onto the bed. She curled up behind me and held me while uncontrollable sobs assaulted my body, the pillow hardly muffling my screams. I heard her humming quietly as she tried to calm me down, and surprisingly, it was working. I could feel her torso vibrating as she hummed, and it was soothing, like a cat's gentle purr.

Eventually, my tears dried up and my heart rate began to steady. After laying in silence for several minutes, Andrea asked, "Do you always get like this?"

"What do you mean?" I asked, "Yes, I cry a lot, if that's what you're asking."

"Well, is it typically triggered by things that aren't inherently sad?" she asked.

"Actually, yes," I said, as if struck by such clarity. "I don't really cry at sad things unless there's something to it."

"Miranda, you are so beautifully complex, sometimes I'm just in awe," Andrea said.

I slowly turned in her arms so I was facing her, our noses almost touching. I reached up and cupped her cheek. "Andrea, you are—" but she cut me off before I could finish.

"Don't say it. Don't say anything. I don't want to ruin the moment," she whispered.

At that moment, I knew in my heart that she was thinking the same thing I had been thinking earlier—that she didn't want to lose what we had by taking a chance. It was that 'go big or go home' moment we always spoke of for new designers during their fashion week shows. So much hinged on this moment, and I certainly wasn't about to add Andrea to my list of regrets in life.

I closed my eyes and closed the distance between us, pressing my lips to hers. She responded immediately, kissing me back. I sighed into her mouth, releasing all control to the woman before me. Her lips set my nerve endings on fire, shooting sparks throughout my body from the hairs on my head to the tips of my toes. I felt my muscles clench as wetness seeped from my lower folds, pooling between my legs.

After some time, we broke for air, my lungs heaving as I struggled to catch my breath, the smell of my arousal lingering in the air. My eyes fluttered open to see Andrea hovering above me. "Do you get like this, too, when you get emotional?" she asked, a smile playing across her face. "Because I can get used to this," she said.

"I don't know much of anything anymore," I said, not able to follow her train of thought at the moment.

"Miranda, if I kiss you again, I won't be able to stop," she said, her voice deep and lusty.

Her words made my muscles tingle. All I could think of was her relieving that ache. But with a sudden glimpse of clarity, I slid out from under her arms and sat on the edge of the bed, hanging my head. "Andrea, I do want you to kiss me again, really, so much so that it's difficult to think straight right now," I said, "but this is not the right time."

"What do you mean?" she asked, sitting next to me.

"For one, I am still legally married to Stephen Tomlinson. That won't be finalized for another six months. And then there's the whole business of you being my assistant, and, this," I said, gesturing between us while I glanced at the clock, "happening while we're both supposed to be working." I sighed. "And Andrea, I finally have a chance with my daughters. I can't screw this up."

She took my hand in hers. "I understand," she said, kissing my knuckles. "I will be at your side as your friend through all of this if you'll let me," she said.

I nodded. "And Runway?" I asked.

"I'll find another job. I actually need to look, anyway, since I can't afford my rent on my own anyway. I could find a desk job somewhere and wait tables at night," she said.

"I will find you something, not at Runway, but something in publishing where there is potential to move up," I said. "I won't have you waiting tables."

"Thank you, but I'm sure a junior reporter's salary won't be enough to pay my rent," she said. "So unless I can find a roommate to share my studio apartment, I will have to find a second job."

"Darling, let me help you out," I said, turning to her. Of course, she mentioned months ago that she was only with her boyfriend to help with rent, but it hadn't even occurred to me that she might be struggling to pay her bills right now. "I'll pay your rent for the next six months, even a year. That way you can focus on your career and not have to struggle," I said.

"Miranda, I could never accept that," she said.

"Okay," I said. I really did understand Andrea's reluctance to accept help; I was the same way when I was starting out, but I wasn't ready to tell her of my days working as a salon assistant. I had another idea, but I was cautious, not wanting to start an argument at the moment.

"I do have another idea," I said, "So, I have been looking to get into real estate for a while, especially as there have been some stunning properties up for foreclosure lately. What if I tell Jonathan to go ahead and start sending me some to choose from? I'll find a small 1-2 bedroom in a safe area, and then you can just rent from me for a very affordable price."

"Really?" she asked. "I mean, you wouldn't be going out of your way or anything?"

"Not at all. The only reason I've been holding off is that I hadn't found a property manager who I could pay to be an acting landlord. But if you're the one renting, I'm fairly certain we wouldn't need the middle man. If there were any repairs, you could just contact me and I would have it taken care of," I said.

"H—how soon do you think this would happen?" she asked.

"As early as May 1st? Foreclosures are usually short sales. That would give us enough time to make any necessary renovations, too. Do you have furniture or would you want it furnished?"

"All I have is a bookshelf. Everything else came with my apartment," she said.

"Well, then you will be the perfect person to help me decorate," I said.

Andrea reached over and hugged me tightly, kissing me on the cheek. "Oh, Miranda, you are a lifesaver. Thank you so much," she said.

"You're very welcome," I replied as I gazed into her eyes.

Was she thinking what I was thinking? I wondered. Was she nervous, too? Afraid of this growing attraction in the same way I am? I bit my lip and closed my eyes as I turned away, knowing I couldn't face her big brown eyes, not right now.

"I, uh, guess I should be going," she said, slowly pushing away from me. She stood next to the bed with her back turned while she smoothed out her clothes. "I, um, I'll talk to you soon," she said. "If there's anything that comes up before Monday, uh, I'm sure you'll let me know."

I nodded. "Andrea? Can you send me your resume this weekend? It would be very helpful if I could speak to some of the specific details of your work before Runway, and follow-up any of my phone calls with your resume." I was slightly embarrassed that I hadn't so much as remembered which university she attended, let alone why she felt so qualified to work in publishing, but one could say I was a little preoccupied the day she walked into my life.

"Of course," she said. "I just have to add a few finishing touches concerning my current employment. Thank you again for doing this," she said.

"It's my pleasure, Andrea. You deserve to be in a position that will compensate you accordingly for the value you bring." She smiled and headed downstairs, locking the door behind her as she left.

I promptly returned to my study and began making a few lists of my EIC colleagues at various New York publications: one list ranked by prestige of publication, another by those who owe me favors, and another by opportunity at each publication. Satisfied with my lists, I settled back into my desk and read through any emails that came through later in the day.

On the other side of town, Andrea hovered over her computer screen, crafting the perfect resume. It was nearly 2AM when she saved her final copy and went to bed, deciding she would reread in the morning before sending it off.

The next morning, I woke to find Andrea had emailed her resume at 8AM. I busied myself around the house during the day, and I wasn't really sure where the day had gone, but seeing that it was nearly 7PM, I headed upstairs into my study. Pouring myself a glass of Merlot, I printed out Andrea's resume and went over it with a fine-tooth comb. I was quite impressed a how well-written and structured it was. If anything, she wasn't giving herself enough credit for her responsibilities at Runway, but I could easily speak to that, I thought. I scrolled through my contacts on my blackberry, then dialed the numbers on my desk phone.

"Hi Turner? It's Miranda…good, good, and you?…Excellent. Is this a good time?…Yes, well, I have someone you really need to hire. She's been my assistant for the past year, and honestly, I can trust her with anything. She has stepped up and done everything for me from copyediting to coming up with innovative solutions for our advertisers. She has plenty of writing experience, and she was actually the EIC of her college newspaper, but unfortunately I only have two writing-related positions on my staff, and as much as I'd like to keep her, on, I can't justify replacing my veteran writers…Yes, uh-huh…oh, I understand, but I would really appreciate if you can keep her in mind…yes, I'm sending it now. Oh, and do tell Maud I saw the dress she wore at the ceremony last month. That Dior gown looked absolutely stunning and she stole the room. Tell her we will have to get coffee and catch up…Okay, you too…goodnight." I hung up the phone. "Asshole," I said aloud, taking a gulp from my wine glass.

Next on the list, Col Allan of the New York Post, then Tina over at Newsweek. If those didn't work out, my next call would be to Kevin at the NY Daily News, and finally John at the New York Mirror.

Four calls and one voicemail later, I was confident Andrea would have a job within the next few weeks. Next, I decided to give Jonathan a call and explain to him what I was looking for. I told him I already had a tenant lined up, and that she was a personal friend, so no management company would be necessary. He anticipated several short sales coming up soon, and assured me he would set appointments for any he thought would work. I explained that I might have to send my assistant in my place, but that I trusted her completely. Content with the conversation, I left the study and drew a relaxing, hot bath for myself.

On Sunday morning, I read through several emails from the previous day. It appeared there was a malfunction with one of the printers and it was causing some mild chaos back at the office. I sighed, thinking about how involved I would have been, had I showed up at the office yesterday. Saturdays and Sundays were technically my days off, but nearly every weekend I spent at least one day in the office. That will have to change, I thought as I anticipated Andrea's departure. Some of the only time I would have to spend with the young woman would be on the weekend.

I showered and dressed for brunch with Nigel. I hadn't been to Bergdorf Goodman in nearly six months, so I decided to head over early and spend some time strolling through their store. They always had the most fascinating layouts, in part due to the unique interior of the historic building on 5th Avenue and 58th Street. I made a few small purchases—including a pair of Charlotte Olympia wedge sandals that were probably too young for me—before heading upstairs to wait for Nigel in the restaurant.

He joined me several minutes later and we both ordered mimosas and eggs benedict. I could see he was on edge, so I quickly got to the point. "Nigel, I know you are disappointed about the James Holt position. Please trust me when I tell you that this partnership will fail very quickly. I wanted something better for you," I added.

"Well, thank you, Miranda," he said, "but honestly, that doesn't make me feel that much better."

"I know, and I'm sorry. I was considering giving you some added responsibility within Runway, though. Would you be interested in that?" I asked.

He set down his glass, clearly very interested in what I had to say.

"For years, we've been talking about a men's Runway, and while I still don't think it will be a reality just yet, I think we need someone to manage our brand strategy, and you would be perfect for that. Right now, we have multiple people in different departments working on Runway branding, and I really think that under your leadership, a new extension of our brand—be it a men's magazine or something else—will very much be a reality."

"Miranda, I'm speechless," he said.

"Well, do you accept?" I asked.

"Yes, yes, of course!" he said. "I just—I—I'm sorry I ever doubted you."

"Ah, yes. You should know better than that, Nigel," I said with a smile.

We toasted our glasses to his new position and I promised him the announcement would be made this week. There was something else I wanted to talk to him about, but I wasn't sure if this were the appropriate place. Needless to say, he read my mind.

"There's something else I've been meaning to ask you about regarding Andrea," he said, "but I think we should speak somewhere more private."

I nodded and quickly paid the bill, sending Roy a text that I would be downstairs shortly. Once in the town car, I pressed the button to raise the privacy glass and turned to Nigel.

"Andrea is leaving Runway. I am trying to find her a position elsewhere—it looks like The New York Mirror has a promising position of managing editor that John may offer her," I said, softly playing with my hands in my lap.

"Are you two—?" Nigel asked.

"No. Well, yes, maybe. I don't know," I said, sinking back into the seat. "Andrea has somehow become my best friend in the past few months. I trust her like no one else, and I genuinely enjoy spending time with her. It's relaxing," I said, chuckling to myself. "Would you ever think I enjoyed sharing a meal or just mindlessly chit-chatting with someone?"

Nigel smiled. "Miranda, I'm happy for you. I don't mean to bring up old memories, but I remember you like that before the girls were born. Remember our afternoon meetings that somehow turned into coffee breaks where we would gossip for an hour? I can see some of that same brightness in your eyes now as you had back then," he said.

I smiled and turned my head to look at him. "I do remember that. I don't ever know if I've thanked you for being my friend all these years—from covering for me during my pregnancy to bringing me back to reality when my mother died," I said, reaching over and squeezing his hand.

He wrapped his arm around me and pulled me closer, kissing me softly on my cheek near my lips. "Mira, you're like family to me, I love you," he said. "I know we've had our ups and downs, but I'm always here."

I sniffled, wiping my tears from my eyes. "And I love you, too, Nigel. It's weird, but you've always been like my a big sister to me."

"Ha!" Nigel laughed, "I'm honored, sis."

"Can I tell you something, sister-to-sister?" I asked, looking up at him.

"Cross my heart, hope to die—I won't tell a soul," he said with a smile.

"I think I'm in love with Andrea."

"Oh sweetie," he said, tightening his arms around me, "I think you are, too. And I think you have been since you hired her."

"Was it that obvious?" I asked, suddenly pulling away. I had tried so hard to keep that private, the thought of others knowing of my feelings for Andrea suddenly made me nauseous. The last thing I wanted was to have her pristine reputation trashed in the headlines.

"No, no. It was little things, very subtle. But Mira, I know you better than anyone else, so I see what others don't."

I relaxed and took a few deep breaths.

"Have you two talked about it?" he asked.

"Not really. I mean, she was going through a lot with her grandmother, and then I opened up to her about the girls, and I think neither of us wanted to say anything," I said.

"Look, I don't mean to be a Debbie Downer here, but are you sure she feels that way?" he asked.

I smiled, thinking back to Andrea's lips pressed against mine, begging to kiss me again. "Yes," I said, "I'm sure. She was rather disappointed when my morals kicked in."

Nigel snickered, "Please don't tell me anymore. For her last few weeks at Runway, I really want to be able to keep a straight face around her," he said.

I softly punched him in the arm. "You better!" I warned.

Just then, the car pulled up at Nigel's apartment. "Well, this is my stop," he said. "Thanks for this afternoon, really. I've kind of missed you. I know you have Andrea now, but..."

"Yes, this was lovely, Nigel," I said. "And I would like very much to see you more often like this, outside of work."

He smiled and we exchanged goodbyes as he stepped out of the car. I summoned my courage and called Andrea.

"Hi Miranda," she answered.

"Hello," I said. "How are you?"

"Fine, I'm just at the grocery store, actually," she said.

"Oh, well, I'll make it quick. Would you like to come over this evening? Either for dinner, or afterwards?"

"I actually have some chicken in the slow-cooker right now, but I'd love to come by after. Or, would you like me to bring dinner?" she asked.

"No, no, that's too much trouble. But I would love to see you later," I said.

"Is 7:30PM okay?"

"Sounds wonderful, see you later," I said.

"Bye," she replied, ending the call.

That afternoon, I opened the patio doors and let some fresh air into the house. It was an unusually mild afternoon in late March, and the warm breeze smelled like spring. I wrapped a soft pashmina around my shoulders and curled up in the chair just in front of the patio door while Patricia sat at my feet, clearly enjoying the fresh air, too. I spent several hours reading Bill O'Reilly's latest bestseller before getting up and making myself a light salad. As the sky darkened, I shut the patio doors and walked through the house, turning on the lights.

Actually, I think I was nervous for Andrea's visit. Of course, I wanted to see her, but I also knew I couldn't let things get out of hand. Sighing, I glanced at the clock. Andrea would be over in less than an hour, but I needed to occupy my mind. Pulling out my phone, I called Leslie to check on the status of the divorce.

"Miranda, I was planning to call you tomorrow morning. I have good news for you," she said.

"Really?" I rarely heard "good news" come from my attorney's mouth.

"Yes, the judge has granted you a separation, and after speaking with Stephen's attorney, it sounds like he doesn't plan to contest the prenup or file for custody," she said.

"My god, you mean, he could have?" I asked. It hadn't even crossed my mind that he would try to take my girls from me.

"Well, technically, yes. But I only mention that because in the past, that has been what delayed your proceedings," she said. "I see this divorce being finalized in as little as six weeks."

"You're kidding," I said.

"No, I hope that's good news," Leslie said.

"Yes, very. I'm just surprised."

"I do have to ask you one thing, Miranda," she said, hesitating. "Are you seeing anyone else? I just want to be prepared if anything leaks."

"I understand," I replied. "Currently, I am not, though I have grown quite close with my friend Andrea Sachs and have been spending a considerable amount of time with her."

"Do you anticipate this developing into something else?" Leslie asked.

"Yes," I said, "but we have been waiting. She currently works at Runway, so I'm waiting for her to move to her new position as well."

"Okay, that's all I need to know. Just for your information, now that you're separated, Stephen can't use it against you unless he can prove prior involvement," she added.

I took a deep breath, recalling the arguments Stephen and I had over the young brunette. "He accused me of being obsessed with her at one point—which was simply untrue—but I did speak of her often at home as I was getting to know her."

"That sounds fine," Leslie said. "As long as I don't need to expect any sex tapes or inappropriate emails, I think you're good."

"No, definitely not," I said. "But thank you, Leslie."

"Not a problem. I'll send the separation papers over tomorrow, but in the meantime, take care."

"You too," I said, hanging up the phone. My heart began racing. As long as no one at Runway finds out… I thought to myself.

Several minutes later, Andrea arrived, the doorbell jolting me from my thoughts.

"Hello, darling," I said, opening the door and letting the brunette in. She was dressed casually in lycra-blend athletic pants and a few layered cotton tops, her hair pulled back in a ponytail.

"Miranda," she said, stepping inside and briefly hugging me as she handed me a bottle of sparkling wine. "You—you look gorgeous. I'm sorry I'm so underdressed."

"Don't be ridiculous," I said, closing the door behind her. "I had brunch with Nigel and didn't have a chance to change," I said, leading her into the den. "Have a seat while I find some glasses," I added, strolling off into the kitchen.

"Thank you," she said, taking the glass of wine from me as I sat next to her on the couch.

"How has your weekend been?" I asked. I hadn't seen her since Friday afternoon, and it felt like an eternity.

"Well, it was good. I was up late Friday night working on my resume. Then, my mother called early Saturday morning to tell me that she was taking my grandpa to see a therapist this week, and then she said, 'oh, by the way, happy belated birthday.' I thanked her and told her I had to go. I don't even want to deal with that," Andrea said.

"Darling, I don't really want to make a habit of comparing myself to your mother, but give her time. When my mother died, I locked myself in my bedroom upstairs for two weeks. Stephen didn't care, he just slept in the guest room. Nigel finally showed up one day and picked the lock, and he had to carry me into the shower because I was too weak to stand. During that whole time, I never once thought of what it must feel like for my daughters to lose their grandmother, because I was selfishly focused on myself and how her death was affecting me and my life," I said.

"Wow," she said. "You said you took it bad, but I had no idea."

"Yes, well, Nigel and I have been through a lot together," I said. I sipped my wine as my eyes raked over the beautiful woman next to me. Even so casually dressed, her beauty was undeniable.

We turned the television on and watched some shows in companionable silence, sharing observations here and there. As much as I enjoyed our silence, I couldn't help but think of her arms around me, her lips pressed to my skin.

"Miranda?" she called, setting her glass on the table. "Are you okay?"

"Yes, sorry," I said, pushing my thoughts aside.

"I asked if you had heard any news about the divorce."

"Actually, I got off the phone with Leslie just before you arrived," I said. I wasn't sure just how much I wanted to share with her, fearing that she would try to push things too quickly if she knew the details. "She thinks there is a good chance the divorce will be finalized in the next two months," I added.

"Wow, that's great. Probably good for the girls, too," she said.

It hadn't crossed my mind, but of course, Andrea was right. This was excellent news. As long as Stephen didn't try to contest anything, it would stay out of the papers and I could convince my girls to move back home. "Yes, very much so," I said.

She shifted positions and gently began massaging her leg. I was curious—worried, actually—but didn't want to push her. It looked as if she was wincing in pain, though.

"Andrea, I think you need to make sure that you submit a resignation letter first thing Monday morning—to both me and to human resources," I said.

"Okay," she said, "I actually worked on that last night."

"Excellent," I said, nodding. "I think it is in our best interest if I act surprised and perhaps a little annoyed when you hand it in. Do you understand?" I moved closer to her on the couch and gently picked up her hands.

She nodded, looking down at the ground. I reached up and cupped her cheek, gently pressing my lips to hers. I pulled back and rest my forehead against hers, closing my eyes. "We have to wait until you have a new job," I said.

"I know," she replied, slowly pulling away and standing up. "I should probably go home right now—even though I don't want to."

I shrugged apologetically—couldn't she see how I wished this weren't the situation either? I stood. "Here, let me follow you out, I have something else for you," I said. I went to grab my handbag in the kitchen and pulled out my checkbook, quickly scribbling on the paper and handing it to Andrea. "Here, until things are settled with the new job and new place," I said.

"Miranda, I can't accept this! $5,000?! That's too much," she said, handing the check back.

"Don't take this the wrong way, but that's just pennies to me. Think of it as a birthday present or something."

"I—I can't take money from you, Miranda. That's not why I choose to spend time with you," she said, her eyes welling with tears.

"Okay, no tears today," I said, wrapping my arms around her shoulders. "I know you're not after my money. But I have it, and if sharing even a little with you can make your life a little bit easier and less stressful, you know I will do it in a heartbeat. It's about taking care of the ones you…the ones you care about," I said.

She nodded and tucked the check safely away in her wallet. "Thank you," she said. "So, I'll, uh, see you tomorrow?"

"Yes, darling," I said, "have a good night." I fought the urge to invite her to stay the night, desperately wanting her in my bed again. Knowing I wouldn't be able to resist, I saw her out the door.

The next week was the closest thing to torture I had ever experienced in my life. Andrea turned in her resignation, citing April 16th as her last day. I was relieved to find I would only need to work with her for two more weeks. I kept Emily busy finding me a new second assistant, telling her I wanted someone as responsible and dedicated as Andrea, but with enough sense not to leave a position at Runway. For the most part, Andrea steered clear of me, and even gave the book delivery privileges back to Emily.

"Will I still see you tomorrow?" I asked Andrea quietly. It was late Friday afternoon and we were making last-minute changes to the issue going to print that evening. Most of the staff was either occupied in the art department or working in the conference room down the hall, so I took my opportunity to speak to Andrea for the first time this week. Tomorrow, I would be taking my daughters to the Orchid Show and I could feel my anxiety about the day suddenly reappearing.

"Oh shit. Yes, of course—I almost forgot!" she said. "I'll come find you around 11:30, does that work?"

I nodded. "Will you know where we are? Should I text you?" I asked.

"No need. Part of my training this past year included learning to sense your presence in a room of any size," she said with a smile. "I'll find you." I smiled back.

I slowly stood up. My body felt weighted. "Don't worry, it will work out," she said, "trust me." I don't think she knew just how much I really did.

On Saturday, I woke with a nervous stomach, a reminder of my anxiety. I took a hot shower and changed into a pair of Versace floral print cropped pants with a simple white v-neck top. I was ready to leave by 9AM, but of course, had to wait an hour and a half. I read through the papers, trying to kill time. Finally, I just grabbed the car keys and left, telling myself I would drive slowly.

I arrived at James' house ten minutes early, and took my time parking and walking up the stairs. "Miranda, come on in, they're still getting ready," he said as he opened the door. I nodded and followed him inside. "You really look great," he said, taking in my appearance. "It's been—what—twelve, maybe fourteen months since I've last seen you?"

"Probably," I said, shaking my head. Roy was the one who drove the girls everywhere, and because of that, I never saw James when they would spend the weekends with him. "How have you been?" I asked.

He turned and looked at me quizzically. "You are not one to make small talk, Miranda. What's going on?"

"Oh, nothing," I said, fumbling with the buttons on my coat. "People change."

"Miranda, are you seeing someone already?" he asked.

"What? No. I told you, the divorce isn't finalized yet," I said.

"Yeah, well that never stopped you before," he said with a wistful look in his eye.

"James, I'm a different person now. You must know that," I said. "I really treated you horribly back then, and I think you were the only one who really ever loved me," I said, pursing my lips to keep from crying.

"Come here," he said, wrapping his arm around me and pulling me to his chest. "It's in the past. I was wrong to bring it up. I think the girls really need you now."

"I hope so," I said, taking a few deep breaths.

"Can I just ask what brought this on? I'm just curious," he said, "why now and not a year ago, or in two months? What changed?"

"My friend's grandmother just passed, and she has been very emotional, specifically regarding her mother, who has rather selfishly retreated and forgotten about her. That just hit home for me, you know. I didn't even think to console the girls when they lost their grandmother. And I know it's been nearly five years, but I don't want my daughters to have any reason to think I don't love them," I said.

"We don't think that," Cassidy said from the stairwell.

"Yeah, we don't, Mom. We know you're just busy, and have a lot of important things to do," Caroline added.

I bit my lip and turned around, bending down to hug them both. "My darlings," I said, "I am busy, but never too busy for you, okay? I never want you to think that anything is ever more important than you. I will drop everything I'm doing for you two, okay?" They nodded. "Let's go see some orchids," I said, standing up and heading for the door.

"Take pictures for me," James said, waving out the front door.

"You drive, Mom?" Cassidy said as I unlocked the car doors.

"Of course I do," I said, "why would you ask me that?"

"Well, I've never seen you do it. Roy takes us everywhere," Cassidy replied.

I turned around to face them both in the backseat. "I want you to keep asking questions, okay? I'm so sorry I haven't been there for you as much as I should have, but I want to do my best to make up for that, okay?"

They both nodded and I took off, heading back to the townhouse. "Do you need anything from inside?" I asked as I turned into my parking garage. They shook their heads, so we exited through the garage and began walking through the park.

"Mom, do you live by yourself in that big house?" Caroline asked.

"Yes," I said, "I do now. When you two aren't with me, I'm by myself—well, just me and Patricia."

"So did Stephen move out?" she asked.

"Yes," I said. "We really didn't love each other anymore, and well, we're getting a divorce."

"Dad said that was why we were living with him."

"Do you love someone else now?" Cassidy chimed in.

"Your father is right. I have been concerned about reporters after the divorce, but I think everything is okay. And darling, I love lots of people. I love you and your sister, I love your uncle Dennis and his son Spencer. I love uncle Nigel, and part of me still loves your dad because he gave me you two," I said, hoping that would divert this game of twenty questions.

"I mean, like love love," Cassidy said.

"Yeah, like a boyfriend or girlfriend," Caroline said.

I stopped in my tracks and turned to look at them. "The answer is no, because the judge hasn't finalized my divorce yet, but why on earth would you ask that?"

"You said we could ask anything!" Cassidy said in her defense.

"Yes, Bobbsey, of course I did, but why ask if I had a girlfriend?" I said, looking at Caroline.

"I, uh, I'm sorry Mom," she said wrapping her arms around me and burying her face in my coat. I bent down and wiped her eyes with a tissue. I told myself that I needed to relax and go easier on them—I was certainly not here to make my daughters cry. "Dad was on the phone in his office, and I heard him say your name. I thought maybe you were calling to talk to us so I stood at the door, listening. I don't know who he was talking to, but he said, 'I wouldn't be surprised if she had a girlfriend.' I'm sorry, Mom. I know we're not supposed to eavesdrop," she said.

"Oh, sweetie, it's okay," I said. "I don't know who your daddy was talking to, but I'm sure you just misunderstood the conversation," I added. "Come on, let's get going."

As we approached the Botanical Gardens, there were crowds of people outside, waiting to get in. "Aw man, I hate waiting in lines!" Cassidy said.

"Bobbsey, be patient. I'm sure this is moving quickly," I said.

A young man standing in front of me turned around. "Hate to break it to you, but we haven't moved from this spot for thirty minutes," he said.

"Oh this is absurd!" I said, quickly pulling out my blackberry and dialing a number.

"George? Yes, hello, it's Miranda. How are you?…Oh, I'm doing well. Actually, I have a favor to ask. I'm out here in the park with my daughters today and we were hoping to see the orchids, but the lines are tremendously long…uh-huh…um, we're about 300' directly to the south of the entrance…thank you so much…yes, I will…oh, and I'm not sure if you saw my email earlier in the week, but will Thursday evening work?…yes, just two…oh, that's marvelous. Thank you, George. See you soon!" I ended the call and slipped my phone into my bag, only to be met with twin sets of eyes staring at me in disbelief.

"Are. You. Serious!!??" Cassidy squealed. "You just make a call and we get to cut the line?"

"Cassidy, keep your voice down," I said. "I volunteer with the Gardens and serve on several of their committees. George is the president and he works in the Gardens every day. He's sending someone to come get us," I whispered.

Sure enough, a young man with a "NYBG STAFF" shirt on drove a golf cart up to meet us. "Miss Priestly?" he asked. I nodded. "Mr. Stanslos sent me to pick you up, so hop in."

"Girls, please buckle up," I said as they ran to the back seat. I rode up front with the driver.

"Hold on," he said as he put the cart in drive and took off, driving around the crowds to a rear entrance. He pulled up to a gate and punched in a code, which opened the gate and allowed us to drive through. "The entrance is really crowded right now because they have some tables setup to sign up to win an orchid or something. Would you ladies like me to take you up front or do you want to start in pavilion three?"

"Three is fine," I said. "Some of the most beautiful orchids in the world are here in pavilion three."

When he pulled the cart to a stop, he helped the girls out and handed me his card. "I'm Matt, and I'd be happy to assist you or your family at any time during the show, Miss Priestly."

"Thank you, Matt," I said, keeping an eye on my girls who were starting to wander off ahead. "Call me Miranda. Will you be working Thursday evening?"

"Yes, Mis—Miranda," he said. "As you know, pavilion three is closed in the evenings, though."

"Would you be able to arrange for my friend and I to have a private showing? We wouldn't need anything special, just the pathway lights," I said.

"I'm sure I can work something out," Matt said. "Call me during the day just to remind me."

"Thank you so much, I will," I said, slipping the card into my pocket and running off after my girls.

I was surprised at how easy conversation was with them, but then again, I wasn't. Children were much more forgiving than adults would ever be.

Several hours later, as we were heading for the exit, I realized we hadn't seen Andrea. I quickly sent her a message: "Are you here? Haven't seen you."

She replied immediately: "I was following you guys for a while, but it didn't seem like you needed me. Everything OK?"

My heart began beating more quickly at the thought of her begin near to us but not saying hello. I wrote back: "I do need you, I need you with every bone in my body… are you still nearby? Join us for lunch?"

She replied: "Yes. Just outside exit to the right."

I quickly caught up to my girls and asked them where they would like to go for lunch. Cassidy, apparently refused to eat anything with eyes, so our options were rather limited, but I was thinking Oliver's cafe down the street would work. As we stepped outside, I saw Andrea start walking over to us.

"Girls, wait a minute," I said, stopping to meet Andrea and exchange air kisses. "You remember Andrea, don't you?" I asked them. They shook their heads, and Caroline stuck out her hand.

"It's nice to meet you, Andrea. I'm Caroline," she said.

"And I'm Cassidy," she said, also extending her hand. I was quite impressed at my daughters' manners.

"It's a pleasure to officially meet you," Andrea said. "I work for your Mom at the magazine. You probably don't remember, but I met you at the train station a few months ago and gave you the new Harry Potter book," she said, beaming.

"Oh! You're Andy!" Caroline said. "I remember Stephen telling us who you were."

My eyes grew wide. What did Stephen tell them about Andrea? I wondered. "Yes, well," I said, trying to steer the conversation away from my soon-to-be ex-husband, "Andrea has been working for me for a while now, and just yesterday she told me she's going to be leaving us soon and looking for another job."

"Why would you want to leave Runway?" Caroline asked.

"Well," Andrea said, obviously flustered at the change of conversation. "When I moved to New York, my dream was to be a writer—a journalist for a newspaper. Unfortunately, I didn't really know anything about the publishing business in New York, since I came from a small town in Ohio. I took this job as your mom's assistant, and I've learned so much, I think I'm ready to keep following my dream," she said, nervously glancing over at me.

"Whoa, that is so cool," Cassidy said. "I want to be a writer, too!"

"No way, awesome!" Andrea said.

"And I want to be Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis," Caroline said.

"You want to marry a politician, get photographed a lot, then marry an old, rich Greek guy? Awesome!" Andrea said.

Both girls started giggling and I hit Andrea in the arm. "Really? Was it necessary to put that image in my daughters' brains?"

"Hey," she said, laughing, "I'm just telling it how it is. That's what reporters do, right?"

"Yup," Cassidy said, taking her side. "Andy, do you eat meat?" she asked.

Andrea quickly glanced at me, then back to Cassidy. "You know, I do," she said. "But I have a lot of friends who don't because they think it's cruel to the animals. So I tried to learn as much as I could about the ways animals are treated on farms and stuff, and I try to only eat meats that come from farms where people take good care of the animals and keep them clean and happy. There are a lot of local farms that are really well-known for that," she said.

"Really?" Cassidy asked, "Why wouldn't you just not eat the meat?"

"Well, meats have a lot of protein and amino acids that your body needs, and fish like salmon have healthy omega-3s that can keep things like cholesterol down, but also make your hair and nails shiny and strong," Andrea said. "Do you eat meat?"

"We saw this documentary in school two months ago, and ever since then, I didn't want to eat any meat. But I guess what you do makes sense, too," she said.

"If you want, I can send your mom some websites that you can read through and research it further," Andrea suggested.

"Yeah, that would be awesome, thanks!"

"You bet," she said.

"Andrea," I said, "have you eaten lunch yet?"

"No," she said.

"Would you be interested in joining us?" I asked, seeing both of my daughters nodding enthusiastically.

She smiled broadly. "It's hard enough saying no to one Priestly woman, so I surely can't resist three," she said, giggling.

"Then it's settled," I said. "What do you think about Oliver's?"

"I think they have the best tomato soup in New York," Andrea said.

"Let's go!" the girls shouted.

An hour later, we were all walking home to the townhouse, sufficiently fed. The girls loved Andrea, and she was perfect with them, though I really expected nothing less. "Well, I need to take you two back to your father's so you can get ready for the game tonight," I said.

"Aww, Mom, will we get to see Andy again?" Caroline asked.

"I don't know, you'll have to ask her," I said. Caroline turned her puppy-dog eyes on Andrea and melted her heart.

"Of course," Andrea said, bending down and hugging my daughters. "But I should be going now. It was great to hang out with you two today," she added as we had reached my garage.

"Girls, get in the car. I need to talk to Andrea for a minute," I said, pressing the button to open the garage door and unlock the car. "Thank you, Andrea," I said, "Will you wait for me in the house? I won't be gone more than twenty minutes," I said.

Andrea nodded and gave me a quick hug before heading down the street to the front door.

"Okay," I said, getting into the car and pulling out of my garage, "I had a lovely time today, did you enjoy it?"

"Yeah, I had no idea there were so many orchids. And Andy is really cool," Cassidy said.

"Good, I'm glad you liked it. I really want to see you two again soon, even if it's just coming back to our house for lunch or something, would that be okay?"

"Yeah," Caroline said, "But we can't tomorrow because our class is going to see a play."

"Oh that sounds nice," I said. We rode in silence for a few more minutes. "I meant what I said earlier—that I want you girls to call me if you need anything, day or night, whether I'm at work or at home, okay? Or even if you don't need something but just want to say hi. I will try to be better about calling, but I want you to feel comfortable calling, too, okay?"

"Yeah, thanks Mom."

We pulled up to James' house and I put the car in park. I turned around and gave each of them a kiss on the cheek before they left, running up the stairs. I quickly waved to James before driving away and speeding home. I parked the car in the garage and walked inside, eagerly in search of Andrea.

Inside my house, I found Andrea asleep on the couch in the den. I didn't want to wake her, so I simply draped a blanket over her and curled up on the opposite couch to read through my email. I apparently had not checked my mail at all today, since I had several unread messages. George had finally replied to my email telling me there would be two tickets for Thursday evening at the front desk, and Nigel had sent the final changes to the rockstud layout.

Andrea was still asleep, so I crept into the kitchen and began making a pot of herbal tea. I didn't catch the kettle in time to stop the shrill whistling, unfortunately, so I waited a few minutes while the tea steeped, then poured two cups and carried them into the den.

"Andrea," I whispered, softly shaking her shoulder.

"Mmm, Miranda," she said, sitting up and opening her eyes.

"Thank you for being so good with my daughters today," I said. "It was actually going fine before we met up with you, but I loved watching their eyes light up as they talked to you, seeing them laugh and really have a good time. So thank you for giving me that," I said.

"Miranda, I'm happy to. Your daughters are so bright and inquisitive, it's really my pleasure," she said.

"Sweetheart, you look exhausted. Why don't you relax and then maybe we can watch something later on TV?"

"Okay," Andrea said. "Would you mind if I took a bath upstairs?" she asked.

"No, not at all. Everything is up there. There's even a bottle of scotch under the sink. I just ask that you use the acrylic glasses in the bathroom," I said. "If you want your tea or wine or anything, please, help yourself."

"Thanks," Andrea said. "I'd actually love some white wine, but I don't know where you keep it."

"Oh, sorry," I said, jumping up and gesturing for her to follow. "This cabinet," I said, "is a temperature-controlled wine storage. I just opened the Chardonnay a few nights ago—would you like that?"

"Yes, thanks," Andrea said.

"And, acrylic glasses are these on this shelf," I said, pulling down a wine glass and handing her both the bottle and glass. "They still break, but at least they don't shatter," I said. "Enjoy your bath," I called after her as she walked upstairs.

I poured myself a glass of red wine and stretched out on the couch, my anxiety gone after a lovely day with my daughters. I laid like that for nearly an hour, practically finishing the bottle of Merlot. Sitting up, I decided to head to the bedroom to check on Andrea. Knocking on the bathroom door, I called, "Andrea? Are you doing okay?"

"Yes, uh, you can come in," she said.

I slowly pushed the door open and my eyes were immediately taken to her naked form in my bathtub. I could really only see from her chest up, but it drove my mind wild how she had a washcloth draped over the swell of her breasts.

"I meant to ask you, did you have any success?" she asked.

I closed my eyes and turned away, needing to still my thoughts. "Su—success?" I stammered.

"Yes, with finding me a job?" she asked.

"Oh, right. Well, perhaps. It is looking like a managing editor position at the Mirror might be the best fit," I said, facing away from the bathtub. "I'm just going to, uh, wait for you downstairs," I said. "If you need to borrow anything, help yourself." I quickly shut the door and stepped into the safety of my closet, where I traded my floral pants for stretchy black yoga pants and draped a blue DKNY cozy around my shoulders. Downstairs, I poured myself another glass of wine and flicked through the channels, looking for something to watch, anything to distract me from the image of a naked Andrea in my bathtub.

Several minutes later, Andrea came downstairs, dressed in the same clothes she wore earlier. She sat next to me on the couch and rested her head on my shoulder. "I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable upstairs," she said.

"No, no, it was fine. I just haven't been thinking straight today," I said, which was true for the most part.

"Miranda," she said, turning to look at me, "I really want to kiss you."

I stared at her, my lips slightly parting as I searched for words. Really, what I needed was to get my head together. Even though she had turned in her resignation, that certainly didn't mean I could have my way with my assistant. And even that—I had never been with another woman like this and then there was the business of my husband and daughters.

"Hey, is everything okay?" Andrea asked. She was sitting on the opposite end of the couch and I don't know how much time had passed since her previous remark.

"Yes," I said, smiling as I turned to face her, sitting in my favorite corner cushion. "I was just a little overwhelmed," I admitted.

"It's okay," Andrea said. "I'm sorry I pushed you."

"You didn't," I said, fumbling with the hem of my pants as I tucked my legs underneath me.

"So, what I was asking before you spaced out…would that be okay?" she asked, closing the distance between us. I nodded and closed my eyes while she straddled my hips and pushed me back into the couch, crushing her lips against mine.

I knew it was wrong, that I should be the adult in this situation and keep things professional, but my god. I pulled back just a bit, thinking I would ask her if we should take things a bit more slowly, but instead I let out a throaty moan as my hips bucked involuntarily into hers. She began to trail her lips down my jawline and neck, hungrily licking and devouring my skin.

"Ohhh, Andrea, Andrea, Andrea," I moaned, shaking my head, eyes closed, "What are you doooing to me?"

"Whatever it is, it sounds like you like it," Andrea whispered before taking my earlobe—and 1-carat diamond stud earring—into her mouth.

"No, no, stop," I said, standing up and taking a deep breath. "This cannot happen right now, Andrea. And if you can't respect that I will have to ask you to leave," I said reluctantly.

I closed my eyes and pressed my cheek to the doorframe, trying to focus on my breathing and calm my racing heart. I couldn't think straight. We had both been drinking, and this was not how I imagined our first time together—like teenagers on a couch. My eyes shot open the moment I heard her sniffle.

"Darling, please," I said, walking back towards the couch. "I'm sorry I overreacted, but we have to be logical."

"Don't make me leave," she choked out, pulling her hands up to cover her face. "I promise I won't touch you again," she added.

I sat next to her and wrapped my arm around her shoulders, pulling her into my chest. "I didn't say that," I whispered into her hair. "I love it when you touch me, but we just need to be careful and move slowly right now. This is as much for you and your career as it is mine," I added.

"Okay," she said, nodding and sitting up, still laying against my chest.

"I've been meaning to ask you," I said, brushing my fingers through her hair, "will you come with me to see the orchids on Thursday evening?"

"You still want to go with me?" she asked.

"Of course, Andrea. I mean, we have to be careful because we will be in public, but that doesn't mean I changed my mind about going." I softly pressed a kiss to the top of her head. "I promise things will be better in a few weeks," I said.

Andrea took a deep breath and stood from the couch. "I know," she said. "I'm looking forward to seeing you Thursday."

On Monday morning, Andrea told me that John had reached out to her for an interview at the Mirror. Apparently they were looking for someone to begin on April 26, which would give Andrea one week off before starting her new position. This was Andrea's last week at Runway, I thought, suddenly wondering how the time had moved so quickly.

Later that week, Andrea proudly informed me that John had offered her the position and she had accepted. I was so proud of her. I knew she deserved this, and was happy I was able to get her beyond entry-level. She would have to prove herself, that's for sure, but I was confident she was up to the task.

On Wednesday afternoon, I viewed a few properties with my realtor, and one of them was a spacious (1,000 sqft) one-bedroom apartment. Because foreclosures often went to quickly, I had Jonathan submit an offer while I sent Roy back to Runway to pick up Andrea.

I sent her a quick text, "Found a perfect apartment, but want you to see it. Roy will meet you downstairs."

Ten minutes later, she arrived. Really, she could have walked, as it was just a few blocks from Elias Clarke. "Miranda," she said, "this is easily three times the size of my current apartment. It's too big."

"Nonsense," I said. "It's a steal. They don't make large one-bedrooms like this in the city. Plus," I added, whispering so Jonathan wouldn't hear, "now there's room for a giant California king bed."

Andrea smiled and wrapped her arms around me, hugging me tightly. "Miranda?" Jonathan called from the kitchen. "Looks like the bank has accepted your offer, congratulations."

I turned to Andrea and smiled, taking her hands. "Welcome to your new home," I said. "Jonathan, when will closing be?"

"Since you're willing to make it a cash sale, we can close as early as two weeks—so, April 28," he said. "Does that work? I suggest we have an inspection as soon as possible, though."

"Perfect. Andrea, be sure to give your landlord notice, and if he gives you any problems, just let me know," I said.

She nodded, "I—I don't have enough stuff to fill this place."

"You will, darling. I'll arrange to have it cleaned and painted on the 28th, and then we can have furniture delivered on Saturday the 30th." I was already imagining where we would go to find furnishings. The thought of furniture-shopping with Andrea warmed my heart to no end.

It was 4:30PM on Thursday. Andrea had one day left at Runway, and I knew Emily and Serena were planning a small luncheon in the conference room to celebrate her promotion. I was quite touched how supportive my staff had been when she announced she was taking a position at the Mirror. Instead of begrudging her for leaving us, they were confident in her abilities, and generally wished her well. I guess I hadn't realized until now that Andrea was extremely well-liked.

"Andrea," I called.

"Yes, Miranda?" she said, standing in my office.

"Why don't you head home for the evening?" I said. "Roy will pick you up at 7:15," I said. "Oh, and, this is for you," I added, handing her a garment bag that was draped across the chair in front of my desk.

"Miranda, thank you," she said, graciously accepting the bag. "Should I—tonight?"

I nodded. "That's all," I said, walking back behind my desk.

Andrea quickly closed her computer and headed out the door. I, too, needed to head out soon. Before I forgot, I quickly called the young man at the Botanical Gardens to ensure everything was in order tonight. He instructed me to meet him inside the entrance, off to the right, at 7:30 and he would have everything ready.

Back at her apartment, Andrea hung the garment bag and carefully unzipped it, gasping at the Versace red lace minidress. It was a crew neck, long-sleeve fitted top—very lacy and very see-through. The skirt was puffy and very short. Also enclosed was a pair of red lace boy shorts and a new pair of nude-colored Louboutins. Andrea sighed, stepping into the shower to get ready for her date.

On the other side of town, I carefully stepped into my own dress, a white shift dress with an open back and small closure at the top. It hit just above my knee, and I wore it with a straw belt and my new Charlotte Olympia straw wedges I purchased at Bergdorfs. It was a warm, balmy day, and my throat was already dry imagining Andrea in her dress when I knew she wouldn't arrive for another thirty minutes.

I watched out the window, eager for Roy to show up. I didn't want Andrea to come inside just yet—we needed to arrive on time to meet Matt. Seeing the town car, I hurried out of the house and into the backseat, instructing Roy where to drop us as my eyes devoured my date. I knew the dress I selected was short, but I hadn't realized that with her long legs and nude heels lengthening her leg, it looked almost scandalous. Through the lace, I could see the shadows under her perfect breasts.

She wore perfect Lancome red lipstick and had her hair tied back in a slick pony. I took a deep breath, trying to calm myself, but let out a moan as she parted her lips to speak. I wanted that lipstick smeared across my body.

"Are you okay?" Andrea repeated.

"Andrea, you are breathtaking," I said, looking up into her eyes.

"You're not so bad yourself," she added with a grin.

"I am a little anxious," I admitted. "I have something special planned, but we need to arrive by 7:30," I said.

"Okay," she said, smiling. She reached over and took my hand in hers, keeping me grounded until we arrived.

It was already crowded, and I instructed Andrea to follow me, hurrying to the right of the entrance to find Matt.

"Miranda," he said, walking up to us, "follow me."

I turned back to look at Andrea who shrugged and tagged along. He took us straight to the back service entrance and we walked through a narrow tunnel that opened into pavilion three. It was mostly dark, except for the spotlights on the various trees and flowers and dim twinkling lights marking the walking path. Tchaikovsky played lightly over the speakers.

"Did you select that?" I asked.

"No, it's on in the main pavilion, but the crowd is drowning it out," he said. "You have two hours, but then I need to make sure you're back in the main pavilion, as the groundskeeper comes by just before 10."

"Not a problem," I said, slipping him a small envelope with a considerable amount of cash. "We will be out by then—oh, and you didn't see us here."

He nodded and headed out, leaving me to turn to Andrea, who was already engrossed in the plants. "Darling," I said, slowly walking up to her and slipping my hand in hers. "I hope you enjoy this."

"Thank you, this is perfect," she said, squeezing my hand and tugging me along the path. I was in awe of this intriguing young woman, leading me through the darkness, stopping to point out rare varieties of orchids she had only read about. After about an hour, we reached a small area I hadn't noticed the other day when I was here with the girls. Andrea led me inside this rainforest-like area where a few lanterns hung from the tree limbs. "These that grow on trees like this are called epiphytes," she said.

"Beautiful," I said. Before she turned to lead us out of this area, I gently tugged on her hand, pulling her closer and wrapping my arms around her waist. Even with my wedges, she was several inches taller than me.

She slipped her fingers under my chin, tilting it upwards until our eyes met. "Can I—?" she asked.

I quickly nodded and closed my eyes, wrapping my arms around her neck as she kissed my lips. It was slow passionate, her lips tenderly caressing my own. My hands began roaming across her body, her back, her arms, her torso.

She inhaled sharply as my hands cupped her breasts, arching her back into my touch. I leaned forward and began sucking on her nipple through the lace fabric of the dress, feeling it harden beneath my tongue.

"Oh god, Mirandaaaa," she cried as I pressed her back into a tree, careful not to damage any of the epiphytes. "Shouldn't we—waaait?" she moaned, throwing her head back against the tree.

I shook my head and returned my attention to her lips as she tugged me closer, my entire body pressing against hers. "Wait, what time is it?" I asked, suddenly pushing myself away from her.

She groaned at the loss of contact, but efficiently pulled her phone from her bag and showed me the screen: 9:25PM.

"We need to get out of here," I whispered. I reached over and adjusted some of her smeared lipstick before tugging her out towards the passageway back to the main pavilion. Matt was there, waiting, apparently, and he quickly escorted us through. The crowd had died down considerably, so we easily made it out to the front door where Roy was waiting with the car.

I climbed in and Andrea followed. I smiled as I noticed Roy already had the privacy glass up. Once the door shut, Andrea straddled me and pushed me back against the cool leather. "I need you," she whispered, lacing her fingers through my hair as she suckled on my neck. I felt her grinding her hips into my lower abdomen. Even through the fabric I could feel the heat coming from her core. I ran my hands up and down her long, lean thighs before I gently began kneading her firm cheeks.

I noticed the car had stopped moving and softly tapped Andrea's rear before pushing her away. "Come inside?" I asked, locking eyes with the brunette.

"I thought you'd never ask," she said, a grin creeping across her face.

She followed me up the stairs into the townhouse. After turning on the security alarm, I led her upstairs to my bedroom where I swiftly kicked off my wedges and removed my belt.

"Hey," she said, wrapping her arms around me. "There's no rush, okay? No need to hurry," she whispered, gently kissing the nape of my neck. "I'm not going anywhere."

I smiled and turned to face her, standing on my tiptoes to bring my lips to her ear. "Make love to me," I whispered, letting my tongue graze the outer shell of her ear before I laid my head against her chest.

Andrea reached around and unbuttoned the closure at the top of my dress, slowly peeling it down my shoulders before pushing it to the floor in a pile around my feet. I instinctively wrapped my right arm across my exposed breasts, wrapping my other arm across my midsection. She stepped out of her heels and unzipped her dress, slipping it over her head and tossing it onto the nearby chair. Slowly, she slid her lacy red underwear to the ground.

Slipping her finger under my chin, she tilted my head up. "Are you doing okay?" I nodded and she softly kissed my lips before looping her fingers in my panties and sliding them to the ground. I placed my left hand on her shoulder, steadying myself as I stepped out of the legs. She lifted the panties to her face and inhaled, moaning before she tossed them aside.

I held my breath as she ran her hands up and down my bare legs, lightly peppering kisses along my inner thighs. I was nearly delirious with arousal, and I could feel my wetness dripping down my legs. My right leg began to tremble, and before I knew what was happening, I was laying on my stomach on the bed, with Andrea sitting next to me, gently massaging my back.

She softly nudged me to turn over, and I obeyed, keeping my arm tightly across my breasts. "I want to see you," she whispered, softly coaxing my hand away from my chest. I closed my eyes, not wanting to see the disappointment in her eyes. I felt her fingers softly caress me, and I gasped as her thumb swept across my aching nipple.

"Miranda," she whispered, "open your eyes." Slowly, I did. I was surprised to find that she was hovering above me, her lips inches from mine. I stretched upwards to claim her lips, wrapping my arms tightly around her as she pressed her body to mine.

Between kisses, I hissed at the incredibly arousing feeling of her breasts against mine, my slick hair against her bare skin. We explored each other, reveling in the new experience, until she pulled away and began crawling down my body, leaving a trail of kisses behind. "You…are…so…beautiful…your skin…so perfect…" she said between kisses.

She paused, her lips inches from my dripping folds. "Is this okay?" she asked.

A chill coursed through my body as her hot breath on my sensitive skin sent my body into overdrive. "Yes, oh, please," I panted, unashamed that I was now bucking my hips into her face.

I felt fireworks shooting through my body as she pressed her lips to my core. I could hardly tell whether she was licking, sucking, kissing, or using her fingers, but somehow it didn't matter. Andrea Elizabeth Sachs was bringing me to shattering orgasm over and over while I sobbed and babbled incoherently.

I woke to find myself in Andrea's arms, my head resting on her breast. I tried to sit up, only to find that her legs and arms were wrapped tightly around me. Smiling, I kissed her breast and snuggled against her sleeping form.

"Andrea Elizabeth," I whispered, "I have been dreaming about this since the day you walked into my life. I love you," I said, closing my eyes and drifting off to sleep.

Part 4

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