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



I woke several hours later, shortly before my alarm was to go off. It was an inconvenient habit, though waking up naturally was apparently better for you somehow. This morning, I have the wonderful pleasure of waking up in the arms of a beautiful woman, something I honestly never thought I would say.

I gazed up at her, softly tracing my fingertips along her stomach. It seemed as if she had put on some weight, though I still thought her a bit too thin. I rested my head again on the soft skin of her chest and watched the way her breasts moved up and down ever so slightly as she inhaled. I knew my alarm would break her slumber in minutes anyway, so I took the chance and pressed my lips to her full breast.

Her skin was smooth and silky, and she tasted divine. I wanted so badly to pleasure her as she did me last night, but to be honest, I was nervous. Taking her nipple into my mouth, I moaned quietly at the feeling as her skin pebbled and hardened under my tongue.

Soon, I felt her fingers softly running through my hair. She untwined our legs and arched into my mouth as I moved to straddle her body.

"Good morning," I said, although I was surprised that my voice sounded more like a purr. She smiled, and just as I was about to move to her other breast, she pulled me up to her and kissed me…hard.

I was sure my lips would be bruised as she devoured my mouth, but I didn't care. She finally broke the kiss and looked up at me, though I could hardly seem to focus on anything at the moment. "Good morning, Miranda," she said with a sly grin.

"Andrea, I—" I began to say, but she gently pressed a finger to my lips, effectively stopping my words and interrupting my train of thought as I took her fingertip in my mouth.

"I have to go home and get ready," she said, slowly sliding out from underneath me.

"You can get ready here," I said, turning to my side. "It's not like we haven't walked in together before." It was simply more logical. I had everything she could need, and I certainly had enough clothes to choose from, now that she was closer to my size.

Andrea smiled and climbed out of bed and looked at me with this ridiculous grin. Shaking her head, she reached for my hand and tugged me to my feet. I was a little surprised at how unselfconscious I was around her, though I guess our intimacy had been developing long before we shed our clothes. She led me into the bathroom in front of the mirror and stood behind me, wrapping her arms around my waist. "Look at yourself," she said.

I did, or at least attempted to. I was quite distracted by her beautiful smile over my shoulder and the way her arms held me close, pressing my back into her breasts.

"No," she said, seeing that I was gazing at her. "Look at your face."

I felt a sudden fear in the pit of my stomach. I know it was vain of me, but was something wrong with my face? Did I have a bruise or a black eye? Crow's feet? My eyes opened wide and I quickly took my own visage in, pausing. Everything was in order, but I did look…well, different. I practically analyzed models' faces for a living, yet today, I could not understand what I saw in my own.

"Miranda," Andrea whispered, her hot breath against my ear, "you're lit from within—you're glowing."

She began trailing kisses down my neck, but I still stared at my reflection. My cheeks did look a bit pinker, but it was my eyes—they were brighter somehow. I arched my neck and hissed as she gently bit my collarbone, unable to break gaze with my image in the mirror.

"Miranda," she said, holding me tightly and resting her chin on my shoulder, "you are the most beautiful woman I've ever seen. Just when I didn't think there could be anything more beautiful, I wake up to you, today, radiant."

I turned to look at her directly, as it was odd talking to her reflection in the mirror. "So, I take it this is the 'I just had the best orgasm of my life' look?" I teased.

Andrea giggled, "Yes, I think so," she said, leaning in to tenderly kiss my lips. "Was it really the best?" she asked.

"Yes, I've never…yes," I said, leaning forward to kiss her lips again. I would never tire of the simple act of kissing Andrea.

"Thank you for letting me in," Andrea said .

"Well, thank you for pushing."

"What do you mean?" she asked, gently wrapping her arms around my neck.

"Darling, I've wanted you since the day I met you on the street," I said, shyly looking down at the floor. "I would have never…" I let my voice trail off as thoughts of what my life would be like without Andrea pervaded my mind.

She slipped her finger under my chin and brought my gaze back up. "Are you serious?"

"Quite," I said, shrugging and nodding my head. "I had no idea how to handle my emotions, and I still really don't. It's all so new. I was scared, really, that you would find me inappropriate and repulsive and leave or try to sue me or something. That's why I resisted," I confessed.

"Well, I guess it's good that my grandma died when she did," Andrea said, turning the corner of her lip upwards.

"What? Don't say that, Andrea."

"No, really. I mean I think all things happen for a reason. My grandma led me to you," she said.

I could see tears forming in her eyes, and I wrapped my arms around her tightly in a hug. "Darling, we would have found each other eventually," I said. "You know," I added, "I could say that Stephen led me to you that night he showed up drunk at the benefit."

She groaned, "Can we not talk about him? Especially when we're both standing here naked?"

I laughed and pressed a kiss to her lips. "Of course."

"But you know," Andrea said with a smile, "that was when I first, you know, got a crush on you."

My eyes widened just as the alarm started going off in the other room. "You will definitely have to tell me more about that later," I said, running off to silence it. "Now," I said, returning to the bathroom, "we have to be at Runway in 40 minutes, or I do anyway." I didn't really care if she showed up late today—it was her last day, and I'm sure she had very little to do anyway, as Emily had taken over practically everything in the past week.

"Would you like some company in the shower?" she asked, batting her eyes. "Saves water, you know."

Images of water running down Andrea's breasts, our slick bodies pressed together flitted across my mind.

Andrea smiled and cupped my cheek. "Okay, maybe later," she said with a wink as if she read my thoughts.

"Andrea, if you recall, you still work for Runway. For both of our professional reputations it really is best if no one knows this happened just yet."

Andrea smiled and kissed me on the cheek. "I know. I'll head to the guest room and be ready to go shortly," she said, scampering out of my bathroom.

I shut the bathroom door and started the shower, pressing my head against the cool marble tiles. What is this woman doing to me? I thought, subconsciously sliding my hand between my thighs.

Thirty-five minutes later, I headed downstairs to the kitchen where Andrea was waiting with my coffee.

"I took the liberty of scanning the papers this morning. There is a gorgeous photo of you in your Oscar dress at the Orchid Show last night—alone—and they actually wrote about your support for the New York Botanical Gardens," she said. "Your 11AM is confirmed with David, and Stacey is confirmed for 2PM to go over the A+O summer eyewear collection, and—"

"Andrea, don't do this," I said, quietly sipping my coffee as I slipped the Book—still untouched—into my bag along with my phone and keys.

"What?" she asked with a look of concern.

"This. Being my assistant. Switching back and forth." I said, gesturing with my hand. It was too much for me to move so quickly from an intimate embrace to a rundown of my schedule. Guilt rose up like bile, a horrid reminder that what I was doing was wrong on many levels.

"I'm sorry," she said. "Would you like me to take a cab separately?

"No!" I said, my response quicker and louder than I anticipated. "I mean, no," I corrected myself, adjusting my tone and volume. "Andrea," I sighed, "I want you next to me as a—well, not as an assistant. I just want today to be over," I said, pinching the bridge of my nose and closing my eyes.

Andrea stepped closer and slipped her arm around my waist. "Come on," she whispered, taking my bag from me and leading me to the front door.

We rode in silence to Elias Clarke. I had never quite experienced such an intense desire to be touched by another human being as I did with Andrea. It was all a blur: the memory of her skin against mine last night, of holding her close on the airplane home from Paris, of her hand on mine the night of the gala. "Andrea, I—"

"We're here!" she said, quickly jolting me from my thoughts as she exited the car and stepped around to follow me into the building.

Andrea followed me into the elevator, and the minute the doors closed, she pressed my shoulders back against the wall, a sudden gasp falling from my parted lips.

"I was hoping we'd get this elevator," she whispered, her lips dancing across the sensitive skin behind my ear. "The security camera's lens has been smudged for weeks and Joseph said he's not going to fix it," she added as she slowly dragged her tongue across my skin.

"Andrea, this is insane," I said, admittedly with very little meaning behind it as I arched my back away from the door, pressing myself into her body. She quickly responded by running her hands from my shoulders to my hips, bunching up the fabric of my dress as she slid her hands underneath.

"Darling, I can't have this skirt wrinkled," I said, taking a deep breath and stepping aside, smoothing my skirt out.

"Well, what about this?" she asked, boldly unbuttoning my blouse and peeling back my bra to press her lips to my hardened nipple. I nervously glanced over at the elevator, wondering how much longer we had, and was not surprised to see that Andrea had pushed the 48th floor instead of the 18th.

She moved to my other breast as I threw my head back against the wall. I could feel my arousal soaking my panties, and made a mental note to change my underwear before sitting down today.

Not five seconds before the doors opened on the 18th floor, Andrea stepped away, jumping to the opposite side of the elevator. I took a deep breath and stepped through the doors, grateful, for once, that Emily was not waiting for me. Andrea rushed ahead to open the door to the outer office for me, and I stopped, gasping in horror at her smeared lipstick. I was vaguely aware of others nearby, so I couldn't check to see if any had rubbed off on my skin or my clothing.

"Really Andrea," I said quietly, "a full year at Runway and yet you still manage to look like a two-year-old Picasso did your makeup. "If that's not fixed in the next two minutes, I may just have to fire you," I said, tilting my head and walking into the office with a smile.

"Shit!" Andrea murmured, throwing her hand in front of her mouth and running off into the bathroom.

In the outer office, I met Emily, standing at her desk, obviously enjoying my sense of humor, but holding her papers up to cover her own facial expression.

"Honestly, Emily," I said as I dropped my coat and bag on Andrea's desk, heading off into my office. I adjusted my makeup in my bathroom, and was pleased to see there were no lipstick stains visible on my body or clothing. Quickly changing my underwear, I ran my hands under cold water for several minutes until my flushed expression died down.

The rest of the day went by much like any other. Andrea kept herself busy clearing out her desk and saying her goodbyes. Also, apparently Emily had asked the new second assistant to start today just to get a feel for what goes on in the office. Smart, I thought to myself.

After my meeting with Stacey—which went remarkably well, or maybe I just wasn't paying attention—I smelled sugary confections coming from the conference room. They must have had cake to celebrate Andrea's last day, I thought. Sighing, I sank into my chair and began reviewing some of the layouts they would need approved by the end of the day.

Several minutes later, I was startled by harsh whispers outside my office door, whispers that sounded like Emily trying to scold Andrea for something. Typical. Just then, I heard my office door click shut and looked up to see Andrea walking towards me with a cupcake.

"Hey," she said, walking around the desk. I instinctively pushed my chair back, and she stood directly in front of me, leaning against the desk where my forearms were. "A peace offering," she said, handing me a miniature red velvet cupcake on a small cocktail napkin.

I arched my eyebrow, not quite understanding what she was saying.

"Well, that's what I told Emily," she said, slowly peeling off the foil wrapper. "I just happen to know you love sweets."

"Thank you," I said, smiling as I accepted the bite-sized treat from her. She watched closely as I took the treat and popped it into my mouth.

"Before I go," she said, "will you do one thing for me?"

"Of course," I said, nodding and wiping the corners of my lips of any stray crumbs.

She sank to her knees in front of me and I suddenly realized what she wanted. It was clearly a fantasy of hers, as it had been of mine, too, but it was something I could not risk—not today. I pushed my chair away and stood, walking over to the window by the couch. "Andrea, get up," I said quietly.

She came to stand next to me and took my hand in hers, willing me to turn around and look at her. "Andrea, you're not thinking clearly," I said. "This cannot happen in the office like this. Jesus christ, my desk is transparent—anyone who walked in would see!"

"Doesn't that turn you on?" Andrea purred, gently stroking the back of my hand with her thumb.

"No!" I hissed. "It makes me nauseous just thinking about Irv using it against me or the press writing this trash and my daughters being teased at school." I pulled my hand away and began pacing around my office.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I'll just finish my goodbyes and head out."

"Wait," I said. "Please don't take that the wrong way. You know I enjoy—well, that—but you wouldn't want me crawling under your desk at your new job, would you?"

She smirked, softly chewing on her lower lip.

"Okay, bad analogy," I said. "But you understand, right?" She nodded. I tried to change the subject. "Andrea, I want you to keep whatever you've borrowed from the Closet, and your cell phone, too, if you'd like. Also, I have a small gift for you, but I didn't want to give it to you here," I added. Earlier this week, I had Emily get a gorgeous TAG Heuer timepiece. Being a more practical gift, I was sure Andrea would feel more comfortable wearing it every day than any other sort of jewelry.

"Wow, um, thank you," she said. "You didn't have to get me anything."

"It's nothing," I said. "You have been a remarkable assistant, really."

She blushed. "Umm, about the phone, I think we should give it to the new assistant. All of our fashion contacts already have that number, so it will be much easier," Andrea reasoned.

"I suppose you are right," I said. "You will surely have a phone at the Mirror, right?"

"Yes, of course," she said. "But for the next nine days, I'll only have email from my computer at home."

"Oh, I guess that's right," I said, remembering her week off. "Which email address will you be using?"

"My personal Gmail—it's in your contacts," she said. "So, I suppose I should go now," she said. "Can I see you tonight?"

"I'll call—no, I'll send you an email to your Gmail when I leave here and we can make plans. It shouldn't take me that long to finish up, provided everything goes as planned with Nigel's team."

"Okay, um…bye."

I leaned in and kissed her cheek, softly hugging her. "I'll see you soon," I whispered.

When she stepped out of my office, I leaned against one of the chairs across from my desk. Andrea grabbed her coat and both Nigel and Emily hugged her goodbye. Nigel winked at me and I was quickly pulled from my thoughts, heading back around my desk to focus on making changes to the layouts.

Shortly after Andrea left Runway, I received a call to my direct line. Seeing it was James, I promptly answered.

"Hi Mom."

"Caroline? Hi, darling. Is everything okay?"

"Well, no, I'm scared. Cass is sick," she said.

I quickly covered the mouthpiece and called to Emily, "Call Roy—get my coat and bag!" My heart began racing as I gathered up the layouts on my desk and helped Emily pack them into my bag. "Care, what's wrong with your sister?"

"She's sick. The nurse said she had a fever today, so Dad picked us up a little early, but she's crying and I'm scared."

"Okay, baby, don't be scared. I'm coming over right now. Are you both at Dad's?"


"Okay, I'm heading out to the car right now, baby. I'll be there in ten minutes," I said. "But I need to hang up right now so I can leave my office, okay?"

"Okay, thanks, Mom."

Serena was holding the elevator open as Emily met me with my coat and bags. They both looked concerned—it was as if Andrea's departure softened them somehow. "Cassidy's sick," I said, "I'm sure it's nothing, but I have to go. Hold my calls," I said as the elevator doors shut.

Roy managed to weave through Manhattan traffic in record time, and even offered to wait around the corner for a while in case we needed him. I hurried up the stairs to James' house and Caroline opened the door right away, hugging me tightly as I dropped my bags in the foyer.

"Sweetheart, it's going to be okay," I said, kissing the top of her head. "Where's your sister?" I asked.

Caroline pointed towards the living room and I quickly rushed in there. James was sitting in the chair on his phone, and Cara was crouched next to my daughter, holding a cool cloth to her forehead. As I approached, Cara stepped away and headed off to the kitchen.

"Cass, baby, how are you?" I whispered, sitting on the edge of the couch and brushing the strands of matted hair from her face.


"Yes, darling, I'm right here," I said, leaning over and kissing her cheek. "Tell me what's going on."

"I'm hot," she whined, tears dripping from her eyes. I looked down and saw she was wearing a tank top and her pajama shorts. There was a blanket on the couch, but she apparently kicked that off.

"When did this start?" I asked taking a fresh cloth from the bowl of icewater Cara just brought and gently pressing it to her chest.

"After lunch," she said. "I didn't feel good. The nurse said I had a temperature and gave me some Tylenol. It didn't help, so dad came to pick us up."

"I've also given her some children's Advil," Cara said, "but her fever isn't going down."

"Does anything else hurt, baby? Did you eat anything strange?" I asked.

"No, I'm just hot," she cried.

"What's her temperature?" I asked Cara.

"It was 102 F just before you arrived," she said. I looked at the clock—it was already past 6PM, so the doctor's office was closed.

I stood and walked over to James, who quickly ended his call. "Miranda, you didn't have to come over here."

"James, my baby is sick—she needs to see a doctor," I explained.

"It's just a fever, she'll be fine," he said.

"I'm taking her to the ER," I said, pulling out my phone and sending Roy a quick text.

"Mira, wait, just let her rest for a few hours."

"A few hours? She's had a fever for the past six hours and it hasn't gotten better," I said. "Caroline, will you go get a pair of comfy pants and a zip-up hoodie for your sister?" She nodded and sped upstairs to fetch the items. "James, we're going to the ER. You're welcome to come with," I said, marching back over to the couch.

"Cass? We're going to take you to see the doctor, okay? They will give you some medicine to make you feel better, take away your fever, and make sure nothing else is wrong, okay?"

She nodded. "Can you sit up for me, darling?" She pushed herself off the couch and I could feel the heat radiating from her body. Caroline ran back into the room, handing me her clothes. I helped her into the sleeves of the jacket and slipped her pants on over her shorts. Caroline also brought a pair of flip-flops—very practical—which I gently slipped on her feet.

"Come here, Cass," James said, walking over to the couch and picking her up. She wrapped her arms around his neck and legs around his waist as he carried her out to the waiting car.

"Miranda, would you like me to stay here with Caroline?" Cara asked.

"No, Caroline's coming with us," I said, wrapping my arm around my daughter's shoulder. "If you can just make sure Cassidy's bed has clean sheets and their bathroom is disinfected, that would be perfect," I said, following James out to the car.

Caroline and I climbed into the backseat first, then James helped Cassidy in before moving to sit up front. She curled up and laid her head on my lap, not unlike the way Andrea had done the same several weeks ago. I gently stroked her hair as Roy silently wove us through Friday night traffic in the city.

When we arrived, Cassidy clung to me and buried her face in my neck. My poor daughter was terrified of needles, so I should have known bringing her here would only serve to ignite that fear.

Roy opened the car door and I slid across the backseat, carrying her in my arms. I was surprised, really, that I was able to hold her up, but I think she was actually holding herself up, judging by how tightly her arms were clasped around my neck.

A nurse directed us to a small room in triage and took her vitals. Her temperature had risen to 103.6 F and I knew that my own bodyheat couldn't be helping her, but I wasn't about to let my baby go.

"She's afraid of needles," I whispered to the nurse, seeing that she was preparing a syringe for a blood sample. The nurse nodded and quickly applied some topical anesthetic cream to numb her skin before slipping the needle in and retrieving two vials of blood.

She gestured for us to follow her, and she showed us to a somewhat private room. At least it has a door, I thought to myself.

"We should have the results in a few minutes," she explained, lowering the railing on the bed and setting a cup of icewater and a straw on the tray. "With a fever this high, the doctor will want to rule out anything serious before we administer any antibiotics or anti-inflammatory meds," she explained. "Make yourselves comfortable, and see if Cassidy can't get some rest."

I nodded and sat down on the bed, moving it into a semi-upright position before laying back. I gently rolled Cassidy onto the bed next to me, and she fell asleep, her head on my shoulder and arms still wrapped around my neck.

It was a little bit surreal for me. One month ago, I would have been too scared to even hug my daughters, and I surely wouldn't have expected them to want my attention. Today, my daughter was curled up next to me, clinging to me, in fact. I sighed softly, and despite the situation, a smile crept over my face.

"Mom, is Cass going to be okay?" Caroline whispered.

"Yes, baby, they're going to give your sister some medicine to make her feel better, don't you worry," I said. "Can you do me a favor, sweetie?"


"Reach into my bag over there and pull out my cell phone—are there any missed calls or texts?" I asked. I knew if something was extremely urgent, Emily would warn me with a message.

After several seconds, she pulled the phone out. "Emily sent you a text," she said.

"Will you read it to me?"

"Sure. She said, 'Is everything okay with Cassidy? Let me know if you need anything—change of clothes, dinner, etc.'" Caroline read. "Mom, who's Emily?"

"She's my assistant," I said, quickly thinking how differently I would react if it were Andrea asking me that. "Can you reply to her message for me?" Caroline nodded, so I continued, "Thank you, we are at the hospital getting her checked out. I won't be in tomorrow. M."

Caroline quickly typed it and then showed me the screen. "Perfect, send it," I said.

"Mom, what did you mean you won't be in tomorrow?"

"Well, I work on a lot of Saturdays, especially when we have an important photo shoot or special feature in the magazine. I wanted to tell Emily that I would not be coming in tomorrow so they don't wonder where I am," I explained.

"Will you stay with us?" Caroline asked.

"Well, I don't know," I began, unsure of how James would feel about me spending the night.

"Please?" Cassidy asked, her eyes still shut.

"Yes, of course," I said, kissing her softly on the forehead. "I'll stay with you tonight." I secretly wanted to bring them back home to the townhouse, but I figured this wasn't the appropriate time to suggest that.

Several minutes later, the doctor walked in and introduced himself as Dr. Harris. I had no idea where James was, and for the first time, I actually wished he was there with me.

He asked Cassidy to sit up and he performed several tests on her, mostly focusing on her upper body. "Do you have a stiff neck or a headache?" he asked.

"No, not really," Cassidy said. "I'm a little dizzy, I guess."

"Okay," he said, feeling for swelling around her neck before gesturing that she could lie back down. "We're going to give her some medicine that should reduce her fever," he said. "Do you know if she's been in contact with anyone who has meningitis?"

My heart sunk to the pit of my stomach. Meningitis?? "Uh, no, I have no idea. She's been living with her father for the past few months," I said. "Is that what you think it is?"

"Based on her symptoms and the quick onset, it would be my best guess. The only way to know for sure is to do a spinal tap, which could be pretty painful," he added. "Viral meningitis usually clears within a week when it's diagnosed early on, so I really don't think there is anything to worry about."

Just then, the nurse walked in and applied anesthetic to Cassidy's arm again before administering Tylenol and Ammoxicillin. I moved my hand to brush Cassidy's hair out of her eyes, blocking her view of the needle.

"I'm going to ask that you keep an eye on her for the next 48 hours," Dr. Harris continued. "If her fever goes above 103, or if she shows any signs of confusion or severely blurred vision, please call me immediately," he said. "But otherwise, make sure she gets plenty of rest and fluids—orange juice, Gatorade, anything like that."

I nodded. "Can she return to school on Monday?"

"If she wants to and feels like it, I don't see a problem. To be on the safe side, I'll write her a note for Monday and Tuesday off if she needs more rest."

"Thank you, doctor," I said, taking the note from him.

"No problem," he said. "The nurse will get your paperwork in order and then you can head home. You're going to start feeling better soon, Cassidy," he said before stepping out.

Several minutes later, the nurse came in with the final paperwork, and James trailed in behind her. I didn't want to say anything in front of the girls. Once the nurse left, I kissed Cassidy on the forehead and helped her sit up. "Sweetie, your Dad is going to carry you to the car, okay?" I said.

"I can walk," she said.

"No, darling, you need to rest," I urged, sliding off the bed as James bent down to pick her up. I bent down and kissed Caroline softly on the top of her head and she squeezed my hand.

"I love you, Mom," she whispered.

I bit my lip, keeping the tears from cascading down my cheeks. "Baby, I love you too—very much," I said, hugging her tightly.

When we returned to James' house, I went straight for the kitchen to find something for Cassidy to drink and a light snack to bring her while James carried her upstairs to the bedroom she shared with her sister.

"Miranda, do you need a ride home?" James asked as he entered the kitchen.

"No. The girls asked me to stay here tonight. I'll stay in their room," I said.

"I'm pretty sure I can handle things here," he said, taking the applesauce and spoon from my hand. "We don't need you here tonight. You can go back to the magazine."

"James, you may not need me, but the girls do. If you don't want me to stay, I will just bring the girls back to the townhouse," I said, trying very hard to sound calm and composed.

"Oh, so this is part of your new thing?" he said, "You want to force the girls to love you? Manipulate them into thinking they need you?"

"That is not true and you know it," I hissed. "I love them and miss them very much. There isn't anything I wouldn't do for my daughters."

"Mom? Cass is calling for you," Caroline said, stepping into the kitchen and wrapping her arms around me.

"Okay, sweetie, I'm on my way," I said. "Your dad has some applesauce for Cass, can you carry that up?"

She nodded and I followed my daughter upstairs without giving James another look.

"I thought you left," Cassidy said as I set the Gatorade and cup of ice on a coaster on her nightstand.

"No, darling, I was just getting you something to drink," I explained. "Are you feeling any better?"

"I'm not as hot as I was before," she said. "But I'm really tired."

"That's okay, baby, the medicine will make you sleepy. Do you want a little something to eat?"

"Maybe later," she said, taking a few sips of the Gatorade before falling back against her pillows.

"You're staying here, right?" she asked.

"Of course, baby. I'll be right here all night," I said, softly brushing the hair out of her eyes as she drifted off into sleep.

"Caroline," I said, turning my attention to my other daughter, "Why don't you run downstairs and have some dinner with your dad? I'll stay up here and keep an eye on Cass, okay?"

She nodded. "Oh, Mom, you can lay down in my bed if you want," she said before heading out and shutting the door.

Once I was sure Cassidy was asleep, I sat on Caroline's bed and leaned back against the wall. Their beds were arranged in an L-shape, so I could still keep an eye on my daughter from where I sat.

Quietly sighing, I pulled out my phone and began to write a text message to Andrea, but remembered she did not have a phone. I quickly muted my phone and sent a text to Emily, "Home from the hospital and staying with girls here tonight. Will return to townhouse Saturday afternoon. Please pickup a prepaid cell-phone and program my personal contacts and leave it with the Book. M."

Even if it was only for the week, I needed to be able to text Andrea. Glancing at the time, I saw it was nearly 10PM. I quietly sighed and began writing an email.

From: Priestly, Miranda To: andrea.sachs [@] gmail [.] comSubject: tonight

Andrea, I got called away from the office just after you left—Cassidy was sick with a very high fever and Caroline wanted me to come over. I was terrified something serious was wrong, and we took her to the ER, and now she's home resting. The Dr thinks she will be okay, but wants us to keep an eye on her for the next day or so because he thinks she might have meningitis! My heart dropped when he said that—I wish you were there with me. The girls asked me to stay the night, and while James insisted that he did not want me here, I'm staying to look after my baby. I was hoping to give you your gift tonight. I'm sorry about the change in plans. I should be home tomorrow afternoon sometime and will let you know more once Cass gets through the night.


Seconds later, I looked down and saw I had a response from Andrea.

From: Andrea SachsTo: Priestly, MirandaSubject: RE: tonight

Hi Miranda— I'm glad to hear Cassidy is home, but I can imagine how scared you must have been when you got that call at work. Is there anything I can do for you? Do you need me to bring you anything or take care of anything at the townhouse? I'd offer to come sit with you, but it doesn't sound like James would be too happy with that. Don't worry about the change in plans. We have time, and I know your daughters are your priority, especially if one is sick. Take care of yourself and try to get some rest, too. If you think it's appropriate, tell Cass I hope she's feeling better.

xo Andrea

I smiled at how thoughtful Andrea was. I would be sure to tell Cass that she was thinking of her.

From: Priestly, MirandaTo: Andrea SachsSubject: RE: RE: tonight

Thank you for being so thoughtful and understanding. I need to work on getting the girls back home with me in the townhouse, and I am starting to think James will put up a fight. I just remembered, the inspection for the new place is scheduled for 12:30PM tomorrow—would you mind going? If not, that's fine, but could you please call to cancel so we can reschedule for next week? I'm going to try and get some sleep while Cass is resting. xo M

After clicking "send" I realized that Andrea would not be able to call and cancel because she did not have a phone. Shaking my head, I knew I didn't need to worry, because Andrea would find a way to take care of it. Just as I was starting to let my eyes close, Cassidy woke up and practically jumped off the bed.

I walked over to her. "Cass, sweetie, are you okay?"

"Yeah, it just scared me."

"What did, baby?"

"I don't remember," she said.

"Aww, honey, it's probably just a silly dream. Are you still feeling okay?"

"Yeah, will you stay here with me?" she asked.

"Of course, I'm just in Care's bed."

"No, I mean here here, in my bed."

"Oh, sure," I said, kicking my heels off and crawling over her. "Is this okay?" I asked, resting my head on the pillow next to her.

She nodded and took my hand, pulling it across her waist.

"Goodnight, Cass," I whispered, softly kissing the top of her head before closing my own eyes.

I woke late the next morning. The sun was shining brightly behind the dark curtains in the bedroom, and Caroline was groggily heading to the en suite bathroom. I looked over, surprised to see Cassidy's bright eyes shining back at me.

"Good morning, baby," I said, softly kissing her cheek. "How are you feeling today?"

"Okay. My stomach hurts a little, but I think I'm just hungry," she said, giggling. "Are you going to stay all weekend with us?"

"No, darling," I said. "Your dad is going to take good care of you, though. I promise you."

"Uggh!" she groaned, crossing her arms tightly across her chest. "This is ridiculous!" she said.

"What is?"

"This! Seeing either you or dad, but not both of you. It's not fair!" she pouted.

"Cass," I warned. "You know that your father and I are not married anymore. We don't live together—and we haven't for many many years." I paused, sensing James' presence in the doorway. Without looking up, I kissed Cassidy on the forehead and asked, "What do you think about you and your sister moving back to live with me?"

"Today?!" she asked, her eyes lighting up.

"No, sweetie," I said with a smile. "Maybe in a week or so. Actually, maybe after school is finished," I said, remembering they only had a few weeks left before summer break.

"Really? You don't care?"

"What do you mean?" I asked. "I want you to come home."

She reached over and hugged me tightly, burying her face in my neck. After several minutes, I pulled her away. "Darling, why did you ask if I cared?"

"We—we thought you didn't want us around, that you didn't want us to bother you," she said, looking down at the blanket.

"Oh, baby, that is entirely not true," I said. "You know I couldn't take you to Paris with me, and I couldn't leave you home alone, so that was why you stayed with your dad," I tried to explain.

"But you came home and didn't want us back."

"Oh, Cass," I said, wrapping my arms around her, "That's not true at all. I did want you back, very much, but there were a lot of photographers hanging around our porch because of the news about my divorce from Stephen. I just wanted to keep you away from that."

"We don't mind photographers."

"Darling, I know, but I don't want them putting your face in the papers and writing lies about us. Please believe me," I said. "You've lived with me for eight years and I've really missed you these past few weeks."

Just then, James stepped inside and made his presence known. "Good morning," he called. "How is my sleeping beauty?" he asked, sitting down on the edge of the bed. Was he talking to me? I wondered. No, no, he was talking to Cass, I thought, reassuring myself. He glanced over at me and smiled, softly nodding. "I made some breakfast for all of us, so why don't we head downstairs?" he said.

Cass nodded and crawled out of bed, leaving me and James alone in the bedroom. I pulled myself up and leaned against the headboard as I attempted to smooth out my clothes.

"And how about you?" he asked. "Did you sleep well?"

I nodded. "Cass woke up a few times during the night and I gave her another dose of Tylenol, but she seems to be feeling much better this morning. I'll call the doctor this afternoon just to double-check."

"Miranda," he began.

"James," I interrupted, "the girls are moving back home—with me—as soon as they are finished with school in a few weeks."


I quickly looked up at him in surprise. "Just okay?" I'll admit that I expected him to put up much more of an argument than that.

"Mira, I don't want to fight. They clearly miss you. You take care of them," he added, reaching over and taking my hand. I bit my lip as tears threatened to fall from my eyes. "You know," he continued, brushing his thumb along the back of my hand, "I never thought I'd see you like this again."

I wiped my eyes with my other hand and looked up at him, one eyebrow slightly raised.

"The way you look when you wake up," he explained. "Your makeup has worn off, your hair is a little messy, and you're still the most beautiful woman in the world."

My eyes widened. What on earth was he thinking? I cleared my throat and pulled my hand away from his, pushing the blankets off my legs. "I am going to pretend that you're just a little confused due to lack of sleep or something," I said, pushing past him and climbing off the bed. I stepped into my heels and collected my bag, heading for the door. "I don't even want to know what is going through your mind. Really, James."

"Look, Mira, I'm not trying to be a jerk," he said, standing up. I held my hand up to keep him from coming any closer. "I just saw you there with Cass, and it just brought back memories. I'm sorry for what I said last night."

"A simple apology would have sufficed," I said, looking down at my nails. I needed to have Emily schedule a manicure for Monday.

Just then, Cassidy and Caroline emerged from the bathroom, fresh-faced and ready for breakfast. "Girls, your father has breakfast ready downstairs. I will call you later this afternoon to check up on you, okay?"

They nodded and came over to hug me goodbye. "Call if you need anything?"

"Yep, thanks, Mom. Love you," Caroline said.

"Thanks for staying with me last night," Cassidy said, "I love you too, Mom."

I let myself out the front door, and putting on my sunglasses, I realized I would need to call a cab. My hair was a mess and my clothes were severely wrinkled—ironic, because just yesterday I was explaining to Andrea that I didn't want to wrinkle this skirt.

Beep! Beep! I turned my head towards the source of that annoying horn and was shocked and relieved to see Roy standing there next to the towncar. "Good morning, Miranda," he said. "Need a lift?"

Speechless, I climbed into the backseat of the car as he began driving me home. "Ho—how did you know?" I asked.

"Well, Emily sent me a message that you were spending the night, and, well, I wasn't sure if you'd need a ride today so I just thought I'd park out here this morning and wait."

"Thank you, Roy," I said with a smile. I looked down at my phone and saw that it was already 11:15. I would still have time to get to the apartment in time for the inspection, and that way, I could see Andrea and give her a phone, too.

As we pulled up to the townhouse, I asked Roy to wait for me and quickly headed upstairs to take a quick shower. I threw on jeans and a summery blouse with a light scarf, taking the opportunity to wear my Charlotte Olympia wedge heels again. Downstairs, I found a phone that Emily left, with its number written on a post-it. I programmed the number into my own phone and then headed out the door.

Andrea walked to the new place, stopping to get coffee as she took a few minutes to explore what would be her new neighborhood. There were several small cafes, a Starbucks, a drugstore, and even a small organic market within two blocks. She was waiting for Jonathan in the lobby of the building when I arrived.

"Miranda?" she asked, not expecting to see me.

"I needed to see you," I said, hugging her tightly and taking a seat next to her. "Here," I said, handing her the phone. "Email isn't enough. Sometimes I just need to talk to you," I explained. "And I don't want you walking around the city without a way to call for help."

"Thanks," she said, slipping it into her purse. "Is everything okay? How's Cass?"

"She's feeling much better, thankfully. But this morning, James was—I don't even know how to explain it. He was practically coming onto me."

I could see that Andrea tensed up, and I immediately regretted telling her that. "Did he hurt you?" she asked.

"No, no, nothing like that. We had been arguing last night, and I don't know if he was trying to apologize or trying to manipulate me so I'd agree to let him keep the girls. Either way, it wasn't working. I left, and wanted to call you so badly," I said, letting my voice trail off as Andrea took my hands in hers.

"Ladies," Jonathan said as he approached us. "Are you ready to head upstairs?" We both nodded and Jonathan led us to the elevator. I presume the man next to him wearing dickies and wheeling a dirty, beat-up small suitcase was the inspector.

Andrea sat quietly on the windowsill while I discussed a few details with Jonathan. Closing would be at 1PM on Wednesday the 28th, at which point I would need to bring the sale price of the condo in cash, as well as be there to sign the paperwork.

I walked back over to the window and sat next to Andrea. "Still want to look for furniture this afternoon?" I asked.

"Can we just shop online?" she said.

"I suppose. We can play it by ear," I said.

Jonathan called me over to pay the inspector. The condo was in perfect condition, really. The only things he suggested were changing the filters in the A/C vents and replacing the bathroom faucet due to some corrosion. We left the condo and I guided Andrea towards the towncar after saying goodbye to Jonathan.

She paused before stepping inside. "I walked here—I can just walk back to my place. I have a lot of things to pack up."

"Andrea, you know we can hire packers and movers if you'd like."

"No, that's not necessary. I want to sort through and throw out a lot of old papers I've been saving from college. I'm going to grab some boxes from the supermarket tonight."

I nodded, trying to give her space to do her own thing and pack up her belongings the way she wanted to. If anything, that was going to be the most difficult hurdle of her renting from me: letting her do things her way.

"Andrea, do you want to come to the townhouse with me for a while this afternoon?" I asked.

"Sure," she said, smiling brightly, "I just thought you were going to rest after staying up with Cassidy."

"No, actually, I think I got more sleep last night than I have in the past week," I said.

She nodded and climbed into the towncar. I followed, shutting the door behind me. Within seconds, she had straddled me, sucking the air from my lungs with her hungry kisses. I finally managed to slide away from her.

"Andrea," I gasped, "What has gotten into you, darling?"

"I wanted to pick up where we left off yesterday," she said. "Don't you want that?" she asked me.

"Yes, but not here. Andrea, Thursday night was amazing, and I very much look forward to spending time with you like that again, but one of the things I love most about being with you is just the simple intimacy of conversation, of sitting on the couch, taking a nap, sharing a meal. Darling," I said, gently cupping her cheek. "I don't want you to smother me with kisses, etc. every time I see you."

"Is it because you think someone will see us? I've been really good about that, Miranda," she pleaded.

"No, no, that's not it at all," I said. "Although, I mean there are some things I never want anyone else to see," I explained, "You know?"

"Yeah," she said, turning and sitting back in the seat. "I'm sorry. I just can't get enough of you," she said, blushing slightly.

"Well, I guess that is a good problem to have," I replied, softly kissing her lips. "Are you okay with that? Taking things slow?" I asked. I sincerely hoped she understood, but part of me was so desperate to keep her in my life, I would do anything, even in the backseat of the towncar.

"Yes," she said, resting her head on my shoulder. "I think as long as we keep communicating and all that," she said.

The car came to a stop in front of the townhouse, and Andrea and I both headed in the front door. I kicked off my heels and headed to the kitchen to find something to drink. Pouring two glasses of lemonade, I carried them into the den, where Andrea was sitting on the sofa. I set the lemonade on the tray on the coffee table just as my phone began to ring.

"Hello?" I answered, stepping back into the kitchen.

"Hi, Mrs. Priestly? This is Joanne, Dr. Harris's nurse. Is this a good time?"

"Oh, of course," I said. "I was planning to call your office this afternoon. And please, call me Miranda."

"Very well, Miranda. We just wanted to check and see how Cassidy was doing. Her final labwork came back just fine. Her white blood cell count was just on the high end of normal, so I think we can safely rule out anything serious."

"That's wonderful news," I said. "She was very tired last night, but her fever seems to have gone down and she was hungry this morning, so I think she's doing much better."

"Great. Dr. Harris thinks it was probably just a virus, but it's a good thing you brought her in just to be safe. It's difficult to tell with kids sometimes," she said. "Make sure she continues to get plenty of rest and drink fluids-it will help her body battle the fatigue that sometimes comes with a fever."

"Thank you, we'll see to that," I said.

"If you don't have any other questions, then we'll just send her chart over to the pediatrician's office to keep on file."

"Perfect. Thank you so much for everything," I said, ending the call and returning to Andrea.

"Was that about Cassidy?" she asked. "Everything okay."

"Yes. Just a virus, she's fine," I said, walking over to the couch and reaching for my lemonade.

"Did anyone tell you how hot you look in jeans?" Andrea asked.

I turned to look at her and was met with a smoldering gaze as she took my hand and tugged me, pulling me to the couch with one knee on either side of her hips. She slipped her hands in the back pockets of my jeans and firmly squeezed, causing me to gasp and lean forward, closer to her. I could feel my pulse rising as she slipped her right hand out and brought it around to the front, playing with the button closure. She looked up at me, asking for permission with her eyes.

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Yes, I wanted this. "Yes," I breathed, shaking my head and nodding. "Yes, yes."

She swiftly unbuttoned my jeans and slipped her hand inside the tight space, the mere fabric of the denim pressing her middle finger tightly against my clitoris. I gasped and leaned forward, gripping the back of the couch on either side of Andrea's shoulders.

"So hot," Andrea whispered, "You're so fucking hot in these jeans, Miranda."

She pressed her fingers further until I felt her moving two fingers inside me. My mouth opened wide as I inhaled. She quite literally took my breath away as her palm pressed against my clit and my hips bucked wildly into her hand.

"That's it," she whispered, "ride my fingers." She slipped her other hand from my back pocket and cupped my breast, squeezing my nipple through my shirt. I hissed as I felt my muscles tighten around her fingers.

"Let go, Miranda. Come for me," she whispered.

"Ohhhhh…goddddd!" I moaned as I felt waves crashing through my body. My arms trembled as I fought the conflicting needs of holding myself up and clutching the fabric of the couch tightly in my fists. Andrea gently slipped her fingers away and turned me to lay on my back on the couch. I was vaguely aware that she was tugging my jeans off as I felt the cool air hit my hot center.

She lifted my left leg over the back of the couch and nudged my right foot to the floor as she climbed onto the couch between my legs. I shivered as I felt her drag her tongue across my folds. Somewhere in the back of my mind, it occurred to me that this was not at all what I meant when I asked Andrea if we could 'take things slow.' But, as she pressed her lips further, I reached out to grab the pillows on the couch, all rational thoughts quickly vanishing as I was struck by another overwhelming sensation.

"Ohh, shit! Shit, shit, shit, shit!" I cried, "Andrea, Andrea, oh god, please—it's—ugh!"

Andrea took my clit between her teeth and gently bit, applying just enough pressure to send me spiraling over the edge…again. As I caught my breath, I felt Andrea crawl up alongside me on the couch. I leaned over and kissed her, moaning into her mouth as I tasted my own juices on her lips.

"Andrea," I said, hesitating and licking my lips before I continued. Was I supposed to thank her in this situation? Or was she waiting for me to return the favor? I wondered. "Thank you," I said, finally. I wasn't ready to take things any further, and I knew I needed some distance from her in order to regain some control of my senses. I stood from the couch, bending down to pick up my jeans and panties from the floor. "I'm going to go upstairs and take a quick shower," I said, self-consciously holding the clothing in front of my body.

"Do—do you want me to leave?" she asked.

"No, I'll just be a few minutes," I said. I desperately wanted to stay there on the couch with her, but I was scared that she would expect me to reciprocate; I had never felt so torn in my entire life. Unfortunately, my fear of disappointing her won out and I made another excuse to step away. Hopefully, Andrea would think I was concerned about the divorce and that would keep her content with my inaction.

I came downstairs nearly an hour later, dressed in yoga pants and a crewneck shirt, carrying my laptop. Andrea was on the couch, and it looked as if she had fallen asleep watching a television show.

"Hey," I said, gently waking her as I sat down. "I'm sorry I took so long. Still interested in furniture?"

She regarded me intently and slowly nodded, sitting up and stretching her arms. I spent the next few hours showing her various sofas, chairs, tables, dressers, and beds until I had a sense for what she liked. Not surprisingly, she liked clean, modern lines with a comfortable feel, and had a preference for geometric designs over florals, paisleys, or oriental. I could work with this, I thought. I recognized that she was getting tired, so I closed my laptop and set it on the table.

"We're done?" she asked.

"Well, for now," I said. "Later tonight I'll lay everything out and take a look at the exact dimensions of the condo and make sure it all fits together. I'll send you an email to review before I order, okay?"

"Sure," she said, nodding. She picked up my hand and laced her fingers with mine. "Can I ask you a question?"

"Of course," I said.

"Is something wrong?" she asked carefully, lacing her fingers in mine.

"What do you mean?" I said, turning to face her.

"Miranda, I feel like I'm getting mixed signals from you. I mean, either you want me or you don't," she said, pulling her hand away.

I sighed. I was a fool to think I could delay this conversation. "Andrea, listen to me very closely," I said, turning on the couch so I was completely facing her. I gently placed my hands on her shoulders so that she, too, was facing me. "I love you, Andrea Elizabeth Sachs, and I can no longer imagine my life without you."

She opened her mouth to speak, but I gently pressed my finger to her lips and continued. "You've made me a better mother, a better friend, a better person, darling. I do want you—in ways I never thought I could ever want someone, especially another woman. I know I've asked you before to be patient with me, and I'm asking you again now, actually I'm begging you to trust me and give me a little more time. Between the divorce, my daughters, Irv, the new place, and being down one highly competent assistant, I am holding on by a thread. Please, just trust me," I said.

She reached up and covered her face as she began to cry. It certainly wasn't the response I expected, but I suppose it was better than her running out. I wrapped my arms around her and pulled her close while she cried against my shoulder. "I'm sorry, darling," I said as I ran my fingers through her hair, "I didn't mean to make you cry."

"No, I'm sorry," she said, sniffling and wiping her eyes. "You tried telling me before, but I wasn't listening. I just continued to push you," she said.

"Come here, lie down with me," I said, stretching out on the couch, "I just want to hold you for a while if that's okay."

She nodded and scooted over on the couch, lying down in front of me. "Will you turn around?" I whispered in her ear. She turned over and I wrapped my arms around her, sliding one underneath her body before pulling her close. I leaned in and kissed her, and she pushed me back, breaking the kiss as she laid her head on my shoulder.

"I love you, too, Miranda," she said.

Andrea spent the night. We eventually moved upstairs into bed after sleeping for a few hours on the couch. I was grateful she stayed with me, as I needed her reassurance after calling James and discovering Cassidy was running a fever again, for which he gave her more tylenol. He insisted I didn't need to be there, and Andrea helped to distract me. She left early Sunday morning to begin packing her apartment, and I again called James to remind him to keep Cassidy home from school on Monday.

Now, it was Monday morning, and I was heading into the car on my way to work—my first day at Runway without Andrea. I hadn't even arrived at Elias-Clarke yet, and I pulled out my cellphone and dialed her number.

"Hello?" she answered. I could tell I woke her up.

"Sorry I woke you," I said, "but…I didn't think it would be like this," I said.

"I miss you too, Miranda," she said. I could imagine her sleepy smile.

"How is the packing going?"

"Well, I was up late last night and got a lot of my books and clothes packed. I really just have to go through the stuff in my desk, and that's what will take longer because I need to throw some stuff out. Can I see you this week sometime?" she asked.

"Tonight I have a dinner party at Linda's, and I can't miss that. Tuesday at dusk we have the Oscar shoot, Wednesday I have a late lunch with Irv…what about Thursday?"

"I'll take it," she said. "Pencil me in."

"Okay," I said. "I look forward to seeing you. Maybe we should make a standing reservation."

"Well, until things are settled, I'll do whatever it requires to see you."

"Okay, I've got to go upstairs. Call me if you need anything. Good luck with the packing."

"Thanks," she said.

I hung up the phone and marched into my office. My coffee was missing, as were my two assistants, Emily, and whatever-her-name-is. I sighed. This was not going to be an easy day.

After lashing out at my staff in three meetings this morning, Nigel stormed into my office and shut the door behind him. I stood to protest his barbaric behavior, but he simply took me by the hand and dragged me into the bathroom in my office. He sat on the toilet lid and pulled me into his lap. I couldn't resist, and started crying the minute he wrapped his arms around me.

"Shhh, it's okay, Mira, let it out," he said, soothingly tracing circles on my back. "I know it's hard. She's not here and that's a big change, but you can see her tonight, and now you can actually spend time with her," he said, trying to reassure me. I was slightly concerned that he saw through me too well, but it really didn't matter.

"I—I don't know if I can do it," I cried, careful not to get any mascara on his shoulder.

"Miranda, you have never really known how to be in a relationship with someone, how to live with another person. Think about it," he said. "Now, we all know my track record is hardly exemplary, but that's mostly because no one could ever replace David. What I remember most about him, though, wasn't the time we spent together in bed, but the sporadic visits at the office during the day, the way he would sit on my front steps waiting for me to come home, the incessant phone calls I'd get from him at work (we didn't have cell phones or email back then!). Before he talked about moving in with me, we used to meet for a drink after work, and we'd spend the weekend at one of our places."

"I remember that," I said, "but if you're trying to say that I don't think of her enough—"

"No," Nigel interrupted, "that's not what I'm trying to say at all. You do think of her—I can see that you do—but you need to stop thinking in terms of your schedule. Your partner isn't an appointment in your calendar. If you slip out early today, will it ruin the magazine? Of course not. You have a solid team in place here to ensure everything will run smoothly."

"I guess I did drop everything and leave on Friday when Cassidy was sick," I said.

"Right, but it doesn't have to be an emergency for you to have a personal life. As your best friend and sister, I'm warning you: Andrea will only put up with things the way they are for so long."

"I get it," I said, shaking my head and standing up to fix my makeup in the mirror. Unfortunately, I knew all too well what he meant, and was already starting to see how my lifestyle was wearing on her.

Nigel left and I grabbed my phone and bag. "Emily, I'm going to check on Cassidy before her father gets home from work. I have dinner at Linda's tonight at 6, so I'm going straight home to get ready."

"Did you need a dress messengered to the townhouse?" she asked.

"No, it's casual. Text me with anything urgent," I said, stepping into the elevators.

In the car, I sent Andrea a text message: "On my way to check on Cass before James gets home from work. I'll tell her you said hello."

Andrea quickly replied, "Thanks. Hope she's better. How was work?"

I chuckled as I wrote back: "Interesting. I was practically screaming in a staff meeting, then five minutes later I was sitting on Nigel's lap, crying on his shoulder."

"OMG what's wrong?" she wrote.

"Nothing, nothing. Nigel just had some words for me, stuff I needed to hear. I'll tell you later."

"OK, if I don't talk to you, enjoy your dinner," she wrote back.

I smiled before slipping my phone in my pocket and running up the steps to James' home.

"Miranda?" Cara said, answering the door. "Is everything all right?"

"Yes, I just wanted to stop and see Cass—may I come in?"


"Sweetheart, how are you? Did your fever go down?" I said, meeting Cassidy in the foyer.

"I'm good. I feel a lot better," she said, wrapping her arms tightly around my waist.

"Baby, your eyes are red—were you crying?"

"Just a little," she said, glancing over at Cara.

"What happened?" I asked them both.

"Miranda, I'm sorry. I was just changing the sheets. I know how you like the sheets to be changed more often when one of the girls is sick, and, well, it upset Cassidy," she said, putting her hands on her hips and looking over at my daughter.

I nodded and took Cassidy's hand, walking her over to the couch. She climbed up onto my lap like a child—not unlike the way I was sitting with Nigel just an hour earlier. "Baby, why were you upset?" I asked quietly, stroking her hair.

"My pillow—it smelled like you. And Cara washed it, and now it doesn't," she said as tears began to fall from her eyes. Cara shrugged her shoulders and I gestured for her to give me a few minutes alone with my daughter.

"Sweetheart, I'm sorry she washed it, but it needed to be cleaned eventually." I reached up and untied the white Hermes scarf from around my neck. "Here," I said, handing it to my daughter. "Keep this. When the scent fades, let me know and I will trade you."

"Really?" she asked, clutching the scarf and inhaling.

"Yes, darling, but it's our little secret, okay?" I said, smiling and kissing her on the forehead.

"Okay, Mom. Thanks!"

"Oh, and I meant to tell you, Andrea—Andy—says hello."

"I thought she quit Runway?"

"She did, but she is my friend, so I still talk to her," I explained.

"Oh, cool. Tell her I said hi, too. Did she get a reporter job yet?"

"Yes, actually at the New York Mirror. She starts next week. Maybe you'd like to shadow her at work one day once she gets settled," I suggested.

"That would be so cool!"

I smiled. "Baby, why don't you run upstairs and put this scarf away," I said. "I need to leave and get ready for a party tonight."

"Okay. Thanks for coming, Mom," she said, hugging me.

"Of course. I want to make sure you're feeling 100% better," I said. "You will call me if you need anything?" I asked.

She nodded.

"Okay, no more tears, sweetie. I'll talk to you later."

"Bye, Mom," she said, heading upstairs, clutching the scarf tightly.

I left without saying goodbye to Cara. I understood that she meant well by washing the sheets, but I was a little upset that she didn't call me once she realized why Cassidy was crying. Sighing, I sank back into the cool leather seat of the town car and called Andrea.

"Hey," she answered.

"What is it about the way I smell?" I asked.

"Uhm, what?!"

"You heard me. There was something about my scent that first night you stayed at the townhouse, in my bed." There was silence on the other end of the line. "The red silk nightgown??"

"Oh, uh, yeah."

"Anyway," I said, sighing, "I'm just leaving James' and Cassidy was in tears because Cara washed the sheets and now her pillow doesn't smell like me anymore. Can you believe that?"

"Aww," Andrea said, "that's so sweet. I can totally believe that. I'm actually starting to miss your smell, too, now that you mention it."

I chuckled. "Well, I will be seeing you soon, don't worry. I have to go get ready for dinner. I'll text you later," I said.

"Okay, bye," she said before I ended the call, smiling. It was a totally unnecessary phone call, but somehow, I enjoyed the excess words.

Once I arrived at home, I slipped into a simple black shift dress and touched up my makeup. I still had a bit of time before I needed to leave, so I sat at my desk and went through my emails—a task that always seemed to take longer than it should.

Dinner was lovely, and I am constantly in awe of the risks Linda takes in her own fashion sense. It's refreshing, really, to see someone my age appear so completely ageless. One of her guests this evening was a young designer from Europe whose name I didn't catch because I was so struck by her ensemble. Her dress looked as if it was made of stuffed animals, and was absolutely hideous…in any context. I saw her and the only thought that crossed my mind was "flammable."

At one point in the evening, I was sitting on the sofa by myself. I pulled out my phone and was not surprised to see I had no messages from Andrea. She was not someone to bother me during work. Smirking, I muted my phone before holding it up and snapping a photo of this hideous stuffed-animal dress. I texted this to Andrea and wrote "Thoughts?"

Within seconds, she replied, "That is the ugliest thing I have ever seen. You can't be serious! Who would even wear that in your presence?"

I smiled. Andrea, my Andrea, was the only one whose presence I wanted to be in at the moment. I stood and said my goodbyes, thanking Linda for a lovely evening. I didn't bother with the pink Big Bird—I presume she saw my pursed lips upon her arrival and understood I would have nothing to do with her.

In the car, I again texted Andrea: "Just left Linda's. Miss you."

She replied, "Just climbed into bed…with my favorite piece of red silk. Miss you too. xo"

I smiled. As much as I wanted to tell Roy to drive to her place and surprise her, I knew that we needed time apart, and I still needed time to find my courage.

Tuesday flew by, and I felt some relief in knowing that I had plans with Andrea later in the week. Around lunchtime, she sent me a photo message of moving boxes neatly stacked in her apartment. I could see that most of them were labeled "clothes" or "books" and was surprised I didn't see any with kitchen items.

"What about your dishes or pots and pans? You seem so organized." I replied.

"Those stay with the apartment :(" she wrote.

I began to type out a reply, explaining I would buy her whatever she needed, but she quickly sent another message: "I am going to cash the check from you today— I have some kitchen stuff in mind from Bed Bath & Beyond."

I deleted what I was writing, reminding myself to give her space. "That sounds like an excellent idea. Let me know if you want company shopping. Gtg back to work—lots to do before Oscar shoot. xo"

"Thanks. Miss you. xo," she replied.

I didn't talk to Andrea for the rest of the day, but again, I was at ease simply knowing I could text her whenever I wanted. I couldn't even think about how things were before text messaging.

The Oscar de la Renta shoot went surprisingly well—either that or I just wasn't paying attention—and we finished early, only needing to re-shoot one pose. As everyone was wrapping up, Nigel took me by the elbow and quickly led me down the street.

"Nigel—what? Where are we going?"

"I am taking you out for a drink," he said. I wondered if he was just trying to divert my attention from something at the shoot, but I decided to relax and follow his lead on this one.

"Here? Why don't we have Roy take us to the Soho Grand or something?" I suggested. The dingy bar with the half-lit sign we stood in front of did not look appealing to me.

"No, we're going to this one," he said, leading me through the open door.

We walked inside and there were only two other people in the bar aside from the bartender. Nigel nodded to the bartender and led me to a stool in the middle of the bar.

"Two scotch, neat," he said, climbing onto the stool next to me. The bartender poured our glasses and we quietly sipped, neither of us speaking. I was lost in thought, my mind wandering from Cassidy to the OdlR shoot to Andrea. Suddenly, I remembered this bar.

I quickly turned to Nigel, who also appeared to be lost in thought. "You met David here," I whispered. It was not a question.

He nodded and finished his glass. The bartender quickly replaced it with another one. "Seventeen years today," Nigel whispered. I reached over and took his hand. It was mid-April, seventeen years ago, when Nigel's partner was struck and killed by a drunk driver. He was walking home—from this bar where he worked, and where they met. I was embarrassed that I didn't even know if Nigel celebrated the anniversary every year, or if today was an exception. I should have stayed closer to him through all that.

"Do you want to talk about him?" I asked quietly, scooting my barstool closer and draping my arm over his shoulder.

"Not really," he said, shaking my arm off his shoulder. I turned back to my drink—which had mysteriously been refilled—and took a good swig. We sat in silence for several minutes before I remembered what Andrea had said about not wanting to think about grief and wanting the distraction of someone else's problems.

I leaned over to Nigel and kissed him on the cheek. "I love you, Nigel."

"Thanks, Mira," he said. His mind was far and away, but that was okay.

"Can I—do you mind if I talk?"

He chuckled, "No, please do."

"Is that funny?" I asked, putting my hand on my hip.

"Yes," he said. "In all the years I've known you, I have never once heard you ask permission to speak."

"Oh, well," I smiled, "I guess I've changed." I set my third empty glass of scotch on the counter and leaned over to him, whispering, "She fucked me."

Nigel's eyes widened and he turned to face me.

"I know you said you didn't want to hear this," I said, reaching down for another sip of scotch, "but Nigel, it was so-so-sooo good. I never would have imagined how sexy it is to look down between my legs and see a gorgeous woman, her lips shimmering."

Nigel rolled his eyes. "I guess I should have found you a girlfriend a long time ago—it would have saved us all from the whole Stephen thing," he said.

I laughed. "That is true. But," I paused, "then I wouldn't have found Andrea."

He wrapped his arm around me and squeezed my shoulders gently. "I know, I was just, you know, speaking metaphorically or something." I gazed at him with an arched eyebrow, then pressed another kiss to his cheek, this one significantly more sloppy than the last, as I noticed he had to wipe his cheek with the cocktail napkin.

"So," he continued, "how was your first time with her? What else happened?"

"Nothing," I said, pursing my lips in a pout. "I'm scared. I—I don't know what to do next. She was really like a professional or something."

Nigel smiled, "Mira, I doubt Andrea is a professional, unless of course her sweet and innocent looks are part of her costume."

I slapped Nigel gently. "Don't say that about my lover," I said.

"Ooh, is it official?" he asked.

"Well, I told her I loved her. And she said it back."

"Aww, how sweet," Nigel teased.

"Just be serious for one minute, okay?" I asked. I was beginning to grow frustrated that Nigel was turning my personal life into a laughing matter. "Nigel, I cannot lose her. I've been able to make up excuses about the girls and the divorce not being finalized yet, but she sees through it. I mean, I told her I wanted to take it slow, but not two minutes later she was fucking me on the couch. I don't know what to do," I cried, resting my head on Nigel's shoulder. "I need a plan."

"Mira, darling, do you mean to say you have never touched her?"

"Not exactly," I admitted. "On Thursday night, she wore the Valentino red lace mini and, well, I couldn't resist those nipples through the lace," I said, blushing.

"Oh, I bet that dress looked divine on her," Nigel said. "I was wondering where that dress went off to."

I smiled and looked up at him, shaking my head. I was going to lose her like everyone else in my life.

"Mira, what are you afraid of?" Nigel asked.

"Disappointing her. Scaring her. Not pleasing her. What if I'm just not good at it? What if I look stupid or something?"

Nigel sighed. "Miranda, I know you have really high expectations, and that's great for an Editor in Chief. You're a perfectionist, and you accept nothing less than the best. However," he continued, placing his hands on my shoulders and straightening me up, "that mentality won't work with love."

I slightly pursed my lips. I never reacted well when told to stop being a perfectionist.

"You won't know what to do until you try," he said. "You won't learn what she likes until you let go a little. And, if she loves you like you say, she is probably dying for your touch. No matter how you do it, I'm sure she will be grateful."

"But Nigel, I don't even know where to begin," I whined, realizing I was beginning to sound more and more like my daughters.

"Yes, you do," he said, sighing in frustration. "You've felt her touch, and you know what feels good to you. She's a woman just like you. If you make a big deal about finding the right moment, you'll only end up disappointed."

"I suppose," I said. "You know, I should be going."

"Me too," he said, pulling out his phone and texting Roy.

"Can I drop you at home?" I asked as he helped me off the stool and to my feet.

"No, I'm just a few blocks from here. I need some fresh air. Will you be okay?"

"Of course! Thank you, Nigel," I said, wrapping my arms around him and hugging him tightly. "I'm so sorry about David, sweetie," I whispered, softly cupping his cheek.

"Thanks for coming here with me tonight and getting my mind off things," he said. I nodded and he helped me into the car before turning to walk away.

I quickly pulled out my phone and sent a text message to Andrea: "Are you still awake? On my way home now. Stopped to have a drink with Nigel after the shoot—remind me to tell you a story later."

"Hi—yes. Just starting to go through my desk. Taking longer than I anticipated because it's bringing up all sorts of memories. Was the shoot okay?" she replied.

"Yes, it was perfect. Would you like me to come by?"

"Not tonight. My place is a mess and I have piles of paper everywhere. Thx."

I sighed. "Okay. Sleep well tonight. I'll see you Thursday. xo"

"See you Thursday, goodnight! xo" she replied.

Sighing, I climbed out of the car and upstairs, taking three Advil before falling asleep.

Wednesday went by painfully slow. My head was pounding all morning—so much so that I made Emily pull the shades in my office windows. In the afternoon, I was heading out to meet Irv for a late lunch when I ran into him in the lobby. He suggested we ride together to cut on expenses, and I knew then that the afternoon would be more grueling than the morning. Not only did I have to sit with him in the car, but I couldn't text Andrea like I planned to—like I had been doing every time I was in the car this week.

At 4:30PM, we finally returned to Elias-Clarke. I simply refused to ride upstairs in the elevator with him after spending over two hours in his pitiful presence. Since there was no other reasonable way for me to prevent that situation, so I simply told him I was running late for another meeting and hopped into my own car without even entering the building.

"Take me to James' house," I said to Roy. "I'll only be a few minutes."

I pulled out my phone and typed a quick note to Andrea: "Remind me never to have lunch with Irv again."

I waited, but did not receive a response from Andrea by the time we reached James' home. I sighed and tucked my phone into my bag before heading up the stairs. I was relieved to find—again—that James was not home. Cassidy had gone back to school and seemed to be feeling just fine. I sat with them at the kitchen table for a while as they talked about their school day, and I reminded them again about moving home at the end of the year.

"Do we have to wait until school is over to come home?" Caroline asked. "I miss Patricia."

I smiled. I would have been hurt that she missed the family canine more than me, but I quickly reminded myself that she was just a child. "I'm sure Patricia misses you, too," I said. "Would you like to come over on Sunday for dinner? We can, you know, hang out," I said.

"Mom!" Caroline said as they both erupted in a fit of the giggles.

"Well?" I asked. Nothing warmed my heart more than the laughter of the ones I loved.

"Yes," Cassidy said, walking over and hugging me tightly. "I will come hang out with you on Sunday, Mom," she said, exaggerating the words.

"Me too!" Caroline said, coming over to join her sister.

"Well, I look forward to seeing you. I'll be sure to make a special desert," I said as I stood. "I love you girls so very much." As I headed for the door, James walked in.


"Hi James," I said. "I was just leaving." He stared at me, silently demanding an explanation. "I was nearby," I sighed, "and I just wanted to stop and see that Cassidy was feeling better."

"Miranda, I told you I would call if we needed anything," he said.

I bent down and kissed both of my daughters, "Goodbye, darlings. I will see you Sunday, okay?" They nodded. "James? Walk me out to the car?" I asked as I stepped out, not wanting to have this conversation in front of the girls.

He followed, and once we were out on the porch, he shut the door and grabbed my wrist. "Look," he hissed, "I know what you're trying to do," he said. "It won't work. I do not want you at my house when I'm not home again."

"Well, maybe if you would actually be present at home, parenting, when the girls are here, this wouldn't be an issue!" I hissed back, sharply pulling my wrist away.

"Oh, this coming from you…mother of the year?" he said.

I raised my hand and struck him across the face without thinking. He immediately reached his hand up and covered his cheek and dabbed at the blood coming from the corner of his lip.

I didn't want to admit it, but my hand was stinging painfully. I bit my lip. "I'm sorry," I whispered, I shouldn't—" I felt a hollowness growing in the pit of my stomach.

"Just go," he said.

I nodded. "But James, remember that I have custody of our daughters. I do not wish to put them through any legal battles, but I can and will have them removed from your home if it comes down to it."

"I know, I know,"" he said, running his fingers through his thinning hair. Let's sit down and have a conversation later this week when we've had a chance to cool off—that is, if you're not too busy," he said, mockingly.

"I will make time for this," I said. "I agree, we do need to talk. I've invited the girls for dinner on Sunday," I said, thinking maybe we could meet either before or afterwards.

"I can make it, too," he said. Shit, I thought, dinner with my ex-husband and our daughters was a little too much for me.

"Well, I've also asked my friend Andrea," I quickly added. It would be far more plausible this way than trying to explain to James why I invited her to our family dinner. "So, if that's okay with you?"

"This the one whose grandmother died?" he asked. I nodded, frankly, surprised that he remembered that detail. "Maybe she can take the girls and Patricia out to the park or something so we can talk."

"Yes," I nodded. "I'll text you later this week with a time."

He nodded and walked inside as I stepped into the car, my body still trembling from the adrenaline. I felt incredibly guilty for striking him, but I had more important issues to worry about: convincing Andrea to join us for dinner.

I instructed Roy to drive me home, as I had nothing left to do at work that couldn't be finished in the morning. I quickly typed out a text message to Andrea, as was becoming my habit: "Had another argument with James. Girls and James are coming over Sunday for dinner—I hope you will join us. James and I need to talk custody arrangements and—" I paused, deleting the message. It was too much to send in a text. I needed to discuss this with her in person.

As I walked up the steps to the townhouse, I realized I was still shaking. It was early enough that I could still arrange dinner with Andrea, I thought. Deciding against it, I opened the door and stepped into my house. I needed some time to myself—to think about what Nigel had said, to think of what I would say to James on Sunday, and just to make a plan.

I walked into my bathroom and drew a hot, relaxing bath. I filled the tub and dropped in some essential oils, letting the aroma fill the room. I poured myself a glass of scotch and set it on the small stool, along with my phone. Peeling off my clothes, I stepped into the tub and moaned at the fabulous sensation, the hot water prickling my skin.

For a fleeting second, I felt the world melting away as I closed my eyes and leaned back against the headrest. Just then, my cell phone began to ring. It took several seconds for me to open my eyes and when I saw Andrea's name on the screen, I smiled and answered.

"Hello, darling. I was just thinking of you."

"Mi—Miranda," she said, her voice raspy and strained.

"Andrea, what's wrong?" I asked, sitting up. I heard her gasping on the other end of the line. "Take a deep breath," I said, trying to calm her, as I quickly stood from the water and began to dry myself off with my towel as I held the phone between my ear and shoulder.

All I could hear was sobbing on the other end of the line, so I quickly headed for the closet and grabbed a pair of lounge pants, a tank, and a long sweater as I tried to figure out what could be wrong.

"Darling, are you at your apartment?" I asked as I slipped on a pair of underwear.

"Yes," she said between sniffles.

"Are you injured? Do you need me to call an ambulance?" I asked as I stepped into my pants. I prayed that whatever it was, she was not physically harmed.

"I'm…I'm okay," she cried, hiccuping from her sobs.

"Okay. Darling, I'm on my way, okay. I will be there soon," I said, quickly hanging up the phone and slipping my tank over my head. I grabbed the sweater and dialed Roy. "Are you nearby? I need a ride ASAP."

"I'm still downstairs," he said. I ended the call and ran downstairs.

I slipped my feet into the heels that were still at the front door, grabbed my keys, and headed into the car. "Andrea's please—and hurry," I said.

He quickly pulled out into traffic. "If I may ask, is everything okay?"

"Yes, I think so…I hope so," I said. "You know, I don't even know where she lives. What if you weren't downstairs?" I asked aloud.

"Her address is programmed into the GPS in all of your vehicles if you should ever need," he explained. "In fact, the home addresses of all of your staff members are." He paused for a few moments as I silently contemplated that curious fact. Wasn't that some sort of privacy violation? I wondered.

"We'll be there in two minutes," Roy continued, jolting me from my thoughts, "and she's number 302 on the third floor. The security code to get in is 2-3-5-1."

I was shocked at how little I knew of Andrea's current living arrangements. As he pulled up to the curb, I jumped out, shouting a "thank you" behind me as I punched in the code and ran up the stairs to the third floor. Quickly finding her door, I pounded a few times before trying the knob and finding the door was open.

Closing it behind me, I quickly surveyed the boxes along the far wall and saw Andrea curled up on the floor amongst piles of papers surrounding her desk. Without thinking, I kicked off my heels and dropped my cell phone, sinking to my knees and wrapping my arms around the sobbing brunette.

"Shhhh, it's okay, I'm here," I whispered, kissing her softly on the cheek as I pulled her onto my lap. As I tried to calm her, I glanced around at the stacks of papers: college essays, notebooks, journals, and greeting cards. Looking more closely at the cards, I saw she had several with sparkly flowers that had "To my darling granddaughter" written on the front. Of course, I thought, putting the pieces together. Andrea mentioned that there were many memories in her desk, and I should have known her grandmother would likely come up.

I slowly coaxed her onto the couch, where she curled up against me, her face pressed tightly into my shoulder. "What can I do for you, darling?" I asked as her tears subsided. I hadn't realized it, but tears were streaming down my own cheeks, too. Andrea shook her head and I continued to hold her, softly stroking her back and gently rocking her in my arms. Though she was no longer crying, she was still physically affected by the strong emotions.

We sat like that for nearly an hour, and I was about to drift off to sleep when she stood and excused herself, avoiding eye contact. While she was in the bathroom, I walked over to the stove and began boiling water for tea.

She stepped out of the bathroom and walked up to me in the kitchen. "I'm sorry, Miranda," she said, hanging her head. "I just needed someone."

"Sweetheart," I said, taking her hand, "Do not apologize for needing someone. I'm very glad you called, and I'm sorry that I wasn't here sooner. I was just going to make some tea," I said.

"Help yourself, but I don't want any," she said. I quickly reached over and turned the kettle off.

"Do you want to talk—about the cards?" I asked her.

"No. Will you just lay with me?" she asked. She was still shaking.

"Of course. Would it be more comfortable on the bed?" I asked, taking her hand.

"Uhh, no. I—my linens are all packed," she said.

"Well, where—" I held my tongue, reminding myself to give her room. Surely, she could tell where I was going with that.

"I've been sleeping on the couch—it's a futon, actually."

I nodded. "Come back to the townhouse with me tonight? We can just relax and you can take a break from all this stuff for a while."

Andrea sharply turned her head and looked at me wide-eyed.

"What?" I asked. "You don't have to come home with me, I would just prefer if you did so I won't worry about you," I said.

"Miranda, yes, I will come with you," she said, smiling, "to take my mind off this stuff," she said.

I bit my lip and smiled, no doubt blushing furiously as she leaned in and kissed my cheek.

"Give me two minutes to throw a few things together," she said. Returning with her Longchamp bag slung over her shoulder, we began to head out to the car.

"Wait—what are you wearing?" Andrea asked, laughing as she finally took in my appearance. "Is this a new trend?"

I shrugged my shoulders and blushed, looking down at how ridiculous I looked in drawstring cotton pants and gold-toe Prada pumps. "I was taking a bath when you called—honestly, I didn't think about anything else."

"That's so sweet," Andrea said, softly kissing me on the cheek. I was slightly self-conscious that my former assistant was kissing me on the street in the middle of New York City, but for some reason I didn't really care.

We slipped into the backseat and I reached over and cupped Andrea's cheek. "Sweetheart, are you feeling better?" I asked. She gently kissed my palm, removing it from her cheek.

Andrea smiled. "Yes, a lot better. Thank you, I needed that," she said.

"Of course, Andrea. You know, once you start your new job, you'll have less time to sit and dwell on—on stuff," I said, smiling. "Looking back, I think that's one of the reasons I have always worked so much—I didn't really want to think about my personal life."

Andrea turned and looked at me. "Can I kiss you?" she asked.

I grinned. "I don't really think you need to ask me anymore," I said, closing the distance between us.

I let Andrea dictate the pace as we began to exchange kisses. She was kissing me with a hunger, as if sucking the breath from my lungs would fill a void within her. She kissed me like this for several minutes, until the car came to a stop outside my house.

"Miranda," she said as I pulled away, my hand gripping the door handle, "We don't have to—I mean—I don't want to pressure you tonight. I'll be happy if I can sleep next to you like when I stayed over before, okay?"

I smiled and wrapped my arm around this amazing woman who was willing to take it slow with me—to put aside her own needs because it was what I wanted.

"No pressure," I said with a smile. I opened the door and stepped out onto the sidewalk. "Plus, I still haven't given you your gift," I added, changing the subject.

Inside, I led her to the kitchen. "Can I make you some tea—or, wait, what about hot chocolate?" I asked, remembering how she turned down tea back at her place.

Her eyes lit up and she nodded, a grin on her face. I poured some milk into a saucepan and began heating it up, slowly stirring before I added the sugar and cocoa powder.

"Can I ask how things are going with your mother?" I asked quietly, keeping my eyes fixed on the simmering milk.

"I don't really want to talk about that," she said.

"Okay, that's fine," I said. "You know I'm here when you're ready," I added, dipping my finger into the white liquid to test its temperature. Still not scalding.

"So," I continued, "I stopped by to see Cassidy and Caroline after school and ran into James." I was hoping my story would distract her.

"Is Cassidy feeling better?" she asked.

"Oh, yes, much better. She's back to school and everything. I invited them over for dinner Sunday, and I was hoping you would be able to join us," I said.

"Umm, sure, if you think it's okay."

"Of course! I wouldn't have asked you if I didn't want you there," I said. The milk was beginning to froth, so I quickly kept stirring and added the sugar and dutch process cocoa. "I am not ready to tell the girls everything about us," I continued, reaching for a mug and turning off the burner. "Once the divorce is final, then maybe we can have a chat with them," I said. I gave the liquid one final stir before pouring it into a large mug. I licked the spoon before setting it in the sink to cool along with the pan.

"There is one thing," I continued, carrying the mug over to the table and setting it in front of Andrea. "James is coming to dinner."

"Oh, should I be worried?" she asked, bringing the mug to her lips. "Thank you, by the way," she added. "This is delicious."

I smiled and nodded. "No, you should not be worried about James," I said with a sigh. "He and I were arguing again over custody this afternoon, and he made a comment and I lost it. Without thinking I struck him across the face," I said, shaking my head. "Andrea, I've never struck anyone in my life. I don't know what came over me—I didn't think I was wired to react that way."

"I don't think it means you're a violent person or anything, just maybe that you're incredibly protective of your daughters," she said, reaching over and squeezing my hand. "So back to dinner on Sunday—why exactly is everyone going to be there?"

"Well, we both agreed that we needed to sit down and talk, and somehow he thought that when I said the girls were coming over for dinner, that he was invited to join."

"Don't you want to talk without the girls there?" she asked.

"Yes, of course. I explained to James that you would be there—hoping you would accept my invitation—and he actually suggested you take the girls and Patricia for a walk while we talk." I paused for a few minutes. "Would you be willing to do that?" I asked.

"So James just thinks I'm a friend?"

"Yes. You don't have to come if you don't want to. I understand this is putting you in an awkward position. Ideally, I would prefer you to be sitting with me while we talked to James…" I said, my mind drifting too far off into the future.

"It's okay. I'll be there," she said. "I look forward to spending the time with your girls, actually."

"Thank you," I said, smiling. "I think they really like you, and that says a lot. They're quite selective."

Andrea smiled and squeezed my hand again. "What was that other story you were going to tell me?" she asked. "When you had drinks with Nigel?"

"Oh, that. Well, I'll give you the short version now because I'm not really ing the mood for details. Seventeen years ago, Nigel's partner was killed by a drunk driver in a hit-and-run accident. It was so many years ago, I don't mean to say I've forgotten, but it certainly has not been top of mind, especially since Nigel has been in such a good place these past few years.

"I didn't quite remember that Tuesday was the seventeen year anniversary of his death, so I was confused when Nigel first dragged me into this bar around the corner from the OdlR shoot," I continued. "It was the place where they first met, though the bar had changed ownership several times since, but I remember joining them there," I said, trying not to let my mind get too nostalgic.

"That's so sad about his partner," Andrea said. "I had no idea. I'm glad you were there to talk to him, though, and get his mind off whatever was going through his head."

I nodded and took Andrea's hand in both of my hands. "I told him about us," I said. "I'm sorry, I know I should have asked you first—but aside from you, he's the only other person in the world I truly trust," I said.

She set down her mug and took my hands in hers, "Never apologize for talking to your best friend, Miranda. I'm just glad you have someone else like that, because, well, it can be tough if you don't."

I nodded, holding back tears. I suspected she was referring to her own life, but didn't want to push the issue. "I'm going to get your present," I said, smiling and standing from the table. "It's just upstairs in my closet."

"Wait," she said, finishing the hot chocolate. "I'll come up with you," she said, standing and placing the mug in the sink.

I led Andrea upstairs and she sat on the chaise in my bedroom while I retrieved the box from my closet. "Congratulations on your new job, Andrea," I said as I handed her the square charcoal-colored box with a giant red ribbon.

Andrea immediately recognized the box, and gasped as she untied the ribbon and slipped the lid off. "Miranda, this is too much!" she said.

"Nonsense. You deserve it," I said, gently taking the timepiece from the box and slipping it on her wrist. "Plus," I said, "I had your initials engraved on the clasp already, so you really do have to keep it."

She turned her wrist over and saw the delicately engraved "AES" on the brushed platinum clasp. "Miranda, this is really gorgeous. I need a new watch, too. How did you know?"

"Well, I really wanted to get you something you could use everyday, and I know you're not much for flashy jewelry, and of course every journalist needs a good timepiece, so, I just…I hope you like it."

"I do," she said, throwing her arms around my neck. "Very much. Thank you." She admired the watch for a few more minutes before taking it off and carefully placing it in the cloth case.

"I'm so proud of you, Andrea," I said, softly kissing her on the forehead.

She smiled, but I could see tears forming in her eyes. "Do you mind if I take a quick shower?" she asked.

"Not at all," I said, leading her into the bathroom. "Let me just make sure there are fresh towels."

Walking into the bathroom, I saw that my scotch was still sitting on the stool, and I actually hadn't even drained the tub before leaving. I quickly drained the cold water and picked up the glass. Tossing a few towels into the hamper, I left one fresh one hanging on the rack.

"All yours," I said, smiling. "I'll just be out here if you need anything," I added before slipping out and shutting the door.

I drank the scotch and set the tumbler on the dresser as I slipped out of my pants and tank and selected a black silk chemise. It fit snugly around my breasts, lifting and revealing a significant amount of cleavage before cascading down to the top of my legs in black organza.

I stared at myself in the mirror for a few minutes, watching my chest rise and fall as I took a deep breath. "She is probably dying for your touch…no matter how you do it, she'll be grateful." I heard Nigel's words repeating in my head as I made my decision. I walked back to the bed and turned down the covers. As I tried to figure out where and how I was going to sit, I heard a strange noise from the bathroom.

Stepping closer, I pressed my hand against the closed door and quickly recognized Andrea's sobbing. I bit my lip, then quietly slipped into the steamy bathroom, glad she did not lock the door. I hesitated before moving any closer, but then remembered how she wanted to join me in the shower on Friday morning. Seeing her leaning against the corner of the shower, I quickly hung my black lingerie on the back of the door and headed for the shower.

She jumped as I opened the shower door, but my arms were quickly around her. "It's just me," I said, holding her tightly. She wiped her eyes, and I could see she was trying to regain her composure. I reached over to the opposite wall and took the loofah from the hook. "May I?" I asked, showing her the scrub sponge.

She nodded, and I squirted some body wash on before gently tracing the loofah across her shoulders and back, her arms and legs, and finally reaching around to wash her front side. I hung the loofah back on the wall, and led Andrea away from the corner, into the spray of water.

She tilted her head back, letting water sluice down her face and hair.

"Can I wash your hair, darling?" I asked, moving closer, but careful to keep my own hair out of the water stream.

She nodded, so I dispensed some cleansing conditioner into my hands and began working it through her long strands. "Let it sit a few minutes before we rinse," I said, knowing it was supposed to sit for at least five minutes, longer for longer hair.

She stepped away from the spray and turned to face me, wrapping her arms around my waist and pulling me against her. I stifled a moan as our bodies met, my hands pressed to her chest almost instinctively. She quickly pressed her lips to mine. I wrapped my arms around her neck, deepening the kiss as she moaned into my mouth.

Andrea tasted like chocolate, and the delicious mix of scotch and chocolate in my mouth heightened my senses. The water felt cool as it splashed against our bodies, against my burning core. I moved my hips, desperate to feel her against my body. I began raising my left leg, trying to wrap it around her—anything for some contact.

"Hold on," she whispered. They were the first words she said to me since I joined her in the shower. I nodded, locking my arms tightly around her neck as I closed my eyes and tried to catch my breath.

In one swift movement, she slid her hands down and lifted me up. My legs naturally wrapped around her body, my ankles crossing at her lower back. She pressed me against the marble wall of the shower, and I practically screamed; the multiple sensations of her torso against my center, the cold tile against my back, and her lips at my throat was almost too much to handle.

"Ohh, Andrea," I moaned as she continued to devour my neck and chest. I was sure she was leaving marks, but it was definitely worth a week of turtlenecks and scarves. She moved back up, taking my lips in hers as I kissed her back with an unmatched fierceness.

Minutes later, I unwrapped my legs and lowered myself to the ground. "Let's get out of here," I whispered. This time, the water was definitely cooler, and I wanted to make sure to rinse her hair before it grew too cold.

Turning the water off, I saw Andrea wrap her arms around herself. I quickly opened the shower door and wrapped her in a giant, fluffy Egyptian cotton towel before grabbing one for myself. We dried off in silence. I handed Andrea a robe and she slipped into it so she could continue drying her hair without being chilled.

I, on the other hand, was still flushed from the shower. I finished drying and slipped back into the black lingerie.

"Wow," Andrea said. I turned and was delighted to see that my choice of garment pleased her.

"Darling, is you hair curly?" I asked, distracted by the beautiful waves in her wet hair.

"Yeah, sorta," she said. "It's wavy. And annoying."

"Let me dry it?" I asked, motioning to the small stool in front of the vanity. She shrugged and walked over, taking a seat in front of the mirror.

I reached in one of my drawers and pulled out a curl-defining serum, one I used on the girls' hair sometimes. Pouring a generous amount into my hands, I ran my fingers through her hair, gently untangling as I worked in the serum. Next, I pulled out my hair dryer and attached the diffuser nozzle, softly drying the moisture from her hair.

I turned off the dryer and set it back in the basket under the counter.

"Thank you," she said, looking at me in the mirror, "thank you for everything." I smiled and took her hand, leading her into the bedroom. "Umm, let me put my pajamas on," she said, bending to reach into her bag.

I gently tugged on her hand. "I don't think you'll need them," I whispered into her ear as I trailed kisses down her jaw.

"Miranda," she protested, arching away from me. "You don't have to do this, it's okay," she said.

"Darling," I said, cupping her face with both my hands. "I love you. Let me take care of you tonight…please."

Her eyes filled with tears as she nodded her head. "Yes, of course," she said.

I untied the robe and pushed it off her shoulders, letting it sink to the floor in a pile. Softly tracing her curves with my hands, I wanted nothing more than to spend the rest of the night worshipping and loving this beautiful creature.

Taking her hand, I led her to my bed, which, I'll admit, I was mentally calling our bed for the past few weeks now. I slowly climbed in after her, grazing my hands up from her toes to her hips, across her torso and breasts, up and down her arms until she pulled me up into a kiss.

I kissed her again, my tongue seeking out hers as she smiled against my lips. She eventually pulled away for air, and I took the opportunity to focus on her plump, slightly swollen lower lip. Delicately taking it between my teeth, I slowly began to suck, savoring every satisfying minute.

My lower lips began to quiver as Andrea joined in, taking my lips in her mouth. I pulled away and brushed her hair out of her deep brown eyes. Her pupils were heavily dilated and her cheeks were flushed with what could only be arousal. The ferocity of her gaze alone did more for me than anyone else ever could.

I kissed her again on her lips, swiftly moving to trail kisses down her neck. The salty taste of her smooth skin was heaven in my mouth and I needed to taste every inch of her. I painstakingly did just that—sucking on her fingers, laving my tongue across her navel, and even kissing the backs of her knees. Nothing was left untouched, except perhaps where she wanted me most.

As I crawled back up her body, I slowly dipped my fingers between her legs and held my fingers before my mouth, inhaling sharply. The intoxicating scent was irresistible, and I proceeded to suck my own fingers dry.

A deep, guttural moan escaped Andrea's lips as I reached my hand lower, resting just above her core. "Is this okay?" I asked, surprised at how feral my voice sounded.

She nodded, letting go a low howl as I plunged my fingers in all the way. She was so wet, it felt like scalding milk around my fingers. I was mesmerized by this new sensation and moaned as I felt her muscles contract against my digits.

I was too intrigued to consider the reasons why I never dared explore my own body in this way. Maybe it was the stigma surrounding female sexuality, or some self-imposed shame I feared. Regardless, I had to force myself to focus on the brunette writhing against my palm to keep from exploring own body right there. The thought of her fluids inside me sent a shiver down my spine.

Andrea was quite literally squirming against my hand. I leaned over and slipped my other arm underneath her, holding her close as I curled my fingers inside her. Her muscles tightened and she arched against me, a fresh flood of hot moisture coating my hand. I pressed my lips to her exposed neck, feeling her pulse beating rapidly beneath my mouth as I slowly extracted my fingers from their warm cave.

Again, licking my fingers clean, I slid down on the bed and gently parted her thighs, settling comfortably on my stomach. From this position, her scent was overwhelming, and there was nothing that could stop me from tasting her waters straight from the source.

I let out a muffled moan as I pressed my lips to her folds, her scent and taste combining in a powerful way. I wanted to take my time memorizing her flavor, but judging by the way her hips were jumping off the bed, she wouldn't last that long.

I reached my arms under her legs and placed my hands on her hips, stilling her movements while I pressed on with my lips and tongue. She gasped as my nose brushed against her clitoris, and I moaned into her body at the fresh influx of juices.

"Mmhhandrhea…youhhm tahstemm…mmlihke vehlmvhet…mmhso mmghhood," I panted.

"Oh-ho-ho-ho goooood," she cried, thrusting her hips against my face again. I removed my hand from her hip, and, with my fingers planked together, I began vigorously moving back and forth, in circles against her aching bud while Andrea shouted something unintelligible and slammed her hand down on the mattress.

Again, I felt fresh juices pouring from her body as my tongue quickly lapped at her velvety lips. Andrea reached down and gently ran her fingers through my hair, softly tugging me up.

I could feel how wet my lips and chin were as I crawled up her body. Pulling me closer, Andrea proceeded to lick her sticky fluids from my chin and upper lip, kissing me hard as tears streamed down her cheeks.

"Are you okay?" I whispered, softly brushing her cheek. She closed her eyes and nodded. "What else can I do for you, my love?" I asked.

"Just hold me," she said quietly.

I rolled over and set my head on the pillow, suddenly aware of how exhausted I was. Andrea turned and curled up against me, draping her arm around my waist as I wrapped my arms snugly around her. I wasn't sure which one of us fell asleep first, but I liked to imagine we sort of fell asleep together.

Promptly at 5:20AM, my alarm went off, sending a shrill beeping sound through the early morning darkness. Andrea groaned. I kissed the top of her head and slipped out of bed, trying to disturb her as little as possible. I smiled as I stood next to the bed. Her eyes were tightly shut as she reached over for my pillow, curling up against it in my absence.

Smiling, I picked up my cell phone and walked to the other side of the bedroom, dialing a number on speed dial.

"Yes, Emily?," I said. "Cancel my morning."

I glanced over at Andrea who turned her head, seeming to wake up at the sound of my voice.

"Yes, I will be in at 12:30," I continued. Andrea propped herself up on her elbows and gave me a bewildered look. "Yes, just reschedule it. I have something much more important to attend to," I said, smiling as I ended the call with my assistant.

Setting the phone on my nightstand, I rejoined Andrea in bed, kissing her softly as I sunk into the pillows. I was slightly aware that Andrea's hands were now roaming over my body, but it wasn't until she slipped her fingers underneath the organza that I attempted to stop her.

"No, darling," I said, "this is about you. Let me take care of you."

Andrea looked down at me with the saddest pout on her face. I couldn't resist those big brown eyes. Laughing, I gently stroked her cheek. "I love you, Andrea."

She smiled as she began tracing her fingers across my abdomen in slow, steady circles. "Miranda," she whispered, "I want to touch you. I want to plunge my long, long fingers inside you, exploring you inside and out."

My breath hitched at her words and I was conscious of my racing pulse. Good lord, what was she doing to me?

"I want to pump my fingers inside of you. Pumping slowly at first, then fast as lightning, then slowly again until my entire fist is inside you," she continued.

I moaned—loudly—and quickly reached up my hand to cover my mouth, embarrassed by my desperate reaction to her words. She smiled and lifted my hand away as she continued tracing circles on my skin, just above my curls. I could have sworn her hand was inching its way lower and lower—either that, or my body was writhing farther back.

"I want to hear you," Andrea whispered. "I want to hear what you will sound like when I take your clit in my teeth and gently…bite."

I groaned, and it sounded like someone punched me in the stomach. But, I couldn't help it. I was panting in confusion. "Oh — god!" I cried, "What's — how is this — even happening?" I wailed, struggling to hold onto one last ounce of control.

Andrea turned her attention to my chest, softly tracing my breasts, cautious to avoid my taut, darkened nipples. I wanted nothing more than for her to rip that constraining fabric off of me.

"Do you think I can make you come like this?" she whispered in my ear, her hot breath sending shock waves through my body.

"Uungh," I moaned, nodding my head. I needed her to give me release.

"Imagine my fingers," she whispered, "Imagine them pumping in and out, in and out. The smell of your arousal lingers in the air and the only sounds are the sucking and squirting of my fingers against your drenched folds."

I briefly held my breath, trying to be silent. Even though her hands were not on me, I could still hear my lower lips opening and closing, softly sucking and popping as I moved my legs.

"Imagine yourself squirming, circling your hips and bucking upwards to the sky as you search for something, anything to give you release," she continued, "but you can't come yet."

I screamed and kicked my heels into the mattress. Reaching my hand out, I found Andrea's and squeezed tightly as I tried to still the roaring beast within.

"Then imagine that one swift flick of my thumb across your clit releases raging waters, endless rivers of wetness flowing from your core," she said.

I curled upwards, open-mouthed and wide-eyed as muscles clenched all over my body. My right leg began twitching violently. My breaths were short and irregular, and I felt my voice tied up in the back of my throat as I came.

Before I realized it, Andrea was situated between my legs, lapping at my wetness. Using her teeth, and then her thumb as she described, I came again and again.

"Oh, fuck, Andrea," I sighed as she crawled up next to me. My heart still felt like it was going to beat out of my chest, but other than that, I never felt so entirely relaxed in my entire life.

"Good morning," she said with a smile, kissing me softly on the lips.

Part 5

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