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 xenabard[at]hotmail.com.

Like Love
By Gin


Part 41

Pava and Mary looked up as the door opened. They both stood and Pava walked down the hall toward her granddaughter while Mary held back somewhat.

"Welcome home, Darlin'." Pava hugged Andy and smiled, "How was your dinner?"

"Good." Andy glanced at Miranda and smiled weakly, "I'm gonna go on up... I'm kinda tired."

Miranda nodded and watched Andrea ascend the stairs slowly. "I will be up to check on the girls momentarily... there are a few things I want to check on in the Book..."

"Yeah..." Andy's response floated down the staircase, "Of course."

"What has gotten in to her?" Pava put her hands on her hips, "She seemed a little down..."

"Yes." Miranda thought back to this evening's events and sighed, "She's been that way most of the evening..." It was something Miranda knew that she and Andrea needed to discuss. "If you will excuse me..."

"Oh, of course..." Pava watched Miranda follow Andy's path up the stairs. Warm arms around her waist made her smile, but the question Mary asked wiped it away again.

"What was that all about?"

"I'm not sure, Darlin..." Pava squeezed the arms around her, "I'm sure they'll work it out though...." Turning in the embrace, Pava draped her arms around Mary's shoulders. "How about you and I finish our drinks and turn in... we have a flight to catch tomorrow."

"Mmm..." Mary sighed and rested her head on Pava's shoulder, "Home."

"Yeah..." Grinning, Pava kissed Mary's temple, "We'll be back for the girls' birthday party though... and again for the wedding."

"We should book our flights now... since we know the dates..." A tinge of worry laced Mary's words, "... it's cheaper that way..."

"Mmmm... Yeah. I think that Emily gal said there would be a plane for us to come to the wedding." Pava nodded and grinned, "But then a few flights aren't going to hurt either of our bank accounts..."

"No, I guess not... life insurance is not fun to think about, but it's a good thing to have," Mary shook her head a little, "It's just so weird, not having to worry about money..."

"I know, it took me quite a while to wrap my head around it. You'll have even more if you decide to sell the B & B. You have at least one offer to consider."

"Yeah, I've had a ton of real estate people asking me about the property, like vultures, but only one of them has already had a buyer." Mary sighed, "It was a surprise. I hadn't even thought about selling." She looked up at Pava. "Do you think I should?"

"If you want to...whatever you want to do is fine with me." Looking around quickly, Pava dropped a kiss on Mary's temple then smiled, "C'mon... let's see about getting some sleep."

Miranda leaned down to kiss Caroline's cheek, "Good night, my darling...I love you." She stood and began to leave the room when the girl's voice stopped her.

"What's wrong with Ma?"

Turning to face Caroline, Miranda questioned, "What makes you think something is wrong?"

"She seemed sad, when she told me good night." Caroline was worried, "It seemed..." She didn't want to say it. Surely it wasn't true, Andy had promised; promised not to leave. "It seemed like the last time she was going to tell me..."

Shaking her head, Miranda assured Caroline, "Andrea will tell you good night for many more years to come."

"Okay," Caroline sighed and hugged her pillow. She couldn't hear and interpret everything the way Cassidy could, but even she knew what that tone in her mother's voice meant. Andy wasn't going anywhere. "G'night, Mom."

"Sleep well." Miranda left the room quietly. She stopped in Cassidy's room next. Cassidy was already sleeping, so all that was required was a kiss on the slumbering girl's cheek and a quietly whispered, 'I love you', before she made her way to the master bedroom. Quelling the odd urge to knock on her own bedroom door, Miranda entered the room and was surprised to find it empty. "Andrea?"

"In here."

Miranda walked to the bathroom. Leaning against the door frame, Miranda watched in silence as Andrea removed her minimal make-up. It was always a pleasure to watch as the fake Andrea was replaced by the real person underneath. Now the real Andrea, her Andrea, turned toward her.


Blinking, Miranda shook her head, "Can I not just look at you? Do I need a reason?"

"Miranda," Andy sighed in frustration and studying the floor intently, mumbled, "maybe you're right..."


"Maybe you're right..." Andy looked up, "What if... what if you would be better off with someone else..."

"Someone... else?" Miranda's vision began to tunnel, "What are you talking about?"

"Someone...rich, beautiful... someone who shares your interest in fashion... someone who can cook for you and... just someone who's a better match for you than I am... older than I am..." Andy's voice wavered. "Someone like..."

Taking a deep breath, Miranda understood now why Andrea had been so quiet during dinner. She completed her fiancee's thought, but didn't agree with it. "... Blair." Miranda watched as Andrea's shoulders sagged in defeat.

"Yeah... Blair..." Andy felt like crying, "She's completely perfect for you... socially, financially close to your equal... she's a powerful woman in her industry, like you... and she's fashionable, and beautiful... " Sighing at the final straw, Andy spoke through her wavering lips, "... and she can cook."

"Mmmm..." Miranda tried to catch Andrea's eye. "Except for two problems..." Licking her lips, Miranda addressed the least important issue first, "She is married..." The editor smiled as Andrea's head snapped up to lock eyes with her, "... and more importantly, I love you, not her."

"Miranda..." Andy shook her head, "I'm just so..."

"Oh yes," Miranda smiled and moved to embrace the young woman, "Yes indeed," Gently tipping Andrea's head back, Miranda leaned in for a kiss, murmuring, "You know I love things, just so."

Melting into the kiss, Andy agreed when they broke apart, "You always have been very particular." She reached up, gently running her fingertips across the lips she had just kissed, across the lips that Jo's hand had... Andy's eyes followed her fingertips as she spoke, softly, "She shouldn't have touched you."

Sighing softly, Miranda moved away, "I really don't understand this perception that I am untouchable..."

"Miranda... it's because you are untouchable..." Andy took a deep breath, buying some time to organize her thoughts on the subject but there was one fact that was perfectly clear to her, "No one touches you."

"Of course they do," Miranda almost laughed, "There are many social gatherings where I shake hands, touch cheeks to air kiss, even link arms with people from time to time." The older woman pointed out a recent example, "I linked arms with Blair just this evening... why are you not upset about that?"

Andy shook her head, "That's different... that is you touching them... your choice." She didn't know how to explain it and admitted, "A lot of it is just my jealousy, I suppose. I love being able to touch you." Reaching up, Andy lightly traced the shadow under Miranda's high cheekbone then trailed her fingertips down the side of the editor's smooth neck, feeling the pulse point there jump at her touch. "Do you realize that during the entire time I worked for you I didn't touch you, not even once?" Andy continued to trace Miranda's neck with her fingertips. "I wanted to. I wanted to so badly it hurt sometimes. I love having that privilege and I don't like it when anyone else is granted that... honor."

"You are the only person in the world that makes me feel this way when you touch me." Miranda leaned into the questing fingertips at her jawline, "The only one who ever has..." With a sigh, Miranda admitted, "I do notice that people don't actually initiate contact with me though. I thought about that when we were in Cincinnati with your parents. You are the only one who reaches out to me so casually..." She didn't mention his name but Miranda thought about her previous marriage, Stephen never touched me without a reason. His caresses were always calculated, for his own need.

"Good." Andy was mesmerized by her fingertips gliding over the smooth skin of Miranda's shoulders. Replacing her fingers with her lips, Andy murmured against Miranda's neck, "I like it that way."

Tipping her head back to grant Andrea better access, Miranda closed her eyes to savor the sensations as she moaned slightly, "Agreed."

"I can't believe you."

"Richard!" Dorothy gestured to the television screen, "Look! She is so in love..."

"No!" He closed his eyes, stubbornly refusing to watch. It was just a bonus that he didn't have to see Regis Philbin staring at his daughter's breasts as a result.

Sighing, Dorothy fast-forwarded the recording and ruthlessly hit play, "Then listen, you fool... listen to your daughter."

Refusing to be juvenile enough to cover his ears, Richard kept his eyes closed, but heard the conversation about the gunman, and how Miranda had taken him down. He ground his teeth together at the sound of Miranda's voice. When they talked about Andy disarming the gunman, Richard's eyes flew open as he heard the reason his baby girl had lost her cool. He swallowed hard when Miranda asked who actually called Andy 'baby' and Andy replied in a choked voice, 'Daddy'.

The muscle in his jaw jumped. "Shut it off..."

"Richard..." Dorothy sighed, "She really is happy..." She paused the playback on a still picture of Andy gazing at Miranda. "Can't you see how happy she is with Miranda?" Met with silence, Dorothy continued. "I was wrong about her, about Miranda, she loves Andy... she loves her with all her heart."

Jumping out of his seat, Richard pointed to the picture, "That woman is a lying bitch... and she only wants to control Andy."


"It's true, Dot." He took great glee in telling his wife all about his little encounter with Miranda in his office after Dorothy had left for New York. He was smug when he finished the story, "You see? She only wants to control the people around her and she uses her money to do it."

"But..." Dorothy shook her head, not believing the woman she'd come to know would do that, not to Andy. Looking up at her infuriated husband, Dorothy swallowed hard and resolutely stuck to her belief, even though she didn't voice it again. They love each other... There was another more pressing issue at the moment. "What are you going to do?" Again, Richard was silent and Dorothy repeated her question. "Richard... What are you going to do?"

Leveling his best courtroom gaze at his wife, Richard spoke evenly. "I don't know, yet." He caught a glimpse of the still picture on the television screen and his right cheek twitched then he turned and walked out of the living room.

Dorothy jumped as a door down the hall slammed and she bit her upper lip as she thought to herself, Here's an even better question, Dottie... What are you going to do?

Oddly enough, she found herself in agreement with her husband on that point, because she didn't have a clue what she was going to do either, yet.

"You can't be serious." Emily was incredulous, "You really aren't going to tell me?" She had done what Serena asked and waited to ask about the incident at Miranda's. She'd waited, and waited, and now the woman wouldn't even discuss it?!

"I cannot." Serena was firm on the subject. "Miranda doesn't wish it to be discussed and I will honor that request."

"But..." Emily exhaled loudly and nodded, "... fine." The issue had apparently been resolved and Miranda hadn't been acting any stranger than normal interaction with Andrea caused. Turning to her computer, Emily brought up the RSVP database and again saw the blanks from Andrea's allotted invitations. Without much thought on the subject, Emily speed dialed Andrea's number as she groused about the oversight.

"Perhaps she just hasn't decided who else to invite?" Serena didn't want Emily to be very upset while talking to Andy. The redhead was quite volatile, something that didn't really bother Serena. In fact, she liked the fire Emily exhibited from time to time. But other people often misunderstood the volatile nature and Serena didn't want Andy and Emily at odds with each other any more than they already were. "She doesn't know as many people as Miranda does."

Scoffing at that, Emily waited three rings before Andy's irritatingly cheery voice sounded in her ear.

"Hello and good morning, Emily."

Rolling her eyes at that, Emily got right down to business. "Andrea, there are three invitations missing from the database. I need to know who you sent them to."

"Oh... Um... I gave them to Miranda." Andy cringed because she knew what the next question would be.

"Well, do you know who Miranda sent them to?" This was ridiculous. You would think Andrea would know how to keep track of a guest list.

"I do, well two of them anyway." Andy licked her lips and shifted her phone to her other ear. "But you aren't going to like it."

Ready to scream in frustration, Emily chastised her former co-worker. "I don't care who you invite to your wedding, I merely have to keep track of them. Now who is it?"

"I can't tell you..." Andy quickly spoke to the outraged silence on the other end of her conversation, "If Miranda wants to tell you then that's fine, but we put Miranda's number on the invitations for the people to RSVP." Andy had been amazed to get those calls. Miranda was very controlled about it, answering the phone, nodding once and responding in a very civil manner. She had not said 'thank you' that would have been too much, but she did calmly inform their future guests that she would 'inform Emily of their attendance.' It was major progress. All the hassles at work lately must have made the tiny detail slip Miranda's mind, "They have both accepted, so just mark them as going to be there."

"How?!" Emily pinched the bridge of her nose. "I suppose I can do guest one and guest two..."

Andy sighed, "Use their initials. A.W. And C.T. Neither will be bringing a guest."

"Ohmygod." Emily blinked as the initial's registered. "A.W. Andrea, you don't mean..."

"Just go with it." Andy had pushed for the rival editor to be invited for very good reasons, the main one being that Miranda was starting a new life and Andy wanted it to start with a clean slate. She spoke the only words she knew would calm Emily down. "Miranda agreed to it." Now that the editor's name had been invoked, Andy decided the original topic of this phone call was done. "She'll be in early this morning... I'd say you have another five minutes before she arrives."

"Brilliant." Making the appropriate notations in the database, Emily obediently switched modes of thought to the birthday party. "Have the twins mailed their invitations yet?"

"Yes." Andy thought they should start being delivered tomorrow. "You can expect calls on those anytime after tomorrow."

Hesitating, Emily managed to keep the contempt out of her voice. "And Andrea, I'm going to need your Maid of Honor's phone number. I'm not sure if she wants to plan two separate hen... bachelorette parties, or if we should have one large party with both you and Miranda as guests." Emily would prefer separate parties, because Andrea's friend would no doubt believe fried tidbits with beer and a Chippendale's stage show would be an appropriate party. Emily thought Miranda would want a little more class to the event than that.

"Oh," Andy laughed, "Sure." She gave Emily the number. "Her name is Lily, by the way... just in case you were interested." Andy's grin came through the phone, "And you have three minutes left before Miranda arrives. She just texted me that she's pulling up in front of the building now."

"Of course," Emily managed to remember her manners. "Thank you, Andrea. I will call you again if I have any more problems."

Laughing loudly at that, Andy agreed, "I know you will, Em."

Emily ground her teeth together as she hung up the phone then Miranda's imminent arrival penetrated her brain. "ohmygod" She stood and started toward the elevator when she saw Bethany at her desk. Forcing herself to stop for a moment, Emily turned to Serena who had just been standing there watching her talk on the phone. "Will you watch the phones?"

"Of course." Serena's dark eyes watched as Emily gestured for Bethany to follow her to the elevator. Emily began speaking quickly about the duties the First Assistant has regarding Miranda's arrival and the Book; Bethany nodding all the way.

"Long day huh?" Andy wondered what had gotten into her. She knew better than to make small talk when Miranda's day had been this long.


"Emily said her bride's maid's dress will be a Valentino..." Andy scrubbed off her makeup and watched Miranda's reflection at the same time. Of course, Emily hadn't actually told her that, Lily had called after Emily had called her about the bachelorette party. "Should I choose someone in particular to make Lily's dress?" She finished her task and turned to Miranda, "And what about the girls?"

"One of the girls can wear a smaller version of the gown Emily is being fit for." Miranda continued her own makeup removal, "Your bride's maid's gowns should complement your dress."

Andy nodded, "Adrianna Papell has a few designs that might work." The dress she was going to wear had been a fluke, what Jean-Paul deemed 'a moment of inspiration'. Andy didn't want to take the time for the man to be 'inspired' enough to design the bride's maid's dresses.

"Oh," Miranda grinned, "Mediterranean flair?"

Running her tongue over her teeth, Andy sighed, "Yes..." and mumbled, "You would know that..."

There had been subtle comments from Miranda ever since Andy had told her that she'd picked out a dress. Nothing intrusive, just bits of garnered information here and there. Andy was sure by the time the wedding rolled around Miranda would have a sketch of Andy's dress on her desk. And she still didn't know a thing about the dress Miranda claimed to have chosen except that it was not Valentino.

"Emily said you weren't wearing Valentino..." Andy prodded. "Why not?"

"I wore a Valentino gown when I married James." Miranda finished her nighttime ritual and moved back toward the bedroom.

"Okay... I get that." Andy followed the older woman, still pressing for information, "Then, why not wear Chanel? I'm sure Karl would design something for you..."

Miranda hesitated then stopped her forward motion and studied the carpet beneath her feet, "I have also, already worn Chanel."

Andy stopped dead in her tracks. "What?" Her jaw clenched and her nostrils flared, "Miranda.... you wore Chanel for him? For Stephen?!" Shaking her head against the notion, Andy argued against it, "Cassidy said you got a dress off the rack from the Closet."

"I did." Miranda sighed, "We were doing a bridal issue, there were several vintage Chanel dresses to choose from."

"Vintage." Andy echoed, "Vintage Chanel..." Shaking her head, Andy continued on to the bed, mumbling, "Unbelievable."

Miranda climbed onto her side of the bed and stayed there, "Are you very angry?"

"Only at him, for making so many things difficult for you," Andy shifted closer, draping her arm over Miranda's stomach, "and for not recognizing the honor you gave him by wearing Chanel."

"How do you know he didn't?"

Andy snorted at that, "Because we're talking about Stephen..."

Snuggling with Andrea, in their bed, at the end of a long day, Miranda nudged her nose against the leonine neck, "Why are we talking about him?"

Tipping her head back, Andy moved into Miranda's questing lips and murmured, "Who?" She felt Miranda smile against her skin and found herself smiling at the ceiling until her lips became otherwise occupied.

"So are you ready for the big day?" Jo grinned at her friend and crunched into a french fry. "It's getting close."

Andy picked up her burger, "Oh I know," She eyed the sandwich in her hands lovingly, "This is the last time I'll be able to eat one of these until after the ceremony."

"What?" Jo looked at the sandwich, "Why?"

Andy shrugged, "I love red meat, but sometimes it makes me feel heavy. So after this, I'm gonna stick to chicken and fish as much as I can until after the ceremony." Looking across the small bar table at her friend, Andy grinned, "Your big day is tomorrow though."

Laughing at an expression as close to terror as she'd ever seen on her friend's face, Andy winked, "Don't worry, you'll be fine. I think Miranda is going to have you in the Armani suit, if that makes you feel any better. She really liked you in that, even if she was drugged the first time she saw you in it." Andy took a bite of her burger and chewed as Jo thought about that.

"Yeah, actually, it does." She was comfortable in the Armani suit. "I've been looking through that magazine and some of those women, they need to eat a sandwich!"

"Yep," Andy swallowed her bite, "Most of them are far too thin. There are a few designers who have started tailoring their designs to larger women, which to them means size four and six... but it's a start. Miranda features them a little more prominently in the magazine, so more and more designers will do it."

"That's a subtle game." Jo was dubious about the impact 'a little more prominently' displayed designs would have on the industry as a whole. "Reminds me a lot of the politics on the force."

Andy caught an odd inflection in Jo's voice, "Problems?"

"Nothin' I haven't dealt with before," Jo sighed, "Or will again I'm sure..." She explained the situation briefly. "There's a new captain at our precinct that doesn't care much for women... or homosexuals... so it's a double whammy for me."

"Isn't there someone you can go to, higher up?" Andy knew Jo's job was hard enough as it was without some asshat giving her grief about her private life.

Jo shook her head, "I don't want to go there. If I started running to the big brass every time some jerk made a comment about my orientation, I'd never stop running." She shrugged, "This is my problem to deal with. Speaking of which.. how's you're little problem?"

Andy put her burger down, "Miranda handed the problem over to her lawyer after a very irate call she made to the governor. Things were taken care of pretty quickly after that."

"Good." Jo nodded. "I'm glad that worked out for you."

"Well, they tell me she's still writing the letters, she just can't send them. But, if there is anything we can do for you just let us know." Andy assured her friend, "Miranda will be on your side for sure, which is pretty good considering her pull with the Mayor and the Governor."

"I'll keep it in mind." Jo laughed and gestured for Andy to eat, "You better finish up," She teased her friend, "You and I both have to get back to work at some point."

"Yeah," Andy sipped her drink, "The paparazzi have pretty much cleared out from the Mirror." It wasn't actually a happy thought for her. Andy loved being home for the girls. She was having a little trouble lately with the concept of working. The temptation of Miranda and her money was a huge pull on her to stop working at the Mirror and just stay home. Andy knew she could write from home, and wondered if a freelance sort of life would satisfy her. The idea of letting Miranda support her was so very seductive, but then she would think about how that would make her feel. She'd hated it when she'd been unemployed and Nate's paycheck had supported them. She didn't want to feel that way with Miranda. She wanted to be self-sufficient, needed that, for her own piece of mind.

"Hello? Earth to Andy?" Jo grinned as her friend's dark eyes refocused, "Where'd ya go?"

"Sorry, Just lost in thought for a minute..." Andy took a big bite of her burger to avoid answering the next obvious question, but it never came. Jo opened her mouth to ask, but her cell phone rang. Saved by the bell, Andy thought then grimaced because she realized that it was Jo's work calling and that meant bad things. Since Jo had done such an excellent job with the hostage situation, she had been given her choice of assignments. Much to Blair's dismay, Jo chose homicide.

Jo closed her phone and stood, "I gotta go."

Andy got an idea, "Can I tag along?"

Pausing for a moment, Jo looked at her friend then agreed, "Yeah, just stay behind the tape."

"Gotcha." Andy tossed some bills on the table to cover their meals and grabbed her jacket from the back of her chair. Jo had teased her about the coat since it was so hot outside, but inside most establishments the a/c was on full blast often making her chilly. Andy sighed to herself and also admitted that the jacket went with the outfit. She knew Miranda would be scandalized if it wasn't at least carried with her.

Miranda walked into the townhouse earlier than her usual long day, but still far after meal time. She heard laughter filtering down through the stairwell and climbed the stairs, intent on saying hello to her children.

Reaching the entertainment room, Miranda frowned as she realized the children were playing a game that she did not approve of, it was violent and the way they scored points was to guide their character through illegal and possibly immoral acts. Miranda believed there was enough of that in real life. It didn't take long before her presence was sensed and Caroline quickly shut off the game, much to the others dismay.

"Mother." Caroline had the grace to look embarrassed, "Alyssa and Alan brought one of their games over..."

"So I see." Miranda sniffed judgmentally, "Your mother approves of this game?"

"No," Alan realized what the problem was and stood to face Miranda, "She doesn't approve of it. Our father gave it to us and we brought it here to play. We should have asked you first." He bowed slightly, "I apologize. It won't happen again."

Miranda studied the boy, looking for any sign of insincerity; unable to find any. Her lips twitched slightly, "See that it doesn't." Turning to her daughters she saw the concern in their eyes. They knew punishment was imminent. Miranda decided to let them sweat for a while. "Where is Andrea?"

"Ma's taking a bath." Cassidy exchanged a look with Caroline, wondering when the other shoe would drop. "She's been in there for a while."

Nodding, Miranda pulled out her cell phone and pushed one of her most used speed dial buttons, "Roy, there are two children here that need to be taken home. They only live down the block. When you have delivered them to their doorstep you are finished for the evening." She'd had him wait because she'd entertained the idea of taking the girls, and Andrea, out for ice cream to make up for missing the evening meal, even though she had called to let them know of her absence in advance. She spoke to Caroline quietly, "There were no hounds on the doorstep when I arrived, therefore you may walk your friends to the car."

"Thanks, Mom." Caroline swallowed hard, knowing there was still some sort of punishment to come for playing the forbidden game.

"Mmm..." Miranda sniffed and pocketed her phone, "I am going to check on Andrea."

"'Kay." Caroline gestured for her friends to follow her, she was a little jealous when Alyssa draped her arm around Cassidy's shoulder. Not that Caroline liked Alyssa in particular, but because Alan didn't do the same for her. Alan seemed a little more uptight than his sister though, Caroline laughed at herself, knowing that between she and Cassidy, she was the more uptight of the two as well. Caroline thought absently, Maybe that's why I like him so much.

Miranda waited for the children to move down the stairs before she began her trek up. Andrea very rarely took baths,alone, but when she did they were long, soaking things that usually meant she was troubled by something.

Entering their bedroom, Miranda shed her jacket, draping it over the back of the dresser chair before walking into the ensuite bathroom. "Andrea?"

"Hmmm?" Andy answered absently. She was too absorbed in the water she was lifting up with her hand and letting trickle down out of her palm back into the huge tub. "Hello, Miranda."

"Andrea, what's wrong?"

"Nothing." Dark, troubled eyes raised to meet Miranda's gaze, "I have the perfect life."

"Save for the fact that we are together, our lives are not perfect, Andrea." She conceded that their lives were very close to perfect though. Miranda sat on the side of the tub and ran her fingers through Andrea's dark, damp, hair, "Talk to me." When the young woman remained quiet, Miranda asked, "Have you washed your hair yet?"

Andy shook her head, "No, I just wet it when I first got in."

"Wet it again." Miranda stood to turn fully toward Andrea as she began to roll up her sleeves. She watched as Andrea obediently dunked her head under the water. Reaching for the shampoo Andrea preferred, Miranda put a dollop of the gel in her palm and rubbed her hands together as she knelt waiting for Andrea to resurface.

Holding her breath, Andy slid under the water and shook her head, making sure to wet it all the way down to the roots before she sat back up. She closed her eyes at the sensation of Miranda's fingers threading through her hair, the older woman's fingernails gently scratching her scalp. "God that feels good."

Miranda smiled, "It certainly does." She loved washing Andrea's hair, it was different than when she had washed the girls' hair when they were younger. That was a mother's duty, loving but necessary. With Andrea, there were a great many levels of emotions associated with the act. Right now it was simply to reassure the woman she loved that she was loved, but there were times that washing Andrea's hair turned into an exercise in sensuality. Miranda heard the small groan that indicated Andrea was very relaxed. Miranda continued massaging the young woman's scalp for several moments longer then gently pushed on the lathered head, "Rinse." Again, Andrea obediently slipped under the water.

When she rose out of the water, Miranda was sitting back on her heels, her forearms resting on the edge, fingers interlocked flat on the ledge surrounding the tub and again she asked, "What's wrong, Andrea?"

Andy sighed. She knew this time she'd have to answer. "I had lunch with Jo today."

"Oh," Miranda wondered what this had to do with the pensive mood Andrea was in, "And how is the Good Detective?"

"She's fine, but," Andy bit her upper lip, "She got a call just as we were finishing our meal... and, I... went with her."

Miranda blinked, "Why on Earth would you do a thing like that?"

"I had the stupid idea that I could get the scoop on the story." Andy swallowed hard, "That maybe Greg would put me on the crime desk instead of filler stuff..." Sad, dark eyes looked up at Miranda and Andy pushed the words past the lump in her throat, "Miranda, I don't want to be on the crime desk... ever."

Taking a deep breath, Miranda resisted the urge to gather the young woman up in her arms, choosing instead to reach out and brush some damp hair away from Andrea's forehead then kissing the space created there. "Tell me what happened."

"It was horrible, Miranda." A tear rolled down Andy's cheek. "It was a nice apartment building. Someone called the police because they heard gunshots. Jo told me to stay behind the police tape, but I snuck in..." Andy swallowed as if to keep the words from coming out, but they did anyway, "There were three bodies, a man, his wife, and their two year old son all dead, they had already been, bagged, I didn't see them... but, there was so much blood... and, I... saw a picture on the wall. He was such a cute little boy..." Andy looked up into liquid blue eyes and couldn't help the anguish in her voice, "He was only two, Miranda!"

"Does the Good Detective have a theory as to why this happened?" Miranda wiped away a few of Andrea's tears but more took their place.

"She said the man was a stock broker. They think he lost a lot of money in the market and went crazy." Andy moved closer to Miranda. "It was awful."

"Yes," Miranda wiped more tears away and smiled sadly at her beautiful fiancee, "But people do crazy, awful, things when money is involved." She kissed a damp, salty cheek and knew that Andrea would have nightmares about this event, if not tonight then soon. Miranda wanted to try and take Andrea's mind off the scene she witnessed at least for a little while and gestured as she drew an old argument into play, "Out you go, you're going to have more wrinkles than me soon."

"Miranda..." Andy let out an exasperated breath, "You have some of the smoothest skin I've ever seen."

Blue eyes twinkled with mischief, "Well then you already have more wrinkles than me, right?"

Rolling her eyes at that, Andy smirked and stood. Stepping into the shower, she turned on the spray for a moment to rinse the shampoo and soap from her body. As the water sluiced off of her naked skin, Andy grinned, "I don't know," She turned off the shower and indicated the length of her body, "You tell me."

"Hmm..." Miranda helped Andrea out of the shower and took her time examining Andrea's body, brushing her hands over shivering curves, "It appears your body has escaped unscathed." Trailing her hands down Andrea's arms, Miranda lifted her fiancee's hands, "Your fingertips seem to be a different matter altogether."

Andy laughed and pulled her hand away, "They'll smooth out soon enough." Hearing Miranda's stomach gurgle, Andy asked, "Miranda? Have you eaten supper yet?"

Darkened blue eyes continued to roam over Andy's body as Miranda smiled slowly, "Not yet."

"Oh..." Andy shivered slightly partially due to her damp skin in the cool air, but mostly because of the predatory look Miranda was giving her. "Um... Where are the girls?"

"They are downstairs," Miranda moved in closer to lick a bead of water that rolled down Andrea's chest, "Is there some reason you want them?"

"No, I..." Arching into Miranda's touch as Miranda projected the water drop's journey with her tongue, Andy gasped, "I just wondered."

"Mmm..." Miranda guided Andrea out of the bathroom toward the bed. "They will not dare interrupt us." Miranda gently pushed Andrea back onto the bed and smiled down at the feast in front of her. "They believe they are going to be punished..."

"Punished?!" Andy propped herself up on her elbows, "For what?"

"Playing that horrible video game that I have expressly forbidden them to have or play." Miranda laughed, "Of course they won't be punished, they'll just worry about it for a while."


"Shhh..." Miranda stretched out next to her young fiancee, "I will inform them that they are not in trouble when we kiss them goodnight."

"Okay," Andy gasped and surrendered herself to Miranda's touch, "Whatever you say..."

Chuckling against the skin at Andrea's throat, Miranda murmured, "Naturally."


Part 42

"I can't wait until your party!"

Andy grinned at the comment, not knowing which girl in the study group had said it, but agreeing with the sentiment whole-heartedly. Partly because she wanted to see the girls have a great birthday, this was the first one she would attend, but also because with that event over, the next big one would be the wedding. The birthday was first though and she hoped it would be all that the girls had hoped for.

She had agonized over gifts for the girls and had found several things for them, a couple of 'casual' outfits that she'd already gotten Miranda's stamp of approval on, and a charm bracelet with some small icons already dangling from it. Each bracelet had a tiny t-shirt charm, to remind the girls of that first dinner when they tried a switch-a-roo on her, a Cincinnati Red's logo for Andy's hometown, and a small silver sea shell as a reminder of their days spent on Martha's Vineyard. Andy hoped to add more charms as the number of their family trips grew. Cassidy's bracelet also had a musical staff charm, while Caroline's had a tiny book. She also had a very special gift for each girl, individually. She hoped they liked them.

"It must be crazy planning a party for those two." Hunter's mother, Jane, chuckled, "It's bad enough for just one. I can't imagine two!"

Andy smiled slyly, "Ah... but we have a party planner to do most of it." She laughed, "Miranda's current First Assistant, Emily, is amazing at stuff like that. She's actually going to be taking over the Event Planning department of Elias-Clarke soon."

"From assistant to head of the department?"

Andy heard the dubious tone in the woman's voice and explained, "From Miranda's First Assistant to the head of any department in Elias-Clark is almost a demotion." She was aware from conversations with Serena during their runs that Emily had come very close to turning down the new position had Miranda allowed her to stay on as her assistant.

"Is she really that, powerful?"

"Oh yes." Andy assured the other woman. "That, and more." It never ceased to amaze her when another level of Miranda's power and influence was revealed.

"Wow." Jane was silent for a while.

"Will you be joining Hunter at the party?" Andy smiled at the shocked look on Jane's face, "You're more than welcome to stay. There will be plenty of chaperones, but any of the parents are welcome if they want to stay."

"I... um..." Jane informed Andy quietly, "Hunter has not received an invitation."

"What?!" Andy looked across the room at the kids and saw them all smiling and laughing about the upcoming party, all except Hunter who sat quietly. Andy was sure the boy was about to cry. "There must be some mistake." She caught Caroline's eye and gestured her over. When the girl got close, Andy asked, "Did you invite Hunter to the party?"

"Not me," Caroline jerked her thumb over her shoulder, "Cass did."

Andy sighed and motioned for Cassidy to join them. When Cassidy was standing next to her sister, Andy asked, "Did you invite Hunter to the party?"

"I thought Ro did." Cassidy gasped, "Is that why I had an extra for Dad?!" She groaned, "Oh no... you mean Hunter didn't get one?" She looked at the boy's mom, "I'm sorry. He was supposed to, he really was."

Jane reassured the girl, "It was just a mistake." She smiled at the twins, "I would think it would be difficult keeping things like that from happening more often."

Cassidy looked at Andy pleadingly, "Can he still come, Ma?" Caroline took up the pleading.

"It's just one more person... two if his mom stays..."

Andy shrugged, "Fine by me. The more the merrier I say." She took out her phone and dialed quickly smiling as the connection was made. "Em, we have a last minute addition to the girls' birthday party guest list. A friend they each thought the other was inviting when in fact neither of them did. His name is Hunter, and his mother will probably remain at the party as well." Andy waited for a moment, listening to Emily type the information into her computer. "That won't mess anything up will it? Two extra people won't matter that much, will it?" Listening to the answer, Andy nodded and winked at the girls. "Thanks, Em. See ya on Saturday." She disconnected the call and grinned at the girls, "All set," Andy looked around them to the other kids, "You better go let Hunter know he's invited."

Nodding, Cassidy and Caroline rejoined their friends and Andy smiled as she watched them explain to the boy what had happened. His sad expression faded and turned to relief, then joy when he realized he hadn't been excluded after all. Jane's voice drew Andy's attention from the scene.

"Why would two extra people mess anything up?"

Licking her lips, Andy glanced at the girls to make sure they were fully engaged in conversation before speaking softly to the woman next to her. "Have you ever seen the television show Top Chef?" When Jane indicated she had watched it from time to time, Andy nodded and began quietly telling her about the special surprise Emily, via Miranda's connections, had arranged for the twins.

Andy walked halfway up the steps to the courthouse slowly as she scanned the crowd. With a grin she readjusted her grip on the thermos and made her way to Miranda's side. Sliding her free arm around Miranda's waist, Andy kissed the editor's cheek and asked. "How's it going?"

"Quite well, actually." Miranda smiled and asked, "Where are the girls?"

"They're staying at the Hartstone's for a little while. I told them I'd pick them up later." Andy poured a cup of coffee for Miranda and looked at the group of detectives again. "They seem okay with all this."

Miranda leaned gratefully against Andrea's solid form as she watched the small group of women standing together on the steps of the building. "They are not professional models, but they take direction well."

"And they look good doing it." Nigel walked up beside his boss and former co-worker. "Are you sure they're all police detectives?"

"All their credentials have been verified." Miranda chuckled at Nigel's dubious expression and verified his suspicion. "One of them was actually a model in her youth..."

"They all have dark hair." Andy noted absently and asked, "There are no blonde detectives?"

"There was one and a redhead as well, but they were unable to make the shoot." Miranda watched the group break up in order to have individual photographs taken. "That one almost didn't make it tonight either. She indicated the woman now working solo with the photographer, "She is 'on-call' tonight, which is why she's doing her individual session first.

Nigel opened the folder in his hand and found the woman's picture. "Detective Carolyn Barek, Major Case Squad."

"Mmm... we have biographies on all of them for the article." Miranda indicated each of the other police women in turn, Detective Olivia Benson, Detective Stella Bonasera, Detective Kate Beckett..." Her sharp gaze turned to the main reason for this shoot, "and of course, Detective Jo Polniaczek."

"The ones in suits look very professional, but... um..." Andy's eyes were drawn to the two woman wearing dresses and repeated Nigel's question, "Are you sure they're detectives?"

"Detective Kate Beckett," Miranda's appraising eye roamed over the women in question, "She's the former model." She glanced at Andrea and grinned, "Red suits her, don't you think?"

"One shoulder cut out, Atria design..." Andy nodded. "She does look good in it."

Miranda grunted her approval at Andy's correct identification of the dress and turned her attention to the other detective. She wore an Alberto Makali dress that hugged her in all the right places. "Detective Stella Bonasera... looks quite nice in black as well."

Andy was more interested in the woman in red. "Kate Beckett... Kate Beckett..." She concentrated on the name, "Why does that name sound so familiar to me?"

"It should..." A smiling, well dressed man joined them, "I can see though that my press agent has some more work to do. You should be able to place the name right away." He smiled at Andy then turned to Miranda. "Miranda, so lovely to see you again."

Miranda chuckled as she brushed her cheek against his, "Richard."

"Rick..." He shook his head and laughed, "No one calls me Richard except my mother..." he paused and sighed, "And you."

"How is your mother?" Miranda inquired. "I haven't managed to see any of the plays she's been in recently."

"She's good," He smiled his most charming smile, "The death of her fiance hit her fairly hard. She's taking some time off." He turned to Andy and introduced himself holding out his hand to shake, "Hi, I'm Rick Castle."

"Oh!" Andy shook his hand enthusiastically. "Right... you write the Storm series, and the Nikki Heat books..."

"Guilty as charged." He politely waited for her to fill in her name, like he didn't know.

Miranda chuckled again. "Richard, this is my fiancee, Andrea Sachs."

Rolling her eyes at that, Andy bumped her shoulder against Miranda's lightly but spoke pleasantly to the man, "Andy, please."

"Andrea..." It was Richard's turn to scan his memory. "You write for the Mirror?"

With a tip of her head, Andy grinned, "Guilty as charged."

"Yo," Jo ambled over to the trio, "This guy buggin' ya?" She gestured over her shoulder with her thumb, "Beckett says I can arrest him if he is."

Richard Castle let out a burst of laughter that died quickly as he looked over the deadly serious police detective's shoulder to see an even more serious look on Kate Beckett's face. "Awww... C'mon!"

Miranda chuckled. "He's behaving himself."

"Well that's good." Jo grinned at the relieved looking man, "I take the old lady's welfare very seriously." Blue eyes twinkled at Miranda, "My wife would kill me if anything happened to you while I was here to stop it. Even if it was just you being annoyed..."

"Thank you, Detective," Miranda smiled tolerantly at the man, "Richard is not annoying enough to bother arresting."

"Please," Kate Beckett approached the group and spoke sarcastically. "Give him an hour."

Rick shook his head and turned a confused look on Andy, "Why do people keep saying that?"

Laughing, Andy dropped her arm from Miranda's waist and gestured to a bench not too far away. "Why don't we go chat while they finish up the shoot? I have a lot of questions about your books."

"Excellent suggestion." Rick Castle offered his arm to escort Andy to the bench.

Miranda, in turn, linked her arm in Detective Jo's and gestured for Detective Beckett to follow them as they walked toward the photographer. "Let's get this done, shall we?" Miranda smiled at Jo, "I'm sure we all have people waiting for us at home."

"Blair had a meeting tonight, and some things to work on, or she would have been here." Jo glanced over at the woman walking next to them, "What about you, Beckett? Got someone waiting at home?"

With barely a glance in Rick Castle's direction, Kate Beckett's soft smile touched her eyes, "Maybe."

With a nod, Miranda snuck a look at Andrea earnestly speaking with Richard Castle and smiled. This was the last shoot needed for the July issue, everything else was done. She'd been working ridiculous hours and knew that August's issue was almost complete as well. Everything was falling into place, and at this time next month, Miranda's breath caught in her throat.

I will be married to her.

"You can't be serious." Emily gaped at the dark skinned woman sitting across from her. "Strippers??"

Serena just sat back and watched the exchange with a grin. She could tell that Emily wasn't liking that idea at all. Emily's next sarcasm laden comment confirmed it.

"Can you be any more cliche?" Emily shuddered, "Miranda's hen party will be far more refined than a keg of beer, a bag of Cheetos and some strippers!"

"Oh, don't be silly," Lily waved off that suggestion, "You can't have Cheetos at a bachelorette party, the orange stuff would get all over your hands... and then all over the strippers!"

Serena hid her smile at the exasperated sound Emily made. "Perhaps separate parties would be in order after all." The Brazilian beauty asked, "Is that acceptable?"

"It's preferable," Emily sniffed in her 'of course Miranda wouldn't want to associate with Andrea's friends' kind of way.

"You bet." Lily nodded and picked up a french fry from her plate. "I intend on showing Andy everything she's going to miss after she gets hitched... one night of pure debauchery. She deserves that." Lily shrugged and continued, "I guess Miranda does too."

"Miranda doesn't debauch."

"Oh she doesn't, eh?" Lily laughed. She knew full well that was incorrect. Miranda had drank them all under the table that night she'd joined them at the bar and, from small comments Andy had made, Lily was fairly certain Miranda was quite adept at debauchery.

Emily stated haughtily, curling her lips as Lily ate the fry. "I will make sure her evening is pleasant."

"Ohhhh... pleasant," Lily rolled her eyes, "Now that's a party I wouldn't want to miss... not!"

Emily checked her watch, "My lunch is up."

"It's only been twenty minutes." Lily started to protest then stopped, "Oh yeah, Andy told me about the lunch restrictions when she used to work here." She grinned as she glanced at the couple approaching behind Emily then leaned back in her chair, "It must suck to have such a stuck up old lady for a boss."

Emily's retort died on her lips when she heard an unfamiliar but instantly identifiable laugh behind her.

"It is a terrible burden when your boss is a bitch." Miranda completed her journey to the table and glanced at Andrea before she raised an eyebrow at her fiancee's friend. "Hello, Lillian."

"Hey you two..." Lily smiled at Miranda and Andy's joined arms and she tilted her head in a seated bow to Miranda, "We were just making some plans." She grinned up at Miranda, "We're gonna miss you at Andy's bachelorette party. I don't think I've ever seen anyone drink as much beer as you do and remain sober."

Emily's eyes widened. "Beer?"

"Mmmm..." Miranda's eyes twinkled. "The American version of the beverage. Lillian is a lightweight."

"Ah..." Emily actually understood that. She didn't drink very often herself, the carb count in beer was astronomical, at least for the good stuff, but she knew that even what passed for 'the good stuff' here was almost just colored water compared to what was served in practically any London pub. She only fleetingly wondered how Miranda and Lily had gained this information about each other. Lily seemed to indicate that she had actually seen Miranda drinking, but that would just be ridiculous... Andrea must have been talking about Miranda to her friend. That was not something that endeared Andy to Emily at all. Miranda was very private, that lucky cow had no right to be speaking about Miranda to anyone. The cow in question speaking to her friend interrupted Emily's train of thought.

"We were just headed out to lunch..." Dark eyes scanned the table and the remains of Lily's burger and fries. Andy informed Lily, "I saw you here and wanted to remind you that you have a dress fitting tomorrow."

Emily smirked at the face Lily made, "That last fry doesn't taste quite so good now does it?"

"Last fry?" Lily looked at the plate in front of her, "That wasn't the last..." She picked up another small strip of potato and popped it in her mouth. "Mmmm...."

Rolling her eyes at that, Emily stood and lifted the tray in front of her up as well. Not that there was anything much on it. Emily's side salad had been deconstructed to the point of ridiculousness, even the shreds of carrots had been set aside in a not-to-be-eaten pile and the dressing packet remained unopened. Andy supposed there were a few pieces of lettuce missing, so that was at least something.

"You shouldn't diet too strenuously from now on, Emily." Miranda commented, "If you lose any more weight, the dress that was tailored for you will not fit properly."

"I'm not losing any," Emily assured her current boss, "This is my normal lunch."

"I will not let her lose any more, Miranda."

"Mmmm..." Miranda's gaze landed on Serena, "And you, Serena? Although not participating in the ceremony itself, you will be assisting with the bridal party's make-up requirements and therefore will be in attendance. Have you an outfit chosen for the occasion?"

Serena smiled in her slowest most peaceful way, "Yes, Miranda I have the appropriate clothing set aside for, the event."

Blue eyes twinkled at the phrasing and her lips fought with the smile that threatened to appear before Miranda spoke, "I will remind you that the ceremony will be on a Saturday... so no jeans."

With a brilliant grin, Serena nodded, "I shall endeavor not to wear denim."

"So long as you're wearing something..." Miranda murmured then rolled her eyes and tightened her arm around Andy's, "We have reservations at our favorite place."

Dark eyes twinkled at Miranda, "You bet." She continued the comment just so Emily wouldn't freak out any more than the banter Miranda and Serena had already caused. "I made them myself." And by that she meant she'd hugged the girls goodbye when James came to pick them up earlier today and confirmed that they would be back in time for supper.

"Shall we go then?" Miranda issued a last minute order to Emily, "Push back my afternoon by at least an hour." Glancing at her companion when Andrea cleared her throat, a wicked grin appeared on Miranda's face. Licking her lips, Miranda changed her order. "Make that two hours."

A dazzling smile appeared on Andy's face and Lily laughed as Miranda tugged Andy gently toward the cafeteria door.

Andy rolled to her back, staring at the ceiling of their bedroom for a heartbeat or two as she tried to control her breathing. She pushed some sweat soaked hair off her forehead then shifted again to rest her cheek against Miranda's bare stomach with a satisfied sigh, "This really is my favorite place."

"Mmmm..." Reaching down, Miranda threaded her fingers through Andrea's damp hair, "Mine too."

Although Andy was grateful for James' impromptu 'day with the girls', it had enabled them to indulge in this little afternoon delight after all, she wondered why the man had suddenly wanted to see the twins. "Why do you think James was so keen on seeing the girls today?"

"There is no telling with him. Their birthday is only a few days away, perhaps he wants to take them shopping to get a feel for what he should get them. Or perhaps he wants to ask them about a gift for us, for the wedding. Or perhaps he's just feeling more paternal these days, with the new baby on the way..." Miranda continued to gently massage Andrea's scalp, "Whatever it is, I'm sure we'll hear about it, eventually." Miranda smiled at her fiancee, "He used to do that when they were younger too. He would call and ask if he could take them for the day, to the movies or a museum. Sometimes he even took them shopping. I believe he was very concerned, for a while, that I would keep him from seeing them."

That thought frightened Andy as well, "Would you?" Turning her head so she could see Miranda's face, Andy asked seriously, "Would you have kept him from seeing the girls?"

"I was very angry with him." Miranda licked her lips and stopped playing with Andrea's hair, plucking at the rumpled sheets around them instead. "But no, he is still their father. As I said before, he made a lousy husband, but he is quite a good father."

"What if..." Andy swallowed hard against the thought, "What if I make you angry, Miranda?" Dark eyes pinned the older woman just as much as the head on her stomach did. "Would you keep me from seeing them? If something were to...happen to you... would James keep me from seeing them?" Andy was terrified of the day that Miranda would be gone, partially because of that very possible possibility. If it happened, before the girls were old enough and James decided that she shouldn't be around them. Andy didn't know what she would do.

"All right, come here." Miranda shifted and gestured for Andrea to move as well, opening her arms and waiting for the younger woman to settle at her side. With a gentle kiss to the top of Andrea's head, Miranda assured her fiancee that the situation described would never come to pass. "The girls adore you, Andrea. I highly doubt that James could keep them from you. They won't allow it."


"Shhhh,,," Miranda tightened her grip on the woman in her arms for a moment. "If you do find yourself in such a situation, contact Keith."

"Your lawyer?"

"Mmmm... yours too, my Darling." Miranda rested her cheek against the top of Andrea's head. "I have made my wishes regarding you and the girl's guardianship, very very clear to Keith. He is aware of papers in the safe deposit box that specifically address this issue. He accused me of being insane when I had them drawn up."

"Insane?" Andy couldn't imagine anyone calling Miranda that, to her face.

"Mmmm..." Miranda sighed, "Should something happen to me before they reach eighteen, no matter what our marital status is at the time. You will be their guardian. Keith will help you."

"I..." Andy's eyes widened, "their guardian?"

"You are, for all intents and purposes, their mother already... I merely made the arrangement, formal." Miranda smiled, "No one will take their "Ma" from them."

"Thank you, Miranda." She wiped a tear of relief, and love, away from her cheek, "I'm sorry." Andy sighed and snuggled closer. "I don't mean to put a damper on our afternoon."

"You haven't." Miranda kissed Andrea's head, "This afternoon has been lovely and I love spending time with you no matter what we are doing." She grinned at her fiancee, "I will need to be leaving for the office soon though."

"Yeah..." Peering up through dark bangs, Andy focused on Miranda's lips, "About that..." Andy's hand slid up along Miranda's flat stomach, past her ribs, "I think, you may be a little late..."

"Oh really..." Miranda's eyes darkened, "And what makes you say that?"

"Oh, a couple of things." Kissing her way down Miranda's neck, Andy's tongue replaced the thumb that had been gently circling the nubbin of pebbled flesh. Smiling against the softness, Andy took great satisfaction in Miranda's gasp as the older woman arched into the touch. Oh yeah, Andy continued the loving contact, feeling Miranda's muscles shift beneath her, she's definitely going to be late.


Looking up from her laptop at that worried call, Andy stood and moved away from her computer to the door of the sunroom. "Here Sweetie... what's up?"

"It's Caroline.... she's sick." Cassidy wrung her hands together, "It's bad."

Rushing to Caroline's room, Andy didn't stop until she got to the girl's bathroom and saw Caroline hovering over the toilet. "Awww, Munchkin. Why didn't you say anything?" She gently pulled the girl's curly hair back to hold it at the nape of her neck with one hand as she curled her arm around Caroline's torso. "Easy now. I gotcha." She could feel the girl's stomach tense and heard the choked sound. She coached Caroline softly, "Cough it out, get it out of your throat so you can breathe." Bending over, she pressed her cheek against the girl's back, wishing there was something else she could do to help. Not knowing what though, she continued to hold the girl's hair and support her as she heaved and coughed up the entirety of her day's food intake plus some. When the spasms eased, Andy wet a washcloth and wiped Caroline's eyes, mouth and face. A tissue and the customary nose blow later finished the ritual. The girl was pale and clammy, but she got that way when she puked.

Caroline leaned on Andy as they walked back to her bed. "I don't want to be sick... not now. The party is only two days away!"

Andy settled the girl in her bed and reassured her as she tucked her in, "You'll be better by then." She ruffled Caroline's curly bangs, some of the color had come back to her cheeks and Andy reached for the thermometer. "Here, let's take your temperature." She waited in silence as the seconds ticked by and the electronic meter measured the temperature under Caroline's tongue. Andy grabbed it when it beeped. "Ninety nine point eight." She sighed, the doctor wouldn't do anything unless the fever was over one hundred and one. Andy leaned down and kissed Caroline's cheek. "Get some rest, Munchkin."

"Okay, Ma." Caroline looked past Andy's shoulder, "Where's Mom?"

"Oh, she uh, had a thing tonight...meeting." Andy didn't want to think about where Miranda was, or what she was doing. It was an Elias-Clarke board meeting, and Andy knew that Irv Ravitz was most likely giving Miranda a hard time. To have to deal with Irv and then come home to find Caroline sick was just so unfair. Andy sighed as she exited Caroline's room and pulled her phone from her pocket. She stood just outside Caroline's door and sent a quick text to Miranda. Then she dialed a number she kept on her speed dial and waited for the answering service to pick up. It was after eight p.m on a Thursday night; so the doctor obviously wouldn't be in his office.

She left a message for Caroline's doctor and then blinked as the phone buzzed in her hand. Andy smiled at the caller id and took the call, "Hello, Beautiful."

"What's wrong with Caroline?"

"The usual." Andy sighed, "She threw up once and then went to bed. She didn't seem to have a fever..."

"She gets clammy when she vomits." Miranda instructed. "You need to take her temperature now."

"Miranda, I know that... as I was about to say, she didn't seem to have a fever, but after I put her to bed I took it and it was ninety nine point eight." Andy heard Miranda's frustrated sigh over the phone and knew why. It was the same reason that frustrated her. "I called and left the Doctor a message anyway."


She heard the sounds of the street become muffled and the door to the car closing so Miranda's next words were not unexpected.

"I'm in the car now so it won't be too long before I return home."

"Of course," Andy smiled into the phone. "I love you, Miranda." A small grunt of surprise made it through the small speaker.

"I love you too."

Chuckling at that, Andy took a deep satisfied breath. "See ya when you get home." As Andy slipped the phone back into her pocket she heard heaving sounds from inside the room and knew that Caroline was again hovering over the toilet. She moved quickly to comfort the girl and offer what support she could.

Miranda arrived at the townhouse much later than she'd anticipated. For some reason, it seemed that the traffic and lights were conspiring against her. She went directly to Caroline's room, expecting to find the girl peacefully sleeping. Instead, she found Caroline heaving into her lavatory. Her heart went out to her baby and to her fiancee as Andrea's dark eyes turned to her.

"This is the fourth time tonight."

"Unacceptable." Miranda exchanged places with Andrea, handing Andrea her phone in the process. "Call the doctor again."

"I've left three messages already."

"Not with my phone. Call his home number." Miranda soothed Caroline and jerked her chin toward the phone she'd just handed Andrea. "He will answer."

Nodding, Andy thumbed through the contact information and made yet another call to Caroline's doctor. This time after three rings a woman answered the phone.


"Yes, hello," Andy took a deep breath, "I'm calling on behalf of Miranda Priestly. Her daughter, Caroline, is a patient of Doctor Shaw..."

"Oh, hold on."

Andy heard a rustling through the phone connection and the woman's voice speaking to someone in the room with her.

"It's for you, David, regarding Caroline Priestly?"

Another muffled rustling and the man's voice was crisp in her ear.

"Dr. Shaw here, Caroline having trouble with her stomach again?"

"Yes, sir." Andy explained, "She's thrown up four times in the last hour."

"Mmm... She's too thin for that..." He asked, "How's her temperature?"

Andy closed her eyes, "It hasn't gone over One Hundred point Five." She almost vocalized her thoughts, Please please do something... as she waited through the silence.

"Well, I don't normally worry if the child doesn't have much of a fever, but Caroline dehydrates so easily..." He grunted, "My wife and I were just stepping out for supper. I'll swing by and check her over."

"Really?" Andy almost fainted with relief. "Thank you, Doctor. We'll be waiting..." She closed the phone and met Miranda's eyes. "He's on his way over."

Nodding, Miranda bent to match Caroline's pose and pressed her cheek against the girl's shoulder. "Good." She felt the spasms under the arm she'd wrapped around Caroline's stomach ease and she slowly released the girl asking quietly. "Better?"

Spitting the last of the contents of her mouth, Caroline answered. "Yeah."

Tenderly wiping her daughter's eyes, face and mouth with a damp cloth, Miranda smiled at Caroline, "Okay then, let's get you back to bed." Miranda's voice was soft and soothing as she helped the girl back to her bed, "The doctor will be here soon." She tucked Caroline in and kissed her forehead gently. "Try and rest."

Nodding, Caroline closed her eyes. "I'll try."

Andy paced back and forth in front of the arrangements of chairs. Her teeth chewed worriedly at her fingernails as she looked up, trying to see through the ceiling. "What's taking him so long?"

"Dr. Shaw will be finished shortly." Miranda looked over a page in the Book. The same page she'd been staring at since the doctor had arrived. "We will know something soon."

Pacing a few more times, Andy hugged herself, rubbing her arms briskly. "How do you stand this, Miranda?"

Closing the Book, Miranda set it aside, tossing her glasses on top of it. "It is not easy." Moving to meet Andrea halfway, Miranda hugged her tightly, "It will be fine. The doctor is examining her and he will help her." They both turned at the sound of heavy footsteps on the stairs.

"Well?" Miranda spoke before the man stepped off of the stairs. "What is the diagnosis?"

"The same as all the other times before." Dr. Shaw sat his little black bag down on the table, where the assistants normally left the Book. "Her sinus' are draining, filling her stomach with mucus... that's why she vomits." He smiled at the women. "I gave her an antihistamine and an injection to stop the nausea and help her sleep." Reaching out he took Miranda's hands in his own, "She will be fine. She hadn't become too dehydrated yet, but when she wakes up you need to start giving her fluids."

Andy wanted to be clear. "Water?"

"Water is good, I left a small cup next to her bed in case she wakes up before you realize it." he nodded, "Gatorade might be beneficial... the original flavor." He cautioned. "Start small though, her stomach will be tender from the heaving. Use shot glasses at first, if you have them, one every five minutes until she feels comfortable drinking larger quantities. You should probably keep some over the counter children's antihistamine on hand as well. When her nose starts running, give her some, that may head this problem off at the pass."

Nodding, Andy filed away the instructions in her head. "Okay." She smiled at the man, "Thank you, Doctor for interrupting your evening."

"Of course," David ran his fingers through his hair, "Would you be so kind as to call me a cab? Alicia dropped me off and went on to Le Bernadin... We weren't sure if they will hold the reservations or not."

Andy shook her head, "I can drive you. I need to go to the store and get some Gatorade anyway." She knew Miranda wouldn't let her run to the store at this time of night and would insist that she either call Roy or take the Porsche.

"Andrea," Miranda took a deep breath, "Drive carefully."

Grinning at the slight dig regarding her driving skills, Andy nodded, "Of course," After a quick goodbye kiss with Miranda, gestured to the doctor. "C'mon, Doc."

Miranda watched them leave and reached for her phone, dialing quickly. When the connection was made she spoke in her most commanding voice, "I wish to speak with Maguy, now." She waited as the call was transferred to the owner of Le Benardin. "Maguy, Doctor David Shaw and his lovely wife Alicia are dining with you this evening. He is my daughter's physician. He put off reservations at your establishment to make a house call. Please treat them as you would if Andrea and I were dining with them, with my compliments." Smiling, Miranda nodded into the phone, "Thank you, Maguy. I'm sure she will be just fine. Perhaps Andrea and I will bring the girls to dine there soon. You know how much we adore your food."

Disconnecting the phone, Miranda smiled nostalgically remembering the quaint little restaurant she'd been introduced to in Paris. The subsequent investment to move the establishment to a larger location had proven to be very lucrative as well as gaining a pleasant association with the owner. Miranda knew most of the employees at Runway wouldn't believe it, but the gesture she had just made for Dr. Shaw and his wife was not uncommon. Runway employees would be highly skeptical if anyone even rumored it, but Miranda liked being able to reward people for their kindness.

Doctor David Shaw was not a man who scared easily. He was a pediatrician who faced kickers, screamers and at least one biter every day. Therefore, he was shocked almost speechless, when he found himself hanging on for dear life, trying desperately not to be flung out of the Porsche convertible. As Andy zoomed them through the streets of New York, he counted it as a stroke of luck that traffic seemed lighter than usual. He thanked God for that small miracle. Still, his life did seem to be in imminent danger. "Uh... I would like to get to the restaurant in one piece, young lady."

Laughing at that, Andy shifted gears and pulled up to the curb in front of Le Bernadin. She laughed again as the doctor practically jumped out of the car. "Thanks again for coming to check on Caroline." He waved over his shoulder as he walked shakily into the building. She chuckled and just shook her head at the grinning valet. "Sorry, Dude. I was just dropping my friend off." She grinned at his obvious disappointment and pulled away from the curb, leaving the valet with the longing look of Porsche love in the distance. She couldn't really blame him. It was a sweet car and she loved to drive it too.

She hadn't gotten Miranda's car out on a real road yet though, so far all she'd done was drive around New York with it. She thought about her college days and the long drive from Chicago to Cincinnati. She would have loved to make that trip with this car. In this car, Andy bet she could have shaved an hour or so off her drive time, with the right music playing at the right volume of course. One day, she thought, I'll be able to take her out on a real road to really test out the engine and the sound system.

She had always loved to take the drive from college to home and back with the music in her car blaring loud. Driving alone was the only time she could really cut loose and listen to music at the volume she adored, unless she was out at a club, but they didn't always play the right music. With that thought she cranked up the music a bit. With the beat thumping through the seat at her back, she smiled. All she had to do now was stop at the nearest Duane Reade to get some Gatorade and antihistamine then she could get back home to Miranda and the girls.


Part 43

"Ro..." Cassidy crept quietly into her sister's room, "Ro, are you awake?"

"Yeah..." The shot Doctor Shaw had given her for nausea had worked right away, but the stuff he said would help her sleep hadn't kicked in yet. Her throat was sore from throwing up though and she swallowed a tiny sip of the water the doctor had left next to her bed, wincing when it hit her stomach. "What's up?"

"You okay?" Cassidy watched her sister carefully for any sign that she was going to throw up again.

"Yeah, I will be." Caroline hated that she worried everyone like this, but she couldn't help it.

"Good." Settling on the bed next to Caroline, Cassidy asked, "What are we going to do for the wedding? Should we get them a present?"

"I thought you wrote them that song..."

"They've already heard it." Cassidy sighed. The song was no longer suitable for a lot of reasons. The main one being that even though she'd started out with her parents in mind when she wrote it, her thoughts had quickly turned to their awesome music teacher, and now the only person she could see when she played the music was Alyssa Hartstone. "I'm working on another one, but I don't know if I'll finish it in time."

Licking her lips, Caroline nodded. "S'okay, finish it if you can, but I know what to get them."

"You do?"

"Yeah." Caroline felt the medicine kick in and her eyes began to droop all on their own. "It'll be perfect, you'll see."

Cassidy watched her sister drop off to sleep and hoped Caroline was right. She left the room quietly, even though she knew there wasn't much that would wake Caroline at the moment. Instead of returning to her bedroom, Cassidy made sure her mother was occupied with the Book then went to the music room.

She double checked that the headphones were plugged in and sat at the electric keyboard for a long moment before she pressed the record button. Closing her eyes, she concentrated on her mother and Andy. She thought about Andy coming to dinner that first time and seeing right through their switcheroo, and how much happier her mother was now that Andy was part of their lives. She thought about how much Andy loved them all, and began to play. Cassidy didn't think about where the music was coming from. She didn't care, so long as it didn't stop. And so, she thought about how their lives would be, and played. Ro and I will grow up, move away, start families of our own, Cassidy thought, but Mom and Andy will still be together, forever. With that thought, the music faded, because, although Caroline was the practical one between them, Cassidy wasn't so starry eyed that she didn't know the one reality that everyone has to face. No one lives forever. There would be a song for that sad time too, Cassidy knew. But this was a wedding, a celebration of two lives beginning a new journey together and this song would reflect that. No projecting farther than happily ever after, Cassidy told herself, not yet. It was a morbid thought for a child of nearly twelve, but Cassidy was Miranda's daughter after all.

Andy turned down the music, put the car in park, and slowly beat the back of her head against the seat of the Porsche. The flashing lights in the rearview mirror reminding her of flashes from the paparazzi cameras, except these were red and blue. With a bit of resignation, Andy turned to face the uniformed woman approaching the car. "Hello, Officer..." squinting at the woman's badge, Andy read the name there, "...Rodriguez."

"Good evening, Ma'am." The woman narrowed her eyes slightly as she approached the car. "Can you shut the car off for me please?"

"Sure," Andy turned the key quickly.

"Do you have any idea why I pulled you over?"

"Not really, no... I don't think I was speeding and I'm certain I stopped at all the lights..." Andy tried to think of anything else she might possibly have done.

"The reason I pulled you over, Ma'am, is because your music was too loud."

"Oh..." Andy groaned, "Sorry... I'm not really used to not having a roof."

"Is this your vehicle?"

"No... um... officer, it's my fiancee's" Andy ran her fingers though her hair, "And she's not gonna be happy about this either."

The officer caught the flash from the expensive ring as well as the pronoun, but didn't miss a beat. "Does she know you're driving it?"

"Oh, yeah." Andy jingled the keys, "This is my set of keys, I can drive it anytime I want." That had been a weird and brief conversation just before she had taken the car to drive Emily home not too long ago. Miranda had given her the keys saying that if they were going to be married that they should begin learning to share. Andy refused to actually carry the keys with her though, they stayed on a hook next to the kitchen door. She only took them if she needed to drive. Lost in thought, Andy nearly missed the officer's question.

"What's her name?"

"Miranda Priestly."

"Priestly...." Officer Rodriguez nodded, "I thought I recognized you. You were on Good Morning America the other day, weren't you?"

Nodding, Andy answered with a sigh, "Yeah..." There were a few shouts and she heard her name. Looking toward the commotion, she saw several people with cameras and licked her lips. "Okay then, you may as well just give me the ticket."

"What?" Officer Rodriguez bristled slightly. That was a phrase many rich people used when they simply wanted to get on with their evening. The tone on this one was different though and she calmed down as this woman continued speaking.

Andy shrugged, "One of my closest friends is on the force, so I know how it is." Indicating the baby bunch of paparazzi, Andy explained. "You have to give me a ticket now, or be accused of favoritism. A woman cop letting a well known lesbian slide?" A resigned smile touched Andy's large dark eyes, "I don't blame you for it, it's the whole system that's just totally messed up. I certainly don't want you going through a bunch of hassle because of me."

Grunting at that, Officer Rodriguez blinked then asked, "Do you have your license, registration and proof of insurance?" She waited for Andy to produce the documents and took them with a smile. "Where are you coming from tonight?"

"Oh, well, Caroline our... um.. Miranda's daughter is sick. The doctor stopped by the house and I gave him a lift to meet his wife at Le Bernadin. The house call had made him late for his dinner reservations. Then I stopped at Duane Reade for some antihistamine and some Gatorade..." Andy indicated the bag next to her in the front seat with the drug store's logo on it. "I was just headed home."

With a brisk nod, Officer Rodriguez looked at the license in her hand. "Alright Ms. Sachs, wait here."

Relaxing back against the seat, Andy waited for the police woman to return. She wondered what the fine was for playing music too loud. After what seemed like an eternity, Officer Rodriguez returned.

"Okay, Ms. Sachs." She handed Andy's paperwork back to her. "I'm issuing you a warning. Don't get stopped again or you will get a ticket."

"Uh..." Andy returned the registration and insurance card to the glove box and slid her license back into her wallet. "Are you sure?"

"I appreciate the thought, but I follow the letter of the law. Your record is clean, this is the first time you've ever been stopped and as such you get a warning," the woman spoke slowly, clearly enunciating every word, "just like anyone else would. Clear?"

Andy smiled, "Yes, Officer. Thank you."

With a small salute, the police woman checked the traffic and motioned Andy to continue her journey. "Have a nice evening, Ms. Sachs." With a slight grin, she tilted her head and added, "I hope your daughter feels better soon."

"Thank you! You have a nice evening too." Andy checked her mirrors and before she pulled away wished one more thing on the officer. "Be safe." She wondered if she should tell Miranda about this incident or not. As she drove, Andy resigned herself to telling Miranda. It was pretty much a given that Miranda would ask what took her so long to return and they were still under the rules of the game. Truth wasn't always fun or easy to play, but it was best for everyone.

Cassidy fidgeted in her dress. It was the one her Mom had brought back from London for her and she loved it, although at the moment she thought she'd rather be wearing the jeans Andy had given her instead. Birthday parties were supposed to be fun, right, not all stuffy-like. But, Cassidy now realized that Andy was also dressed very nicely. The woman's form-fitting, off the shoulder dress was a lovely shade of blue. A color that Cassidy knew her mom loved. "Why do we have to be there so early?"

Licking her lips, Andy smiled, "It has to do with a surprise Miranda has planned."

Caroline looked out the window of the car, "Shouldn't Mom be here with us then?"

"She's meeting us there." Andy wrapped her arm around Caroline's shoulder, "Are you sure you're up for this?"

"Yeah," Caroline nodded, "I rested all day yesterday and the fever never came back, it's just that the medicine makes me a little tired."

"Right. Well you look great." Andy grinned, "and I'm sure birthday party excitement will take care of your tiredness."

"Thanks," Caroline fanned the hem of her dress slightly to settle it into a straight line, "It's going to be fun."

"You bet." Andy couldn't stop grinning. The girls were going to love this surprise, she just knew it. Luckily traffic was light and they were soon pulling up in front of the dance studio where the party was being held. "Look." Andy pointed out the window, "Miranda's already here..."

Both girls followed Andy's gesture to see that their mother was, in fact, just exiting her own car in front of them. "Cool."

Andy thought it was cool as well, but something in the way Miranda was holding herself set off small alarms in her head. Something was wrong.

Piling out of the car as quickly as they could, Andy laughed as each girl took one of her hands and pulled her along the sidewalk to meet Miranda at the door of the building. "Easy, you know I can't walk very fast in heels!" The girls slowed their progress and Andy exhaled in relief, "Thank you."

They entered the building and each accepted a light kiss on the cheek from Miranda before they explored deeper into the mirrored studio.

Andy returned the kiss, lingered close to Miranda's ear and murmured, "You okay?"

"An unforeseen annoyance." Miranda gripped the folder in her hand tighter and pressed her lips together for a moment, "It will work out."

Narrowing her eyes at that, Andy let it slide to follow the girls as they surveyed the party space.

They walked past several small round tables with five chairs each placed around them and there was a large table already set to hold the cake, when it arrived, and a small table next to that with a currently empty punch bowl. But both girls noticed several extra tables lining the mirrored room and neither could immediately identify their purpose. There was one set off to itself on the other side of a large open space. That one was obviously reserved for the DJ to set up on when she arrived. But the other six were a mystery, that is until Miranda cleared her throat and spoke with a much louder volume than normal. "Happy Birthday, Bobbseys."

Looking up at their Mother in confusion, Caroline and Cassidy blinked as a door on the far end of the room opened and a tall woman entered the studio. They both stared for a long moment as the newcomer walked toward them, almost Runway style, smiling. They only realized they'd been staring when the woman greeted them in her soft, almost musical voice.

"Hello, girls." She tilted her head slightly, "Miranda."

"Padma," Miranda's eyes twinkled, leaning in to brush her cheek with the tall model's in greeting. "It's nice to see you again." Wrapping her arm around Andrea's waist, Miranda's lips twitched in a smile, "Let me introduce my family," She indicated the girls, "These are my daughter's Caroline and Cassidy, and this," She shook the arm around Andrea's waist slightly, "is my fiancee, Andrea Sachs."

"Lovely to meet you, girls." Dark eyes landed on the woman next to Miranda and Padma again tilted her head slightly, "Andrea."

"Andy, please." Andy grinned, "It's a pleasure to meet you as well."

Gesturing to the small tables, Padma raised her eyebrows in question, "Shall we sit and explain to the girls what is going to happen?"

"Of course," Miranda led them to the nearest table. "I would also appreciate a more detailed description of the process."

Cassidy caught the phrasing, "Process?"

Nodding, Padma focused on the children, "Yes, I'm told that you two love the show." She grinned as they nodded enthusiastically, "Well, we're preparing to film another season and thought you might be able to help us out."

"How?" Caroline glanced back at the table setup and gasped, "An elimination challenge?!"

"Yes," Padma laughed, "Sort of the ultimate elimination." She explained, "We've narrowed the field down to twenty-four possible chefs, but we need to make a final cut before filming begins. Miranda thought you guys might want to help us decide the final sixteen contestants to be featured on next season."

"Really?" Caroline was breathless. This was so awesome. She looked at her mom with shining eyes. "You arranged this?"

"Emily arranged it, via my contacts with Padma." Miranda grinned at her oldest-by-minutes daughter, "My influence doesn't end with the publishing industry."

Both girls jumped up and enveloped Miranda in a hug, "We love you Mom... Thank you! You're the best."

Padma chuckled at the display as her hand dropped to her own middle, "Your children are adorable, Miranda."

Miranda smiled, "As yours will be, I'm sure."

With her bright smile faltering, Padma asked, "What?"

Andy blinked as she realized what Miranda had said. "Uh.. Miranda?"

Gesturing to Padma, Miranda asked, "Don't you see it Andrea? She's practically glowing."

Caroline's eyes widened, "Are you going to have a baby, too?"

Padma's eyes flew wide, "Too?" She looked between Miranda and Andy several times until Andy held up her hands and began to laugh.

"No... not us. Their father's fiancee." Andy grinned as Padma glanced at Miranda again and relaxed slightly.

"I don't even know for sure..."

"Yes you do." Miranda studied the radiant woman and smiled, "In your heart, you know."

Rubbing her flat stomach gently, Padma nodded and smiled, "Yeah... I do."

"Cool!" Cassidy grinned. "If you need babysitters, just let us know." She pointed to Caroline with her thumb. "We'll be old enough by then."

Padma laughed, her musical laugh, "Thank you, I may take you up on that."

The front door opened and Emily entered the studio, along with a shorter woman carrying a few pieces of sound mixing equipment.

"The DJ is here!" Cassidy seemed to vibrate in place until a gesture from Miranda released her from the current discussion, Caroline followed. Both spoke to Emily briefly and Miranda's lips twitched at the look on her long time assistant's face when she was enveloped in hugs from both the girls. Cassidy moved on quickly to trail the DJ to her assigned table, while Caroline remained speaking to Emily.

Miranda returned her attention to the beaming woman sitting across from her, "Enjoy every minute of it," She glanced at her two, now across the room, and smiled a bit sadly, "They grow up very quickly."

"I will," Padma smiled softly, "Thank you." She eyed the folder Miranda had placed on the table earlier, "Are those the contracts?"

"Mmm...they are all in order." Nodding, Miranda pushed the folder across the table, "I made a change to the agreement, however."


"Yes," Miranda nodded, studiously avoiding a glance at Andrea. "I'm acquainted with one of the chefs on the list, as is Andrea. I don't believe our opinions should be taken into account when judging the dishes." She amended that, "My opinion in particular should not be taken into account as I do not believe I can be impartial when it comes to this particular individual." Miranda informed Padma, "The girls have no idea who he is."

"Who who is?" Andy blinked at the tension she saw in Miranda and leaned closer to Miranda. "Who, Miranda?"

Without a word, Miranda flipped through the pages in the file until the list of candidates was revealed. One long elegant finger pointed to the name in question and Andy gasped, "No way." Dark eyes widened, "I had no idea..."

Padma craned her neck to see the name and asked, "Who's Nathan Cooper?"

"Hi, Emily!" Cassidy immediately hugged the thin woman. "Thank you for setting this up, it's wonderful."

"Uh..." Emily blinked when, as soon as Cassidy released her Caroline moved in.

"Thank you, Emily." Caroline stepped back and smiled at her Mom's assistant. "We really do think it's great."

"Yes, well..." Clearing her throat, Emily glanced over at the table where Miranda sat. "I suppose Miranda is finalizing the contracts now." It took her a minute, but now Emily looked at the young woman speaking to her and nodded, "Caroline, would you help me watch for the baker?" She indicated the DJ and Cassidy disappearing through the door that Padma had used earlier, "Carmen will unload her equipment through the delivery entrance, but the cake will be much easier to bring through the front, since the table is up here."

"Sure." Caroline grinned, "This is gonna be a great party! You're gonna hang around right? Food, dancing... I know we're just a bunch of kids but..." Licking her lips, Caroline's eyes twinkled as she looked behind Emily to the woman now entering the front door. "...I thought you might want to stay and chaperone."

"Oh, well." Emily hedged, "I'm not sure I..." A soft voice just behind her ear made the halting speech stop completely.

"Please stay, Emily, so that I may have someone to dance with."

Turning quickly enough to nearly fall over, Emily gasped, "Serena? What are you doing here?"

Shrugging, Serena held up an envelope. "I was invited."

"You were..." Emily grabbed the envelope out of Serena's hand and pulled the familiar invitation from its holder. "How..."

Caroline laughed, "I invited her." Looking up at the tall Brazilian woman, Caroline's eyes only held a hint of mischief, "I thought Andy might like some of her friends here too." She grinned at Serena, "It's funny to see you in regular clothes, instead of running outfits."

"But you didn't RSVP..." Emily huffed. The wedding RSVP's were a higher priority than the birthday party ones. There had been a few of the parents call to confirm, but for the most part all the arrangements had been made with a blanket number of fifty people, to account for the invited people plus any parents they may bring. That was why the last minute addition of the boy and his mother was not a problem. She was now thrown for a loop at the sneakiness of both Caroline and Serena.

"Don't worry, Emily." Caroline laughed, "You told us that the arrangements make allowances for each invitation to have additional guests, you can be her, plus one."

"How about it, Emily?" Serena's voice lowered as her gaze locked with Emily's, "Be my plus one?"

Caroline smiled as Emily didn't speak, but nodded slowly in answer. Caroline was thrilled. "Great!" Movement at the door caught her attention. "Whoops, baker's here..." She left the two adults staring at each other while she held the door for the baker and her assistants to begin carrying in the cake.

"Hi, I'm Cassidy."

"Hello," The short latino woman held out her hand, "I'm Carmen."

"Yeah, 'West Coast Carmen'," Cassidy grinned as the woman laughed a little at that title. "You're the hottest DJ in town. Thanks for agreeing to play at our party. A kid's birthday party isn't exactly high on most people's list of things they want to do."

"A job is a job..." Carmen shrugged and placed her burden on the table.

"Oh... wicked!" Cassidy blinked as Carmen set up her equipment. "You have a Serato setup... that has a Scratch Live interface right??"

"Yeah," Carmen gave Cassidy a funny look then grinned, "I have a Numark system too, but I like this one a little better... I like the feel of it." She watched the girl nod and laughed, "You know what I'm talking about?"

"Sure." Cassidy laughed, "I love all this kind of stuff. The Numark system is good, especially if your stuff is all digital, but if you have much vinyl Serato is way better. I tried them both out last month when Sight and Sound did their coverage of new tech."

"You really do know your stuff." Carmen was impressed. "That's very cool." She indicated the mass of cables, "You wanna help me set up?"


Carmen laughed and gestured for Cassidy to follow her. "Well then, follow me. My truck is parked at the delivery entrance." They exited through the door Padma had walked through earlier and walked through a short hallway to the back door of the building. Cassidy lifted a large, but light, speaker out of the van while Carmen managed a few other components. They made two trips before they took a break and began to connect the equipment together.

Cassidy was ready to drop to the floor and begin crawling around under the table to connect all the pieces of equipment together when the DJ stopped her.

"Wait!" Laughing, Carmen shook her head, "You can't be crawling around under there. You'll get your dress dirty." Handing the cables to the girl, Carmen dropped to her knees and shifted under the table then held her hand out, "Okay, give me the power cord for the mixer."

Cassidy handed over the correct cable, thrilled to be talking to someone who knew what she was talking about.

"Nate." Andy murmured under her breath and exhaled slowly, now knowing why Miranda was so tense. She informed the show's host. "He's... my ex."

Padma's eyes widened. "Oh?"

"Yeah..." Exhaling softly, Andy asked, "Does... he know what this party is for?"

Shaking her head, Padma explained, "We only separated them into random groups of four and told them it was for a twelve year old twin girls' birthday party, with a Twilight theme. They had two hours last night to cook in the Top Chef kitchen and will only have forty-five minutes in the small kitchen here before they need to set up their tables. I believe most of them finished their offerings yesterday and only need to either reheat them or put them into chafing dishes today for their team's display. We'll be taking some footage today, but not like we would if it were an actual episode. What we get today may prove unnecessary but they like to get behind the scenes shots to insert later, if the chefs make it very far in the competition some of it will most likely appear in a montage of their rise through the ranks. There will also be a camera in the kitchen while they're setting up."

"Okay." Andy pressed her lips together, knowing that Miranda was not going to like what she was thinking. She glanced at Miranda than asked Padma quietly, "Could you, um... give us a minute?"

"Of course." Padma stood and picked up the documents from the table. "The production supervisor has a mini office set up in the corner of the kitchen. I'll just take these back to him."

Miranda was already irritated and the news that there was someone lurking in the depths of the dance studio didn't set well with her. "Why didn't he attend this meeting?"

"It was decided that, since I am the host of the show, I should be the liaison between the production staff and... you." Padma tried not to smile as Andy began to laugh.

"What is so funny, Andrea?" Miranda was not in the mood to be laughed at, even by Andrea.

Andy calmed herself and leaned closer to Miranda. "You scare the stuffing out of them!"

Miranda blinked and looked up at Padma who was nodding. Padma's soft voice confirmed.

"Yeah, that's pretty much it."

Despite the annoyance of, him, Miranda laughed at the ridiculous attitude people took toward her. Employees at Runway, she could understand, designers, writers, people in the publishing business often had severe reason to be scared of her, but people in the television production industry? A tiny grunt escaped from the back of her throat and she shook her head, "I suppose the reputation is good for something after all."

Padma chuckled and waved the folder at them, "When you're ready for the camera crew to begin setting up just let us know."

"Very well," Miranda watched as Padma walked back to the door she'd entered through, her long legs eating the distance quickly as they always had on the runway. Andrea's concerned voice pulled Miranda's attention back to the present.

"Miranda, are you okay?"

"Really Andrea," Miranda bristled, "You know full well that I am not." She took a deep breath, "I do not like the idea of..." The name caught in her throat, stuck there along with the idea of Andrea being with someone else. It was childish, and ridiculous. Of course Andrea had a past, they both did, but Miranda couldn't help it. Her teeth ground together in a futile attempt to stop the pure jealousy she was experiencing.

"I don't even know if he knows about us..." Andy tentatively smiled at Miranda, "I think he should be told," she licked her lips, "and I think I should be the one to tell him." Sighing as Miranda remained silent, Andy pressed on with her argument, "It's not fair to him, to be hit with it when he gets out here. They've already done most of the cooking, but he should be told, before he starts the competition so he can deal with it somewhat beforehand. They're in teams of four, it wouldn't be fair to the other members of his team for him to be thrown for a loop...because of us."

"Us..." Miranda whispered. "Us, as in you and him, or us, as in you and me?"

"Miranda, " gently turning Miranda's face toward her, Andy locked their gazes, "There is only you and me."

Miranda visibly relaxed, "I'm being ridiculous..."

"No," Andy corrected gently, "You're being my Dragon Lady and I love you for it."

"I do love you so." Miranda swallowed her jealousy and nodded, "Do what you feel is necessary."

Pressing her lips together tightly for a moment, Andy exhaled softly and added, "I think we should tell the girls too."

"Absolutely not."


"No," Miranda was firm on this point, "Part of their present was to actually get to judge the food. Do not take that from them."

"Afterward then." Andy was also very serious about this issue, "I do not want to keep secrets from them."

Nodding, Miranda understood that, "Very well, after the tasting and judging."

"Thank you, Miranda." Leaning forward Andy kissed Miranda's lips lightly and smiled as she wiped a bit of lipstick smear from the corner of Miranda's mouth. "I love you."

Nodding, Miranda also smiled softly, "And I you." She glanced over at the cake table, where the woman, Brenda, was just finishing setting up the cake. "Would you please, go inform the production crew that they may set up their cameras now?" She took a deep breath and squared her shoulders, "And request to speak with... him, when the contestants arrive."

"Okay." Andy rose from her seat, her fingers trailing across the back of Miranda's neck as she passed the still seated woman. "Be right back."

Miranda watched as Andrea did not go directly to inform the production crew that they were ready. Instead, the young woman crossed the room and spoke to Caroline and the baker for a moment, then made her way through the long room to speak, briefly, with Cassidy and the DJ. Only after those two tasks were completed did Andrea move to the door that separated the main part of the dance studio with the back rooms.

A bitter thought began to well up from somewhere in the depths of her jealousy soaked brain, taunting her. Running to him without even a glance backward. The pain of that thought was extremely short-lived though, because just as the annoyed thought registered as an ache in her heart, Andrea did look back. When their gazes met, even across the ridiculously large room, Miranda was calmed and the stray jealous thought was overridden by a simple truth. She loves me. Smiling, Miranda waved and nodded as Andrea did the same and then was gone behind the closing door. Sitting back for a moment, Miranda stared at the wooden panel and sighed happily.

I am going to marry her.


Part 44

"Hey Munchkin, how're ya feeling?"

"I'm okay."

Andy dropped her hands to Caroline's shoulders and looked over the girl's head to see the cake table. "Wow, that looks great!" She kissed the top of Caroline's head and turned to the baker. "Nice job."

"Thank you." Brenda smiled. "When that Emily woman gave me the check for the cake she said there would be a wait staff so I don't have to stick around." She looked at Caroline, "You girls have a great birthday, okay?"

"Thank you." Caroline's eyes twinkled at the approving squeeze on her shoulders. "Thank you for all the hard work you did on the cake. It really does look great."

Nodding, Brenda chuckled, "It did turn out pretty good, if I do say so myself." She adjusted one of the apple shaped cakes on the table. "Just a few final touches and I'm out of here."

"Looks like everything is under control here." Andy released Caroline's shoulders and moved away. She walked through the room quickly and stopped at the DJ's table. "How's it going? Do you need anything?"

"Nope," Carmen indicated Cassidy, "Cass here is the best assistant I've ever had. It won't take very many more trips to the truck and we'll be all finished." She began to queue up songs in some playlists.

Andy laughed, "Okay then, I'm about to tell the Top Chef production crew that they can set up their cameras. They may need you to sign a release so they can use any footage that has you in it..."

"Sure," Carmen shrugged, "Whatever."

"Cool." Andy winked at Cassidy, "I'll leave you guys to it then." She took a step away then stopped, "Oh!" Catching the DJ's eye, Andy spoke solemnly. "I know you know that Miranda has something to do with fashion, but whatever you do... do not play Vogue, by Madonna."


Andy nodded, "I know it's a great, and fun, song to dance to, but it's also the name of a rival magazine."

Carmen glanced at the screen she was currently on and scrolled up to the first song on the list, deleting it. "No Vogue. Got it."

"Great!" Andy smiled and walked on toward the door to the backrooms of the studio. She reached it and before it closed behind her, Andy looked back at Miranda sitting at the table. Their eyes met and with a wave and a nod, Andy smiled then continued on her way, secure in the knowledge that Miranda loved her. One thought floating through her head as she walked.

I'm gonna marry her.

"Padma..." Andy called the woman away from her colleagues for a moment, "May I speak with you?"

"Of course," Padma moved closer to Andy, "What can I do for you?"

Andy chuckled at the question she thought a great many people would probably like to hear from this particular woman. "Your people can start setting up the cameras. And," She took a deep breath and closed her eyes as she continued, "Nate Cooper." Opening her eyes, Andy sighed, "I need to speak with him, when the contestants arrive."

Padma nodded, "I thought you might." She directed Andy to a small storage room that had been converted into a sort of interview room, where the contestants could sit in front of a camera to share their feelings about the challenge, "They should be here any minute. Wait inside and I'll send him when he arrives."

"Okay." Andy entered the room and unfolded a chair that had been propped against the wall. She tried to get comfortable as she waited, but she was not looking forward to this. Nate had never been a fan of Miranda. Jumping up, Andy nervously paced the room half a dozen times then sat back down. Forcing herself to calm down had never been her strong suit, Miranda and the girls usually helped with that. Now trying for calmness only amped up her anxiety. This, history, with Nate was complicated but not really messy, not like if Stephen were to show up out of the blue. Resting her elbows on her knees, Andy pressed her palms into her temples. "What a mess." She didn't notice the red light on the camera blinking on. Her head snapped up as the door opened and an all too familiar man appeared.

"Andy!" Nate didn't bother to close the door as he rushed over to her and pulled her up into an embrace, then before she could utter a word, kissed her.

For half a second she was transported back in time, back to when this relationship might actually have had a chance. But as her eyes closed and her arms wrapped around him, automatically, she was suddenly aware that everything about this kiss felt wrong. He was the wrong height, his lips were too full, there were muscles where there shouldn't be and the softness she normally felt pressing against her breasts was not there. It was so unlike kissing Miranda, Andy wondered why she'd ever settled for being with Nate. There was warmth and even a bit of affection, but this came nowhere near the feelings and emotions that even a glance from Miranda evoked in her. Andy broke the kiss, pushing Nate away but when she opened her eyes she wasn't focused on him, she focused on the doorway, where a small sound had drawn her attention. "Cassidy..." Andy took a step toward the girl who was standing there, holding a piece of sound equipment, shocked. "Cassidy, let me explain!" Before she could take another step, Cassidy was gone, running down the hallway.

"Cassidy?" Nate was confused and held Andy's elbow to stop her from leaving. "Wasn't that one of Miranda Priestly's girls?"

Andy thought if she squinted a little she could actually see the lightbulb hanging over Nate's head. It disappeared when he spoke again.

"Oh my God. Are you working for her again!?" Nate shook his head, "Why would you do that? You hated her!"

"No!" Andy pulled her arm out of his grip and whirled on him, torn about going after Cassidy, beating the crap out of Nate for being so clueless, or just smacking her head up against the wall for her own thoughtlessness. "I never hated her. You hated her, Nate. Because I worked so much, because we never got to see each other anymore... because she changed me and you didn't like those changes." Andy took a deep breath, "But I did, Nate. I loved the changes that Miranda evoked in me. I needed that change, to be the real me."

"The shallower, more fashionable you?"

"You never did get it." Andy shook her head and pressed her lips together. "And I don't have time to explain it to you. I only wanted to let you know that this party is for Caroline and Cassidy's birthday. I only wanted to make sure that you knew that Miranda and I would be here at this party, together."


"Yes," Andy held up her left hand, "I'm going to marry her, Nate." She smiled at the utter shock on his face. "I love her and she loves me."


"If you'd check your emails once in a while you'd know."

"I've been away, on a retreat at my boss's cabin in the mountains. So I could prepare for this competition." Nate shook his head, "You're together?"

"Yes, we are very much together." Andy wanted to go after Cassidy very badly now. "I'm sorry I can't stay and chat, but I know you're going to be busy... and I have got to find Cassidy."

Nate scoffed, "She's more important than I am..."

"Nate," Andy was angry now and clenched her hands into fists at her side, "Miranda, Cassidy and Caroline are the most important things in my life, ever. They are more important than... anything." She slowly relaxed her fingers, knowing there would be indentations in her palm from her fingernails. "I wanted to let you know, before you got out there and saw Miranda and me, together. So you could have at least a little time to deal with the reality." She took a deep breath and smiled, "Good luck in the competition."

She left him standing in the middle of the room and began to search for Cassidy. Andy was so intent on finding the girl that she didn't notice Padma trailing behind her. Her first thought was to check outside, but was almost certain that Cassidy wouldn't go outside in a strange neighborhood without someone with her. So, Andy walked quickly back to the large room. Her heart dropped to see Cassidy, crying in Miranda's arms, while Caroline looked on sympathetically. Oh no.

Miranda was stunned when Cassidy burst through the door at the back of the room and only barely stopped as she nearly tossed the electronic component she carried to the DJ. The beeline the child made to her at the table was enough to concern Miranda, but the tears in her baby's eyes amplified her worry. "What's wrong, Bobbsey?"

It took several minutes to calm the girl enough that she could speak. It was actually Caroline who managed the feat, speaking for several minutes in low tones to her sister, in their own unique language. Miranda's worry had only just begun apparently as she saw the tears begin in Caroline's eyes as well. Dragging her eyes from her children, Miranda looked over Cassidy's shoulder to see Andrea and Padma approaching. She demanded an explanation. "What has happened?"

"Miranda... I..." Andy started and then caught the steel in Caroline's eyes and faltered, unable to explain so much in just a few words. Kneeling down next to Cassidy, Andy placed her hand on the girl's shoulder only to have Cassidy flinch away. "Cass... please let me try to explain..."

Caroline spoke for her sister. "She saw you, Andy. She saw you kissing him."

"No..." Andy shook her head and immediately looked directly into Miranda's hurt blue eyes. "He kissed me."

Cassidy looked up at her Ma through teary eyes and asked in a broken voice. "What's the difference?"

Miranda took a deep breath and spoke quietly to both her children. "There is a big difference."

Taking a breath she didn't know she'd been holding, Andy swallowed hard and tried to explain. "Remember what we told you about photographers and the pictures in the papers? How the pictures only represent a second of time?" She waited for Cassidy to nod before she continued. "That is what you did, you took a picture with your mind. What you saw was only a second of the whole conversation."

"Who is that guy?" Cassidy sniffled.

Andy replied truthfully, "He's my ex-boyfriend and one of the contestants trying to be a competitor next season."

"Why were you kissing him?"

Caroline's eyes were miniature versions of Miranda's and the confusion Andy saw there brought fresh tears to her eyes. "He hadn't seen me in a long time... he was surprised to see me here and thought I was here for him. He didn't know about me and Miranda."

Both the girls and Miranda scoffed at that and Padma spoke up.

"I believe I can clear this all up." She smiled at the small family and gestured to them all. "Follow me." Padma led them through the back corridor to a large RV parked behind the building. Inside Padma gestured to the seats in front of the monitors and patted the tech manning the equipment on the shoulder. "Replay the footage from the interview room please."

Andy went very still, "Footage?"

Padma nodded, "The camera they put in there today is voice activated."

Turning their attention to the screen, the Priestly's watched a picture of Andrea sitting with her head in her hands suddenly jump up when a decidedly masculine voice called her name. They watched as he grabbed her and kissed her, as she broke the kiss, as he stopped her from going after Cassidy, as she told the man that they meant more than anything to her. Miranda kept her right hand on Cassidy's shoulder for reassurance, but her left hand found its way to Andrea's and she smiled softly as the young woman's thumb absently brushed over the dragon ring.

When the scene showed Andy leaving a decidedly shocked Nate standing in the middle of the room, Andy was surprised to hear a soft, "Well, fuck" from him. He very rarely cursed.

"Is there any way we can get this footage deleted?" Andy shivered slightly, "I really hate it when I've been videotaped without my knowledge..."

"I want a copy of it." Miranda informed the tech, and Padma, "Then deletion would be preferable."

Padma nodded and the tech shrugged, pressing the appropriate buttons. A very short time later he handed Miranda a disc, and smiled. "There ya go, Lady."

Miranda accepted the disc and asked, "And the deletion?"

He nodded, "Done and done... it wasn't anything about the competition anyway. No reason to keep it."

Andy relaxed a bit. "Thank you."

Glancing up at another monitor, Padma smiled, "I believe your guests are beginning to arrive. We should send out the contestants to set up their tables."

"Guests?" Miranda glanced up at the screen. "It's much too early for anyone to be arriving."

Andy also looked up at the screen and laughed, "Not these..." Her huge smile lit up the small space they were in, "... we better go greet them before they try to take over and Emily kills them."

Caroline and Cassidy found the correct monitor and both smiled as well, "Yay!"

Miranda chuckled, "Perhaps we should go freshen up a bit. I'm sure Andrea can keep your guests occupied for a few moments."

Padma spoke quietly, "The contestants will begin setting up soon so that we can get some footage of that before the bulk of your guests arrive."

"Very well." Miranda guided her daughters out of the RV. "Come now girls, we need to fix our faces before the cameras start to roll."

Miranda dried Cassidy's eyes with a tissue from her purse. She didn't want to use the hard paper towels that the dance studio's bathroom supplied.

"I'm sorry, Mom." Cassidy sniffled, "I should have known that Andy wouldn't..."

"Shhh...." Miranda smiled at her daughter and nodded, "Faced with the scene you witnessed, I'm sure I would have been equally upset and confused."

Caroline was amazed at her mother's words, "You don't trust Andy?"

"Yes," Miranda nodded, "I trust Andrea more than anyone," her gaze softened to encompass her children, "almost anyone, on this planet." She saw Caroline draw a breath to speak and quickly continued the explanation, "However, were I to look into a room and see her kissing someone else, it would take my heart a moment or two to convince my brain that what it was seeing wasn't what it looked like. After Andrea explained the situation everything would be fine."

"Like it was when we watched the footage..." Cassidy nodded, "I see."

"Yeah," Caroline sighed, "That helped a lot. I probably would have been really mad for a long time if I hadn't seen that."

"Me too," Cassidy admitted, "I was already..." She clamped her lips together quickly, but of course Miranda caught the slip.

"Already what?"

Cassidy pressed her lips tighter together, unwilling to expand on her feelings.

Miranda had other ideas. Dropping her voice to its lowest, most threatening "motherly" register, Miranda rumbled, "Cassidy..."

Both girls' eyes widened. Miranda never used that tone unless it was really, really important. Cassidy relented immediately and admitted, "I was already upset about some other stuff that was going on..."

"Like Andrea and I going out to the clubs together?"

"yeah, like that..." Cassidy shrugged, "I'm over it."

"Good." There was no mistaking the tone now. Miranda was glad that Cassidy had somewhat come to terms with the press and her own idea of what life should be like. Miranda winked, "Now I believe we have a party to attend?"

Both girls' eyes crinkled as they smiled. "Yeah!"

"Ma!" Andy slowly crossed the room and wrapped her arms around the older woman for a long hug. "I didn't think you were gonna get to come today."

"I was kidnapped." Dorothy glared at the older couple to her left.

Pava chuckled and opened her arms to embrace Andy. "How are ya, Darlin'?"

"I'm good, Gram." Holding the older woman just as long as she did her mother, Andy took comfort from the familiar arms. "How are you?"

"I'm fine." Pava held Andy at arms length and looked at her granddaughter's outfit. "You look great."

"You too." Andy grinned at her Gram and turned to the woman next to her, "Hello Mary." She hugged the woman tightly, just as she had Gram, but not quite as long. "Thank you for being here."

"My pleasure." Mary's eyes twinkled. "Unlike your mother, I actually like being kidnapped every once in a while."

"Hello Dorothy, Pava, Mary, glad you could make it after all." They all turned to see Miranda and the girls walking up to them. The white-haired woman chuckled and answered the comment she'd heard during her approach. "And it isn't always a terrible prospect, being kidnapped. Negotiations for release can be..." She glanced at Andrea and raised her eyebrows, "... enjoyable?"

Andy's dark eyes glittered as she licked her smiling lips, "You bet." She turned to her mother, "Have you seen the cake table yet, Ma?"

Caroline and Cassidy surrounded the woman, "Yeah, C'mon grandma... you gotta see this!"

Pava laughed at the astounded look on Dorothy's face, "Feels nice, right...grandma?"

Dropping her arms to the girls shoulders, Dorothy smiled. "It sure does." She jostled the children's shoulders and laughed. "Let's go oogle the cake."

"I need to speak with Emily." Miranda also moved away, leaving Andy standing with her Gram and Mary.

Pava watched them go then moved closer to Andy, "How ya doin', Darlin'?"

Andy took a deep breath, "Nate's here, Gram."

"Ah," Pava sighed, "You okay with that?"

"I have to be, don't I?" Andy shifted and glanced at Miranda. "I'm not sure she is though."

"Miranda's a big girl." Pava led Mary to the nearest table and pulled out a seat for Mary even as she continued speaking to Andy. "I'm sure she'll deal with it."

"Maybe." Andy sighed, "I just hope it hasn't ruined the girls' party." She saw the confusion on Pava's face and explained what had happened and what they were doing just before the trio had arrived. "I hope the girls aren't too biased against Nate to be able to judge the food... that was part of their present. Cassidy was really upset."

"Oh I think they'll be fine." Pava assured her granddaughter. "They don't seem too upset now." They watched as the children laughed with Dorothy about the cake and their mock attempts to sneak a taste.

The door at the back of the studio opened and two men with cameras walked in. They were quickly in place in the middle of the room, lenses trained on the door they'd just come through, and the chef contestants began to file into the room. Each team, carrying coolers and rolling the tall racks of shelves heavily laden with trays of food, began to quickly set up their stations.

Andy checked her watch and nodded. The party was supposed to begin in a half hour, so she expected most of Caroline and Cassidy's friends to be here within the next forty five minutes or so.

Carmen had some soft music playing in the background as all the guest tasted the various dishes offered by the wannabe chefs.

Caroline leaned back in her chair, turning slightly to see her sister. "What did you think of those?"

Cassidy pushed back from the table she sat at with her friends and shrugged, "Eh." The four selections from the last table they'd sampled were really nothing special, the small dish of pasta in the tomato based sauce had been good though. "Ready for the next four?"

Caroline glanced at the next table of contestants and licked her lips. "I suppose so."

As if just realizing what Caroline had been aware of for some time, Cassidy took a deep breath, "Oh, he's in this batch isn't he?"

Nodding, Caroline kept her eyes on the curly haired man that she'd seen on the video, kissing Andy. "Yeah." Oddly enough, the table he was at was also the most interesting looking one.

"Oh well..." Cassidy indicated Padma's approach. "Here we go."

"Are you ready for the last four dishes?"

Both girls stood and gestured for their guests to join them. They were aware of their Mom and Andy rising from their own table to meet them. Allison moved to Padma's side.

"Whose food is your favorite so far?" Allison fawned over the tall model. "I think they've all been quite nice."

Dark amused eyes looked down at the girl and Padma smiled as she spoke quietly, conspiratorially, "I'm not supposed to give any indication as to which one I like best..."

"Oh!" Allison's eyes widened. "Right..." She looked around and then whispered to the hostess, "But which one do you?"

Padma chuckled, "It's not up to me."

"Oh, right..." Allison nodded knowingly, "The producers will say who, right?"

"Nope." Padma stepped between Caroline and Cassidy, dropping her arms around the girls' shoulders. "Caroline and Cassidy have the final say. This is their birthday after all." She turned her attention from Allison and smiled at the adults behind the table, "Hello, chefs."

The quartet all spoke at once and smiled. "Hello Padma."

"So what do you have for us today?"

Nate took a deep breath and began, "Well, Padma, none of us have children or really know anything about Twilight other than it's about vampires..." He swallowed hard at the twins ice chip eyes and cursed the fact that their group had decided last night to make him their spokesperson. "So we did the chocolate fountain," He indicated the small three tiered item, "But used white chocolate and colored it red." He pointed to the variety of cut fruits and tidbits that were laid out on the tray next to the fountain. "You can use the toothpicks to spear and cover anything you want with the chocolate. I recommend the strawberries and pretzels." He exhaled softly as some of the guests began to do that, but the twins didn't. He was also aware now, of Miranda Priestly watching him closely and of Andy standing very close to her. "On the savory side we have several choices of snack type foods." He pointed to the plated food on the table, describing each of the items arranged there, "There are small pepperoni and sausage pizzas made with mini-bagels as a crust, some pigs in a blanket, there are some granola snack bars, and we have some small grilled cheese sandwiches."

"With the chocolate fountain," Caroline pointed out, "That's five things."

"Yes," He grinned at the girl who frowned back, "The chocolate fountain is just a fun thing. It's not really very, chef-ly to just cut up fruit and stuff..." He indicated the actual food on the table. "We each made something in addition to that."

"Grilled cheese..." Cassidy picked up the plate and wrinkled her nose at the bit of grilled sandwich, "What kind of cheese?" The man took a breath to speak, but it was a soft, familiar, voice behind her that answered.

" It's Jarlsberg..." Andy reached past Cassidy to take two plates off the table and whispered in the girl's ear. "And it's delicious." She handed one of the plates to Miranda who looked dubiously at the offerings, including the sandwich. From Andrea's tone of voice, she knew who had made it and hated it immediately.

They all took their plates back to their tables and again began to discuss the pro's and cons of each bite.

"Thanks for inviting us to this, Cass. Mom's gonna be ticked that she's missing it." Alyssa Hartstone picked up the grilled cheese sandwich and bit into it with a grin. "All this stuff is delicious."

Cassidy looked at the sandwich and again her nose wrinkled with distaste, "I think it stinks."

"It's actually pretty good." Alyssa gestured to the item in question. "Try it."

Her stomach turned a bit at the memory of seeing Andy kissing the man who had made this sandwich but, in the interest of trying to be fair, Cassidy took a bite. She only chewed a few times before she grabbed her napkin and spit the bite out. "Yuck."

Caroline sighed softly when she saw Cassidy spit out the bite. She knew it wasn't going to be an easy sell, but, taking a second bite of the cheese sandwich, Caroline chewed slowly and thought, It's not that bad. In fact, it was kinda good. Picking up her pencil, Caroline filled in the appropriate notations for each selection and decided to go back for some red chocolate covered strawberries.

Everyone took Caroline's return to the chocolate fountain as the sign to return for their favorites as well. So each set of chefs had to deal with a small rush of people returning for their favorites. Padma, Miranda and Emily were the only ones who didn't enjoy seconds of at least one of the dishes.

People were nearly finished eating and the chefs had began to pack up their equipment and leftovers when the door to the building opened. Caroline had wandered over to the chocolate fountain again, and had just coated another strawberry in the red confection when the opening door drew her attention. Her small gasp drew all the chefs at the table's attention. Nate in particular looked over to see an older gentleman making his unsteady way toward Andy's table. "Who is that?"

It spoke to the depth of Caroline's shock that she answered Nate's question. "Mom's ex." Dropping the strawberry, Caroline moved toward her parent's table unaware of Nate following close behind her.

They didn't have to take very many steps to realize that the man's voice was overly loud, although it didn't quite carry over the music, yet. Miranda had one arm around Cassidy and was speaking intently as they moved close enough to hear.

"You are not welcome here, Stephen... leave now, before the police are summoned."

"I have every right to be here," Stephen slurred, "I was these girls father for free...three years..."

"I'm their father..." James stepped up.

"You can't even tell us apart, Stephen." Cassidy crossed her arm with Caroline's behind their mother as her sister moved up on the other side of Miranda. "This is our party. You weren't invited."

"You see that..." Stephen glanced at the adults in the room. They had all arranged themselves a short way away, keeping the other children away from Stephen then he glared at Miranda. "This is the disrespect they're being taught. That slut Miranda's screwing is a terrible influence on them..." He glared at the girls, "You two need to learn your place..."

"Yo! Asshat..." Nate pushed forward. He put himself between the drunk man and the Priestly women. "This is a kid's birthday party... the kids don't want you here and you're here anyway. It seems like you're the one who doesn't know his place."

"Who the fuck are you?"

"No one." Nate took another step forward, "Just the guy that will kick your ass if you don't get out of here, now."

Miranda disconnected the call she had just made then released the girls and walked forward a step to stand next to Nate, "I suggest you follow, Nathan's instructions, the police are on the way."

"Do you really want that kind of publicity? That TV appearance trick was a good one. No one will listen to me now... Do you think they'll want the story of you not allowing the children to see me?" Stephen's muddled brain couldn't believe Miranda called the police on him.

"I don't care about the media, but I believe my lawyer will love the story of you arriving at my children's birthday party, uninvited, drunk and making a scene...Luckily," she gestured to the Top Chef cameras all trained on them, "this is all being filmed." Miranda let a hint of steel creep into her tone, "This is a violation of our divorce agreement. This will benefit me far more than you. I don't expect to see you, ever again." Without looking at her phone, Miranda dialed another number and brought the device to her ear, "Yes, we have a guest that needs to be taken home."

"Who was that?" Stephen sneered, "Who did you just call?"

Miranda took a deep breath, "An old friend." Less than thirty seconds later, Roy walked in and looked heavenward when he saw Stephen standing there.

"Mr. Tomlinson," Roy greeted the man as if they actually were old friends. "How great to see you..." He patted him on the back and smiled, "Why don't we take a drive and chat?"

"Roy! My friend..." Stephen smacked the driver on the shoulder. "Excellent idea..." He allowed Roy to guide him outside and settle him inside the towncar.

Andy watched the car drive away and informed Miranda, "You owe Roy a huge bonus."

"He is not the only one I owe." Miranda turned to face Nate. She studied him for a long moment before speaking, "Why would you do that? You didn't have to get involved."

Shaking his head, Nate ran his fingers through his curly hair and glanced at Caroline, "She seemed really upset that he was here." He shrugged, "I can't just stand by and let some jerk mess up a kids birthday party."

"Yes, well..." Miranda sighed and licked her lips, "Thank you."

"He was your ex..." Nate grinned. "Looks like you traded up."

Miranda's eyes twinkled. "You have a flair for understatement." Motion behind Nate drew her attention. "Your colleagues are ready to leave."

He glanced behind him. "Oh, right... I need to go." He took three steps back toward the table when Andy stopped him.

"Nate." Andy kissed him on the cheek. "Thank you."

He looked at her fondly and nodded, "I hope you two are really happy." His teammates called his name again and he waved to them. "I gotta go."

"Right." Andy watched him take a few steps back toward the table that had been his workstation then she turned back to her family. She was grateful as Miranda's arms slid around her middle and she automatically wrapped her arms around Miranda's tense shoulders. "I love you." She looked past Miranda and asked the girls. "Are you guys okay?"

"Yeah," Caroline glanced at Cassidy and they both nodded, "We'll be right back."

James watched the girls walk over to Padma. He spoke quietly to Miranda. "Stephen was totally wrong you know. The girls are wonderful and you're both a great influence on them."

Andy could feel Miranda's tension ease slightly. Stephen's words had pressed her buttons, but not quite as much as they'd hit home for Miranda. Andy was grateful that the man who's opinion actually mattered where the girls' were involved had refuted Stephen's drunken statement. One thing Miranda hated above all others was for anyone to think that the girls were not being raised properly. Laying her cheek against the soft hair at Miranda's temple, Andy spoke quietly, for both of them. "Thanks, James."

"Padma." Cassidy spoke quietly to the tv show host, "I, um... kinda slammed the dish Nate made..." She shuffled her feet slightly, "It didn't really deserve it, it wasn't a terrible sandwich... I just.. don't like that kind of cheese."

Padma smiled at the girl, "I understand."

"Is there some way that Nate can get a fair chance at being on the show?" Caroline knew it would bother her sister a lot if the man was denied his chance just because of what Cassidy had put on her comment card.

Nodding at that, Padma reached out and cradled the worried girl's jaw in her hand. She caressed Cassidy's cheek with her thumb, "The producers and staff tasted the dishes too. We'll take your comments into account, but all the chefs will be judged fairly. If there's a tie we'll use your comments to break it."

Both girls smiled at that. "Good." Caroline reminded the tall woman. "Don't forget us, when you need a baby sitter."

Padma laughed and glanced around. The show's crew had taken the extra tables down and they were all ready to go. "I won't forget you." Her dark eyes twinkled at the twins. "Happy Birthday. Enjoy the rest of your party."

Cassidy watched Padma walk out the door she'd first appeared through then signaled Carmen to start the music for real. She spoke fairly loudly in a sort of cheerleader tone to the rest of her guests. "Let's dance!"

Andy sighed and looked mournfully at the remaining food table, "What about the cake?"

"Later." Cassidy laughed and patted her belly. "I'm stuffed!"

"Me too," Mark grinned and took Caroline's hand. "Let's dance."

Andy and Miranda exchanged looks as all the kids piled onto the dancefloor and began to jump around. It didn't matter who was dancing with whom at this point, the fast song had everyone doing their own thing. Andy and Serena joined in the fun while Miranda, James and Emily took seats at the edge of the dance floor watching the partygoers. Pava and Mary just shook their heads at the fast paced song and took seats at the table next to Miranda and the others. Dorothy joined them.

"At that rate, they'll all be able to eat as much cake as they want, no problem." Dorothy was amazed at the energy the young people, including her daughter and tall friend, displayed. "I don't remember ever dancing like that."

Pava laughed, "We didn't have music like this when we were young enough to enjoy it."

"I believe we did," Miranda watched the dancers thoughtfully, "It is possible that I did dance like that, once or twice. If I recall correctly." The current song ended and a slower song began to play. The kids paired up but with a glance at each other, Serena and Andy moved back toward the tables.

Miranda looked at the hand stretched toward her, then up into Andrea's dark eyes as the young woman spoke quietly.

"Care to dance?" Andy grinned as Miranda accepted the offer and rose gracefully to her feet. As they walked to the dance floor, Andy saw Serena leading Emily toward a semi-darkened area of the space, to dance with a bit of privacy. Pulling Miranda close, Andy began to sway to the music. She pressed her lips to Miranda's ear and whispered, "You okay?"

Miranda smiled and leaned into Andrea's solid form. "This day has taken some unexpected turns..."

Andy snorted, "And you think Nate has a flair for understatement?"

"And now you are in my arms, so all is well." Miranda looked into Andrea's dark eyes, "Any day that includes you in my arms is a good one."

Unable to help herself, Andy leaned in to press her lips lightly against Miranda's, "Queen of Understatements." She grinned at her fiancee, "Are the girls giving us the evil eye?"

Miranda glanced around and shook her head, "They are otherwise occupied."

Andy twirled Miranda around and took a look at the dancing children. Caroline was dancing with Mark, and Cassidy was swaying awkwardly with Hunter. The others had paired up as much boy girl as possible, but there were a couple of girls dancing with each other and a couple of boys standing off to the side. Apparently their preferred partners were dancing with other people at the moment. She was surprised to see her mother dancing with James, but Gram and Mary had remained at the table.

James looked across the table at Dorothy and smiled. "Care to dance?"

"Oh, I don't..." Dorothy looked around, "Don't you have a..."

He waved off that concern, "She has a doctor's appointment right now." James stood, holding out his hand gallantly.

Relenting, Dorothy took the offered hand and joined the man on the dance floor.

Pava grinned and turned her attention to Mary, raising an eyebrow in an obvious care to dance question. Mary shook her head, almost imperceptibly, but the answer was there, in her eyes, No, not here, not in front of all these people. Sighing to herself, Pava continued to smile as she watched the others swaying together. She wouldn't, ever, push Mary to do anything the woman wasn't ready for. They often held each other, in the privacy of their own home but public displays were going to take time for Mary to come to terms with. They'd hidden their feelings for each other for so long it was difficult to think that showing their affection in public was acceptable. Her eyes landed on one of the dancers, the older neighbor gal they'd met during their last visit, and Pava recalled what she'd told the girl about being patient. She graced Mary with a nod and an understanding smile then turned her full attention to the dancers and told herself, I can wait.


Part 45

"So you're Andy's Mom." James smiled down at his dance partner. "Somehow I thought you'd be taller."

Dorothy laughed at that, "She takes after her father's side of the family for that."

"Mira says she's stubborn," he grinned, "Does she get that from you?"

It took a moment to register that "Mira" was Miranda. She couldn't possibly imagine using any sort of nickname for the formidable woman her daughter was going to marry. Shrugging as much as she could while in the loose dance embrace, Dorothy acknowledged that possibility, "Stubborn-ness, is something I think she never had a chance of escaping. Her father and I both carry that trait in vast quantities."

Nodding, James licked his lips and spoke a little lower, "I understand her father isn't too pleased with the direction Andy's life has taken."

"He..." Dorothy sighed, "He's having difficulty with the concept." She narrowed her eyes, "How did you..."

"The girls." James' eyes twinkled, "They talk about Andy all the time when they're with me. They worry about her. They love her."

"She loves them." Dorothy smiled, "They're good girls."

"When they want to be, yeah." James had no illusions regarding his offspring. They had been spared the worst of 'rich girl' spoilage, but they were fiercely protective of anything they perceived as 'theirs'. They took after Miranda in that respect. He wondered how much like Miranda they would be when they were older. A picture formed in his mind of sitting down at a table with three Mirandas.

"Whoa," Dorothy felt a shudder run through the man, "Do you need to sit down?"

He chuckled. "No. Just thinking." The song was about to end and he made an offer quickly. "Do you think it would help if I were to speak with your husband?" He shook his head slowly, "I've known Mira for a long time and I've never seen her this wrapped up before. I think it's the real thing. She loves Andy."

"No." Dorothy shook her head sadly, "I know, but telling Richard that won't help. He just can't wrap his mind around it. He may never be able to. What I'm hoping is that he'll find a way to be able to look past his own misgivings and at least start speaking to Andy again."

The song ended and they returned to their seats, along with most of the other adults. Andy and Serena, however, returned to the dance floor as a lively song began to spill from the speakers.

Detective Jo Polniacek entered the building with two uniformed officers trailing behind her. She spotted Andy dancing to some crazy techno dance mix with the tall Brazilian woman who had done her make-up at the photo shoot. Miranda was seated at a table near the dance floor watching intently.

Jo walked directly to Miranda and placed a hand on the older woman's shoulder as she leaned down nearer to Miranda's ears, "Did someone call the police?"

Miranda ignored Emily's squeak of protest at Jo's familiarity toward her and smiled, reaching up to pat the hand on her shoulder. "You're too late. The problem has already been resolved. He won't be bothering us again."

"Uh oh..." Jo knelt next to Miranda's chair and laughed, "Where'd ya hide the body?"

Putting on her haughtiest demeanor, Miranda sniffed, "As if I would reveal that to you." Blue eyes twinkled past a lock of white hair, "One must have some secrets after all."

Jo laughed and stood, "Lady, you're somethin' else." The music changed and Jo offered her hand to Miranda, "Care to dance?"

Miranda regarded Jo for a few seconds then accepted the hand. "That would be lovely."

Emily sighed as Miranda began to dance with the newcomer and wondered how difficult it would be to actually switch her hair to brunette.

"Mom, finally!" Alyssa met her mother as the woman walked toward the tables. "I thought you were going to miss everything!"

Lara laughed, "Sorry, but the client had some concerns about the design for his office building." She looked around the large space. "What did I miss?" Several kids were dancing to a fast paced song, but she pointed out the most important thing she saw. "There is still some cake..." Her feet automatically turned toward the table holding the remains of the cake.

Rolling her eyes, Alyssa allowed her mother to get a piece of cake then guided her to a seat and began telling her everything that had happened at the party. She'd pretty much recapped the events when a new song began.

"Oh, I love this one." Jumping up, Alyssa headed toward the dance floor.

Lara laughed at Alyssa's antics and looked at a stunned woman sitting at the table next to her, "Seems as though I did miss everything."

Blinking, she nodded, "You and me both." She laughed, "I just got here ten minutes ago. I haven't even gotten a piece of cake yet." Gesturing to the dancing girl, Priscilla explained, "I'm grateful to your daughter for the recap. My son would never have told me all that." She chuckled, "He's a good boy, not much of a talker." Reaching across the space between the tables, she smiled. "I'm Priscilla Bateson, Hunter's mom." She pointed out the boy in question.

"Ah, Lara Hartstone." Lara shook the offered hand and laughed, "Not much of a talker eh? Well if you can tell me how to get my daughter to ever shut up, I'd be much obliged." Her eyes twinkled with amusement, "Although, my son isn't exactly Sir Gabsalot either." Lara gestured to the attendant dressed in a caterer's uniform and he approached the table.

"Yes, Ma'am? What can I get you?"

Gesturing between herself and Patricia, Lara quickly told him her needs. "Two slices of cake and two cups of the punch."

"Yes, Ma'am." He bowed and left the table quickly.

Priscilla returned to their conversation. "They all have different personalities, I guess." She relaxed a bit. She, much like her son, was not exactly comfortable in social situations. She always felt way out of her league in this kind of setting because she knew that everyone here was far above her social status. She and her husband weren't exactly destitute, but her husband worked very hard for what they had. Priscilla knew that many of the children her son was friends with were beyond rich and that neither they nor their children would have to work a day in their lives if they so chose. Hunter was going to have to work and Dalton was going to give him the education he needed to be successful. She wasn't sure who knew, but Hunter went to Dalton on a financial scholarship. She never mentioned it because she didn't want Hunter to be embarrassed about it. During the study group sessions, Priscilla had spoken easily with Andy because she'd known that the younger woman was also not in the same social stratus as most of the children's parents. But now, Lara's easy smile and laughing eyes put Priscilla at ease. The cake and drinks were delivered and they began talking, letting the rest of the party go on, as it had earlier, without them.

"C'mon Cassidy," Mark asked for the third time, "Dance with me..."

"No," Cassidy held her ground. He was only asking because Alan had jumped at the chance to dance with Caroline. And all their other friends seemed to be paired up already, "Cut in on Allison and Devon if you want to dance so badly."

Mark grinned, "But I don't want to dance with Devon, he's taller than me."

Despite herself, Cassidy laughed, "Well I don't..."

Cassidy's protest was cut off as Alyssa swept past, grabbing her hand without a word and leading her to the dance floor. Mark watched as Cassidy smiled and began to dance with the older girl. He sighed to himself, "Now why didn't I think of that?"

Serena held Emily in her arms and swayed to the music, "Thank you for agreeing to stay."

"Of course," Emily smiled shyly, "Caroline asked me and..."

"I don't mean for the party." Serena held the smaller woman tighter, "I know you miss your home. You could have gone to London and you chose to stay here."

"London isn't going anywhere."

Serena stopped their motion and pulled back slightly to look directly into Emily's eyes, "Neither am I."

"Serena, I..."

"Shhh..." The tall woman twirled Emily around and smiled, "We can talk later."

"So," Andy wrapped her arms around Miranda's waist and swayed with her. "Did you have fun dancing with Jo?"

Miranda smiled, threading her fingers together behind Andrea's neck, "The Good Detective is an excellent dancer." Chuckling at the growling sound of disapproval Andrea made, Miranda explained, "I used the time to relate the encounter with Stephen to her."

"Ah," Andy grinned, "And to berate her for being late..."

"Andrea... really," Miranda scoffed, "I did that prior to dancing."

Throwing back her head to laugh, Andy pulled Miranda closer then kissed her cheek. "Of course you did." Her sun-rivaling smile continued for the rest of the song.

Miranda surveyed the room. Most of the guests had all left, the DJ had packed up her equipment and gone, the remaining cake and punch had been removed and the tables had been cleared. "Emily," She waited for her long time assistant to approach before speaking to her. "The party was a great success. The girls enjoyed it immensely. Thank you."

"You're welcome, Miranda." Emily beamed at the approval then glanced at Serena, who was waiting near the door. "Was there anything else you needed?"

"Yes, set up an appointment with the DJ sometime next week. I wish to speak with her." Miranda gestured to the remaining guests, "We are going to go home now. It is time to present the girls with their gifts." Tilting her head, Miranda extended an offer. "You are welcome to join us."

"Um..." She glanced at Serena, still waiting patiently, "I'm afraid I must decline." In the past she would have jumped at the chance to be in Miranda's presence, in Miranda's home, but not now. Now Serena was waiting for her.

Emily had been impressed when she'd seen the text for the girls' birthday invitations. No gifts expected. What child didn't want gifts? But it certainly wasn't like they needed anything. She did wonder what Miranda, and Andrea, had gotten for the girls who had everything. "I will see you in the office on Monday then?"

"Yes." Miranda's lips twitched slightly, "That's all." She watched as Serena held the door for Emily to exit then smiled as a familiar arm snaked around her waist.

"You ready to go?"

"Yes, I'm sure the girls are ready to receive the rest of their gifts."

"Miranda," Andy whispered, "What if they don't like what I got them?"

"They love you, Andrea and they will appreciate anything you give them." Miranda was more concerned that the girls would not be impressed with her remaining offerings. The Top Chef surprise was the biggest of the gifts, but there were other things as well. Through the door, Miranda saw the car pull up to the curb and gestured to the women that remained sitting at one of the tables. "The car's here."

James stepped forward, "I'll meet you there." He ran his fingers through his hair, "Candice is sorry she had to miss the party, but her doctor's appointment is over in twenty minutes so I'll pick her up and then we'll swing by your house."

Caroline and Cassidy also moved up next to them, one on each side. Miranda wrapped her arm around Cassidy's shoulder and squeezed it slightly as she spoke. "Of course. We can wait for your arrival if you wish."

"No," James was entranced by the sight of Miranda, Andy and the girls standing together. "They should enjoy some private time with their family."

Miranda sighed, "You are their family too, James."

"Thank you, Mira." James' eyes twinkled, "Maybe I should have said that the girls should enjoy some time with their Moms?"

"Thank you, James." Andy's eyes sparkled and she grinned down at Caroline, jostling the girl slightly, "You ready?"

"Yeah, Ma... Whenever you guys stop gabbing."

Andy studied the girl's eyes for a moment. The excitement of the party had sustained her but now that it was over, Caroline's recent bout with her sinus/stomach condition was obviously taking its toll. With a cheery smile, Andy ruffled Caroline's hair, "Then let's go!"

Dorothy watched as the children opened their gifts from Miranda. Box after box, outfit after outfit, Dorothy wondered how many clothes one child needed. They seemed appreciative of each thing but sometimes commented on the brand name of the item and how their friends would be "so jealous" that they had received it. But, she supposed that any pre-teen girl would do that. Most girls just wouldn't have quite this many items to brag about.

Glancing at her daughter, avidly watching the girls open their gifts, Dorothy wondered what Andy could possibly have gotten for the girls that they didn't already have. The idea of getting a present for the girls had worried her for a while, but Andy had assured her that her presence was enough. The girls didn't expect anything from anyone other than their parents. Apparently James' mother did not give them birthday presents either. She grinned as she eyed the unwrapped boxes from her, and remembered the girls' delighted squeals when they saw the contents. The memory of the thank you hugs was enough to bring a smile to her face and Dorothy thought about that other grandmother's no gift policy, Well poo on that... grandparents give gifts! It wasn't much, but she had gotten each girl a kitchen kit, everything they'd need except the wet ingredients, to make cookies. There were even child sized aprons and oven mits.

Dorothy saw Andy's interest peak, and looked back just in time to see each girl open a small box. They both pulled charm bracelets from their resting place and spoke to each other excitedly about the small icons dangling there. Dorothy realized that each of the charms held some significance to the children. Chuckling to herself, Dorothy berated herself silently, You should have known, Dot. Andy has always been so thoughtful. She watched as the children approached Andy and asked for her help putting the jewelry on their wrists. After a round of heartfelt hugs, Dorothy spoke up.

"You know, I think the whirlwind trip and party are starting to catch up with me." She stood slowly. "I believe I might need to go to bed early tonight."

Pava and Mary also stood. "Yes, it's been a long day." Pava looked at the girls, "I'm glad you have had such a nice birthday."

"Thanks Gram!" Caroline and Cassidy took turns hugging all three of the older women before returning to the remaining gifts in their respective piles.

Andy stood and hugged the women too, "Get some rest..." She told her Ma.

"Thank you, Sweetheart."

Pava grinned at her granddaughter, "We'll see you tomorrow, Darlin'"

Dark eyes twinkled at the couple, "Sure, Gram. Rest well."

Andy sat with Miranda on the couch in the Entertainment Room. Dorothy, Gram and Mary had gone to rest a few minutes ago. The girls were sitting on the floor, surrounded by mountains of couture, provided by Miranda. The charm bracelets Andy had given them dangling from each of their wrists. The charms brushing the gifts as they continued opening their remaining few presents. The smiles they exchanged when they saw the outfits Andy had picked out for them warmed Andy's heart. She sat forward a bit when they got to the special gifts she'd managed.

Cassidy opened her oversized envelope first. She didn't know what to make of the piece of paper and CD she found. Unfolding the page she scanned it quickly and looked at Andy. "Loft performance?"

Nodding, Andy explained. "There is a group that I fell in love with, quite a while ago...The October Project. The original lead singer is gone, but the others are still together, they're called the November Project now. I put some of my favorite songs on that disc for you, your copies of the albums are on backorder. They do special performances at their loft... there is room there for about ten people." She grinned at Cassidy's stunned expression and continued, "Their keyboard player is also a composer. His name is Emil Adler and he writes all the songs for the group with his wife, Julie Flanders. She does the lyrics." Dark eyes twinkled, "They've agreed to talk with you about composing music, after the performance."

Cassidy jumped up and practically attacked Andy, hugging her tightly, "Thank you, Ma!"

Chuckling, Andy's sun-rivaling appeared, "You're welcome, Sweetie. I'm glad you like it."

Caroline opened her envelope and looked at the contents. "Um... How did you?"

Andy winked at the girl, "Your mom isn't the only one with connections."

"What is it, Caroline?" Miranda wasn't able to see the contents of the envelope.

"Tickets." Caroline pulled the small pile of papers out of the envelope and looked through them, smiling wider as she named off the shows, "Four each for, Mama Mia!, Mary Poppins, The Lion King, and Wicked." Her smile faded as she continued to inspect the gift. "Uh..."

"What is it, Ro?" Cassidy peered over at the papers in her sister's hands and gasped.

"Caroline?" Miranda asked, "What other shows?"

"None..." Caroline whispered, "But... Two backstage passes for the ones that there are tickets for..."

Andy grimaced a little, "Yeah, I couldn't manage four backstage passes, but I thought you and a friend could..."

Jumping up as her sister had done, Caroline also hugged Andy tightly, "Thank you, Ma!"

Wrapping her long arms around Caroline, Andy laughed, "You're welcome, Munchkin."

Pulling away, Caroline looked into Andy's dark eyes, "You'll go with me to the shows right?"

"If you want me to," Andy's trademarked sun-rivaling smile reappeared, "I'd be happy to go with you."

"Will you come too, Mom?" Caroline looked over at Miranda and grinned, "We can have family outings!"

Normally hard blue eyes softened as Miranda melted in the warmth of Caroline and Andrea's gazes, "That sounds lovely. I would love to join you."

"Great!" Caroline kissed Miranda on the cheek then went back to look through the stacks of clothes she'd just received, already planning what she would wear to each performance even though the first one wouldn't be until after her Mom and Andy got back from their honeymoon.

Andy watched, with shining eyes, as the girls looked excitedly through their presents again. Miranda's hand sliding into hers refocused her attention to the woman at her side.

Miranda spoke quietly. "Thank you, Andrea."

"No need to thank me..."

"The true gift was of family time, something that I will benefit from as well." Miranda squeezed the hand in hers lightly, "So thank you."

"They're good girls, Miranda." Andy snuggled closer, "You done good..."

A tiny smile pulled at her lips as Miranda relaxed into the embrace and chuckled. "You're so ridiculous sometimes."

"Yeah," Andy laid her head on Miranda's shoulder and spoke quietly, even as she continued to watch the girls happily mixing and matching their new clothes. "But you love me anyway."

"Yes I do." Miranda pressed her cheek against the dark head resting on her shoulder, "Always."

"I've missed so much of their lives." Andy wondered again what the girls were like when they were younger, their little happy faces digging into their presents on their birthday, at Christmas and all the other gift giving events she'd missed.

Miranda was about to reply to that when the doorbell echoed through the house. "That will be James and Candice."

Disengaging from Miranda, Andy stood, "I'll get it." She straightened out her dress, "Be right back."

Miranda watched the sway of Andrea's hips as the young woman walked away. Caroline's voice pulled her attention back into the room.


"Yes, my Darling?" Miranda smiled at her oldest daughter.

"You don't have to come with us... to the shows..." Caroline wrung her hands in front of her, "I know you're busy, with Runway..."

Exhaling softly, Miranda gathered the girl into her arms and gestured for Cassidy to join them. Quickly settling the children on either side of her, Miranda spoke to them in no uncertain terms, "I will always have time for you, I will make it if I have to. You are the most important people in my life and I love you dearly."

"We know you love us Mom." Caroline laid her head on Miranda's shoulder, "But we know that you love Runway too."

"I do love Runway, but I love you more. I will attend the performances with you, if you wish me to. If you would rather take a friend with you, that is acceptable as well. They are your tickets, your birthday present to decide what to do with as you please." Blue eyes twinkled down at the girls and she chuckled, "If you want me to attend, simply call my assistant and have her put it on my schedule."

Rolling her eyes at that, Cassidy giggled, "Of course." She grinned at her sister, "Why didn't we think of that before?"

They all heard footsteps on the stairs and the girls shifted away from Miranda, moving to greet their father and his fiancee.

"You okay, Darlin'?" Pava bent her knees slightly to catch Mary's down-turned gaze. "You've been kinda quiet today."

"Travel catching up to me, I guess." Mary sat on the edge of the bed, still not looking at Pava.

"You're lying." Pava grinned when that accusation snapped Mary's head up. Pava held up her hand, "Don't bother denying it, we both know what's what..."

"I'm sorry." Mary resumed her study of the rug pattern, "I just couldn't dance with you, not in front of all those people." She drew in a deep, shaky breath and asked, "Are you angry at me?"

"I am angry." Pava admitted. She sat down on the edge of the bed next to Mary and put her arm around the woman's shoulders, "But not at you." She pulled the willing woman closer and smiled as Mary's head fit perfectly on her shoulder, "I'm angry that things are so messed up in this world. I'm angry that two people who love each other have to be brave to display that love in public. I'm angry that being in love puts people in danger. I'm angry that there are people in this world, stupid people, who would hurt you, or me, or Miranda, or Andy... just because we love someone they don't think we should. And I'm angry, because if I had been just a little braver, back then... maybe Andy wouldn't be having so many problems with her Daddy today." Pava sighed, "So yes, I'm angry." She kissed Mary's temple, "But not at you."

"It isn't your fault..." Mary nodded and sighed, "but I understand."

"Good." Pava jostled the woman next to her and pointed to the pillows, "C'mon then, Darlin'... it's been a long day."

Obediently Mary reached into her overnight bag and pulled out a nightgown. "Sleep does sound good right about now."

Pava nodded, "Yeah, it sure does." Pushing herself up off the bed, the elder Sachs smiled, "I'll leave ya to it then."

"Pava..." Mary reached out to take her companion's hand. "Don't leave."

Squeezing the hand in hers, Pava bent down and kissing the back of Mary's hand she winked, "I'll be right back, Love."

Andy smoothed out her dress as she walked down the stairs and stopped at a mirror in the hall to check that her makeup hadn't run from the few happy tears that had escaped her earlier.

Opening the door, Andy smiled and gestured for the couple to enter. "Come in, please." She stepped back to allow them to pass and closed the door behind them. "The girls are upstairs in the Entertainment Room." She smiled at Candice, wincing inwardly at the woman's completely casual outfit. The pants looked almost like pajamas. Miranda was not going to like it, at all. "Nice to meet you."

Narrowing her eyes as she gave Andy, and her dress, a long appraisal, Candice hugged James' arm a little tighter, "Likewise."

The young blonde woman looked around the immaculately decorated house and Andy could almost see little dollar signs in her eyes. The woman was practically drooling at the wealth the interior of their home represented. Then Andy blinked and appraised Candice's figure again, finding it much too slim to be as pregnant as the girls said she was.

She noticed James having some difficulty figuring out what to do with the large gift bags he was trying to hold while dealing with the clinging woman at the same time. Covering her suspicion regarding Candice's pregnancy, Andy smiled and relieved James of one of his burdens, leaving him only one gift bag and a clingy fiancee to deal with. She gestured to the stairs with her free hand, "Follow me."

When they reached the TV room, the girls were waiting for them just in front of the door. They hugged their father exuberantly and also gave Candice an awkward welcoming embrace. Andy handed off the gift bag to one of the girls and immediately moved to Miranda's side. When she saw Miranda's gaze turn to Candice, Andy slipped her hand into Miranda's, whispering softly, "Be nice."

Miranda's evaluating gaze didn't take long, the fashionista's lips pursing almost instantly but it was the nearly subvocal comment that caught Andy's attention.

"No glow."

So, Miranda didn't think Candice was pregnant either. How someone could fake that Andy had no idea. They might be able to fool regular people for a while, but how could you fool a doctor? There was only one basic reason to do it though, money. The thought of using a child, even a fake one, to con money out of anyone was just reprehensible to Andy. Children were so innocent, they needed the love of their parents. "Oh..." All eyes in the room turned to her and Andy blushed a little. "Sorry, I just remembered something I need to do, for work." She released Miranda's hand slowly, "If you would excuse me for a little while?"

"It can't wait?" Miranda wondered what was so important as to miss the twins opening their gifts. Then she realized that Andrea was making an excuse to get away, to give the girls time with their 'real' parents. It was a sweet, and unnecessary, gesture that made Miranda impossibly, love Andrea just a bit more. "Try not to be too long."

"I won't." Andy assured Miranda and the girls. "I just have to send out a few email queries about a story I'm doing, and I forgot to file my last story with Greg. I want to send that to him before I forget, again." Placing a quick kiss on Miranda's cheek, Andy left the room.

Candice looked confused, "Who's Greg?"

"Greg is her boss. The editor-in-chief of The Mirror, the newspaper where Andrea is employed as a reporter." Miranda gestured to her guests to have a seat as she resumed her place on the couch. "And what is it that you do, Candice?"

"Well I was a waitress, but now," She giggled and placed her hand on her tummy, "I'm having some trouble with being on my feet, so I'm currently between jobs."

Nodding at that, Miranda smiled her faux smile, "I see." The understanding was as fake as the smile on her face. Miranda had worked at Runway practically up until the time she had to go to the hospital to have the girls.

"Can we open our presents now?" Cassidy asked, "Or should we wait for Ma to get back?"

Miranda smiled, a genuine smile, "You may open them now. Andrea will see what you've received when she returns." Blue eyes twinkled at the children as they both began to burrow into the oversized gift bags.

Andy leaned against the curve in the kitchen counter and took a sip of her club soda. It hadn't seemed like a lot at the time, but the amount of food she'd eaten at the party now all seemed to be swelling up inside her. After she'd done a bit of research and sent her emails, Andy had gone to the kitchen hoping the fizzy drink would help. Her eyes widened slightly when one of their visitors walked into the kitchen. "Candice?"

"Oh!" Putting her hand on her chest, the blonde laughed, "Sorry, you scared me." She waved off the formal name, "And most people just call me Candi."

"Um... Can I help you with...something... Candi?" Oddly, Andy didn't like the idea of this woman walking around the house by herself. It was a strange feeling. The only other person she'd disliked so quickly after meeting them was Judy and that was with good reason.

"Yeah," Candi looked around, "Miranda said there was a bathroom down here I could use..."

"Ah..." Andy nodded and pointed to a door across the room from her, "There."

"Thanks!" Candi headed for the door.

Andy sipped her drink while she waited for their guest to finish. She was just beginning to wonder how long it would take Candice to figure out there was no medicine cabinet in there to snoop through when the woman returned.

"There's no bath or shower in there." The tiny room only contained a toilet, small sink and a mirror flat against the wall above the sink.

"No." Andy shrugged, "It doesn't need one. We very rarely even use it, I believe it was a part of the floorplan for the servants to use." She suppressed a grin as Candice began to frown at the thought of being sent to the servant's toilet, "Since there aren't really 'servants' here, it mostly just comes in handy, when we have a houseful of guests and all the other bathrooms are spoken for."

Andy didn't blame Miranda a bit for sending the woman down here instead of upstairs to the bathroom in the big guestroom. That one was far too close to their bedroom for the woman to be roaming.

"All the other..."

"Mmm..." Andy took another sip of her drink then dumped the rest and put the glass into the dishwasher, "With my mother, Gram, and Mary all staying with us the bathrooms attached to those bedrooms are... spoken for." Candice did not need to know that there was still one empty guest room upstairs.

"Oh." Shaking her blonde head, Candi sighed, "This is a huge house. We only have one guest room. The girls each have their own room there though, if they would share on the weekends they stay then our house could have two guest rooms."

"Umm..." Our house? Andy wondered if James knew Candice was that possessive of his property. "Yeah, I doubt they'd want to share. I know I wouldn't want to share a room with my sister, either... if I had a sister." Andy shrugged and looked around, "A big house does take some getting used to." She gestured to the narrow stairway that led from the kitchen to the second floor and took a step in that direction. "Shall we rejoin the others?"

"Sure..." Candi hesitated, "Um... Jimmy wants me to sign a pre-nup..."

Andy stopped mid-step, horrified at what Miranda would do if she heard the nickname for her ex-husband falling from Candice's lips, and turned slowly to face their guest. "Yeah... I, um... think that's fairly standard for people in James'... tax bracket."

"I guess so." Her hand dropped to her stomach, "Dr. Goldberg says I shouldn't have to worry about financial stuff right now." Candi asked, "Does Miranda want you to sign one?"

"I want one." Andy left Miranda's feelings out of the discussion. "The press is bad enough now, at least with a pre-nup I can point to the fact that I'm not a gold-digger like a lot of people are claiming."

"Oh." Candi seemed to think about that, "I guess that makes sense." She began walking toward the stairs. "Thank God, I don't have any reporters to deal with."

Andy said nothing, but followed the woman up the stairs and watched with narrowed eyes, as Candi obviously mentally inventoried the artwork that lined the walls to the Entertainment Room. Miranda's phrasing in Andy's inner voice whispered softly through Andy's mind. Candice was incorrect in her last statement. She does have one reporter to deal with. Andy nodded to herself, because James was the girls' father, which meant he was family. One of Andy's favorite mantra's expanded to include James in her protection.

Nobody messes with my family.


Part 46

Andy chuckled as she looked into the mirror, removing her makeup for the evening. "The girls seemed to like all their gifts."

"Mmm..." Miranda finished her evening routine, "I believe, had Dorothy not retired early, she would currently be in the kitchen baking cookies."

Grinning at that, Andy nodded, "Yeah, I think so too."

They walked to the bed, each to their own side then met in the middle, shifting into one of their usual embraces. Andy sighed as Miranda's head rested on her shoulder, "I love this." It only took a small turn of her head to kiss Miranda's forehead. She smiled as Miranda returned the gesture on the side of her neck, "Quiet time, with you, at the end of the day. It's just.... nice."

"MmmHmmm..." Miranda agreed then spoke quietly, "It's also a good time to discuss things." She shifted to look up into Andrea's eyes, "You have something on your mind."

Not bothering to deny it, Andy nodded, "I've been trying to figure out when, and how, to tell you..."

A line appeared between Miranda's eyes, "What is it?" Whatever it was worried Andrea terribly.

"It's.. um... Cassidy." Before she could take a breath to continue Miranda was sitting up.

"What's the matter with Cassidy?!" Miranda was halfway out of the bed before Andrea stopped her.

"Whoa..." Andy held Miranda tightly partially for reassurance, partially to keep the woman from bolting to Cassidy's room. "She's fine..." Looking into Miranda's eyes, Andy nodded, "Honestly, she's fine..." Andy apologized, "I'm sorry I scared you, I didn't mean to do that."

"What is this about, Andrea?"

"Secrets." Andy pulled Miranda back into the bed, "One that Cassidy wants me to share, with you."


Not knowing how else to say it, Andy just took a deep breath and told Miranda, "Cassidy is gay." She had no clue what reaction Miranda would have to that information, but she never in a million years would have thought it would bring out a medium loud burst of laughter.

"Andrea!" Miranda managed to speak between laughs, "She's twelve... she doesn't know..."

"No!" Andy pulled away from a quickly sobering Miranda, "Don't you do that. Don't make this into something that she's imagining, or will grow out of."


"I mean it, Miranda. Listen to me," Andy's eyes bored into Miranda's. "This is something she knows... she knows.... Miranda. She knows that something in her is different than what society thinks should be there. This is so important. It's so amazing to me that she would confide that in me...in us. Don't trivialize her feelings. Don't tell her she's confused, because she's confused enough... believe me. I would never have..." Shaking that thought away, Andy pleaded, "Please, Miranda..."

"Andrea..." Miranda smiled softly and moved slowly closer to her love, "I hear you. I'm sorry. She just seems so very young to be making that kind of statement."

"She knows who she's attracted to, Miranda." Andy moved into Miranda's gentle touch on her cheek, "Just like I do."

Nodding, Miranda agreed and repeated, "Just like I do..." Guiding Andrea's lips to hers, Miranda's mouth moved against the softness making further speech impossible for a long moment. When they broke the contact, Miranda smiled and assured Andrea, "I will be appropriately conciliatory when I speak to Cassidy."

"Okay..." The issue was finished in Andy's mind and she moved in for another quick kiss, then began trailing her lips down the line of Miranda's neck. She murmured against the softness. "I love this... I love you."

Miranda wanted to return the sentiment but Andrea's lips took her ability to speak; in the very best of ways.

Cassidy kept her eyes on her cereal, but spoke quietly to the only other person in the kitchen with her, "She isn't pregnant, is she Ma?"

Andy pressed her lips together for a moment then answered the only way she could, "She isn't as pregnant as you said she said she was..." Shrugging, Andy continued, "There are some women who don't show their pregnancy as much as others."

"I think she's lying." Cassidy, finally, looked up. "I think she just wants Dad's money."

"Well," Andy allowed, "That is possible. Some people are like that."

"Grandmother thinks so too." Cassidy pushed her bowl away, "I heard her speaking to Dad about it. But, he doesn't think so... He said the Dr. Goldman was certain..."

Andy shook her head. "He said Candice's doctor's name is Goldman?"

"Um.. Yeah." Cassidy nodded, "I remember because we have a teacher at school with the same name."

Andy sighed, she had some more digging to do. She sympathized with James though, no one would want to admit they were being taken for a ride. Her heart melted a bit when she saw Cassidy's eyes begin to tear up.

"They're gonna shred him in the Press..."

"Aww... Sweetie..." Andy moved to embrace the girl, "He'll be okay. Even if they do make a story out of it, it will blow over pretty quick. They always move on... they don't follow him as closely as they do Miranda."

"Yeah..." Cassidy sniffled, "I guess."

"Hey... What's going on?"

Andy released Cassidy and smiled at Caroline as she walked toward the table. "Hey Munchkin... Good morning."

"Did you already run?" Caroline shook her head when Andy indicated that she had already finished her usual morning exercise. "Geez..."

"I got to meet Benji this morning though, they brought him home from the doggie hotel yesterday afternoon." Andy watched both girls faces light up. "He and Patricia got along great."


"Lara said you guys could come over and meet Benji later."

"Sweet!" Caroline poured herself a bowl of cereal. "What kind of dog is he?"

Andy grinned. "He's a dalmatian." She laughed, "He's huge... I never thought I'd see a dog bigger than Patricia."

"Wow." Cassidy looked around, "Where's Patricia?"

Andy chuckled, "She's in the study. Miranda's in there going over the Book."


Caroline asked quietly, "Is Mom going in to work today?" From the look on Andy's face, Caroline knew the answer before the woman spoke.

"Yeah, for a little while."


With a deep breath, Andy laid out the plans for today, "We can give Ma, Gram and Mary a lift back to the airport then do some shopping, if you want."

Shrugging at that, Cassidy spoke for both herself and her sister. "We just got a ton of stuff for our birthday... not much point in shopping at the moment."

"Yeah, I guess not." Andy agreed with that. "You did get a bunch of stuff..." She hesitated, "I.. um... still need shoes for the wedding. Things are going to start moving quickly now, so I need to get my outfit all settled."

"Oh!" Both girls perked up at that. "We can totally help you pick out some shoes!"

Laughing at that, Andy finished her juice and placed her glass in the dishwasher. "We'll leave for the airport soon. Then maybe we can shop a bit and meet Miranda for lunch."

Nodding at that, Caroline began to eat faster and Cassidy stood to put her bowl and spoon away.

"We'll be ready, Ma."

"Miranda, your ten o'clock appointment is here."

"Thank you, Bethany." Leaning back in her chair, Miranda laced her fingers together over her stomach and nodded, "Send her in." Thoughtful blue eyes tracked the short Latin woman's progress into the office. Miranda was impressed when the woman spoke without a tremble in her voice.

"You wanted to see me?"

"Yes," Nodding, Miranda took her glasses off and tossed them on the desk, "I wanted to thank you for the excellent job you did at my daughters' party." Licking her lips, Miranda continued, "And I was considering offering you the chance to repeat that at my wedding." There was a hesitation and a small smile, one that always appeared when she thought about the upcoming event, "I understand, however, if you would rather not participate in that celebration."

"Um... you would understand?" Carmen shook her head. "I don't think you..."

With a deep breath, Miranda nodded again. "While I cannot call them friends, I am quite well acquainted with certain people in certain circles of society." She turned her least cold business gaze on the DJ. "When certain people's daughters foot the bill for her friend's wedding, and then the wedding gets canceled at the last minute, certain people tend to, rant about it."

Carmen gasped, "You know Helena."

"I know of her," Miranda agreed but elaborated, "I do speak with her mother from time to time." Studying the young woman intensely, Miranda asked, "Are you comfortable working at a wedding involving two women?"

"It's a job." Carmen smiled, "Thank you for your consideration. I would love to perform at your wedding."

"Technically, it would be the reception." Miranda winked. "Your music choices seemed to keep the children dancing without overtaxing them. I look forward to my guests enjoying that same kind of thoughtful mix of fast and slow songs."

"Sure." Carmen raised her eyebrows, "What song would you want for your first dance?" She added, "So I can be sure and have it available."

Pressing her lips together for a moment, Miranda considered the question. "There is a song, a copy of which will be provided to you when you arrive at the venue."

"Good enough." Carmen's smile reached her eyes. "Thank you."

Another deep breath, and Miranda called, "Emily." The redhead appeared in the doorway almost immediately.

"Yes, Miranda?"

"Ms. Morales has agreed to lend her services to the wedding reception," Again, a small smile appeared on her face at the thought of that event, "Make the necessary arrangements for her travel and accommodations."

"Of course, Miranda. Straight away." Emily gestured for Carmen to follow her out of the office. Both women stopped when Miranda called the DJ's name.

"Carmen." Miranda met the DJ's dark eyes as the woman turned back, "She will never work as a model again."

"Um... what?"

"Ms McCutcheon... her involvement in the fashion industry is over, permanently." Miranda's smile was no longer soft, "That is the reason Peggy spoke to me about the event to begin with."

"She didn't want to be a model anyway. She's a hair-dresser."

Nodding, Miranda picked up her glasses and slipped them on, "Want or not, she has no choice in the matter and hasn't for some time. In addition, no photographer I know will hire her to assist them on a shoot," Miranda's voice lowered slightly, "and I know a great many photographers."

"Um... wow."

"Indeed. Peggy was quite incensed that someone would throw away her daughter's magnanimous gesture the way Ms. McCutcheon did." Miranda vividly recalled that volatile conversation and had been glad that such a small matter would cancel any favor she owed Peggy Peabody. Miranda's phone buzzed and she smiled as she reached for the jumping cell phone. "Thank you, Carmen. I will see you at the reception." Dismissing the women from her thoughts, Miranda read the text message on her phone and with a small sort of laughing grunt began to tap out a reply. She absently called after her assistant, "Emily, lunch for four at Le Bernardin."

Carmen's eyes widened when Emily didn't miss a beat as they continued walking out of the office.

"Yes, Miranda."

"Excuse me?"

Andy laughed, "You heard me. They contacted me this morning."

"They want you to be the Grand Marshal in the Gay Pride parade this year??"

Andy winked at the girls and grinned as she responded to Miranda's incredulous question. "Actually, no. They want you. But they asked me, because they know that if they get me, they'll probably get you too."

Miranda tossed her napkin on the table, "This is what I get for appearing on television with you?" She ignored Andrea's smirk.

"C'mon, Mom... it'll be great!" Cassidy's eyes glittered at the thought of the couple being in the parade.

Caroline nodded, "Yeah, you guys are really influential. It's good publicity for the event."

Miranda shook her head, "I don't believe it would be in Andrea's or my best interests to be seen riding in a parade." She paused for half a heartbeat to lick her lips and watch the expressions on her daughter's, and Andrea's, face fall, before she continued, "If we are intended on being poster children for the gay rights movement, we should at least ride as a family."

"Oh!" Andy's million watt smile made an appearance. "That's a great idea!!"

"Really?" Caroline clapped her hands in front of her. "That would be so fun!"

"Cool." Cassidy tried to show some excitement. She wasn't really sure she wanted to be in front of all those people though. There would be more onlookers to the parade than any recital or concert audience she'd ever been in front of. Plus, what if they could look at her and 'know'?

Andy hesitated, "But, Mr. Ravitz was really mad when you went on tv." Miranda had told her the gist of that little conversation. The stock prices drop and rebound had been scary for major shareholders.

"Irving can deal with it. Besides, this will not be a surprise. They will all be informed and I'm sure there will be some public announcement regarding our participation."

"Okay." Andy picked her phone up from its place next to her plate. "Should I go ahead and confirm with the planning committee then? The parade is coming up soon, they'll need an answer."

"How flattering that they wait until the last minute to ask..." Miranda sighed past her sarcasm and turned her attention to the children. "Girls?" Miranda waited for both of them to nod and then gestured to the phone Andrea held. "Proceed."

Andy waited for the call to connect and asked for the person she'd been told to contact with her reply. She only waited a second before her call was transferred and answered.

Miranda watched Andrea smile into the phone.

"Yes. Hello. This is Andy Sachs..." She winked at Caroline, "I'm afraid I won't be able to be Grand Marshal," She waited half a heartbeat and grinned, "Not unless my family can join me."

The corners of Miranda's eyes crinkled when Andrea pulled the phone away from her ear quickly. The high pitched squee emanating from the phone's speaker nearly pulled a laugh from her. Andrea replaced the phone to her ear and continued speaking with the parade planner.

"Just email me with the details of where we should be when, but do it soon, because I'll have to get it on Miranda's schedule." Andy was not looking forward to the chaos Miranda's work life would be once Emily had moved on. Rearranging the schedule was only one of the things Emily always seemed to handle effortlessly. Andy knew for a fact it was a very difficult task. She dearly hoped Bethany was up to dealing with the daily pressures of Runway. "Thank you." She waited for the man to thank her profusely and nodded as he promised to email her the details as soon as he could although she already knew the general date and time of the parade. Soon.

Andy stood in front of their double sinks and scrubbed her face clean. She waited for Miranda to do the same before she spoke, "You've been awfully quiet today."

"When am I chatty, Andrea?" Miranda knew that particular trait would never be associated with her. Andrea's response surprised her.

"When you're relaxed." Andy wrapped her arms around Miranda's waist and exhaled softly, "Sweetheart, your back is tight as a drum..." She took an educated guess at the general cause, "Problems at work, again?"

"Mmmm..." Melting into the embrace, Miranda nodded. "A myriad of small problems have caused a domino effect, and they are still having issues with the German photo shoot."

"You're gonna have to go, aren't you?" Andy rested her forehead against Miranda's, "When?"

"I will give them a few more days to work it out on their own." Shifting, Miranda led Andrea to their bed. She hesitated, then shook her head, "But if it hasn't been resolved by the end of this week, I will most likely have to go and take care of it myself."

"Next week?" Andy's heart beat a little faster, "But, Miranda..."

"I know..." she admitted, "it will be cutting it close, but no worries. I will be back in plenty of time for the parade."

They climbed into bed and Miranda's lips twitched as Andrea made a twirling motion with her index finger. Complying with the unspoken order, Miranda rolled onto her stomach and loved the familiar sensation of Andrea straddling her legs. The young woman's hands gently massaged her back in long easy strokes, "Mmmm... you're very good at this."

Leaning down, Andy kissed the exposed bit on the back of Miranda's neck and whispered, "I've had some practice." Sitting up she continued the back rub and spoke, "You're really tense tonight, Miranda. Is there something else bothering you?" Often, Andy had found, that although the back rub was helpful, what allowed Miranda to relax the most was talking about what was going on to make her tense in the first place. "Is it the wedding?"

"No." Twisting her neck to glance at Andrea, Miranda assured her fiancee, "No, the wedding is the one thing I am not worried about. It is being handled quite well." She rested her cheek on the pillow. "Ms. Morales has agreed to perform at the reception."

"Excellent." Andy continued the long soothing strokes on Miranda's back, "I know Cassidy had a great time helping her at the birthday party."

"Mmmm..." Groaning when Andrea's fingers touched a particularly hard knot of muscles, Miranda felt warm and melty when the gentle fingers paused to work that tension away before continuing with the massage. "I can't believe James bought them all those gadgets."

Andy grinned at the term. The 'gadgets' that Miranda was talking about were brand new iPhones, and the most mega, memory laden, graphic driven, laptops Andy had ever seen. Both girls had not been found without their respective machines somewhere very close to their person since they'd unwrapped them. Caroline's had been pre-loaded with the latest versions of her favorite graphic manipulation software and video clip editing programs. Cassidy's had the most cutting edge music editing software and she had already plugged the synthesizer in to record several songs, in addition to downloading a ton of her favorites to play with in the program's mixing function. "Gadgets are fine, Miranda. The girls love them. But they loved all their clothes and the things we got them too." Deft fingers found another small knot and kneaded it away gently.

"Ohh..." Miranda was nearly asleep now, lulled by the delicious luxury of Andrea massaging her back. She mumbled, "Coor, that feels good."

Andy smiled softly. The English phrase and lilt in her voice, told Andy more about Miranda's relaxed state than the pliancy of the muscles under her fingertips. She continued with a few more slow, languid, strokes before ending the massage with another kiss on the back of Miranda's neck. Shifting, Andy curled around Miranda and sighed in contentment as Miranda automatically accommodated her. This, she knew, was where she belonged. Miranda was already asleep, but Andy couldn't contain the feeling in her chest and the words slipped quietly from her lips. "I love you." She smiled when Miranda, even as deeply asleep as she was, responded to the whisper with a hum at the back of her throat and a slight tightening of the embrace.

Closing her eyes, Andy smiled again and thought, She's going to marry me!

"Miranda." Andy gently shook her whimpering fiancee's shoulder. "Miranda, wake up." The suggestion became an order when she noticed tears leaking from Miranda's eyes. "Miranda! Sweetheart, you're dreaming... wake up!" Confusion, and profound hurt, were foremost evident when the liquid blue eyes opened. For a fleeting second, Andy felt a strange sense of disconnect, it was normally her who was waking from a nightmare.

"What?" Furrows appeared in Miranda's normally smooth forehead. "Andrea? What..." Pushing away the disturbing remnants of the nightmare, Miranda focused on her partner. "Did you just call me sweetheart?"

"Um..." Andy seemed to think about it for a moment. "Yeah... I guess I did." Shaking off that bit of weirdness, she got back to the subject. "You okay?"

"Mmmm... odd dream."

"Need to talk about it?" Andy knew that she never remembered her nightmares, but wondered if Miranda would.

"No, it's only fleeting disturbing images, fading now." Miranda did have one clear memory regarding the dream though and was determined to investigate it further, later. "What time is it?"

"Early." Andy settled down into their most familiar embrace. "We should go back to sleep."

"Oh really?" Miranda smirked when Andrea looked up at her. "Not really enough time to go back to sleep..."

"Oh?" Andy's slow smile increased as her hand found its way under Miranda's pajama top. "Do tell..." Her fingertips brushed across Miranda's ribs, causing Miranda to inhale deeply. "What should we do instead?"

"Mmm..." Her eyes never left Andrea's as the backs of her fingers gently traced the young woman's soft cheek. "I can think of a few things..."

Andy chuckled, "I've always said you were quite intelligent... oh, wait, that's your line isn't it?"

Miranda's blue eyes twinkled in the early morning dimness as she moved to capture Andrea's lips with her own. "You bet it is."

Miranda took a deep breath and looked around her empty office. She didn't really have to be here today, on a weekend, a Sunday. She had been making a concerted effort to be home more often lately, especially on the weekends. The long hours during the work week were necessary to finish everything that needed to be done before she left for the wedding and honeymoon but she had consciously tried to put some of that aside to make time for her family. This was different though, there was a phone call she wanted to make. A call she didn't actually want to make, but there was some information she needed to know. She needed to be here, in her office, calm and collected, in charge, when she requested the information, and hopefully acquired the answer she wanted.

Scrolling through the contact information on her cell, Miranda found the number she wanted and pushed the button. Two rings later the rather serious voice sounded in her ear.

"Polniaczeck go."

"Hello, Detective."

"Miranda!" Jo sounded surprised to hear from the fashion icon. "What can I do for you today?"

"I need some information, Detective." At Jo's silence, Miranda closed her eyes and explained. "Andrea was quite upset regarding the crime scene she accompanied you to not so long ago. A murder, suicide..."

"Yeah..." Jo interrupted, "I tried to tell her not to..."

Miranda stopped the quick apology, "Andrea's stubborn nature is well known to me, Detective. My dilemma is regarding the motivation for that tragedy." With a deep breath, Miranda calmed herself and continued. "I need to know if... if there is a possibility, that I was responsible for that event."


"Andrea told me that the man was a stock broker, and that you believed he had lost a great deal of money in the market and had gone insane." Pressing her lips together, Miranda explained, "Not too long before that, crime, my actions caused Elias-Clarke stock prices to plummet dramatically, for a short time. They bounced back quickly, but for a brief time period anyone holding Elias-Clarke stock would have lost a great deal of money had they been holding several shares and panicked enough to sell them."

"Oh." Jo hesitated, "I'm really not supposed to give out any information like that Miranda."

"I understand. I don't require specifics. I merely need to know if the man in question lost money due to my actions." Miranda was glad this was not a face to face meeting as she reached up to wipe a tear that had escaped the corner of her eye from her cheek. "I need to know, Detective."

"I'll look into it."

"Thank you... Joanne." Miranda sighed, "I believe Andrea is missing the company of friends. Perhaps one day, before the wedding you and your lovely wife can join us for dinner?"

"Blair and I would both enjoy that very much. Thank you, Miranda." Jo tried to keep her tone light. The switch from Miranda's normal name for her to her actual name had shocked Jo more than anything else the woman had said so far. "I'll get back to you on that other matter as well."

"Thank you." Miranda nodded and leaned back in her captain's chair. "We will speak again soon." Disconnecting the call, Miranda tossed the phone on her desk and tried to calm herself.

Time was moving quickly toward the date of the wedding. Her days had been filled with one crisis after another at Runway. The sudden realization that the crime scene Andrea had observed could have been due to her actions had caused a recent nightmare, one that Andrea had needed to wake her from. What she was going to do with the information, once she had it, Miranda didn't know. She did know that it was important for her to ascertain if she was responsible, one way or the other.

She tried to put the matter out of her mind while she waited for the detective's return call. Picking up her red pencil, Miranda began to peruse the photographs on her desk, slashing through many of them immediately, ruthlessly. It didn't take long for the number of choices to dwindle to a mere few. The best of the best, that was what Miranda wanted in her magazine, that was what the fashions, and Runway, deserved. Finalizing her choices for the photo layout, Miranda cleared her desk and was nearly ready to leave when the phone on her desk rang. She was expecting a call from Jo, but had assumed the woman would call her back on the cell. The possibility that this could be Andrea or the girls was too much for Miranda to risk, so she answered the annoying device. Clearing her throat, she consciously allowed her English accent to surface in a fair approximation of Emily's tone.

"Miranda Priestly's office."

She pulled the receiver away from her ear quickly as a spate of very loud, very quickly spoken German words assailed her. Keeping her English accent, Miranda, very calmly, spoke to the man. "Please hold for Miranda." Pushing the 'hold' button on the phone, Miranda took a deep breath and sorted through the jumble of German words she'd heard. Now there was some sort of problem with the alternate site chosen for the shoot. Something about stuck up royalty, and a family problem they were having. After a few more moments, she pushed the button and answered the call, in German.

"What is the problem?"

Again the quickly spoken words rang through the small speaker. Miranda followed the story and sighed, she was going to have to go and straighten this out herself. "Enough!" The Dragon Lady spoke, clearly unhappy, a tone that was conveyed very distinctly in the German language, "I will arrive soon to handle this myself!" The main reason for her displeasure was that a trip now meant she would miss time with the girls.

Family time was at a premium these days. With the wedding and the honeymoon approaching things were very busy. And after the honeymoon, the new school term would begin, so the girls' time would be scheduled as much, if not moreso than her own. "Be ready to work when I arrive." She hung up the phone without waiting for the man's farewell. It was a quick matter to send Emily an email to have her schedule the Elias-Clarke jet for a flight to Dusseldorf tomorrow then Miranda was done with the office for the day. If she was going to have to go to Germany, she was going to spend as much time with the girls now as she could. Joanne would call her back on the cell.


Andy looked up from her computer screen and felt her heart drop. "Awww, Munchkin... feeling bad?"

Caroline nodded. "I felt kinda sniffly yesterday, but didn't say anything." She hung her head. "I'm sorry."

Moving to place her hand on the girl's forehead, Andy exhaled softly, "No fever yet." She smiled and tried to cheer the girl up. "Maybe we can still catch it in time. C'mon." Wrapping her arm around Caroline's shoulder, Andy guided her upstairs to the master bedroom and into the bathroom. "Here ya go..." She handed over two of the antihistamine capsules that the doctor had recommended Caroline take at the onset of her symptoms.

Taking the pills, Caroline felt them hit the bottom of her stomach and grimaced. "I hope I don't start puking."

"Me too." Andy watched the girl closely. "Is this why you didn't go with Cass to the Hartstone's?

Caroline nodded.

Pushing some of the auburn hair away from Caroline's forehead, Andy kissed the cleared space. "Next time, tell us when you start feeling sniffly."

Nodding, Caroline agreed, "Yeah, I just didn't want to interrupt the weekend. We were having so much fun."

Andy smiled, "It has been fun, hasn't it?" The girls had been scheduled to go to their father's this weekend but he had canceled at the last minute. He had assured them that he would make it up to them when he stayed with them after the wedding. A good thing had come from the change in plans though because, aside from the hour or two that Miranda had gone in to the office today, the editor had taken the weekend off. They'd watched three movies and had two video game tournaments that resulted in Cassidy becoming the undisputed champ at Mario Kart, while Miranda still held the title for Dance Dance Revolution. She grinned at the girl. "You know, we're gonna have to start practicing those video games more, if we ever want to have a hope of winning the championships." A new voice made them both jump.

"There is always hope, Andrea."

Laughing, Andy turned to see Miranda leaning against the frame of the bathroom door. "Hey, that didn't take long."

With a sigh, Miranda shrugged and stood up straight, "Long enough."

"Uh oh." Andy studied her partner and grimaced. "You're going to Germany." At Miranda's nod, Andy asked, "When?"

"Tomorrow." Miranda braced for it; the tirade she knew was coming. Her partners always railed against her work taking so much time away from family. To her amazement Andrea just sighed.

"I've never been to Germany. I wish I could go with you."

A band of tension eased across Miranda's chest, "That would be lovely and preferable." Miranda shook her head, "But also counterproductive. I would want to show you around and it would just take three times as long."

Andy nodded, "Yeah, plus I have some stuff here to do. Work to get caught up on..." She sighed, "And, in case you can't get back in time... I need to be here for the parade."

"Can we still ride with you, Ma?" Caroline was looking forward to the parade. She'd seen bits of it on the news every year and thought it was going to be a blast.

"Sure, Munchkin." Andy ruffled the girl's hair, "I'm sure your mom will be back in time to ride with us too."

Miranda nodded, "I will try my best."

Moving to embrace Miranda, Andy smiled at her fiancee, "Miranda, your worst is better than most people's best... your best... well," Andy kissed Miranda's lips lightly, "we'll see you at the parade for sure."

Melting against Andrea's form, Miranda sighed, "Thank you, Andrea." Reluctantly moving away from the embrace, Miranda spoke quietly, "I should go pack." Emily had texted her during the drive home; the plane was set to take off in the morning. Miranda doubted she'd even be able to stay until Andrea returned from her run. Fleetingly she thought about how much she would miss Emily and her efficiency.

Andy watched Miranda leave the room and heard her enter the big closet. She turned to ask Caroline. "You gonna be okay, Munchkin?"

"Yeah." Caroline just turned twelve, but she knew that Andy wanted to be alone with her mom. "I'm gonna go practice."

"Thanks." Andy waited until she knew Caroline was in the music room before she approached Miranda. Andy wrapped her arms around her fiancee's waist, pressed herself against Miranda's back and linked her fingers together over Miranda's stomach. She whispered, "Hey there, Beautiful..."

Miranda made a contented sound in the back of her throat and leaned back into the embrace. They stood that way for a long moment before Miranda spoke quietly. "I used to love Runway, the travel, the excitement, there was always some crisis somewhere that I needed to deal with..." she hugged the arms around her and sighed, "Now I'm beginning to hate it, for those very same reasons."

"Miranda," Andy shifted so that Miranda could turn in her arms, "You don't hate Runway, you love all that fashion and glamor. Your priorities are just shifting, slightly. Does it bother you?"

"No, what bothers me is that they didn't shift a long time ago." Miranda leaned forward, resting her cheek on Andrea's shoulder, "Family should have been first on the priority list from the beginning."

"The girls have always been your first priority and they know you love them." Andy moved forward to brush her lips lightly against Miranda's, "And so do I."

"I do, Andrea." Miranda, uncharacteristically clutched at her fiancee, "Don't ever doubt that... no matter what anyone tells you, or says about me.. I love you, always."

Nodding, Andy ran her hands up and down Miranda's slim back and reassured her, "I know. Shhh... It's okay, I won't forget." not again. Smiling, Andy pulled away from the embrace and looked into Miranda's watery blue eyes. "C'mon, let's get you packed, and then I can spend the rest of the night showing you exactly how much I love you."

"I'm not going to get any sleep tonight, am I?" Miranda's lips twitched. She wasn't exactly worried about that event. Andrea's quite sensible response confirmed her reasoning.

"Nope." Andy grinned, "But you're taking the Elias-Clarke plane, right? It has a bedroom." She opened Miranda's lingerie drawer and picked out a few unmentionables to pack, "You can sleep on the way over."

"It's only a seven hour flight, Andrea." Miranda grinned, "After a night with you, I should think I would need much more than that to recover. Unless..."

Andy's dark eyes narrowed at her grinning partner, "Unless, what?"

Miranda casually looked through the suits hanging on her side of the closet, "I thought perhaps your age was catching up to you."

"My..." Andy chuckled and shook her head, "Lady... you're gonna pay for that one. I'll show you 'my age'."

Blue eyes sparkled as Miranda continued to peruse the selection of clothing, however, her mind was not on packing for the trip. It was firmly on the bed in the next room and looking forward to paying, and paying, all night long. Although the air pushed past her vocal cords, she knew her comment wasn't audible.

You bet I will.


Part 47

Andy leaned against the lockers as she checked her watch. The woman in the office had told her that the class would be dismissed in a few minutes. It had taken a bit of detective work to find this boy and she tried not to think about the irony of practically stalking the boy who had for all intents and purposes stalked her.

Their first meeting in the park was cute with him trying to win a bet and impress his friends by talking to her. Then he had dug through the internet, including hacking into her old school records, to discover a great deal about her. It had freaked her out at the time. Miranda had been none too happy about it either when she'd eventually told her fiancee about the incident, but eventually Thomas had apologized and now that talent for internet search was exactly what Andy needed.

When the bell rang the first two students out the door were girls, blonde and thin. They looked her over closely, clearly not impressed with her ripped jeans and baggy t-shirt as they walked on down the hall. Andy didn't care what they thought, it was Miranda that mattered. It was true that Miranda probably wouldn't be terribly thrilled with her outfit, but Andy figured Miranda would be even less thrilled with delinquent boys attending summer school oogling her had she worn a designer outfit. She sighed to herself, partially annoyed, partially amused, and partially flattered when several boys walked out of the room and did just that. She kept her face neutral at their rather blatant stares, until the object of her search appeared then she smiled, "Thomas!"

Ignoring the rude boy's shocked expressions, Andy threw her arm around the young man's shoulders, "Just the person I wanted to see." She guided him out of the building, aware the others were following. With a smirk she stopped at the Porsche, and leaned against the driver's side door. "You wanna lift home?"

"Yeah!" He eagerly climbed into the passenger seat of the convertible. "Wow."

Andy laughed, "Yeah, it's nice." Sliding behind the wheel, she asked, "Where to?"

"Oh!" Thomas laughed and told her where he lived. They were barely out of the school's parking lot before he asked, "Am I in trouble?"

"No." Andy sighed and while they waited for traffic to clear, she handed him an envelope. "I need you to do something for me."

Thomas opened the envelope and looked at the papers inside, reading one of the names there, "Candice....Dr. Goldman..." He looked over at Andy, "Um...You want me to... spy on these people?"

"Not really." Andy's hands tightened on the steering wheel slightly, "That's all the stuff I can find on them. I want to see if you can find more. I know you're good at that." Pulling up in front of his apartment building, Andy double parked, much to the annoyance of the cars behind her. She turned to look at the boy. "There are email address' on the last page where I want you to send all that information plus anything you find. It's a friend's lawyer and a reporter at the Times." She sighed, "It will take too long to explain, but I don't want to be attached to this investigation." Using her family as news was never something Andy was going to be comfortable with, nor did she want that to become what she was known for. It was sure to be picked up by the press though so she wanted Sandy to have first crack at the story. Andy trusted her to report the facts and possibly find more information for the lawyer. "Okay?"

"So you want me to send it anonymously?" Thomas nodded. "Sure."

"Thank you so much." She smiled at him, "It's good practice for when you're an official P. I. right?"

"Sure," Thomas nodded and spoke absently, as he basked in the radiant smile, "It'll be fun." Horns honking behind them helped him tear his mesmerized gaze away from Andy. He jumped out of the car quickly. "I'll get right on it."

"Cool." Andy smiled again. "Thanks, Thomas. I owe you one."

"Nah," He blushed, "You got my friends off my back and didn't compromise anything. And... and I scared you... I think, this will probably just make us even."

Andy's dark eyes caught the blush and she grinned, "Okay then, we're even." She shouted as he stepped toward his building and she pulled back out into the slow moving traffic, "But next time, I'll owe you!"

He grinned, clutching the envelope to his chest as he waved then bolted for his apartment and room with his computer.

"Where is she? I'll bet she doesn't even show until the end..." Caroline looked around from her perch on the back of the convertible. The crowd was crazy huge, there was no way anyone would get through that mob.

"She'll be here." Andy grinned and waved at a few people on the sidelines. "Her plane has already landed, but Roy said the traffic is nuts because of the parade." She winked at the girl. "He'll get her here."

Cassidy slumped down in her seat. "Even if he does get her here, how's she gonna get through the crowd? It'll be just another thing she's missed and will apologize for."

"Hmmm... She said she'd be here..." Andy looked around again and conceded that Cassidy was right about the crowd. Fishing her phone out of her pocket, Andy dialed quickly. "Yeah, Em... listen... I need you to do something," She grinned at the huff in her ear and added, "for Miranda." Knowing Emily was now listening and would comply, Andy spelled out what she wanted. Emily growled a bit but assured her former co-worker that everything would be taken care of. "Thanks, Em." She hung up the phone and shrugged, "Em's on the job, everything will be fine."

Caroline looked at Andy for a long time then spoke quietly, "You miss it, don't you, Ma?" At the furrow in Andy's forehead, Caroline elaborated, "Being Mom's assistant, doing things for her... making things happen for her... you miss it."

Pressing her lips together, Andy took a deep breath and nodded. She licked her lips before actually responding, "Sometimes, yeah."

Cassidy climbed up to sit next to Andy on the back of the car and informed their Ma, "She does too." Suddenly Cassidy's eyes bugged out as she looked past Andy and her sister. "What is that?!"

"Cass!" Andy glanced in the direction Cassidy was looking and laughed, "You've seen men in drag before."

Rolling her eyes, Cassidy scoffed, "I don't mean that.. I mean THAT... on top of his head.. what is that?"

Andy looked again harder then hazarded a guess, "Umm... peacock feathers?"

Caroline groaned and Cassidy giggled, "Oh my god... Mom is gonna have a damn field day with this bunch."

"Language!" Andy reprimanded, but winced at the thought. She looked around again and knew Cassidy was right. Although many of the fashions Miranda often saw on the runway were just as outrageous as these outfits were, Andy wasn't sure how Miranda would take them being paraded down the middle of the street, instead of on a catwalk. She saw a man wearing a pair of leather chaps, and very little else walking toward them. Focusing on his face, she recognized him as one of the parade's organizers.

"We aren't going to be able to wait any longer," he said, "We have to start!"

Andy nodded. "That's okay. Miranda is on her way, but she's been slightly delayed. She'll meet us en route."

"Really?" He seemed breathless at the thought, "She's really going to be here?"

Andy just smiled. The girls took one look at her and knew Andy's arrangements with Emily would work. They both turned to the man and spoke in unison.

"She'll be here."

His eyes widened as he realized, "Will she be angry that we started without her?!"

Andy grinned, "Don't worry. I'll take care of that." She winked at the girls when the parade organizer's expression morphed into one of doubt, but he spoke into his walkie talkie for a moment then raised his hand and gave the signal for things to start moving.

Andy nodded and as the procession began, slid her phone from her pocket, texting several messages in rapid succession. Her smile widened as the reply reached her. She silently read the one word response; Miranda's tone lacing it.


They were about a third of the way through the parade route when a golf cart silently moved up next to their car, pacing it. The crowd roared when they realized who was in the cart.

Andy grinned and leaned down from her seat on the back of the convertible to tap their driver's shoulder. "We need to stop for a few seconds."

Glancing over at the driver of the golf cart, the man nodded. He sped up slightly to put some distance between the car and the rest of the parade, then stopped. The golf cart had kept up and as soon as the convertible stopped, it stopped too.

Licking her lips, Andy watched as Miranda stepped out of the cart and walked the three steps to the car. She laughed when Miranda raised an eyebrow, causing one of the tall men in drag that Cassidy had noticed earlier, to rush forward and open the car door for her. He bowed low, feathers brushing the top of the car door, and Miranda smiled as she stepped into the back seat of the car. Now the fun really began.

Caroline and Cassidy were both amazed when their Mom made a move to hug Andy, but Andy stopped her. With an exaggerated frown, Andy pointed to her wrist, to indicate the time and shook her finger at Miranda. The crowd hooted and shouted encouragement to the very late Miranda who was obviously in the doghouse with her future bride. Amazingly, Miranda looked sufficiently contrite and from the inside pocket of her tailored business suit, the one she liked to wear when traveling, she produced a small, rather wilted, flower. Caroline rolled her eyes as Andy visibly melted at the sight of the flower, then accepted it with a huge smile and a hug for Miranda. The crowd cheered and then cheered louder when Miranda kissed Andy on the cheek and took her place next to her fiancee, between Andy and Cassidy, who was sitting in the back seat.

Andy nudged Miranda's shoulder with hers as the car began moving again, "How was your trip?"

"Tedious." Miranda waved to the crowd. "I haven't seen you in almost a week and you practically force me to go through this charade." It was almost a pout.

"Awww...This is New York... they love theater and street performances." Andy wrapped her arm around Miranda's waist and pulled her closer. Leaning over, she whispered into Miranda's ear. "I'll make it up to you when we get home."

"Why wait?" Miranda turned her head and received a proper hello kiss. The crowd went wild.

Andy pulled away and rested her forehead against Miranda's. "Thank you for my flower."

"Mmm..." Miranda took comfort in the familiar pose, "Edelweiss, I had the rest delivered to the townhouse. Remind me to tell you its history."

"I know the history, Miranda." Andy sat up straighter and grinned as she automatically brought the offering up to her nose. "I'm sure you didn't brave the cliffs of the Alps to retrieve this though, as many suitors in the past were said to have done, just to prove their love to their chosen bride."

"No," Miranda belatedly waved to the crowd as she continued her conversation with Andrea. "I was not in the correct area for that. I did pick it in Germany though. On the grounds of the castle. The gardens there are quite extensive and will make excellent backdrops for showcasing the fashions."

"The castle..." Andy laughed and waved at a group of particularly loud cheerers. "Of course." Shifting closer, Andy enjoyed the sensation of Miranda's thigh against hers. "I'm sure the pictures were gorgeous."

"I'm sure they will be." Miranda shrugged, "They will be sent to me as soon as the shoot is over."

"You didn't stay to watch?" Caroline was amazed at that. With all the trouble getting a site for the layout had been, she assumed her mother would stay to oversee the shoot.

"No, there wasn't time if I wanted to be back here with you." Reaching down Miranda traced Caroline's cheek with her fingertips. "And family is my highest priority..."

Cassidy grinned, "We love you too, Mom."

Andy winked at the girls and refocused her attention on the crowd, smiling and waving to the revelers. She was happy to see that Miranda also waved to the throngs of onlookers. The girls did too. This was a good day, the best one in nearly a week, because Miranda was home. Andy continued to wave as the procession moved slowly down the street but her mind was happily fast forwarding to a specific day a few weeks away.

We're gonna get married!

They all walked through the townhouse door, laughing.

Andy spoke while she marveled at the amount of Edelweiss and other flowers covering nearly every available surface she could see. "Are there any flowers left in the castle garden?!" She chuckled at the twinkle in Miranda's eyes and tolerantly waited for Miranda to calm Patricia's enthusiastic greeting.

Patricia barreled down the hall to greet her long absent owner, but skidded to a halt at her feet and nudged her head under Miranda's hand.

"Why doesn't she jump on you like she does me?!" Andy shook her head and grinned as Miranda knelt to greet the dog.

"She wouldn't dare!" Miranda laughed at the incredulous expression on Andrea's face.

"Whatever," Andy ran her hand through her hair, "The parade was fun, right?"

"Mmm..." Miranda ruffled the fur on Patricia's neck and, on this occasion, allowed a warm welcoming lick on her cheek. "It was a pleasant way to spend a few hours."

"I especially liked the part at the end when all the parade participants gave you an impromptu runway show." Andy grinned and, when Miranda stood, handed over five business cards. "Here are the designers you wanted to set up meetings with."

Miranda set the small stack of cards aside for the moment. She took a tissue from the box on the side table and wiped the bulk of Patricia's greeting off her cheek.

Andy watched Patricia, satisfied with her greeting, pad off deeper into the house before she moved to hug her long absent fiancee. "Welcome home. We all missed you."

"Thank you, my darling." Miranda returned the embrace whole-heartedly, "It's nice to be home."

"Mmmm..." Andy inhaled the fragrance that was Miranda's signature perfume and sighed. "Next time.. I'm going with you."

Miranda chuckled, "Absolutely." She leaned in for a kiss and sighed when the moment was broken by a rather loud summons.

"Mom!" "Andy!" "C'mon, we're starving!"

Walking arm in arm with Andrea to the kitchen, Miranda reprimanded her daughters, "Must you bellow through the house like that?" She took her seat while Andy helped Peggy set the plated meals on the table. "Really Andrea, is this the influence you have on the girls; raising the general volume of the house? Should I check to make sure the upstairs windows are not broken from the volume of music as well?

"Don't be silly, Miranda!" Andy slid into her seat, "We had all those repaired before you arrived."

They all grinned at the little amused grunt Miranda made and Peggy spoke in a laughing tone.

"Welcome home, Miranda."

Miranda smiled and nodded. She scanned the table quickly. "This looks delicious." They hadn't been able to afford it too often when she was growing up, but roast beef and veg was, in fact, one of her favorite meals. She didn't fail to notice that Andrea's plate held a chicken breast instead. "Thank you, Peggy." She indicated the plate in front of her, "A welcome change from the sausages they continually tried to stuff me with in Germany."

Peggy laughed, "I'll scratch sausages off the meal plans for the next few weeks." She grinned as both women smiled softly at the thought of the next few weeks. The wedding was soon.

Miranda asked, "Have you thought about what you would like to do on your vacation?"

Waving off that question, Peggy shrugged, "My son and his wife have settled things, and my grandson is happily enjoying a nice daycare facility so I figured I'd just stay home and take it easy for a while, sleep in... get some things done around my house...." Her plans faltered as Miranda shook her head. "No?"

"No." Miranda smiled, "at least not for the entire two weeks." With an airy gesture, Miranda spoke firmly, "Pick a place that you and your husband would like to see and go. Life is too short to miss any opportunities."

Andy's eyes held deep amusement as they shifted back and forth between Miranda and the long time servant. Miranda had told Andy that this gesture was coming, and had hinted at it to Peggy, but the woman hadn't realized what Miranda meant.

Peggy laughed, "I'm not complaining about my pay, Miranda. You've always been extremely fair with that, but we can't afford to just..."

Miranda put her fork down, "I will pay for it."

That stopped Peggy short. "What?"

With a deep breath, Miranda looked at the woman and smiled. "You have cooked our meals," she glanced at the girls and Andrea's plate, "always adjusting to our dietary whims, cleaned our messes and stood by this family, stood by me, steadfastly for many years, despite pressures from the press to do otherwise. You have been on the receiving end of many a prank," Miranda again glanced at the grinning twins, "and yet have never shown any signs of wanting to leave, never ask for raises, never complain about sudden parties or extra work. That kind of work ethic, loyalty, should be rewarded, should have been rewarded long ago." Miranda gestured to her dining companions. "Andrea and I will not be here for two weeks. During that time the girls, and Patricia, will be with James. There will be nothing here for you to do, besides clean, which you have already done meticulously." Miranda now spoke with a hint of command. "Choose a place, and I will send you and your husband there for a week." She picked up her fork and loaded it with beef, "Roy chose the Bahama's."

"Um.. can I discuss it with my husband?"

"Of course," Miranda smiled, "You should decide soon though. The wedding is only a few weeks away. The travel agent will need time to make the arrangements."

Nodding as if in a daze, Peggy responded, "Yes, Miranda."

Satisfied with that response, Miranda winked at her grinning girls and took a bite of her dinner. Covering her mouth politely, she spoke around the bite to compliment the cook, "Delicious."


Andy's back arched off of the bed, her hands grasping the sheets wildly, "Oh God, Miranda..." Collapsing back onto the soft surface, Andy gasped for air. She gazed down to see Miranda's bright eyes staring back at her. "I have missed you..." She laughed, "and I love you."

"Delicious." Chuckling, Miranda made her way back up the length of Andrea's body, slowly, stopping along the way for random tastes of the thin sheen of sweat now covering the young woman. With one last lick, just below and behind Andrea's ear, Miranda smiled against the soft skin there and whispered, "I've missed you too." She settled into their familiar comfortable embrace and murmured against Andrea's shoulder. "I love you too."

"Mmm..." Andy took a deep breath and smiled in her half dozing state. "I'm gonna marry you."

Miranda tightened her hold slightly, now counting the days until that event, "And I am going to marry you."

"I can't wait..." Andy shifted to kiss Miranda's temple. "It's gonna be so awesome."

"Is it?" Clamping down on her negative thoughts Miranda berated herself. Of course it is, but couldn't help adding, for me.

"Of course." Shifting again, Andy turned to look directly into Miranda's eyes. "I love you, and I always will. No matter what."

Miranda marveled at the sincerity in Andrea's voice. "I still don't know what I've done to deserve... that. I can't imagine anyone doing anything to warrant your love, Andrea, much less me. It is my sincere wish to be worthy of that honor."

Andy knew this conversation was much too serious. The physical intimacy they'd just enjoyed had relaxed their bodies needs, but Miranda was tired from her trip and needed to relax her mind as well. Suddenly, Andy thought a bit of humor might help. "Hmm..." Gently tracing Miranda's nose with the tip of her own, Andy smiled, "I... am going to be the best wife you've ever had." She was rewarded with a genuine Miranda-laugh, the kind that warmed Andy all the way to her toes.

"I have no doubt of that, Andrea. No doubt at all." Bringing her hand up to hold Andrea's head in place, Miranda gazed into the deep dark eyes of her one true love for a long, long moment. "I do love you, Andrea and I will do my very best not to, ever, let you forget."

"I know, Miranda." Andy promised, "That goes both ways." She smiled and kissed her future bride lightly. "But right now, it's late... and we both need sleep."

Miranda smiled and settled in. She should ask about the events in the house while she'd been gone, she should ask if Andrea's young computer hacker friend had found any more information regarding James' so-called fiancee, but instead Miranda obediently closed her eyes and murmured softly, "Yes, Andrea."

"Emily." Miranda looked up as her long time assistant walked into her office.

"Yes, Miranda?"

"Have all the arrangements been finalized for our guests' arrival?"

"Yes, Miranda." Even as Emily handed today's mail over, she could see the tension in Miranda and did the only thing she knew to reassure her mercurial boss. She ran through the list. "I triple checked everything this morning. Flights and ground transportation have been confirmed and verified, hotel accommodations are also confirmed. By tomorrow evening both your and Andy's entire family will be at the hotel on Martha's Vineyard."

Miranda took a deep breath and nodded, "Thank you Emily." She looked up from the sorted stack of envelopes on her desk and smiled at the shocked woman. "You have gone above and beyond to put this wedding together. I do appreciate it."

"Yes well," Emily blushed slightly and admitted, "You know I would do anything for you." Thoughts of the upcoming event were overshadowed by a more immediate gathering. Emily bit her lip and asked, "Are you ready for all this?"

Chuckling at that, rather tentative, question, Miranda nodded, "I believe I am." A mischievous glint appeared in the depths of her blue eyes, "Perhaps the question is... Are you ready for it?"

"I will do my best." Emily tried not to think too much about upcoming events. Of course the next big thing to happen was the wedding, but before that, there were the hen parties to deal with. Andy's friend, who insisted on calling them bachelorette parties, had wanted to have the gatherings here in the city, but that had turned out to be logistically impossible. Too many of the people invited would be traveling to the wedding and already be on Martha's Vineyard. So it was either transport them, have the party and then transport them back, or, have the party there. Miranda had indicated that she would also prefer it if her sister could attend, and her sister wouldn't arrive until tomorrow with the rest of Miranda's family. Therefore, today was Miranda's last day at Runway, before she and Andy left for the wedding venue. The thought struck Emily like a fist to the stomach. I won't be Miranda's assistant anymore!

Miranda read the expression on Emily's face easily and reminded her, softly, "It's a promotion Emily, well deserved and long past due." She offered a small smile to her veteran assistant, "For what it's worth, I'm glad you decided to remain here in New York."

"It's worth a lot." Emily's chest heaved as she tried to control her breathing, "Thank you."

With a little nod, Miranda studied the redhead for a moment longer then tilted her head in question. "Well then, shall we get on with the day? There are quite a few things that need attending to, before I leave."

Emily swallowed her emotions and nodded, answering the only way possible.

"Yes, Miranda."

With a tiny grunt at that oh so familiar response, Miranda's lips formed a small smile. The same smile she was never able to suppress when thoughts of the wedding invaded her mind. Reaching for one of the large envelopes in the mail pile, the familiar Photos Enclosed stamp was not concerning, Miranda's brow did furrow though when she realized there was no return address. Upon opening the envelope, the smile on her lips faded then turned to a frown. Photo after photo left Miranda shaking with anger. This would have to be dealt with, immediately. She picked up her cell phone and scrolled quickly through the contact numbers. Conscious of the time of day, Miranda chose the work number and was grateful that the connection was picked up after only one ring. "Yes, Miranda Priestly to speak to Blair Warner. Urgently," Miranda paused and continued softly, "please."

Andy stood nervously next to Miranda at the airport terminal. Emily had worked what amounted to a logistical miracle and the planes carrying their families were arriving almost simultaneously. Checking her watch, Andy leaned over slightly to ask, "Are they still on time?"

"Yes!" Emily rolled her eyes, "They're just approaching the gate." The English woman made a sharp gesture with her hand, "Stop fidgeting!"

"Emily..." Blue eyes gazed past Andrea to meet Emily's eyes, "You can still go to London."

"Right," Emily nodded, "Sorry, Miranda."

"I am not the one you need to apologize to." She was lenient, because she knew that Emily did not know why Andrea was so nervous.

"Right," Emily took a deep breath and actually looked a bit chagrined, "Sorry, Andrea."

Andy nodded absently, all her attention was on the doorway where her family began to arrive. Her brother, Chad, was first. He held the door for the rest of them to follow. Aunt Dawn, Gram Sachs, Mary and, Andy deflated a bit when her mother walked through the door, alone. Her father hadn't come with them. She was grateful for Miranda's hand sliding into her own and the woman's voice very close to her ear, reassuring her.

"There is still time."

Nodding at that, Andy lifted the hand in hers and kissed it lightly, then released the hold to welcome her family properly. "Ma!" She hugged Dorothy tightly, "Good to see you."

"You too, sweetheart." Dorothy released her daughter so Andy could greet the others, and turned to Miranda, "Hello."

"Hello, Darlin'" Pava hugged her granddaughter tightly. "How are ya?"

"I'm good, Gram." Andy rolled her eyes, "Things are hectic, but going smoothly." She didn't mention how strangely Miranda had been acting since the last day she worked at Runway. "How are you, Mary?"

"Better." Mary smiled. "Thank you for inviting me."

"Of course." Andy hugged her grandmother's friend gently, "You're family too."

"Hey," Chad moved closer to Andy, "Can I get in on this hug fest?"

Andy sighed, the sound of a much put upon older sister tolerating her little brother's antics, "I suppose so." She laughed and tugged him over to her. "C'mere ya big lug." She smiled as he picked her up and swung her around in an enthusiastic hug and laughed as he set her back on her feet. She glanced happily at Miranda and mockingly scoffed, "Brothers!" She wrapped her arms around him and laid her head on his chest. "It's good to see you."

"You too." Chad moved aside for their Aunt Dawn to say hello.

Andy hugged the woman and kept her arm around Dawn's waist, "C'mon, I'll introduce you to Miranda... I don't think you were ever properly introduced when we were in Cincinnati."

"Hello, Dorothy." Miranda smiled at Andrea's mother, "How was your trip?"

"Considerably shortened I'm told." Dorothy's eyes sparkled with a mixture of emotions, "There were a lot of jealous people at the airport when they found out we were flying here in a private plane. They said this was far preferable to taking a commercial flight to Logan, then getting here via car and ferry."

Miranda sensed that Dorothy had something else she wanted to say, the amusement and hint of anger in the woman's eyes was rather confusing, but she seemed unwilling to say it here, so Miranda continued with the light conversation. "I've found that most of the time, the direct way is best." Miranda shifted her attention to the other new arrivals. "Pava, nice to see you again."

"You too." The elder woman laughed and pulled Miranda into a hug, "Thanks for sending the plane."

Returning the embrace, Miranda chuckled, "You're welcome, the Elias-Clarke company plane isn't quite as luxurious as Donatella's plane, but hers was already in London." She grinned at the woman who seemed to be ever-present at Pava's side, "Also nice to see you again, Mary."

"Thank you for the invitation..."

"Of course," Miranda smiled then focused up at the tall young man with them, "Hello again, Chad."

"Hello again." He took her hand and kissed it gallantly.

Andy cleared her throat to get Miranda's attention, "Miranda, you remember my Aunt Dawn, right? She's Gram's youngest sister."

"Ah yes..." Miranda nodded and immediately her socially correct smile appeared, "From the barbecue. How have you been?"

"I'm well." Dawn chuckled, "I was elected to represent the rest of the family at this event..." She shrugged, "I don't honestly believe you would want my hooligan grandchildren running around here anyway." Leaning forward she mock whispered, "I think they're still a little frightened of your girls."

Miranda's eyes mirrored the amusement in Dawn's, "Yes, well... they can be frightening at times. We left them back at the hotel to terrorize our friends." She continued graciously, "Any and all of Andrea's family are welcome to visit when they can."

Dawn chuckled at the gasp that offer drew from, Andy, Dorothy, Pava and Chad. "I'll do you a favor and not pass that on to the rest of the family."

"Thanks Aunt Dawn." Andy grinned. "I owe you for that."

Dawn winked, "Should we go find our luggage now?"

Miranda indicated the porters arriving with all the bags piled on a cart. "No need to find it, it comes to you." She indicated another plane arriving at the gate, "We are still waiting for some people. Would you like to stay and greet them with us or continue to the hotel?"

"We can stay." Dorothy wrapped her arm around Andy's waist, "It won't take much longer, will it?"

"Nope," Andy grinned as she looked out the large windows, "Our friends are disembarking their plane now, and the other one we're waiting on is just landing."

Dorothy looked out the window to see a portable stairs being moved into position next to the door of a large streamline aircraft with the Warner Industries logo on the tailfin. When the sealed door opened she took a deep breath and blinked at the couple who emerged, "Is that your police officer friend?"

"Yep." Andy grinned. Jo had worn an Armani suit for the trip and Blair was dressed in her always impeccable way. They made a great looking couple. "And that is her wife, Blair Warner."

"Oh..." Dorothy nodded, "So her Daddy gave her..."

"No." Miranda could tolerate Dorothy's prejudice against rich people, but the woman's attitude, in this instance, needed to be corrected, immediately, before she met Blair.

"Blair Warner is the CEO and has successfully lead Warner Industries for several years, ever since her father stepped down and turned control over to her." Miranda looked Dorothy directly in the eye, "That woman started at the bottom of the ladder in her father's company and worked her way to the top, earning each and every promotion she received based on the exceedingly savvy business decisions she made. That is the only reason David Warner turned control over to her, because daughter or not, he wouldn't have left his company in the care of an incompetent." Miranda made it quite clear. "Blair Warner is not one to ride on her family name, or 'sleep her way' to the top as many people believe beautiful women in positions of power have done." Miranda continued her tirade against the speechless woman, "Blair Warner is one of the kindest people in the world and aside from Andrea, Blair has the biggest heart of anyone I've ever met. If I hear one malicious word against her I'll..."

"Miranda!" Andy wrapped her arms around Miranda's waist. "Easy..."

"I meant no offense." Dorothy swallowed hard. She really hadn't meant anything by her comment but realized where the thought had come from. Dorothy knew she needed to get over this prejudice she had or the next few days were going to be very uncomfortable for her. There would be a great many very rich people attending the wedding. "I apologize."

"Miranda?" Andy looked her fiancee in the eye and asked quietly, "Are you okay?"

"Yes, Andrea..." Miranda calmed herself and patted the arms around her. "Thank you." She turned toward the doors, "Our guests are arriving."

"Right..." Andy tried not to think too much about Miranda's over the top reaction and smiled as Jo and Blair entered the terminal. She hugged Blair and in a rare show of affection hugged Jo too. She watched Miranda as she and Blair actually kissed each others cheeks instead of doing the socially accepted air kisses. They also murmured some quiet words to each other. Pushing down a bit of jealousy, Andy had to smile as Jo swept Miranda up in a big hug.

Emily watched and bristled slightly at the woman's handling of Miranda.

"You are being quite forward, Detective." Miranda couldn't help but smile at the woman's uninhibited greeting. "Is there a reason for that?"

Jo grinned and nodded, "Sure." She put Miranda back on her feet and winked, "Because I can."

Miranda chuckled and spoke dryly, "Of course."

"Miranda." Emily spoke up, "Your family has arrived."

Reaching out, Miranda took Andrea's hand and they all turned to watch the terminal's doors open. She had sent invitations to all her siblings and Tante Louise as she had promised Andrea she would. They had all confirmed their attendance with Emily, all except Samuel but she had assumed he wouldn't come anyway. She smiled as Daniel and Josie walked through the doors, Asher close on their heels. Andrea's hand in hers tightened as Emily gasped when Natalie appeared arm in arm with Tante Louise. Miranda grinned and winked at Andrea then released their hands in order to greet her family.

"Daniel..." Miranda laughed softly as she found herself enveloped in a hug with her brother, "Thank you for being here." Turning to Josie, Miranda saw the hesitance in her sister-in-law and smiled, pulling her into a brief, but heartfelt, hug as well. "Nice to see you again, Josie." Miranda nodded to accept Josie's murmured, "You too." then turned to find herself being scooped up and swung around by Asher. She made a small sound of disgust as he sat her back down on her feet, then rolled her eyes at Emily and scoffed, mimicking Andrea's earlier tone, "Brothers..." She assured her shocked assistant, "Do not worry so, Emily... he is always like that." She looked over to see Asher hugging Andrea, and hugging her, and hugging her. Clearing her throat, Miranda tapped the man on the shoulder, "Asher... mine, remember?"

"Ah.. yes..." He stepped back with a grin. "Sorry."

Chuckling at that, Miranda tapped his cheek with her fingertips and shook her head, "No you aren't." She dismissed the man from her mind as she returned to her greeting duties.

"Hello, Natalie." She hugged her sister tightly, "Thank you for being here."

"Thank you, for inviting me." Natalie smiled, "Little sister."

Ignoring the jibe, Miranda turned to Tante Louise and hugged her as tightly as she dared, "How was your flight, Tante?"

"Very nice. Thank you, Miriam."

Miranda heard Emily gasp and decided to get everything out of the way right then. "Emily, this is my Tante Louise, my father's sister, she's over eighty years old, and she has earned my utmost respect for the majority of them. She has the right to call me whatever she wishes."

Emily absorbed that information and nodded, "Yes, Miranda."

Miranda winked at her aunt and gestured to the loaded carts being wheeled down the corridor toward them. "Here is your luggage, they will load it all in the cars and then we can make our way to the hotel. You can all settle in to your rooms and rest for a while before the evening meal."

"The rehearsal dinner is tonight?" Natalie sounded as shocked as she looked.

"No, ma'am." Emily spoke up. "Tonight is free. Tomorrow evening will be the rehearsal dinner, followed by the hen parties... then the next day will be the wedding itself, in the late afternoon with the reception that evening, obviously."

"Well, young woman." Tante Louise smiled at the organized redhead, "You seem to have things well in hand."

"Thank you." Emily almost bowed to Miranda's aunt and gestured down the terminal's wide corridor, "This way to the cars."

Andy interjected her own comment, "There are menus next to the phones in your rooms just call the number and let them know the entree you prefer for the rehearsal dinner, and also for tonight..." Glancing at Emily apologetically, Andy informed them, "I've made arrangements at the hotel for a small banquet room this evening... so that we can all have dinner and get to know each other before the festivities formally begin."

"That's a lovely idea, Andrea." Louise linked her arm with Miranda's fiancee and looked at the redhead, Emily. "Lead on."

Andy looked over her shoulder at Jo and Blair. Jo gave her a thumbs up. Andy smiled, glad that her friends didn't feel neglected and then concentrated on her escort. "Did you get any sleep on the flight, Tante?"

"I did indeed." Louise patted the arm in hers and nodded, "It's a very nice thing to have an actual bed on the plane. I probably won't ever have that luxury again."

Grinning at the amused and obviously joking lament, Andy glanced at Miranda, "Yes, it is quite nice to have an actual bed on the plane." She glanced at her fiancee again and smiled, biting the very tip of her tongue between her front teeth as a light but discernible blush colored Miranda's cheeks. Andy couldn't help but love Miranda a little bit more and sighed to herself.

I'm gonna to marry her...soon!


Part 48


Dorothy was astounded to find herself surrounded in twin hugs as soon as she entered the hotel lobby. She returned the embraces as best she could then looked at the girls with wide eyes. "Have you grown since your birthday?"

Caroline laughed, "No, not really." She lifted up the hem of her dress and stuck out her foot. "It's just the heels. We're learning to walk in them so we don't fall flat on our faces at the wedding."

"They're doing an excellent job too." Nigel held out his hand to greet the woman. "Nice to see you again, Dorothy."

"Oh, Hello!" Dorothy shook his hand and, along with all the others, laughed at the girls comedic attempts to walk in the rather high-heeled shoes. She assured them. "You're doing great. I never could get the hang of it."

"Me either," Pava laughed and moved forward to receive her own stereo hug. "How are ya? Still causing trouble?" She had to laugh at the oh-so-innocent faces of the girls and the duel, "No, Gram." response. "Uh huh." She grinned and winked at them, squeezing them a little tighter when they grinned back at her.

Even Miranda laughed at that, "Come on now, there are more people for you to greet." She nodded when Cassidy released her hold and moved on, but Caroline gestured for the older woman to bend down and whispered in her ear. Pava nodded in response and then winked at Caroline again. This did not bode well for future events and Miranda caught Pava's eye as the woman straightened. Surprisingly, or perhaps not, Pava met Miranda's gaze with a steady one of her own. With a small internal sigh, Miranda conceded that there were just some people in this world that she couldn't intimidate. Andrea's hand slipped into hers and Miranda smiled as she thought, And there are some people I don't want to intimidate.

The girls had greeted all the people they knew so it was time to introduce them to the family members they didn't know, or had only met once in their youth. After their polite hug greeting to Natalie, both children turned to the rest of the group and waited for Miranda to speak.

"Girls, this is your Uncle, Daniel, and his wife Josie." She smiled as the girls tentative waves garnered waves in return and moved on, "This is your Uncle Asher." She warned, "Do not listen to a word he says..."

Asher smiled and opened his arms wide even as he admonished his sister, "Miriam, why do you tell them such things? I'm a wonderful Uncle!" He laughed as both girls gave him a brief hug.

"I always tell my children the truth, Asher." Miranda leveled her gaze on him, "You will not encourage them into trouble!" She watched his exuberance fade slightly. It is nice to be able to intimidate some people though... Miranda moved on to the last, most important, person to introduce the girls to. The others had seen the girls before, albeit when they were small. This woman, had not.

"Tante Louise... These are my children. Caroline and Cassidy." Miranda turned to the girls, "This is my Tante... my Aunt, Louise."

They were twelve years old, but as Miranda's children they were already well versed in social niceties. They could tell that their mother was tense about this meeting for some reason so they were both on their very best behavior. Already as tall as Tante Louise, made even taller by the heels they wore, both girls took turns, very carefully, hugging the older woman.

"It's nice to meet you." Cassidy smiled.

Louise brushed her fingertip across the child's cheek. "Nice to meet you too."

Caroline asked, "Should we call you Tante or Aunt Louise?"

Smiling at that, practical, question Louise chuckled, "Tante means Aunt...and you may call me anything you wish. But I wouldn't know you were speaking to me unless you call me Tante." She seemed to have a bit of trouble pulling her gaze away from Caroline's face.

"Okay then," Caroline grinned. "'Tante' sounds cooler than 'Aunt' anyway." Wincing, Caroline turned and faced one of the other newcomers, "Sorry, Aunt Josie."

Josie laughed and waved off the girl's concern. "No, you're right," she said and shot an affectionate look at the older woman, "Tante is pretty cool."

Emily rejoined the group and handed out the keycards to their rooms. She was about to hand Tante Louise her card when Andy intercepted it.

"Thanks, Em." Andy again offered her bent arm to Louise, "I'll escort Tante to her room. Fourth floor, right?"


"This way to the elevators," Andy began to lead the older woman away when Louise stopped her.

"One moment young woman..." Louise looked at Miranda and took a deep breath. "You have beautiful children, Miriam."

Miranda nodded, "It runs in the family." Gasps from the surrounding crowd made her realize how that would sound to someone who didn't know what Miranda and Tante knew. She looked at Andrea and smiled She spoke to Andrea but loud enough for everyone to hear, "Remind me, when we get home, to show you a picture of Tante from when she was twelve."

"No need for that, Miriam." Tante gestured to the girls, "There I am." She looked at the girls for a moment longer then patted Andy's arm that was linked with hers. "All right, young woman, it's already been a long day. I believe I could do with some rest."

Everyone began to murmur agreement at that and the crowd dispersed to the elevators. Natalie hung back to speak with her sister.

"I had forgotten that you'd taken the old photo albums." Natalie's gaze followed the eldest member of their family being escorted away. She walked with Miranda toward the lifts. "There are pictures of father too, aren't there?"

"It is only one, album, Natalie." Miranda entered an empty elevator car and admitted. "There are some of our father, in his younger years. There are only a few of Tante when she was young and carefree... then there is quite a lot of skipped time before the photos resume."

Natalie bit her lip and nodded, willing herself not to cry as she almost always did when she thought of the years that had been ripped away from their beloved Aunt. It took a few moments to calm herself as the lift carried them to the correct floor. "I would like copies of those..."

Miranda took a deep breath just as the doors opened, "Of course." She stepped out of the elevator and turned toward their rooms. Miranda smiled as Andrea exited Tante's room just ahead of them. "When Andrea and I return from our honeymoon, I will give the album to Emi..." Pausing in that thought, remembering that Emily was no longer going to be her assistant when they returned, Miranda quickly adjusted her thought and reassigned the task, "...to Andrea to copy. She will want to see the photos anyway."

Andy wrapped her arm around Miranda's waist and smiled, "You bet I will."

"Why not just make a phone call and have your assistant do it?" It had seemed to Natalie that Miranda often did that with tasks, assigning them to her assistant immediately.

"The album in question is currently in the bank vault." Miranda relayed a bit more information to her sister than she would to any other person, anyone other than Andrea and in truth Andrea had not heard this yet. "I will have to retrieve it from the safe deposit box, before copies can be made."

"You can't call the bank and have it sent?" She hadn't dealt very much with banks, or ever had a need for a safe deposit box, but Natalie thought that as wealthy as Miranda seemed to be, the bank should be happy to provide that service for her.

"No," Miranda shook her head, "No one can recover anything from our safe deposit box without myself, or Andrea, present to authorize it. Access to the vault and deposit box is dependent on our presence, in combination with the presentation of the required key."

"Oh..." Natalie stopped at the door to the room she'd been assigned. "I see. Okay then, I look forward to the photos when they arrive."

Miranda nodded, "Of course. Try and get some rest before dinner. I know the flight can be tedious even if the plane is luxurious."

"Yes, I believe a nap will do me some good."

Miranda waited for Natalie's door to close between them and then led Andrea on toward their suite. Her fiancee had been very quiet since hearing the explanation regarding the photo album and the safe deposit box so Miranda wasn't surprised when Andrea spoke quietly.



"Um... 'our' safe deposit box?"

"That's right." Miranda faced her inquisitor. "We are to be married in two days Andrea, what's mine is yours."


With a sigh, Miranda led Andrea to the couch and as they settled together, Miranda spoke in no uncertain terms. "There are a lot of issues we still need to deal with, but I do not want money to be one of them. Your belief that a pre-nuptial agreement will make things easier is not true. It will just complicate matters further. The only way to make the money a non-issue is to literally make it a non-issue, Andrea. I don't care about the money, or the jewels, or any of that. The agreement that you have already dismissed is currently in the hands of another lawyer for possible revision. I believe he will bring it to you soon. But again, I don't care about any of that, the material things are just that and are not nearly as important to me as you. I only want us to be together. I only want to make you happy." She continued speaking, hoping the stunned look on Andrea's face didn't reflect the status of the woman's brain. She tried a slightly more practical argument. "Your necklace set is in that vault and you should have access to it any time you want."

Blinking, obviously trying to absorb what Miranda had been saying, Andy seized upon something Miranda had said earlier, before she went into obvious shock. "I need a key?"

"You have a key." Now Miranda grinned, "It's hanging in the kitchen of the townhouse, with your keys to the Porsche."

"What?!" Andy panicked, "But.. Miranda?!"

"Shhh..." Pulling Andrea to her, Miranda kissed the top of her head and tried to assure her, "It's perfectly safe. You are the only one who can use it..."


Miranda chuckled, "It is not just a matter of showing up with the key. There are other security measures in place." With a smile, Miranda shifted and snuggled against Andrea, "I will take you through them when we return to the City." She mumbled, "In any case, you still need to sign the signature card and put your thumbprint on file."

"I... I don't know if I'm comfortable having access to your... private stuff."

"Stuff?" Miranda grinned as Andrea stammered.

"I'm s...sorry I just don't know what else to call it..." Andy shook her head, "My parents always kept important papers and things that were precious to them in their safe deposit box... "

"Andrea..." Miranda moved to look directly into her love's deep brown eyes, "I trust you with my heart, and the hearts of my children. There is nothing in all the banks on this Earth that is more precious than that."

"You're right." Lifting one trembling hand to cup Miranda's jaw gently, Andy agreed, "I can't think of anything more precious than that. Thank you."

Miranda accepted a soft kiss on the lips and smiled. "Only two days left... are you ready for this, Andrea?"

"Yes," Andy leaned in for another kiss. "Very, very ready..."

The double meaning of the agreement was not lost on Miranda. Stretching out on the couch under the love of her live, Miranda too was ready, for the next few days and the next few hours. Very, very ready.

I'm going to marry her.

When it was time for dinner Miranda and Andy began the trek back downstairs to the banquet room. They stopped at Tante Louise's suite to escort her downstairs, Andy again offering her arm to the elder member of Miranda's family. They were joined by Pava and Mary and much to Miranda's surprise, Pava released Andrea from her escort duties by offering her arm to Louise with familiar gallantry.

"I do believe you and I should get to know each other a little better, since we are going to be family soon." Pava smiled down at the shorter woman. "Don't you?"

"That sounds quite nice..." Louise chuckled as they walked and she patted the arm linked with hers, "I'm thinking it will be nice to speak to someone at least close to my own age."

"We are just over a decade apart." Pava grinned, "When we get to be our age, that's not so much..."

"Sometimes no..." Louise met Miranda's concerned gaze and offered a comforting nod to her niece before continuing her comment to Pava, "And sometimes... you have no idea how much that difference can cause."

By the time they'd reached the banquet room everyone else had either joined them on the walk, or were waiting for them there.

Miranda saw the girls seated at a small round table for four with the Hartstone children. Their mother, Lara, a new but loyal friend of Andrea's, was seated at a table for eight, with Nigel, Emily, Serena, Lillian, Douglas, Blair and Joanne. Leading Andrea to two chairs in the middle of a slightly larger table, one with six place settings along each side, Miranda managed to be the gallant one by pulling Andrea's chair out for her. She smirked at the odd expression on Andrea's face and leaned down to whisper, "Every once in a while, I like to pull the chairs out for you." She kissed the cheek so close to her lips and took her own seat. Andrea's murmured response pulled another chuckle from her.

"Yes, Miranda."

Waiting as Pava assisted Louise into the seat next to her, Miranda noticed an odd expression on Mary's face and glanced at Pava who was being very attentive, to Tante.

Pava wasn't ignoring Mary, not exactly, Mary just wasn't the sole focus of Pava's attentions at the moment. Miranda watched as Andrea's Gram made sure Tante was comfortable and then moved to pull Mary's chair out for her, before taking her own seat at the end of the table, across from Mary and next to Tante. Interesting, Miranda thought but then dismissed that as none of her business whatsoever. She waited for the rest of her and Andrea's families, to find a seat before she stood.

"I want to thank you all for coming this weekend." Miranda looked around the room at her family and friends. "It is a great pleasure for us to have you all here to share in our union." She smiled as everyone raised their glasses and made sounds of agreement. "Dinner will be served momentarily, but please feel free to chat among yourselves. The purpose of this gathering is for everyone to get to know each other a little better."

"Identical twins run in your family... how cool is that?" Alan continually glanced at the head table where the older pairs of twins sat. "Do you think you and Cass will ever be as different as your mom and her sister? It's easy to tell them apart."

Caroline shrugged, "I dunno... when we were younger people had a hard time telling us apart, but now... the ones closest to us are starting to catch on." They could probably still fool most people, if they did a switch-a-roo and really wanted to pretend to be the other... but never Miranda, or Andy. That comforted Caroline somewhat. "As we get older I'm sure there will be more changes to differentiate us."

Cassidy groaned, "Geez, Ro... do you have to use the word of the day?" Rolling her eyes Cassidy informed her tablemates, "Ever since dad got us the cool new laptops, Ro signed up for this thing... it emails her a new word every day." She cast a disgusted look at her sister, "And she always finds a way to use it..."

"I'm just trying to expand my vocabulary."

"You're just trying to drive me crazy." Cassidy grinned when Alyssa punched her bicep lightly.

"Short trip?"

"Ha Ha..." Cassidy ducked her head to hide the blush she knew was on her cheeks.

"Well I think it's neat," Alan smiled at Caroline, "You're going to follow in your mom's footsteps right? To be an editor... you need to know a lot of words for that."

Caroline nodded and mimicked her sister's pose, knowing that the blush that was tinging Cassidy's cheeks wasn't nearly as deep as the one on hers after Alan smiled at her. She hoped the food would arrive soon.

"Is your room okay, Ma?"

"It's just fine, Sweetheart." Dorothy smiled at the description of her "room" as "fine". It was in fact the most luxurious hotel suite she'd ever stayed in, in her life. It was so amazing, in fact, she believed that Dawn had remained in hers to enjoy it and not because she was exhausted from the travel as the woman had claimed. "How are you? Getting nervous??"

"Excited." Andy smiled and got that faraway dreamy look she always got when she thought about her future with Miranda. "It's going to be wonderful, Ma."

Dorothy's heart hurt just a little at the trusting tone in Andy's voice. But she was determined to keep that going for as long as possible and didn't say anything about Richard, or Miranda's visit to him. If Andy trusted Miranda that much then she would honor that. "I'm glad you're happy, Sweetheart."

"I am, Ma." Andy's million watt smile made an appearance and her hand reached out to find Miranda's, her thumb automatically rubbing across the dragon ring on Miranda's finger. "I really am."

Glancing past her daughter, Dorothy saw Miranda and the charmed look on her face. That one, unguarded expression, was enough for Dorothy to reaffirm her decision. No matter what Richard did, Dorothy was firmly in Andy and Miranda's corner. She smiled at her daughter then turned to take a sip of her water. Caroline and Cassidy's father was sitting beside her, so Dorothy turned to speak to him while Andy turned her attention to some of the other guests. "How have you been...James?"

He smiled and nodded, "I'm... better now."

"Oh?" Dorothy thought for a moment and realized he was here alone, "Don't you have a..."

"Ah... no." He sighed, "Not anymore." With a sad sort of smile, he began to speak to Dorothy about his so-called fiancee and the elaborate scam he'd been caught in regarding Candice's pregnancy. Candice and the 'doctor' caring for her had both been lying. They had fake test results and a fake ultrasound machine.

His story paused when the meal was served, but he continued to speak to his tablemate as they ate. He told her about how, at first, he'd felt anger that he'd been duped. The fact that the con artist duo had deceived several other men with the same scam didn't help very much. Once the police had detained Candice and her partner in crime, James' emotions had shifted. He was over the anger, they hadn't really gotten anything from him. He had been shown how the thieves would have made their move had the ruse lasted another week, but they'd been caught in time to prevent any sort of major theft. "I would never have known if my lawyer hadn't gotten an anonymous email, not until it was too late." He confessed the real reason for his introspective mood quietly to Dorothy, "I had started looking forward to having a baby..."

Lara smiled at her children, chatting amiably with Miranda's children then looked across the table at her running buddy. "Did we know that Miranda had a twin?"

Serena opened her mouth to reply when Emily spoke for her, "No, we did not know..." She glared at Nigel who held up his hands defensively.

"Hey, I didn't have a clue. I've never met her family... and you know how talkative she is about them..."

"She always seemed really nice to me."

Three sets of eyes, belonging to disbelieving Runway employees turned to look at the man sitting next to Nigel. Nigel spoke for them. "What?"

"Any time I've ever met Miranda, she's been very pleasant... even when she's drunk." He smiled as Lily bumped her shoulder into his.

"She didn't get drunk you idiot... she was the most sober one among us..."

"You..." Emily's eyes bugged out and she lowered her voice to hiss across the table. "You went out drinking with Miranda?!" She recalled that insinuation before but had dismissed it as impossible.

Lily grinned at Emily, "Nope..." licking her lips, she nudged Dougie again and answered Emily, "She went out drinking, with us."

Jo laughed, "I've always thought the Old Lady could drink us all under the table..."

A throat clearing from the larger table drew all their attention.

"The 'Old Lady' has excellent hearing and as you so eloquently put it Detective, I most certainly can drink any of you under the table quite easily..." Miranda's eyes held the hint of a challenge. "Perhaps, in the near future, we will find an opportunity to demonstrate that ability."

Jo grinned, "Bring it on..." She glanced at Blair and chuckled, "I'll get the beer."

Blair scoffed, "Where are you going to get beer here?"

With a wink at her wife, Jo repeated, "I'll get the beer."

Laughing at that, Blair just nodded then turned back to her meal and muttered about some things never changing.

Miranda chuckled at her challenge. Perhaps the hen party would hold a bit of excitement after all. From what she'd gathered from overhearing Emily's planning of it, there was to be wine, and some sedate games. Not exactly the blowout night of debauchery that was normally depicted in the various movies and television shows. Time would tell she supposed.


Blinking, Miranda pulled herself out of her thoughts and focused on her beloved Tante. "Yes?"

"Are you sure a drinking contest with these young people is a good idea?"

"I believe I can hold my own, Tante..." Miranda smiled at the older woman, "As I recall you were fairly good at holding your own as well, back in the day."

Louise laughed, "I was fairly good at a lot of things... back in the day."

"Ah," Pava turned, laid her arm across the back of Louise's chair and grinned. "I would definitely like to hear more about you... back in the day."

"You shouldn't badger the woman, Pava..." Mary was practically glaring at her friend.

Quickly evaluating the expression on the woman sitting across from Pava, Louise smiled and reached down to pat Pava's thigh, under the table. "She's not badgering me." Turning to Pava, Louise winked. "I'll be happy to tell you all about my thirties..."

Josie grinned across the table at Louise. "Tante, you know it's your forties/fifties they'll want to hear about..." She watched Louise visibly shudder and the entire table broke into laughter at Tante's response to the thought of those years.


"Our Tante has had many interesting times." Asher was shocked at the borderline hostile glares from the rest of his family. "What? She has!"

Natalie was furious with her brother. "That is for Tante to tell!"

"Of course." Asher looked around the table, "What did I say that was so wrong?"

"Nothing..." Tante assured her nephew, and the rest of her family, "Nothing at all."

"Asher is correct." Miranda raked her gaze past her family members to land squarely on Asher's face. "There are many tales Tante could tell while relating the story of her life. Some of them, however, should not be brought up during such a pleasant evening."

"Oh..." Asher's eyes widened. "Oh! No... of course.. I didn't mean..." He turned to Tante and apologized, "I didn't mean that..."

"I know." Tante smiled and nodded, "No worries, love."

Pava watched the interplay with great fascination then grinned at the older woman next to her. "Now I'm even more curious."

Tante chuckled and sighed, "Of course you are." She patted the thigh her hand had remained on. "All in good time."

Sensing the need to lighten the mood, Pava shot a sly look at Louise, "Disco, eh? Maybe we can convince that DJ gal to play a few seventies tunes so we can see your moves?"

With a grin, Tante laughed, "That is entirely possible, but I'll only dance if you dance with me."

Smiling widely at that, Pava nodded. "Of course, it'll be an honor." She tilted her head in question, "The Shuffle?"

Tante corrected primly, "The Hustle."

Pava's eyes gleamed. "Excellent."

Miranda chuckled and looked forward to that event. In fact, everyone at the table seemed to be anticipating the reception just a little more now. Her gaze landed on Mary. Pava's friend didn't seem happy at all and Miranda amended her thought, Well, almost everyone.

The remains of their dinners had been cleared away. The children had excused themselves, Cassidy and Caroline wanted to practice the song they were going to play on the actual instruments they would use, and Alyssa and Alan wanted to hear them. The adults left behind were now mingling around with various alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks in their hands, thanks to the portable bar that had been set up near the front of the room. Everyone was milling around talking to each other amiably.

"So," Nigel looked up at the tall, blonde man. "You're Six's brother..."

Chad tilted his beer in acknowledgment and smiled. "If Six is Andy, then yeah. My name's Chad." He took a drink from the bottle he held and asked, "Why do you call her Six?"

Nigel chuckled and gestured to the closest chairs, "That, my boy, is a long story..."

"It's not that long a story..." Andy plopped down in a chair next to Nigel. She leaned into the man, reaching over to take the olive from his martini, "He called me 'Six' because that was my dress size when I first started working at Runway. He loved to remind me how huge I was, am, compared to practically everyone else that works there..." She popped the olive into her mouth and smirked as she chewed.

Serena chuckled and wandered over, leaning down to wrap her arms around Nigel's shoulders. "Nigel does love his little nicknames." She straightened and ran her hand over his bald head, "It took me many months to get him to stop mine." When he looked up at her, she held up a finger as warning, "Do not say it."

Chad just stared at Serena, his mouth slightly open, until Andy scoffed and smacked him upside his head. "Like you have a chance with her..."

"Hey! I'm a good-looking guy with a lot going for me..." He sighed as he saw the expression on Serena's face. "No, eh?"

"You are not my type," Serena grinned. "I prefer redheads..."

"Oh," he brightened. "I can change my hair color..."

Nigel and Andy laughed outright while Serena chuckled. "You can change other parts of you as well, but I do not believe it would be worth the trouble, just to be with me."

"Well, that's wrong..." Emily had heard the last statement as she approached the little group, "You're worth any trouble." She wrapped her arm around Serena's waist, and smiled as Serena's arm draped over her shoulder. "It's getting late..."

"Yes, we should be going." Dropping a kiss to Emily's temple, Serena sighed. "There are many things to do tomorrow." Serena smiled down at Nigel and then at Chad, "Cheer up. There will be many models at the wedding and reception..." She guided Emily away, heading toward the door.

Andy laughed and stood, "Yeah, little brother, you'll get your chance, eventually." She patted his shoulder and addressed Nigel, "Don't keep him up too late..."

"Aww, C'mon... I'm not a kid." Chad rolled his eyes when Andy laughed, but focused back on Serena and Emily, who had stopped to speak with Miranda.

"Care to ask our Mommy about that??" She looked around for their mother and was surprised to see that most people had gone. She couldn't remember saying good night to that many people.

"No!" Chad grumbled, "I'm just going to finish my beer.. okay?"

Andy laughed and gave Chad's shoulder a final pat before walking away, "Sure, bro... See ya tomorrow."

Chad sighed as he continued watching Serena. A short nod from Miranda set Serena and Emily again moving toward the door and Chad shook his head, "How do you do it Nigel?"


"How do you work around so many beautiful women all the time and not just..." Chad sighed, "I doubt I'd work there for very long." He took another long drink of his beer. "I'd have sexual harassment charges brought against me for sure."

"It helps that they aren't my type." Nigel grinned at the young man and stood, "Enjoy your beer. I will speak to you again soon. I'm thinking you must have some good blackmail material for me to use as leverage against Six, if I ever need it."

Chad grinned, "You're probably right."

Nigel walked around the table and sat next to one of the older men still in the room, "So, you're Miranda's brother..."

Miranda's eyes narrowed as she watched Nigel approach Asher. "That does not bode well..."

"Mmm... at least he's not talking to Chad anymore." Andy laughed, "The last thing I need is Nigel getting the scoop on my childhood from Chad." There was an immediate glint in Miranda's eye that made Andy grin. "Oh no... don't you go getting any ideas about grilling my little brother... I have access to your family too now." It was a relief to see Miranda back off slightly because of that threat, but it also made her curious. The reporter part of Andy perked up a little. Wrapping her arms around Miranda's waist, Andy nuzzled the older woman's neck and sighed. "I need to get to bed if I'm gonna meet Serena and Lara for our usual morning run."

"Of course, my Darling." Miranda leaned into Andrea's solid form. "I do believe we should get some rest. Tomorrow will be a full day."

"Yeah," Andy nibbled on Miranda's earlobe and whispered, "rest."

Miranda cleared her throat to address the remaining guests. "Thank you all for being here this evening. Please feel free to remain as long as you like." She smiled at her family and friends. "We will see you all tomorrow."

There was a flurry of exchanged farewells before Miranda was able to guide Andrea through the door.

Pava walked through the hotel lobby. It was still very early in the morning and things were very quiet in the hotel at the moment. She knew, though, that soon everyone would be up and moving to begin the day. A familiar profile caught her attention and Pava turned her footsteps to investigate.


"Oh, hello." Louise smiled up from her lounge chair at Pava, "Good morning."

"It's good but very early in the morning..." Pava moved farther out onto the landscaped area and took a seat next to Louise. "Problems sleeping?"

"No more than usual." Louise chuckled, "I'm old, I sleep very little at a time..."

"Ah," Pava nodded and grinned, "We are closer in age than you think. But that doesn't explain why you're out here at this time of morning."

"Mmmm..." Louise returned her attention to the horizon. "I have made it a practice to watch the sunrise whenever possible, especially if I'm in a new place. You?"

"I see." Pava shrugged, "I'm just lookin' to get some coffee..."

"Ah..." Louise wrinkled her nose, "Nasty stuff..." She reached for the tea pot next to her and poured some steaming liquid into the small cup on the table next to it, "Tea is my preferred drink."

"Yeah... English and all that..." Pava grinned as Louise's eyes glittered over the rim of the cup.

"I'm not, you know..." Louise spoke between sips and smiled at Pava's confused expression, "English..." With a small shrug, Louise elaborated, "I was born in Poland, in Nineteen Twenty-Five... I lived there for the first twenty years of my life, before esc... moving, to London." Setting her cup down, Louise scanned the pinking horizon and smiled, "Here it comes..."

Pava turned to watch the rising sun and, after several moments of viewing, she had to remind herself to breathe. The sheer beauty of the dawning day was incredible. "Wow."

"This one is rather spectacular." Louise did not look away from the blushing sky, "Many times they are, when oceans are involved." With a deep breath, Louise nodded to herself and watched as the shifting vivid lines of red faded and the sky settled into its normal brilliant blue. She tested the warmth of the teapot with her fingertips and sighed, "Cold." Shaking her head, Louise rose from her seat, "Time to get on with the day then." She grinned at her sky-watching companion. "You should find that coffee. Your friend will be waiting, yes?"

Waving off that concern, Pava spoke without thinking, "I have some time. She's been sleeping longer lately." When she realized what she'd just said, implied, Pava looked wide-eyed at Louise's smiling face. "Uh.. I mean..."

Louise chuckled. "Go on. We can talk later."


Part 49

Andy, Serena and Lara navigated the last curve of their running route to begin the long straight stretch back to the hotel. They weren't shocked to see the construction crew and the huge tent that was to be the site of the wedding ceremony itself. What did shock Andy and Serena was the very visible presence of Emily and Miranda. They were obviously arguing with a man who towered over them. There were no words exchanged, but the instant Andy and Serena recognized their lovers, they both increased their speed to Olympic class. Lara followed behind, slightly slower, her eyes seeing what her companions had not paid attention to.

Andy skidded to a halt in front of Miranda. "Miranda, what are you doing out here?"

Serena was only a few seconds behind and breathlessly asked Emily, "Is there a problem?"

"Too right there's a problem!" Emily gestured to the tent. "It's too bloody small!"

The large man Emily had been arguing with had stepped back when Andy and Serena arrived. He spoke up again now, "Look, Lady, I only know that this is the size tent they sent. I'm the head of hotel maintenance. I signed off on the invoice myself. It's exactly what you ordered!"

With a cry of frustration, Emily threw herself at Serena and spoke against the woman's sweaty shoulder. "I have so cocked this up. I ordered two smaller tents as dressing rooms, and a tent to hold the exact number of guests..."

"This one looks big enough for the guests to me." Andy wrapped her arm around Miranda's waist. "How many people will be left out?"

Miranda ran her tongue over her teeth and spoke quietly. "Seven."

Laughing at that, Andy smiled, "Seven!? C'mon... we can find seating for seven more people..." Her smile faded as Miranda shook her head. "No?"

"They do not need seats, Andrea..." Miranda glanced at her distraught assistant and sighed, "It's us..."

"I'm sorry, what?" Andy tilted her head as if to hear better. "I don't..."

"Us... the wedding party..." Miranda gestured toward the tent, then she tapped a blueprint type drawing of the tent layout that had been spread onto the table next to her. "There is exactly enough room to accommodate the number of guests that will attend the ceremony." Miranda's finger traced the length of the drawn tent and tapped the end of the schematic, "but then there is no room at the front for... us."

"I was so thrilled," Emily sniffled and moved away from Serena, also gesturing to the plans, "because the size of tent I needed for the guests would exactly fit into the space here, between the walkway and the pool area."

"excuse me..."

Emily continued her explanation, "This would have been perfect. Miranda's dressing room would have been off to the side at the front, Andrea's at the back, so that she could walk down the aisle... and because the guests could have walked down the walkway from the hotel into the tent. Most of the female guests are going to be wearing heels, so they can't walk too far across the ground... I was barely able to fit the pianos in, but even if we took them out there still won't be room..."

"Excuse me..."

"...and now that we need a larger tent, I have to find another location and everything will have to be changed, moved... " Emily dabbed at the tears running down her face, "...and I'm not sure we have time for that."

"EXCUSE ME!" Lara smiled sweetly when all eyes, finally, turned toward her. "If I may, make a suggestion?" She too tapped the drawing on the table. "It's a tent. You can open this end."

Emily made another sound of frustration, "Yes, of course, but look!" She pointed to the paper. "The pool is barely two inches from the edge of the tent. What good will it do to open the panels? Do you expect them to stand in the water for the ceremony?"

Lara raised her eyebrows and grinned at the brides. "There's a thought. It is the children's wading pool, only two feet deep..." Laughing at the expressions on everyone's faces, Lara shook her head. She reached up and quickly twisted her long, fairly sweaty white/blonde hair into a loose bun. Now in full architect mode, Lara explained, "No, I'm saying they should get married on the water." She grabbed a pencil laying on the table and began to sketch, "You see, if that end is open, you can build a platform, out over the water, like a stage, for Miranda, Andy, and the wedding party to stand on."

"A platform?"

"Yes," Lara looked at the man and read his nametag, "Chris. A platform. I noticed the windows on the hotel's upper floors are plexiglass. What's the measurements on those? Four by... eight?"

"Yes, Ma'am, four by eight."

Nodding at the dimensions, Lara asked the all important question. "You have extras of those, right? In storage?" Lara had never encountered a hotel worth its salt that would be caught without window replacements, especially one so close to an ocean.

"Yes, Ma'am."

"Well then," Lara smiled. "Let me work up a materials list for you and we'll get started building that platform..."

Chris smiled, "Yes, Ma'am."

"Well, it seems as though things are under control here." Miranda smiled at Lara, "Thank you for your assistance."

"Of course..."

"Lara," Andy dropped her arm away from Miranda. "Can I talk to you for a sec?"

"Uh..." Lara found her elbow in Andy's grip as the young bride led her slightly away from the others. "What.. um..."

"Emily has me walking down the aisle..."

"Yeah," Lara smiled, "That is usually how it works..."

"But..." Andy's eyes shimmered with unshed tears, "I don't have anyone to walk me down the aisle... Daddy..." The word caught in her throat. She wrapped her arms around her middle to keep her breaking heart together. "I want to walk to Miranda... but..." Comforting arms covered hers and Miranda's soft voice caressed her ear.

"Andrea, as beautiful as I think you would be walking down the aisle toward me, this is an easy obstacle to manage." Miranda squeezed her fiancee briefly and assured her. "We will walk down the aisle, together."

Lara reassured her friend, "Let me work on it... I may have an idea..." She grinned as she pulled out her phone and sent a quick text. "Don't worry. I'll work it out and go over everything with you later at the rehearsal."

Andy smiled, "Thanks, Lara."

Miranda agreed, "Yes, thank you... Lara."

Nodding at the couple, Lara winked, "My pleasure." Her attention turned to the small group approaching, "Ah... good." Lara grinned at her son and his friends. "Alan. I need your help with a materials list..."

"Yeah?" The boy shrugged, "Okay..."

All the Priestlys' jaws dropped, but Alyssa just grinned and spoke to her friend, "Cass, remember when I was amazed about you tuning the piano, and I said I couldn't do anything nearly as good as that..." She waited for Cassidy to nod then shrugged, "Alan can. He's great at all this construction stuff. He's been going with Dad to construction sites for years... and in the last few he's actually been helping, during the summer."

"Really?" Caroline sounded amazed. "Like a real job?"

"Well..." Alan rubbed the back of his neck, "More like internship... he keeps saying he's 'grooming' me to take over for him..."

"My husband is very good at his chosen profession. Alan has learned from the best." Lara smiled at her son. "Okay, we had better get moving if we want this thing done in time."

Alyssa snorted and gestured for her friends to leave. "We may as well go. When Dad and Alan start talking about the job...they get all caught up in it..." She whispered to Cassidy, "Mom does too."

Lara wrapped her arm around, Alyssa's shoulders and laughed. "If you had shown even the slightest interest in the work, you could have been right there with them." She kissed her daughter's temple and shooed them away. "G'wan now, we have work to do."

Alyssa snorted, "Yeah, okay. I'll bring you some coffee and breakfast sandwiches in a few."

"Excellent." Lara was already absorbed in the schematics, pointing to different things and discussing them with Alan who was just as engrossed.

Shaking her head, 'Lyssa turned to her friends and sighed, "Aannnd... there they go.."

Cassidy and Caroline both grinned. They didn't have a brother, but they could totally relate to a work-absorbed mom.

"Speaking of breakfast," Miranda gestured toward the hotel, "I'm told this establishment has an excellent buffet."

They all agreed that that sounded very good and headed that way. Andy quickly texted the rest of their family and friends, letting everyone know that they were welcome to join them for breakfast. Finished sending out the messages, Andy leaned into Miranda as they walked. She could feel the tension in her fiancee and whispered quietly, "It will work out. Lara is good at what she does."

"Of course it will..." Miranda nodded, almost to herself, "Of course."

Andy sighed, "Girls..." She waited for the twins, and Alyssa to look at her. "You guys go on to breakfast... I need to talk to Miranda for a minute."

"Sure, Ma." Cassidy grabbed Alyssa's hand and walked away quickly, Caroline keeping pace with them.

Pulling Miranda into a quite alcove, Andy took the older woman's trembling hands and smiled, "I am going to marry you, Miranda. We've done all the paperwork, we've made all the arrangements... and I don't care if I do have to stand in two feet of water to do it... I am going to marry you, tomorrow. No matter what..."

With a deep breath, Miranda nodded, "You know what else?"

"What's that?" Andy studied Miranda's face closely, glad to see the tension leaving the older woman.

Brushing Andrea's cheek with the backs of her fingers, Miranda smiled, "I'm going to marry you too. No matter what." They began walking toward the restaurant and Miranda chuckled, "How much of a scandal would it be if we did wear Wellies while standing in the water during the ceremony?"

Andy laughed, "If you wear them... rubber boots will be all the rage."

Miranda sniffed haughtily, but her eyes reflected a mixture of playfulness, amusement and love. "Naturally."

Dorothy pushed the remains of her third plate away from her and sighed, "That was great."

Andy laughed as she took another bite of her first, and probably only, plate of food. She had taken the time, as Serena had, to shower quickly before joining the rest of the wedding party at the restaurant. Her hair was still slightly damp, but not enough to drip on the nice clean, dry, running outfit she'd changed into. "Yeah, it's delicious." She chewed and swallowed a bite of her made-to-order omelet.

"You aren't eating much..." Dorothy fretted. "You're going to waste away..."

Laughing at that, Andy shook her head. "No, Ma... I'm fine."

"Andrea's diet is quite healthy," Miranda smiled at her fiancee, "so long as I can keep her away from things like, pizza and Cheese Doodles."

"Mmm... Speaking of which..." Andy searched the crowd to find Lily. "Lily, is everything set for the party tonight?"


"Are you going to tell me where we're going now?" Andy had been trying to get the details of her bachelorette party out of Lily for a week now and the woman steadfastly refused to divulge any information on the subject.

"Nope. You'll just have to wait and see."

The way Lily grinned and shoulder-bumped Doug was not reassuring to Andy at all.

Emily spoke up, "Everything is set for your party as well, Miranda. After the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner, we can all go our separate ways."

"My, um... room is ready." Andy raised her eyebrows at Miranda's shocked look. "We discussed this... and agreed. We are going to spend the night before the wedding, apart."

"Tradition," Miranda murmured. She took a deep breath and nodded once, "Easier said than done though."

Andy couldn't take her eyes off of Miranda and agreed softly, "You bet it is."

After the meal was over most of the wedding party moved to one of the many sitting areas in the lobby. They spoke quietly among themselves, most rehashing things they'd discussed last night. The girls were all busy texting their friends when another group of young people, dressed in swimwear and carrying surfboards, walked past them.

Miranda watched her children's eyes follow the group of surfers out the door and asked, "Do you wish to go surfing?"

Caroline and Cassidy both scoffed in unison, "Hell no."

"Language!" Miranda was appalled at the girls' response and glanced quickly at Tante.

Cassidy laughed, "Sorry, Mom. It's just that we checked the water temperature yesterday and it's way too cold! I'd want a full body suit to even think about going out." She glanced at the doorway where the others had gone. "Dressed like they were, they'll be shivering back through the door pretty soon."

"You surf?" Alyssa shook her head then made a sound that mixed disgust with grudging admiration, "Of course you do..."

"We like to surf, but only do it occasionally." Cassidy shrugged, "When we're on vacation or at one of the beach houses."

"We started on boogie boards a few years ago and upgraded to surfing pretty quickly after that." Caroline smiled at the memory, "That was a really fun Spring Break."

Andy glanced at her mother. The casual mention of beach houses had, as she suspected, caused a bit of consternation to cross her mother's face. It was something the woman was going to have to deal with though and Andy was proud of her Ma for letting the reference slide. She grinned, remembering the Spring Break Caroline was talking about from her own perspective. She'd still been the bumbling assistant back then. Chad's voice pulled her from her musings.

"Didn't you go somewhere warm and surfy one year, Sis?" He saw Andy's confused look and elaborated, "One year... when you were going to Northwestern?" He ignored his sister's widening eyes and frantic glances at their mother. The almost imperceptible shake of her head was lost as he continued. "Yeah... I remember I was so jealous. You went to like... the Bahamas.. or... No! It was Rio.. right?"

"It was Cancun." Dorothy chuckled at Andy's jaw dropping. "Really, Andy, you don't think a mom knows where her children are??"

Miranda chuckled and turned her attention to her children. "You see?"

Andy was still gobsmacked. "How did you..."

Dorothy laughed, "Oh, Andy... when you decided to stay at school and "study" during that Spring Break your father was so impressed. He thought it meant you were really buckling down in your studies." She shook her head, "You'd just turned twenty-one... and when we'd visited for your birthday I noticed the flyer in your room. When you told us you weren't coming home, I had assumed that you'd managed to get the required number of your friends to sign up and gotten the free trip."

Dropping her shoulders in defeat, Andy smiled weakly, "Yeah, I did." Grimacing, not really wanting to know the answer, she asked softly, "And... Daddy?"

"Blissfully unaware." Dorothy held up her hand reassuringly, "Your status as a bookworm is still intact with him."

"Yeah..." Andy swallowed hard. Only Miranda, sitting right next to her, heard Andy's next quiet comment, "I wish that was enough..."

"Andrea," Miranda stood and offered her hand to her fiancee, "walk with me."

They all watched as the soon-to-be married couple walked, hand-in-hand, out the door.

Miranda and Andy had only been gone for a moment before Caroline and Cassidy stood.

"We're gonna go check on the pianos." Cassidy smiled at Alyssa when the tall girl also stood.

"I should probably go check on mom and Alan too." She laughed. "They barely acknowledged their breakfast earlier. I need to make sure they have water to drink. It's warm today."

The girls left quickly and then Blair spoke up as she drew her buzzing phone from her pocket.

"Thank you all for a lovely breakfast," she said as she studied the small screen on the device in her hand, "but I must take care of a few things back at the office." She leaned over, placing a quick kiss on Jo's lips before she stood. "I will see you at the rehearsal."

Jo smiled and nodded as she watched Blair walk away.

Louise watched the young executive leave and with a tinge of admiration in her tone spoke to the half of the couple left behind. "You're wife works quite a lot..."

"Yes, ma'am." Jo shrugged, "Keeping her father's faith in her is very important to Blair. She's very loyal to her family."

"You don't have much use for the man though?" Louise easily read the younger woman's tone of voice.

"To me..." Jo looked around the sitting area to make double sure the children, and Blair, were gone. "He's a bastard-coated bastard, with bastard filling." She sighed and shrugged, "But he's her father."

Dorothy asked quietly, "She kept her name, when you two... married?"

"Mmm.. yeah." Jo smiled at Andy's mother, "We hyphenated our names... I'm Joanne Polniaczek-Warner, and she is Blair Warner-Polniaczek. Although often when Blair RSVP's events she will just list us as Blair and Joanne Warner."

"And you're okay with that?" Dorothy wasn't sure what the protocol was for name retention in lesbian weddings.

Jo shrugged, "Sure."

"Do you know what Andy has decided about that issue? She hasn't discussed it with me." Dorothy was a bit saddened by that. "She hasn't discussed much of anything with me."

"Me either," Jo shrugged again but shifted it into a stretch, "Not much to discuss really, not that it any of my business..." The implication that it wasn't any of Dorothy's business either, mother or not, was definitely present in Jo's tone. "Most of the planning is being done between them, and that Emily gal..." With a smile, Jo held out her hands, helplessly, "I just show up and do what I'm told."

Everyone laughed at that since they were all pretty much in that exact same position.

Natalie had been sitting back watching the interplay and after the laughter died down she asked her aunt, "Tante, would you like to go back to your room for a while?"

"Why would I want to do that?" Tante's eyes glittered as she looked around. "This is a lovely place, and it's far too nice a day to be cooped up inside a hotel room, even one as nice as they gave me."

Pava, who had been murmuring quietly to Mary, spoke up decisively. "I agree!" She stood and offered her hand to Louise, much like Miranda had done with Andy. "Would you like to take a walk with me? We can take a short walk through the grounds and then check on that chef fellow... He said he was going to have the samples of our recipes ready in a little while. "

Louise smiled and took the hand, nodding as she rose from her seat. "That sounds lovely."

Pava looked at Mary, "Are you joining us?"

With a small shake of her head, Mary stood. "No. It's going to be a long afternoon. I think I'll go back to the room and rest for a while, while I can."

"Okay." Pava watched Mary walk off fairly slowly in the opposite direction she and Louise were heading. Exhaling softly, she turned her attention back to Louise and offered her elbow to the shorter woman. "Shall we?"

Jo broke the silence that reigned after the older women's departure by shifting into the empty space next to Lily, "So, tell me about this bachelorette party you're planning."

Lily smiled at the detective and began to regale the remaining people about her plans for Andy's last night of "freedom."

Miranda broke the silence between them as they walked along the sandy beach, shoes in hand. "Are you... okay?"

"I'm fine."

Licking her lips, Miranda stopped, pulling Andrea to a stop as well. She met Andrea's troubled brown eyes with her own concerned blue ones. "Truth, Andrea."

Andy lowered her gaze to the sand at her feet. "It hurts, Miranda. Daddy..." A sob escaped her as Miranda's arms gathered her close. Burying her face in the crook of Miranda's neck, Andy inhaled the comforting scent. "... he hates me."

"He doesn't." Miranda held Andrea as tightly as she could and continued murmuring words of encouragement to her love. "The problem is because he loves you so much."

"It doesn't feel like he does."

"You're his daughter, his baby." Miranda pulled away slightly to look into Andrea's eyes. "Imagine, if you saw Caroline or Cassidy doing something you thought was a mistake, something you thought would hurt them..."

"I would try to stop them..." Tears trailed down Andy's cheeks. "But I wouldn't stop talking to them. I wouldn't avoid attending events important to them... I wouldn't stop supporting them or loving them!"

"Andrea!" Miranda was at a loss as to how to comfort her distraught fiancee. "Andrea, please, calm down..."

Looking up and down the deserted beach they'd been walking on, Andy shook her head and pulled completely away from Miranda. "I need to run." She searched Miranda's horrified face and shook her head. "Running helps me, clear my head. I'll be back before the rehearsal..." Sitting on a convenient piece of driftwood, Andy wiped the sand off her feet and put her socks and running shoes back on.

"Be careful." Miranda leaned down for a quick kiss. "Come back to me."

Andy smiled, "Always."

Miranda nodded and stepped back then watched as the love of her life began to jog away from her. After a short distance, Andrea began to run.

Pava had already approved the chef's efforts in recreating their family favorites. Louise had also put her stamp of approval on all but one of the Princhek family dishes. Now Pava just waited for her companion to pass judgment on the final special recipe.

"Interesting." Tante took another bite of the perogi, evaluating the flavor. "Not exactly like mine but as close as anyone has ever gotten I suppose."

Gunter was appalled. "They are perfect, exactly as the recipe demands!"

"The filling is wrong," Tante calmly informed him. "There are too many mushrooms in it. I suppose I should count myself lucky you didn't add spinach to the mix."

Pava remained quiet, but watched the interaction between her new friend and the chef with fascination. Something was going on between them. There had been a tension in the air, in Louise, since they'd first stepped foot in the kitchen. She had thought it was because the chef had been yelling, rather loudly, at some of his assistants. Now she wasn't so sure. It was more like something that Pava could sense, but couldn't quite understand. She thought the chef was rather confused too until they both heard two very quietly mumbled words from Tante.

"German arrogance..."

Pava watched, still confused, as a sort of dawning realization swept across the man's features. He pressed his lips together for a long moment then nodded once at his critic and spoke tersely, "I will correct the mixture." His eyes took in Tante's shock and he nodded again. "I will always correct my own errors, but I refuse to pay for the mistakes of people who came before me."

Nodding at her own internal thoughts as much as his words, Tante replied in a resigned tone of voice, "Of course not, nor should you. I do apologize for my tone." She broke another perogi in two and showed him the filling. "It is wrong though."

Sighing, Gunter noted the large amount of mushrooms visible. He smiled. "It would have been easier had you requested the more popular cheese, potato, and onion."

Tante shuddered then admitted, "I despise onion."

Bending slightly in the middle, Gunter tilted his head in acknowledgment. "I will remember."

With a tiny smile that did not touch her eyes, Tante linked her arm with Pava's. "And I... I fear, will never forget." With a deep breath she tugged her companion toward the kitchen door. "Walk with me, Pava. It is too hot in here."

"Of course." Without another word, Pava allowed herself to be led out of the kitchen.

"Good God what has she done?" Emily was only vaguely aware of Serena's reassuring arm around her waist as she looked at the reconfigured tent. "This is a disaster!"

"Let us wait and see..." Serena rubbed Emily's back gently. "Lara is a very nice person who obviously knows what she's doing. When the florists and decorators have their turn I'm sure it will be fine."

Emily had to admit that Lara was completely in control of the work crew and even the boy seemed to be directing the men to the proper places at the proper times. It was also true that the space was still very bare, in deference to the workers. "I hope so..." She cringed when she heard Miranda's footsteps approaching from behind her. Her long-time boss's question caused Emily's heart to race, double time.

"How soon until the preparations are completed?"

"I believe they are nearly finished with the structure, Miranda." Emily took the time to glance at Serena. "We only just arrived and have not yet gotten a status update."

"Mmm..." Looking around, Miranda casually asked, "Have you seen Andrea anywhere about?"

"Not lately..." Emily's eyes widened. "Don't tell me she's ran off!"

Dangerous shadows passed across Miranda's eyes, "Andrea has many things on her mind these days. She went for a run on the beach earlier to clear her head. I merely wondered if she had returned yet."

Emily let out a small noise, part fear and part disgust. Her opinion of Andy's behavior was apparent but before Miranda could tear a strip off the long-time assistant, Serena answered the question. "We have not seen her, Miranda."

"Mmmm..." With a deep breath, Miranda nodded. "She'll be along momentarily then. She knows what time the rehearsal was to be."

"Of course, Miranda," Serena tilted her head in acknowledgment.

With that issue settled, they all turned to watch Lara put the finishing touches on the reconfigured tent.

"Okay." Lara rubbed her hands together as she walked toward Miranda and the waiting people. "I believe everything is set." She gestured to the front of the tent. "As you can see, the platform turned out very well, its still pretty bare, but the decorator has assured me that they can deal with that by tomorrow." Finally taking a breath, Lara looked at her audience and frowned, "Where's Andy?"

"That," Miranda glanced around then sniffed in feigned disinterest, "is a good question." Andrea's continued absence was beginning to annoy her more than Miranda would admit to anyone, even herself. The nagging worry that her young fiancee would change her mind was making itself frighteningly clear.

"Ah," Lara widened her eyes and met startled looks from several of the others in the group then nodded, "Okay then, I'm sure she'll be here soon." Gesturing to one of the smaller tents off to the side of the entrance, Lara smiled. "Miranda, this will be your dressing area." They all moved into the, currently empty, space to check it out.

Miranda was impressed with the layout of the dressing area and was mentally arranging the accoutrements she would need in preparation for the ceremony when Andrea appeared at the door.

"Sorry I'm late." Andy moved to stand next to Miranda and by the grimace on Miranda's face, realized her mistake too late.

"You smell like a brewery." Miranda's nostril's flared. "Getting a head start on tonight's festivities are you?"

"Not really. I did find a bar farther down the beach." Andy shrugged. "I had a beer, and watched the water for a while, but one of the waiters spilled a drink. Some of it got on my shoes." She grinned and kissed Miranda's cheek quickly. "I'll get cleaned up before dinner."

"Mmm..." Turning back to Lara, Miranda nodded. "This space seems acceptable."

"Great." Lara gestured toward the door.

They all filed out of the room, except Andy held Miranda back for a moment. Ignoring her brewery perfume, Andy wrapped her arms around Miranda's waist. "I'm sorry I was late."

Relaxing against Andrea's soft, sturdy, form, Miranda sighed. "I am the one who should apologize." Resting her head on Andrea's shoulder, Miranda chuckled, "I have never been this tense before a wedding."

"Mmm.." Andy kissed Miranda's forehead and smiled. "Maybe that means this is the real thing."

"This is the real thing, Andrea." Miranda's blue eyes glittered. "There are many things that signify that status."

"Yeah," Andy nodded. "There are." She tilted her head toward the door, "C'mon." She led the way down the corridor that crossed the larger space to the other dressing tent. They arrived just in time to hear Lara speaking.

"This will be Andy's dressing area."

"Cool." Andy released her hold on Miranda and grinned as she did a little pirouette to survey the room. "This will be perfect."

"My thought was," Lara gestured to the door, "that you can both prepare for the ceremony in your separate tents, then you walk down the small corridor to meet each other halfway at the door to the main tent and walk down the aisle together. It means there is a double entrance to the main tent, but that can't really be helped," Lara had led them to the inner door that opened up into the larger tent as she spoke, and walked the space between where the chairs would be set up to the newly constructed platform. Even though it could have been level with the ground, the platform had been built on a small rise necessitating the construction of two shallow steps leading to the area. "With the slight elevation, everyone will be able to see you."

The wedding party moved up the steps and Miranda turned to look back at the interior of the tent. Some of the group had remained inside, while the participants had shifted to take their places on the platform. "Very nice."

Lara smiled and tilted her head in acknowledgment of the compliment. "Thank you."

There were, however, only six of them present on the pseudo-stage and Andy frowned, "Miranda? Who will be officiating the ceremony?" She had asked before, but all Miranda would ever say was that it "had been taken care of". Now Andy was amazed when Miranda gazed down at the people who had accompanied them and with a small tilt of her head, one of them was set in motion. She blinked then began to smile, as Nigel took his place on the dais. "You?"

Miranda also smiled. "I trust all the paperwork is in order."

"Yes, Miranda." Nigel nodded, "Your lawyer has assured me that, as of midnight tonight, until midnight tomorrow, I will have the legal authority to perform marriage ceremonies, in Massachusetts." Any further comment he would have made was summarily stopped by Andy's lanky arms around him.

"That's great!" Andy laughed as she held on to the man. "This is perfect!" She released him and turned toward Miranda, "Thank you."

"I could think of no one else more qualified to preside at our union." Miranda smiled at her bride-to-be. "Can you?"

"Nope." Andy moved closer to Miranda, leaning into the automatic embrace. Nigel was the one she always went to when she needed to bridge the gap between herself and Miranda. He'd been her first, if reluctant, friend at Runway and had been Miranda's friend and confidant for many years. "Nigel is totally perfect for the job."

"Well... at least I'm good for something, eh Six?" Nigel winked at the young woman then cleared his throat. "Okay, so... you two will walk up the aisle. I'll say my bit, which will be eloquent and moving, and then I'll turn it over to you to exchange your vows." He looked at Andy. "Miranda tells me you've written your own?"

"Oh, yeah..." A slight blush appeared on Andy's cheeks, "I'm, um..." she glanced at Miranda. "I'm working on them."

"Really, Andrea." Miranda was a bit confused at the delay. "The wedding is tomorrow and you haven't finished writing your vows?"

"You have?"

"Of course." Miranda blinked. "They've been written for some time now."

"Well... I've..." Andy shrugged and admitted, "I'm having a little trouble finding the words. You mean, so much to me. I'm not sure there are words that can convey... that."

Miranda smiled and nodded. She brushed the backs of her fingers against Andy's cheek and spoke quietly. "You will find them."

Taking a deep breath, Andy moved into the touch and nodded, "Thanks."

Nigel moved on with the business at hand. "After you exchange the vows, you'll exchange the rings..." He leaned closer to Miranda. "You do have the rings, right?"

With a small amused grunt, Miranda grinned. "Yes, they are safely in the hotel vault. I will give them to you at the appropriate time before the ceremony."

"Okay, that's about it, boring stuff, vows, rings... then I pronounce you married and you get to kiss the bride." Rolling his eyes, Nigel clasped his hands in front of him. "Do you really need to practice that bit?"

Miranda broke the kiss and grinned as Andrea spoke.

"It can't hurt."

"All right..." Nigel gestured them down from the platform. "You wanna just run through it again?"

"Sure." Andy pulled Miranda to her for another kiss, until Nigel, loudly, cleared his throat.

"Why don't we try it from the top?" He spoke to them as if they were disobedient children, waving them toward the back of the tent. "Off you go to your dressing rooms."

Miranda glared at him for a brief moment then led the way as she and Andy walked hand in hand the length of the tent. They only parted ways to claim their respective areas.


Part 50

"A toast!" Nigel stood, holding up his glass of wine. "To Miranda and Andy, may their union bring them all the happiness they can stand."

The people gathered for the rehearsal dinner laughed but drank to the toast. The food, was spectacular. Gunter had outdone himself and promised that the wedding reception meal would be even better. Dorothy looked around the convivial group and smiled. This was exactly how she'd always pictured her daughter's wedding would be, with one exception. She had always thought her husband would be here to share it with her.

"I'm stuffed!" Andy leaned back in her chair, patting her tummy lightly. "There won't be edibles at the party tonight will there Lily? I can't possibly eat anything else!"

"Oh, there will be nibbles for later." Lily smiled. "You'll work off what you've eaten, I promise."

"Work off?" Miranda didn't like the sound of that at all.

"Dancing, Miranda." Lily did a little dance right in her seat. "We're gonna make Andy, boogie her butt off..."

"I wouldn't advise that." Miranda spoke dryly then tilted her head as if looking down Andrea's back. "I happen to like her butt exactly where it is."

"Miranda!" Andy was shocked. "How much have you had to drink this evening?"

Miranda picked up her glass, "Not nearly enough."

Andy lowered her voice, "Miranda?"

"I am going to marry you tomorrow, Andrea. I highly doubt I'll be able to sleep tonight, and I'll have to spend the night alone." Miranda took a sip of her wine. "So I'm taking your example and getting a head start on the evening. Hopefully I will, eventually, be able to sleep."

"Miranda..." Andy's comment was stopped by soft lips moving against her own for a moment, then clear blue eyes locked with hers.

"Tomorrow at this time, we will be married."

Dazzling everyone in the vicinity with her trademarked smile, Andy laughed and nodded. "You bet we will."

The children had all gone up to their rooms, planning to change into comfy clothes then meet again for a round or two of video game madness. Dawn had offered to chaperone, much to the children's dismay. Both Miranda and Lara looked to Andy for approval of the supervision. Andy nodded and hugged her great-aunt. "Thanks Aunt Dawn. You're the best."

"Pfft..." Dawn's eyes had twinkled at her niece. "Just have fun, okay?"

Andy had flashed her million watt smile and nodded. "You bet."

Now, ten minutes later, only the adults remained, chatting with each other about various things.

"You know," Jo spoke up as Miranda's wine glass emptied, again. "You should take it easy on the wine." Her dark eyes narrowed in amusement. "We are going to have that drinking contest later. Remember?"

"Mmmm..." Miranda set her glass down and gestured for it to be refilled. "Yes, beer, I recall. That won't be a problem, no matter what state I'm in prior to the contest."

Jo laughed and looked around the table. "I'm sure that's the most polite 'Bring it on' I've ever heard."

Everyone laughed, including Miranda. Andy only chuckled slightly. She was a bit worried about Miranda and her inebriated state. She tried to think back to all the times they'd shared alcoholic drinks and in all those instances, Andy couldn't once remember Miranda actually getting drunk. It was a little terrifying to think about Miranda losing control. Andy watched another glass of wine slowly drain away and realized that Miranda wasn't drinking all that much. Miranda just had a way of making you think she was drinking more than she really was. Andy also knew that Miranda had eaten quite a number of carbs during dinner: another buffer for the alcohol. Grinning, Andy took a sip of her own wine and thought, Jo is toast. She wished she would be there to see it. A full blown smile crossed Andy's face as Miranda turned to lock eyes with her. The moment was broken by Lily taking her by the arm.

Dougie placed a blindfold over Andy's eyes and kissed her cheek before whispering. "Have fun." He waved to everyone and grinned at Lily before he made his way back to his room, for a while.

"C'mon, Andy..." Lily guided her friend up and away from the table. "It's time for us to party!"

Miranda watched as Andrea was led away. She wanted to protest, but apparently half the wedding party was going with the young people, the men in the group all drifted away quietly and Emily was indicating that they too needed to change rooms.

She was led to a lovely outdoor terrace. The space was surrounded by greenery, interwoven with small lights, giving the party a festive feel but still the privacy they required. It was also close enough to the hotel that, even exhausted or drunk, the walk would not be too taxing. A long rectangular table held a variety of beverages and various edibles. A uniformed bartender, along with a similarly dressed waitress, stood on hand to fill requests. Soft music was playing through speakers hidden among the landscaping and there were several small round tables for people to sit, leaving a nice sized space for dancing if the mood struck. Miranda smiled softly at Emily and nodded. "Very nice."

Seeming to grow about an inch at that statement, Emily smiled, "Thank you, Miranda. I'm glad you approve!" Serena had gone with the others to Andy's party, so Emily felt a bit lost in the company of all these people she didn't actually know. She had the feeling that the police detective, who had followed along, would be moving to the other party later in the evening and wondered if the wife, Blair, would leave as well. Any further speculation regarding the guests was halted as another arrived.


Miranda turned and smiled. "Donatella, how lovely you could make it." Kissing, and receiving kisses on both cheeks, Miranda guided her long time friend to a seat. "How are things?"

"Going well. I got a bit lost for a moment but the desk clerk knew where your party was being held." Donatella, glanced around and drawled, "Are you going to introduce me, Darling?"

Laughing at that, Miranda shook her head. "I don't believe you need an introduction, but yes, of course." She raised her voice slightly speaking to the gathered friends and family. "This is my dear friend, Donatella Versace." Gesturing to each person, Miranda continued, "Donatella, this is my sister, Natalie. My sister-in-law, Josie. My future mother-in-law, Dorothy." She grinned as Donatella nodded to each person then smirked and continued. "My future grandmother-in-law, Pava and her friend Mary." Again Donatella nodded, but the "grandmother" designation had widened her eyes somewhat. Miranda's voice softened. "And this... is my Tante Louise."

Standing, Donatella moved to take Tante's hand and bowed over it slightly. "It is a very great honor to meet you. Miranda has spoken very highly of you."

"Nice to meet you too." Louise smiled as the tall woman released her hand and moved on to the younger people attending.

"You," Donatella looked at Jo, "seem familiar...but I don't know you. But," She turned and sounded thoughtful, "you look very familiar."

Blair laughed. "I never had the pleasure, but I believe we've been to a few of the same functions and our companies do business with each other..." She held out her hand. "Blair Warner."

"Ah... Warner Industries then, of course," Donatella shook the hand offered, and pulled Blair in to air kiss each cheek. "Versace uses many Warner Textile fabrics in the mass production of their designs."

"Yes, they do." Blair bowed slightly at the waist. "It's nice to finally meet you." She grinned and gestured to Jo. "This is my wife, Jo."

"Oh." The fashion designer took another good look at Jo and remembered, "You were in the last issue of Runway." She felt Miranda's hand on her back.

"The Good Detective inspired the tribute to law enforcement. She was instrumental in helping Andrea and me catch the psycho woman who was trying to kill me." Miranda's eyes glittered in the low lighting. "She is a good friend."

"I was glad to help." Jo grinned. "Not sure how good a friend you're going to think I am after I drink you under the table tonight. I'm pretty good at drinking contests you know?"

Miranda laughed. "You can try. And I believe it will be you cursing my name come the morning."

Donatella laughed. "What is the drink?"

With a glint in her eye and a knowing smirk, Miranda informed her friend, "Beer."

"American beer?" Shaking her head at that, Donatella laughed and dismissed Jo with a wave of her hand. "No chance." Turning, she smiled at the only person there that had yet to be introduced, but needed no introduction. Miranda made it anyway.

"Ah, yes... of course you know Emily."

"Of course." The Italian smiled and air-kissed both of Emily's cheeks. "How are you, my Darling?"

"I'm well, thank you.. and thank you for being here!"

"Of course, of course.. I wouldn't miss it." Donatella did glance around, seemingly disappointed. She spoke to Miranda quietly. "I had hoped to meet your Andrea this evening."

"Andrea is off with her friends at her own hen...bachelorette party." Miranda rolled her eyes, "You will meet her tomorrow."

"I suppose, if I must wait... at least we can pass the time together." She linked her arm with Miranda's. "Did you say something about a drinking contest?"

"I believe something of the sort was mentioned." Miranda laughed as one of the tables was moved away from the others. She sat on one side and Jo settled on the other. With a gesture, two beers, and two mugs were set on the table in front of them.

Jo filled her mug quickly. She picked it up and lifted it slightly. "You're goin' down, Old Lady." She chugged the drink down quickly, smiled and slammed the mug down on the table when she was done.

Miranda grinned and tilted her own filled mug toward her opponent. "We shall see." She finished her drink just as quickly as Jo had, but set it down lightly, waiting for the next to be served. Her bored expression never altered, but the corners of her mouth twitched as Jo's face began to morph into slight concern.

Their rapt audience looked on with fascination at the spectacle, especially when Miranda instructed the waitress to begin bringing the beers to them, two at a time.

They had taken a decent ride in what was obviously a golf cart then walked a short distance before Andy heard the sound of the ocean getting louder and felt the surface she was walking on give way to sand. "Um... Lily? Can I take off the blindfold now?"

"Nope.. not yet."

Blindly reaching down, Andy took off her shoes as they moved forward. "Really, Lily..."

"Okay, fine... just hold on another second..."

Andy stood where Lily left her, and heard a large whoosh, then felt a wave of heat on her face. "Now?"

"Yes, now... Geez..."

Removing the blindfold, Andy grinned at the huge bonfire that Lily had just lit and looked around at the others. "Cool!" They all grinned and encouraged her to join them at the refreshment table.

"Andy," Serena beckoned her friend over and gestured to a bowl of orange snackies. "I believe these are your favorite."

"Ohhh!" Even though she wasn't a bit hungry, Andy snagged a Cheese Doodle and chewed as she looked over the selection of drinks. Lifting two longneck bottles from the ice, she handed one to Serena. Tapping the bottles together, Andy looked around and smiled. "To bonfires." She removed the cap on her drink and took a long swallow. "Lily!" She blinked when her long-time friend was suddenly at her side. "I thought you said something about dancing??"

"I certainly did!" Lily led Andy to the other side of the fire, where several pieces of plywood had been laid on the sand. She hit play on the iPod and one of Andy's favorite dance tunes began to pour from the speakers.

Everybody dance now!

She grinned as Andy raised her beer high and gave a loud "Woot!". Lily found herself being hauled into the middle of the makeshift dance floor and they began to move. Serena and Lara joined them.

Lily was sorry there weren't more people here, but Jo had promised that she and Blair would come by later and even though it was supposed to be girls only, Dougie was also scheduled to arrive in a little while. She continued to dance with her best friend and laughed, knowing the night held more surprises for Andy.

Pava sipped her drink and watched as the drinking contest continued. Miranda and Jo weren't the only ones slowly becoming inebriated. All the rest of the party were imbibing as well. Granted not as much as the contestants, but still she figured they were all pleasantly buzzed by now. All except for that Emily woman, she had drunk nothing but water since the party started.

Pava didn't even try to count the number of empty bottles that now covered the small table between the two contestants, or the ones that stood on the table nearby. Jo had just downed another mugful and it was now Miranda's turn. Pava's arm was across the back of the chair that Mary sat in, but she leaned in the other direction to speak quietly to Louise. "Should Miranda be doing this?"

Louise sighed. "Probably not, but she inherited her tolerance for alcohol as well as her stubborn streak, from her father." She shook her head as Miranda calmly drained her mug and began to fill it again. "My brother didn't have many admirable traits, but those two seem to be keeping Miranda in good stead this evening." Louise also sipped her drink as she watched. "I believe Miranda will win this particular contest."

"I can't imagine drinking as much as they already have." Pava heard Mary snort softly and added, "Not anymore."

"Me either." Louise smiled as Miranda turned to look at them.

"Perhaps when I reach your exalted ages, I will no longer participate in contests such as these either... until then..." Turning back to the task at hand, Miranda downed another mug and clearly passed the burden back to Jo.

"Careful Miranda," Natalie laughed at her twin sister. "We can't pull our little trick anymore."

A pure Miranda laugh rang through the space, "True, but I don't believe I'll need that amount of help, this time." She chuckled. "Like mother like daughters I suppose... Cassidy and Caroline call it 'The Switcharoo.'" She watched Joanne finish her drink and prepared to take another for herself.

"So my first impressions were right." Pava took another swallow of her drink. "All of you, trouble through and through."

Miranda looked over her shoulder at Andrea's grandmother and, with a glance at Tante Louise, grinned. "We do come by it honestly."

Louise grinned at her niece. "It does seem to run in the family."

"I am quite certain we have all had our own brushes with trouble." Miranda turned back to the task at hand. It was proving more difficult than she had expected. Donatella's amused comment drew a glare.

"Milan." The fashion designer's knowing tone and laughing eyes deflected Miranda's narrowed look. She was one of the few people who could ignore Miranda's ire, about certain things. "That was a week full of...trouble?"

Licking her lips, Miranda's expression changed from deadly to amused. With a wry grin she lifted one finger to her lips and although none of them heard it, they all knew the "Shhh..." gesture. Miranda chuckled and they all began to laugh, seeming to realize, for the first time, Miranda was human after all. When the laughter faded, Miranda watched her opponent closely, with only slightly glazed eyes. Blair knelt next to Jo and spoke quietly.

"Joey..." This had obviously already gone too far for Blair's taste. "Are you okay?"

Jo nodded as she shakily poured her next drink. "I got this." She drank the mugful, slower than she'd been emptying the drinks in the past, put the mug back solidly on the table, and smiled, more to keep the drink down than for any other reason. A small shudder passed through her as her stomach attempted to process the latest addition to its contents. The pleasant buzz in her brain began to grow louder.

Nodding, Miranda picked up the bottle next to her and poured the liquid, steadily, into her mug. She spoke casually. "We can call a halt to this anytime you wish." She drained her mug, as quickly now as she did in the beginning, "We are even now..."

"No way..." Jo managed to pour herself another and drink it, slowly. The shudder this time was more noticeable. The buzzing in her head became stronger and began to move down her spine in a not-so-pleasant way. "Your turn."

"Of course," Calmly pouring herself another, Miranda gazed steadily at her opponent as the drink slid down her throat. Setting her mug down, carefully, Miranda raised her eyebrows. "It is now, I believe, your turn."

Jo blinked at Miranda. Swallowing hard, she concentrated and picked up the new beer that had been set next to her. She poured slowly, carefully. When the mug was full she tried to set the bottle back on the table. It toppled over, but stayed on the table. Jo blinked at the fallen bottle, then looked back at her mug; her very full, mug. She stared at it for a long time then blinked again and shook her head slightly. She tried to focus as a hand came into view and picked up the mug. Jo followed the hand and mug up to Miranda's face and watched as the contents disappeared. The empty mug was set back in front of her, and the hand now reached up, tapping her on the cheek lightly.

"A very good try, Detective." Miranda smiled and sat back in her chair, satisfied with her win. She just hoped she didn't need to move for a little while. "Emily," she glanced to her right where Emily instantly appeared. "I believe the Good Detective and I are in need of some pretzels."

Emily bobbed her head and automatically responded, "Yes, Miranda." She quickly moved to the snack table to procure the requested items.

Jo blinked at the calmness of the order and its immediate fulfillment then began laughing. She laughed so hard that she had to hold on to the table for dear life and wasn't aware of the others chuckling along with her. When she finally managed to calm herself, a wicked grin crossed her face. "Does she always do everything you say?"

Licking her lips, Miranda glanced at Emily, then at the waitress. A flash of Andrea's smile crossed her mind and Miranda's smile became slightly predatory as she answered, "Always."

"Ha!" Jo spoke loudly so everyone could hear but addressed Emily, and the waitress just because Emily was standing next to her at the moment. "If she," Jo waved toward Miranda, "asked you to bark like a dog, you'd do it?"

Without missing a beat, Emily picked up two small bowls of pretzels and carried them to the table, speaking as she approached. "What kind of dog?"

Laughing at a that, Jo popped a pretzel in her mouth. Before she could ask for it the waitress brought a drink, cola this time. She sat one bottle in front of Jo then as she delivered Miranda's. she leaned down. It was soft, but loud enough for everyone to hear as she made a sound very near Miranda's shoulder.


Miranda picked up the cola bottle and tilted it slightly toward the waitress.

Jo grinned at Miranda and only slurred her words slightly. "Ain't you somethin'..."

Leaning forward, Miranda smiled at the waitress and winked at Jo. "You bet I am."

"C'mon, Lily... dance with me!" Andy grinned at her friend and shimmied her shoulders. "I love this song..."

Lily shouted over the music and the space between them, "I need a drink!" She pointed to the table on the other side of the bonfire. "Back in a minute." She did need a drink, but she also needed to call Doug and check on Andy's other surprise.

"Pfft..." Andy unconsciously copied Miranda's usual gesture of dismissal, and turned to the other two women in the dance area. "You'll dance with me, right?"

"Of course," Serena laughed and moved closer to Andy.

Lara smiled and laughed as well, "Sure..." She was the oldest one here, but was still up for a fun night of dancing with friends. "I like this song too."

Andy laughed and twirled to the music. This was fun. She'd always loved going out dancing with her friends. The buzz she had been maintaining by alternating beer with wine was beginning to edge toward complete drunkenness. She'd promised the girls that she was going to try very hard not to get drunk like that anymore, not after the last time. Not after Miranda had come home to find her and Serena totally baked. But this was a party, right? She finished the dance and the music changed, playing a random song off of the iPod's playlist. It was a slower song so Andy too decided she needed another drink. "C'mon..." She grinned, linking her arms with her dance partners, "Let's take a break and get another drink..."

As the trio rounded the fire, they saw Lily snap her phone closed. Andy blinked. "Problem?"

"Nope," Lily smiled. "Everything's under control." Doug was on the way, and so was Andy's other surprise.

"Cool." Andy poured herself a glass of wine and flopped down into one of the beach chairs Lily had set up just a bit away from the refreshment table. She watched her friends over the rim of the cup as she drank. This was a great night, the beach, good friends, good music, but Andy still wished Miranda was with them. A breeze from the ocean brushed past her and she watched Lara turn into it, her long, nearly white, hair blowing back from her face gently. Andy sighed and thought, I really wish Miranda was here. She finished her drink quickly and grinned as another of her favorite fast songs began to play. Hopping up out of the chair, she grabbed both Serena and Lara's hands, dragging them back to the dance area. If she stood a little closer to Lara while they all danced, well, that didn't mean anything, did it?

Miranda looked around, satisfied with the results of the evening. Donatella and Blair were at a table quietly conversing about, something. Design most likely, Miranda thought. Since she had informed Donatella that Blair had designed the dress she would be wearing at the ceremony, the Italian had shown quite a lot of interest in picking Blair's brain. Miranda's eyes softened at the child-like delight Blair seemed to have while discussing the subject with what amounted to a legend in the field. Speaking of child-like, Miranda smirked and turned her attention to the Good Detective. The drinking contest was obviously still having its effect on Jo's muscle control, at least Miranda hoped it was, otherwise there was no excuse for the dance the police officer was attempting to perform. When dancing with Jo at the girls birthday party, Miranda had thought that Jo was an excellent, graceful, dancer, so this evening's performance was quite the eye opener.

Miranda also had no idea how persuasive the police officer could be until Jo had coaxed Dorothy and Natalie out into the dance area with her. For a moment, Miranda had to wonder just how much they had imbibed this evening. She didn't dwell on it long though, because the music was lively, the ambiance was friendly and everyone seemed to be enjoying conversing with each other. All in all it was a very pleasant evening.

Seeking out Emily, Miranda's gaze found her long time assistant sitting quietly at a table on her own. She caught Emily's eyes and smiled, nodding her approval for the party. Miranda had to blink as Emily's face practically lit up with a smile. A thought came unbidden to her mind, Her smile almost rivals Andrea's. As if cold water had been poured over her, Miranda stiffened. She had not just thought that! The memory of Andrea's smiles, the million watt, genuinely happy smiles that Andrea turned on her so often flooded Miranda's brain. Then she looked at Emily's happy expression again and chuckled to herself, Nice, but not even close. Obviously the effects of the drinking game are still affecting my judgment. The young waitress set a coffee in front of her. Miranda lifted the mug to her lips, watching the waitress move among the tables. It was small, but a sigh escaped Miranda's lips, I wish Andrea was here. The pleasant atmosphere only lasted a short time longer, before it was broken by four very boisterous people.

Emily was immediately between the newcomers and Miranda, "Now see here... what do you think you're doing?"

"Our job." The clean-cut man smiled, showing off his dazzling white, perfectly straight, teeth, "This is the Priestly-Sachs bachelorette party, right?"

"Yes," Emily answered without thinking. "But..."

He turned to his companions, "Desk clerk was right. This is the place!" One of them set a large portable stereo on a table and loud, thumping, music began to pour from the speakers, overriding the music already playing. The four began to dance, and not only that, but as they danced, they began to remove their clothing.

Emily was appalled. "Oh no!" She dove for the stereo and fumbled with the controls until she got it shut off. "You do NOT belong here!" She turned to her boss, pleading, "I am SO sorry, Miranda... I didn't.. I mean.. I wouldn't..."

Jo began laughing and walked a bit unsteadily from the dance area toward the group. She patted Emily on the back as she passed by, "Don't worry..." Her blue eyes twinkled as she glanced at Miranda. Jo only slightly slurred her words as she winked, "I know where they need to be."

Miranda pressed her lips together as her eyes roamed over the two half-naked female dancers and both of the male's very toned abs. She spoke clearly, but obviously was not happy about the turn of events. "Andrea's party."

"Yeah," Jo grinned and gestured to the strippers. "C'mon, I'll show you where."

"Oh no you don't..." Blair huffed in exasperation, "You are NOT driving in your condition!"

They all watched, rather slack-jawed as Jo and Blair ushered the dancers away. Emily turned to Miranda and opened her mouth to apologize for the interruption when Tante Louise spoke up.


"Yes, Tante?"

"Those young people," Louise glanced in the direction that Jo had led the strippers away, "They were going to take off all their clothes?"

Miranda licked her lips, "I believe they were, Tante."

Louise nodded and raised her eyebrows, tilting her head and grinning slightly. "I, believe I'd like to see that."

"Tante!!" Natalie was appalled. "How can you even say that?!"

Pava chuckled and patted Tante's thigh, "You know what? I think I would too."

"Pava!" Dorothy was nearly as aghast at Pava's statement as Natalie was at Louise's. "You can't be serious."

Mary sighed and crossed her arms over her chest. She sent a disgusted look toward Pava and rolled her eyes. "Oh, she's serious."

Miranda sounded thoughtful as she spoke quietly, "They did seem very... enthusiastic about their jobs." Blue eyes glittered through the dimly lit area, landing on Donatella. "And they were quite...fit."

"Mmm... they were," the Italian agreed. "Very."

There was an awkward sort of pause before Josie laughed and offered her elbow to Louise, "C'mon, Tante." Winking at her husband's favorite aunt, Josie assured her, "I know where they're going."

Miranda was surprised at that. "You do?"

"Mmm..." Josie nodded, "I helped Lily and the others set it all up earlier this afternoon." She led Tante out of the party area to a small line of parked golf carts. They had used these this afternoon to carry things to Andy's party area. It had been explained to her that the carts were for hotel guests' convenience for the golf course and also for touring the town. Josie smirked as all the rest of Miranda's guests claimed spaces in the other carts behind them and she drove slowly so that they could all follow her to the beach. She grinned at her passenger and indicated the train they were leading. "Look what you started, Tante."

Tante laughed. "I merely took the opportunity." She leaned over and confided, "Miriam wants to see that young gal of hers, more than I want to see those young men."

Josie laughed and winked at the older woman. "You're very tricky."

"Not, I think, as deceptive as some." Tante glanced back at Pava, who was following in the cart behind them, "but I can hold my own."

"You don't think Pava wants to see the strippers either?" Josie pulled into a spot next to an already parked cart. She ran around the small vehicle to help Tante out.

The older woman chuckled, "Josie... Pava wants to see those young people strip just about as much as Miranda does." Patting the hand on her arm, Tante began walking, following Josie's lead down to the beach, aware that the rest of the previous party was following them, "No... This is just to get the lovebirds together for a little while tonight. Nothing more." Tante amended, to herself, Well nothing to speak to Josie about... She glanced back at Mary's annoyed expression. This trip may have an ulterior purpose for Pava.

Laughing, Josie lightly bumped her shoulder into Tante as they walked, "I'm going to have to start spending more time around you. I have a lot to learn."

Tante just chuckled again and nodded as they continued to walk.

Andy laughed and twirled as the thumping music swirled around her. She was having so much fun, and that last glass of wine had started her head floating just a bit. She barely even noticed as Lily dragged Serena off to the side of the dance area and began to speak low but with frantic gestures. Andy almost rolled her eyes. Lily always seemed frantic about something or other. Lara was still there with her though, dancing to the fast paced music and even singing along. Andy laughed as her friend's moving lips perfectly matched the lyrics. When the song was over, Andy glanced over to where Lily and Serena had been, only to find them gone. Shrugging, Andy figured they'd gone to get another drink and she sighed as a slower paced song began. It was one of her favorites.

Lara chuckled and opened her arms to her forlorn friend, "C'mere."

Moving into the embrace, Andy began to sway to the music. "Are you sure?"

Laughing at that, Lara managed a shrug. "We're friends, right?"

"Yeah..." Andy shifted, moving closer, laying her head on Lara's shoulder. "We are. I've been wanting to tell you what a great job you did, with the stage and all..."

"It was no problem." Lara pressed her cheek against the back of Andy's head. "I can do that stuff in my sleep."

"Yeah, but..." Andy raised her head to look into Lara's eyes. "It meant a lot to me... that you would step in like that, and it meant a lot to Miranda, too"

Lara threw her head back, laughing. "Honey, I see you every day, and every day nearly all you talk about is how great Miranda is and how much you love her. There's no way I'd let your big day with her fall through."

"I love her so much, Lara." Andy smiled dreamily, thinking about Miranda always put a smile like that on her face. "I can't believe how lucky I am."

"Well I think it's wonderful." Lara twirled Andy around the dance area. "And I think Miranda is a very lucky woman."

"I agree."

Andy whirled around but that, in combination with the just-finished dance spin and the fairly large amount of alcohol she'd consumed this evening, made her dizzy and instead of releasing Lara, Andy held on tighter so that she would not fall. "Miranda!"

The tightened embrace did not put a happy expression on Miranda's face.

Part 51

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