DISCLAIMER: The Devil Wears Prada and its characters belong to Lauren Weisberger and 20th Century Fox. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: My thanks to JazWriter13 for her excellent beta work and to Ginakasarahsmom for her stamp of approval.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To qhfletcher[at]gmail.com
By quiethearted (QH Fletcher)
Miranda pursed her lips, her glare intensifying as yet another young stud moved into the circle of men who were watching Andréa like so many buzzards circling a fresh kill. One would think that the male population of this isolated hamlet had never seen a woman before. Whoever's bright idea it had been to have the Valentino shoot on North Carolina's Outer Banks would pay dearly when Miranda got her hands on them. The fact that it had been her own idea was conveniently tucked into the darkest recesses of her mind. The vision of the ethereal femininity of the designs juxtaposed against the East Coast's last vestiges of wild, deserted, sandy beach had seemed brilliant at its conception. Now it seemed merely trite, or as she had come to understand was the vernacular of the area, tacky. Apparently, such a determination was the ultimate kiss of death among women in this more southerly part of the country.
With a handful of the most beautiful women in the world draped in barely-there apparel, it was Andréa's rounded curves that intrigued the testosterone-driven "good ole boys" who had taken to observing the shoot from the sidelines. It did not help at all that Andréa's shorts seemed to shrink daily, leaving long, lean expanses of flesh visible to anyone who chose to cast an eye in her assistant's direction, nor that she seemed constantly to be losing weight, making her breasts appear larger and her narrow waist more prominent. What had happened to clam diggers, pedal pushers, capris or any of a dozen other types of body-covering beachwear? As if to add insult to injury, Andréa appeared to enjoy the prodigious attention. The entire situation was, to Miranda's mind, decidedly "tacky."
She seethed inwardly as long limbs covered the expanse of sand to stand at her side.
"Is there anything I can get you, Miranda?" Andréa asked, tossing her head to allow the wind to sweep her cascade of dark locks from her face. Her large, dark glasses left only the small curl to her lips as an indicator to her thoughts.
"I'm surprised you have time to think about something as mundane as your job," Miranda sniped, her voice so low and soft as to almost be swept about by the faint roar of the ever-present winds. "Your admirers have made every attempt to occupy your every waking moment. Assuming of course, it stops there." Her tone left little doubt that she highly doubted that.
Reaching up and gently tipping her glasses down to expose her eyes over the upper edges, Andréa stared into Miranda's eyes for a moment before slipping them back up and turning her head to scan the crowd of onlookers, most of whom were male and shirtless.
"Not my type," Andréa replied easily. "Nor your business by your own choice, Miranda. You don't get to turn me down and then dictate what I do with my personal life, so I suggest you get over it."
Miranda's lips tightened until a white ring encircled them. "I despise the day you ceased to fear me, Andréa," Miranda bit out.
"Not half as much as I hate the day you decided you preferred to have me at Runway over being in your bed," Andréa shot back. "Now if you'll excuse me, the shoot's about to wrap, and I need to get this crew rounded up and back to the house. I have a date for dinner."
Miranda gestured to the beefcakes lining the dunes behind them. "I thought you said none of them were your type."
"They have sisters, Miranda. Some who even want me," Andréa replied with a smirk. "As you pointed out, I need to do my mundane job."
Miranda would have been surprised if everyone hadn't seen the steam roaring out her ears, she was so furious while watching the rhythmic sway of hips as Andréa walked away from her. She didn't hesitate to speak aloud, knowing the winds would tear her words away and bear them out to the turbulent waves. "You are wanted, Andréa, more than you will ever know; however, as much as I hate it, I cannot have everything. So I chose the one sure way open to me." Turning on her heel, Miranda made her way across the sand to her waiting car. Rather than opting for a driver this trip, she'd rented a Mustang convertible, liking the solid strength of the vehicle coupled with the feel of the sun and wind. She loved cruising the desolate stretch of two-lane road from the side-by-side houses they'd rented to the shoot location in and around the Hatteras lighthouse. Perfection would have been having Andréa in the passenger seat, but for once in her life, Miranda had settled for good enough as opposed to risking all to chase the elusive concept of perfection.
She had thrown her bag into the backseat and settled herself behind the wheel, reaching for the seatbelt, when the passenger door opened and Nigel dropped into the adjoining seat.
"I've come to understand that in this part of the country all the cool kids used to do something called 'cruisin'.' I've always wanted to be thought of as cool, so indulge me," he commented, gesturing toward the road leading from the parking lot. "Take me cruisin', Miranda." He slipped on his shades and relaxed against the seatback.
Her lips quirked in the tiniest of smiles. "I've always thought you were the coolest, Nigel." She put the car in drive and began to navigate smoothly around the other vehicles and tourists.
"Why thank you, Miranda. That means a great deal coming from the girl who 'rules the school.'"
Miranda laughed softly. "We are a long way from high school, my friend."
"True, but neither of us were cool or in a position to rule back then, so I'll take what I can get," he observed. "A philosophy not all of us should follow."
Knuckles whitening as her fingers tightened on the wheel, Miranda's lips came together in a thin, tight line. "Don't," she said succinctly. Her momentary humor was well and truly vanquished.
"Fortunately, being the coolest exempts me from fearing your displeasure; therefore, I shall," Nigel responded, draping his arm along the top of the door and playing with the rush of air over his fingertips. "You made a foolish choice. You should fix it."
"I made the only choice I could." Miranda's foot pressed more firmly against the accelerator pedal as anger began to rush through her veins. "Irv saw us. He had proof. Damn whoever put cameras on cellphones anyway. What choice did I really have? I could leave things status quo and have Andréa in my life as my assistant, or pursue a relationship with her while he used every means at his disposal to ensure enough bad press to drive us far apart while pulling strings to destroy her career. He knows how I felt about her. He saw how I felt, how I feel, for himself. It was his nasty, little bit of revenge for what happened in Paris. I keep Runway, but only because it allows him to daily watch me suffer over having her close, yet still out of reach. "
"You wouldn't be the first woman to conduct a discreet affair," Nigel observed, before sighing dramatically as the tires squealed around a curve. "Kindly refrain from torpedoing the next sand dune with our hurtling bodies."
At the next pull off which dotted the long stretch of road, Miranda whipped into the small parking lot and stopped with a squeal of tires and brakes. She slammed her hands against the wheel before shoving the shifter into park. "No! Never! She deserves more. She deserves everything." Miranda rested her forehead against the steering wheel. "And I can't give it to her. Except in a professional capacity. There I can give her the world."
"Which explains why our new assistant art director is also a staff writer and your de facto personal assistant." He released his seatbelt and turned to face her, back resting against the door. "You have to see how ludicrous that is. People are already beginning to talk. You're acquiring the reputation without any of the fun, Miranda."
"I'm aware of what they're saying, Nigel. That I'm a foolish, old woman chasing after a sweet, young thing half my age. That I'm pathetic and have become the cliché of the lecherous, middle-aged executive trying to recapture her youth between firm, young thighs. Only, like Ginger Rogers, I'm doing it backward and in heels." She threw open her door in frustration and swung her legs out smoothly. Stalking across the pavement, she stared at the tall dunes and the slightest glimpse of the ocean between them before walking the pathway between the sandy mounds just far enough to see the waves crashing against the smooth expanses of sand. The wind raged against her ears, blocking sound until all she could hear was the roaring of her own thoughts. For a moment, the desire to fling herself into the maelstrom was strong, but hands on her shoulders grounded her thoughts. "They can think what they want about me. At least, she's safe. You know the kinds of things he's capable of, Nigel. Andréa is defenseless against him, and I can't protect her without locking her in a gilded cage that she'd despise."
"How do you know?" he asked, breath warm against her ear. "Have you bothered to ask her?"
Miranda's laugh was humorless, a mocking, dry chuckle that provided all the answer she had to offer.
"He's right, Miranda, you should have asked."
Miranda whirled to peer over Nigel's shoulder at Andréa, who stood just behind him. She glanced farther back to where one of their rented passenger vans idled next to the Mustang.
"What are you doing here?" she snapped. "I thought you were in a rush to get to your date."
"Ooo, nasty bark," Andréa chided. "It doesn't work as well since I learned you don't bite. Well not unless I asked you to, anyway."
Miranda could feel her face flaming at the implication of Andréa's words. "Be very careful," she warned. "My patience only goes so far, Andréa. Even with you. I suggest you return to the van and stay out of things that aren't your concern."
"Oh, but this is my concern, Miranda," Andréa insisted as she pushed past Nigel to stand in front of Miranda. "You're my concern. You always have been, and you always will be. You were wrong not to give me a choice. I have a right to decide my own life."
"Then decide away." Miranda waved her hand negligently. "I, however, will not change my mind. You are in my employ and shall remain so until the completion of your contract, or you will never work in this business again and face a lawsuit. So decide."
Andréa's scream of rage cut through air. "Why can't I hate you?! That gilded cage you were so worried about? You've locked me in it already. You tricked me into signing that contract."
"Go ahead and hate me, Andréa. I wish you would. It would make it all so much easier." Miranda glared into cocoa eyes. "Then maybe I could begin to let go, to find some peace. " She turned back toward the water, catching a glimpse of Nigel entering the van and pulling away. She was alone with Andréa in an aquatic wildness that seemed to only feed her anxiety and frustration.
Andréa laughed bitterly. "Why should you have what I can't? I can't sleep; I can't eat. I do nothing but live for every moment I can be near you. Near, but never able to touch."
Miranda wrapped her arms around her own waist to keep from turning and reaching for what she really wanted to hold. "We can't have this conversation," she denied. "I'll take you to the house, and you can prepare for your date." Miranda spat the word. It tasted like so much sawdust in her mouth.
"Oh, no. Your time for making all the decisions has passed. We are going to talk about this, and we're going to do it right now! On second thought, have it your way. There are other things I'd rather do than talk, anyway."
Miranda felt strong hands on her upper arms just before she found herself spun around, and soft, plush lips crashed down on hers. She tried to fight, to push Andréa away, but the truth was she didn't want to, and that truth overwhelmed her. Instead of pushing against Andréa's shoulders, her fingers turned to claws grasping and pulling her closer. Miranda no longer cared that they were out in the open where anyone could see them that bothered to look. She didn't care that her expensive bag and all it held lay on the backseat of an open convertible. She only cared about the lips that ravaged her own and the tongue that plundered her mouth. She felt herself being moved, stumbling, between the dunes that ran parallel to the path. Hands pulled at her clothing, freeing her, liberating her body and soul from the hell she had made for them both. And then the sand was at her back and the sky filled her vision as Andréa filled her over and over until Miranda's screams of release challenged the gulls' cries.
How long they remained like that, giving and taking as waves of passion overtook them repeatedly, Miranda didn't know. Her world had narrowed to the taste and feel of Andréa on her lips and hands. This was what she had been denying herself, denying them both. She was the worst kind of fool. Miranda opened her eyes to the clear blue of a cloudless sky. Curled together, clothing thrust up, aside, or down as was needed, she relished the feel of Andréa's body pressed close to her side, head resting on her chest. One nipple hardened in sharp relief as Andréa's warm, moist breath caressed it with each exhale.
"We can't keep doing this, Miranda," Andréa said, never moving from her resting place.
Miranda couldn't keep a pleased smirk from curling her lips as she thought of the last time they'd found themselves in this position. Months of denied attraction had built to the point that the tiniest gesture had caused them to erupt into passion. She sighed sadly as she remembered it had also been the only time they had been together as lovers. It was their ironic tragedy that the emotional collision had occurred in her office after hours. An office she wasn't aware Irv had bugged after Paris. He had heard just enough to slip downstairs and fill his cellphone with incriminating photos before Miranda had developed the foresight to close her office door.
"No, we cannot," Miranda agreed, knowing that the reasoning behind their joint conclusion was entirely different for each of them. "We can't be alone again when emotions are running this high."
Attempting to sit up, Miranda found herself pressed back down and Andréa's full weight settling over her. Her thighs were pressed apart as Andréa s hips moved between and began a steady rhythm. It was only seconds before Miranda's body responded, rising to meet her lover, craving the sensations being created between them.
"We're going to be alone, Miranda. Alone, and naked, and wet, and driving against each other. Just. Like. This." Andréa punctuated her words with thrusts of her hips. "And next time there may even be toys involved. You'd like that, wouldn't you? To feel me thrusting deep inside you."
Miranda arched into her orgasm as she came hard and fast. The mere suggestion enough to send her over the edge.
"Irv," she gasped, heedless of the way his name would spoil the mood. "Irv would destroy us both."
"Not if we get him first," Andréa smirked as she began to work her hips yet again.
As dusk moved in, Miranda and Andréa h quickly dressed, although in Andréa's case, only as much as Miranda would allow. She smirked as she shoved Andréa's lingerie into her own pocket. The tiny shorts that Andréa had admitted to wearing in a continued attempt to force Miranda's hand proved to provide excellent access as Miranda drove them leisurely home with one hand while using her other hand to toy with Andréa's wetness. It was a situation Miranda had fantasized about over the course of the shoot every time she slid behind the wheel of the convertible; though, in her fantasy, Andréa had been entirely nude. Miranda wasn't quite willing to risk that, but her compromise caused a wicked smile to become plastered on her lips as Andréa's soft moans and gasps teased the air between them.
Safely on the road, Andréa looked at her inquiringly before sliding her hips forward and opening her thighs when Miranda's hand slid over her leg to press against her. The gesture clearly invited Miranda in, and she was not the sort of woman to ignore such a blatant invitation from the lover she craved. In an efficient move, Miranda's fingers slipped inside the tiny shorts and remained there throughout their drive. As Miranda directed the car toward the garage, she made a mental note to see to the cleaning of the seat in the morning personally. It wouldn't do to have anyone else discover Andréa's passion dried upon it. Not if their plan were to work. There was much still to discuss, but for now Miranda was looking forward to having her lover naked and spread across a soft bed at long last.
A short time later Miranda parked the Mustang in the makeshift garage under the small cottage she was staying in. They had rented the large adjacent house for this reason. The house was large enough to house the models and crew comfortably with the cottage left over for Miranda's use. All the houses in that area were built on stilts to avoid flooding from storm surges, and many had lattice attached to form small garages beneath. It also gave the extra benefit of blocking the view of anyone nosey enough to attempt seeing who came and went, as the entrance to Miranda's cottage was up a staircase from inside the garage, facing away from the house.
Removing her fingers from between Andréa's thighs, Miranda lifted them to her lips and gently slid her tongue over each one until she had cleaned them thoroughly.
"You remind me of a big cat cleaning her paws," Andréa teased.
Miranda arched an eyebrow and gave her lover her best Dragon Lady glare. "You're saying I'm a big, lazy house cat?"
Andréa gurgled with laughter. "I was thinking more a white tiger, beautiful and deceptively relaxed with very long, sharp claws and teeth. You are ferocious when defending your cubs, after all."
"My cubs and my mate," Miranda stated emphatically. "Something Irv is about to learn to his detriment."
Grinning, Andréa rolled to her knees and leaned over the console to curl her body between Miranda and the steering wheel. "That's my Miranda. I was wondering how long it would take for her to come back."
"As long as it took for me to realize that truly protecting you required an offensive and not a defensive strategy." Miranda looked deep into the eyes so close to her own, amazed at the warm glow of love reflected in them. "I've never in my life knuckled under, except to protect my children and now you, Andréa. There is nothing else that would make it worth accepting such weakness in myself."
Andréa's lips claimed hers slowly and thoroughly. "It's against your nature. You're not prey, Miranda. You're a predator. Trying to be anything else would eventually destroy you. It was already taking a toll on you, and by extension, on the rest of us." Their bodies pressed together even tighter and Miranda could feel the brush of Andréa's lips against hers as she continued, "If I'm going to feel your claws, I want to do it in our bed as I make you lose control, not in the office while you rage in frustration."
Just as Miranda was ready to claim what was hers again, Andréa was gone and back on her side of the car. Miranda couldn't hold in a low growl of outrage at being deprived in such a manner.
"Get back over here," she ordered. "I'm not done with you yet."
Andréa's grin could have lit up the dim garage. "I'm counting on it; however, we both know that someone in our group is reporting back to Irv regularly. It might be better not to tip our hand too soon. We can't act any differently around each other. If I go upstairs with you, we both know I won't be leaving, and everyone will know by morning."
Miranda ran her fingers through her hair in frustration, catching a whiff from her previously occupied hand. Smirking she brought those fingers to her nose, inhaling the rich aroma. Even through the increasing darkness of the garage, she could see Andréa flush at her action.
"Go then," Miranda ordered tersely. "At least I won't have to fake the frustration driving my less than stellar mood tomorrow." She grabbed Andréa's nearest hand as her lover turned to open the door, bringing her full attention back to her. "But know when this is over, you won't be leaving my bed for any reason other than rehydration. That you will sorely need." Miranda could feel a shiver coursing through Andréa's body and into the hand she held. She smirked, knowing the effect she could have on her Andréa with just a few well-chosen words. "Now, go, and avoid getting too close to anyone until after you shower. You smell as if you've been well and thoroughly loved."
"Then they'd only know the truth," Andréa responded before slipping from the car and disappearing into the growing gloom.
Miranda left the car and slowly made her way up the stairs. She was thankful that they would be returning to New York in the morning. It didn't leave much time for her to put a plan in place, but that had never stopped her before. Thinking on her feet faster and more clearly than her competitors is what had gotten her to where she was, and she planned to use every ounce of her skill and knowledge to win this time as well. Irv was not only going down, he would pay dearly for every threat, real and perceived, that he had leveled at her Andréa. No one stood between Miranda and what she wanted and survived. Irv was about to feel her dragon claws.
Things settled into what appeared to be business as usual at Runway. To the uninitiated, that translated to Miranda tearing through the hallways and her staff like a harpy with a hangover. To the small handful who could claim to be part of her inner circle, it was clear that their beloved leader was slowly maneuvering behind the scenes. Emily, like Andréa, had also signed one of Miranda's now infamous contracts. It was the one move that still acted as a splinter in Miranda's conscience, though she had seen to it Emily was well and truly compensated for not being allowed to move on after her year was up as first assistant. After Paris when it became apparent that Irv was continuing to infiltrate every facet of Runway, Miranda needed to retain those she knew she could trust; so she took steps to make it happen. Emily, Serena, and Nigel now found themselves under personal contracts to her. Miranda in turn contracted their services to Elias-Clarke. It had taken a bit of maneuvering to slip the idea into Irv's mind that when he finally chose to end his game with Miranda and rid himself of her presence, he could clean house with one stroke of his pen. It was a calculated risk, but one that ensured her people remained loyal and were protected from his whims on an individual basis until the end of their contracts. After that, there was little Miranda could do to protect them since, in the publishing world in general, Irv's reach was longer than her own. Unless they signed additional contracts with her, that is.
Nigel, for all his disappointment over losing the Holt job, had no intention of leaving her side while she was under attack. Serena well, Serena would be wherever Emily was and remain quite happy while doing so. It was Emily who gave Miranda her few uncomfortable moments. Emily was made for better things, so Miranda did what she could to prepare her for that future. The recalcitrant Brit not only acted as Miranda's first assistant but found herself quietly steered through each department on short rotations, ostensibly to keep an eye on things and report back to Miranda. The truth was that Miranda was seeing to it that Emily was trained in each facet of the business from the ground up. Miranda would not always be at the magazine, and she had deemed Emily to be her successor, hand-trained by her to keep the vision that was Runway alive. The time for that revelation had not yet come, nor would it ever unless Miranda could get them all out from under Irv Ravitz's stubby thumb. The morality clause that was standard in all such employment contracts was Irv's leverage against them all, and the only way Miranda could protect them all from disaster was to accede to Irv's wishes, at least for the present.
No one knew, but from the moment Irv had confronted Miranda with his "evidence," she had begun to work quietly to neutralize the threat. For years she had been aware of his proclivities but had never deigned to stoop low enough to bring the information to light. Once he had threatened those she considered hers, and most importantly, her Andréa, the gloves had come off. While Miranda might be gaining the reputation of the clichéd, rich executive in a midlife crisis, Irv Ravitz was the real thing. Added to which, he was a womanizer of the worst kind. He'd always been very careful to cover his tracks and never to play above his station, but since coming to believe he had bested Miranda, he'd become a bit less cautious. With the woman he perceived to be his greatest enemy safely under his control, or so he thought, Irv was taking more risks with his playmates.
If anyone knew the worth of eternal diligence, it was Miranda. After all, that was how she'd uncovered his plot with Jacqueline. Miranda simply needed to find the right rope and feed it to Irv an inch at a time until he either hanged himself with it or choked on it. She really wasn't too selective about which it would be.
The irony was not lost on Miranda when it was Irv himself, with a small assist from Andréa, who showed her just which rope to use. It was once again time for the Runway Gala, and as usual everyone who was anyone was there, along with any and all hangers on who could finagle an invite. Andréa had asked for and received permission to bring along one of her closest friends from college who would be in town over that weekend. For the staff of Runway, it was considered a working event, and having a date at one's side was discouraged during the early part of the evening. Spouses and significant others usually arrived with their partners but hung back until the latter part of the evening. Andréa had made a cryptic remark about how Miranda might be surprised as to just who desired the benefits of a Northwestern education and further said she didn't wish to hurt Miranda by suddenly appearing with an attractive woman on her arm.
Miranda had her fake smile firmly pasted into place and was greeting the rich and famous with her usual grace when she noticed Andréa and her friend, Harry, laughing over some shared amusement. Miranda barely suppressed an eye roll over the nomenclatures young women chose to go by these days. "Harry" was almost on par with her Andréa for both beauty and intelligence. Miranda was secure enough in Andréa's feelings for her that she was able to admit they made a lovely couple standing together. Light and Dark, Day and Night. Harry was the antithesis of Andréa in coloring, with long, shimmering blonde hair and crystal-blue eyes. Her lips curled upward at the corners as Miranda mused that more than one man or woman here tonight would be having erotic imaginings of threesomes with the stunning young women who were clearly comfortable with each other. Gentle touches from fingertips and full lips placed close to a corresponding ear to trade comments gave every impression that the two were current or former lovers. Only Miranda knew the fallacy of that assumption. The two shared one of those long, profound friendships that reached a level of trust which made personal space a mute issue. Miranda was pleased to feel warmth in her chest at the sight of Andréa enjoying herself so thoroughly for the first time in almost a year. She was careful not to let any hint of her thoughts show on her face and even pursed her lips slightly to add to the image of displeasure she was affecting.
"It seems your allure has waned rather quickly," Irv observed, his snide comment cutting into Miranda's thoughts. "Not that I can blame her. Who'd want old and used up when they can have young and fresh."
Miranda clenched her teeth, the muscles in her jaw flexing as she restrained herself. "A philosophy you practice religiously, I understand. How is your dear wife?"
"She's fine, as if you cared. She's home where she belongs. She never was good at these sorts of things. Not like your Andy. She looks right at home. I'll bet she can really work a room." His tone left no doubt as to the prurient direction of his thoughts. "She's attracted to money and power. Maybe I should give her an opportunity to upgrade. She looks about ready for it."
Miranda's fingers clenched around the stem of her champagne glass. She forced her hand to relax, afraid for a moment that she'd snap the fine crystal. It would not pay to have a sharp glass spike in her hand while standing this close to Irv. "Andréa is her own woman," Miranda acknowledged. "Do not mistake me when I assure you that 'money and power' as you so delicately phrase it do not interest her. She would not see your advances as an upgrade. Quite the opposite, in fact." She fought not to react to the way he ogled her Andréa, as if she were a horse on the auction block. Miranda expected at any moment that he'd stomp over there and insist on examining Andréa's teeth. She swallowed back a hysterical laugh. She wanted to kill him, to claw the lecherous eyes from his head and grind them under her Prada heels.
"Really? You think so? You act like she's still enamored of you," Irv mused as he rocked back and forth on his toes. Miranda hated the habit. He only did it when he felt himself to be untouchable and all powerful. "Is that it, Miranda? Is her little act with the blonde an effort to make you jealous? Is it working?" He fixed his beady eyes on her and waited.
"I have no feelings on the matter one way or another," Miranda denied, glancing around the ballroom in apparent boredom with the current conversation.
"You're lying, Miranda," Irv accused softly. "I think it's time to up the ante on our little arrangement. Normally, I'd avoid anyone's sloppy seconds, especially yours, but in this case, I think I'll make an exception."
Miranda couldn't suppress a small gasp of surprise. He wouldn't. Even Irv wouldn't dare to do such a thing. She shuddered as he turned and stepped close enough to speak softly in her ear.
"You're going to deliver her to my office in one hour. You can bring her friend along too if she's into it. I think watching them go down on each other would prove stimulating. Be there, Miranda. One hour." He stepped back and stared deeply into her eyes. His own gleamed with cocky self-assurance. "If you're so much as a second late, you'll be watching as I stick it to her. Or maybe that would turn you on?" He turned and moved away into the crowd.
Miranda fought the gorge that rose in her throat. The very idea of him touching Andréa sickened her. If he thought for a moment she would bring him the woman she loved to toy with, he was very mistaken. The one thing Miranda had shared with no one was Irv's threats against her children by providing their father with sufficient evidence to obtain irrevocable sole custody and to inhibit their educational and career opportunities in the future. He'd also alluded that she should be extra diligent in maintaining their safety. Miranda hated that Irv had the connections to make good on his threats. It was what had finally forced her to accept his ridiculous dictates. When she had agreed with Andréa to fight him, Miranda knew she had to do so carefully. He couldn't know in advance. She had to totally blindside him. Now she was out of time and not yet ready to move against him.
Taking a moment to ensure that no one could read the consternation she felt on her features, Miranda gave the ever watchful Emily a signal. In seconds, Emily was at her side.
"Yes, Miranda?" Emily said by way of enquiry.
"I need everyone in the room you reserved. Now."
"Of course." Emily moved out quickly to round up the people Miranda wanted. As she touched Nigel lightly on the shoulder and leaned in to whisper, "Room 1214. Now," Emily couldn't help thinking it was going to be a long, difficult night. Even more so than was usual for those who surrounded Miranda Priestly.
Miranda pursed her lips and glared at Harry, who sat calmly at Andréa's side. Repeated objections to the woman's presence had been set aside with Andréa's quiet, "Trust me. She can help. You do trust me, right?" Unable to respond in any way but the affirmative, Miranda still didn't have to like Harry being privy to what she was about to say. Even Emily was studying the woman as if trying to figure out who she was and why she was there.
"What's going on, Miranda?" Nigel asked, pulling her attention from the coolly confident blonde.
"He wants Andréa," Miranda spat. "I'm to deliver her within the hour."
"That's it then," Andréa responded with a resigned sigh. "Em, I'll expect a dozen bottles of booze and a case of bleach waiting for me."
"Do not be droll, Andrea. That is assuredly not it," Emily replied. "I refuse to allow him to lay so much as a finger on you."
Andréa grinned at her co-worker. "I knew you loved me deep down, Em."
"Nonsense." Emily sniffed disdainfully. "You belong to Miranda, and it's my job to protect what's hers."
Andréa shook her head with a smirk. "No getting anything by you. Do I have it tattooed on my forehead?"
"On your arse. I noticed it the last time I kicked it," Emily shot back.
"Emily." Miranda's quiet voice ended the exchange as quickly as it had started. Hands clenched at her sides, she turned her fierce look upon her lover. "Andréa, you're entirely too flip about this. I will not allow this to happen."
Sparing a wry smile for Harry, who patted her lightly on the knee, Andréa stood and moved to take both of Miranda's hands in her own. "Yes, you will. You're going to escort me to wherever Irv has directed."
Miranda tried to pull away only to find herself trapped within Andréa's arms. "You can't ask that of me." She fought to keep the tears that burned her eyelids from spilling.
"I can, and I do."
Serena leaned forward from where she sat on the arm of Emily's chair. "Andy, think about this," she urged. "There has to be another way."
Andréa's lips caressed each of Miranda's eyelids, before she turned to the others. "Irv's been after me since Paris. I've dodged dozens of passes from him."
"Why didn't you tell me?" Miranda demanded.
"So you could do what? Close your office door and stick your head even farther in the sand?" Andréa asked cynically. "You'd denied any chance for us, and from where I stood it looked like you'd become Irv's personal doormat. You wouldn't be alone with me, even at the office. How was I to tell you anything?"
"Being alone with you at the office is how we got into this," Miranda snapped. She could feel the heat surge through her face at what she'd inadvertently admitted. Prior to that moment, only Nigel had known where and how Irv had gotten his information. She flushed even harder at the look of amazed pride Serena bestowed upon her, along with a softly murmured, "Well done." Emily's expression was pure shock. Miranda rolled her eyes. "I'm not above a bit of risqué activity, Emily. I'm just usually much better about not being caught."
"Yes, right. Of course, Miranda," Emily responded as if by rote.
"Can we get back on topic?" Andréa brought everyone's attention back to herself. "We're running out of time."
"No, we are not because I absolutely refuse to meet that man's demands," Miranda refuted.
"Then I'll go without you," Andréa insisted, hands on hips.
"I forbid it!" Miranda's fingertips dug into her own hips as she made her own stubbornness clear to all concerned. Brown eyes hardened to dark stones as Andréa met her glare with one of her own. "Do not look at me in that tone of voice, Andréa Sachs. I will not budge."
"Yes. You. Will." Andréa bit out. "Not only are you going with me, but you're going to figure out a way to get Harry in there, too."
Miranda huffed and waved her hand negligently. "He's already asked for her as well, but I fail to see how having a companion along will make this any easier for either of us." For once, Miranda dropped her mask and allowed the anguish she felt to show. "I won't survive knowing he's touched you, Andréa. It will kill me." She found herself gathered once again into her lover's arms.
"He won't. I promise. I have a plan. We just need a way to get proof of the things that will be said once we get there."
"Miranda, you told me Irv had bugged your office, right?" Nigel asked, tapping a finger against his lips as if deep in thought.
"Yes, evidently only listening devices as he had to come down and get his dirty little pictures personally," Miranda groused. "I fail to see what that has to do with anything at this point."
Rather than answer, he gave Emily a significant look. She stared blankly at him for a moment before glancing at Harry, and then her eyes widened. "Bloody hell! Of course! Brilliant!"
Forty-five minutes later, Miranda watched the floor numbers light up successively as she held Andréa's hand firmly in her own. They were intentionally late. Not enough to truly anger Irv, but sufficient that Miranda hoped he'd make good on his threat to force her to watch. She glanced past Andréa to where Harry stood quietly by her friend. She'd said very little since they left the hotel and even less before that. The most any of them had gotten out of her was an amused smile and a saucy wink. Short of the woman being a highly efficient assassin, Miranda had no idea how she was supposed to help them.
Miranda took a settling breath as the doors opened on the Executive floor. She returned the squeeze Andréa gave her hand as the three of them walked silently down the long hallway towards Irv's office. She fervently hoped that Emily, Serena, and Nigel had found what they were looking for. Everything that happened tonight would come to naught if they failed.
She didn't bother to knock but instead pushed the door to Irv's office open and led the way inside. She resisted the urge to fly across the room and attack him where he sat reclined on the large sofa at one side of the office. His coat and tie were tossed across the back of one chair and his shoes had also been discarded. He looked entirely too comfortable for Miranda's liking.
"You're late, Miranda," he observed as he gestured her toward the other chair in the conversation grouping. It had been pulled back toward the full length glass door that opened onto a small balcony. "Nice of you to decide to stay. You needn't worry. I don't suffer from performance anxiety."
"Viagra is an amazing thing," Miranda couldn't help but snarl back at him.
He threw back his head and laughed, actually laughed at her. Miranda's hands fisted, nails digging into her palms. He ignored the other two women as if they didn't exist. His attention was focused entirely on Miranda.
"I admit to wanting a bit of chemical assistance tonight. Not something I ordinarily require, mind you, but I wanted to be sure to make the fullest use of your little girl toy," he threw at her. "Order her to strip."
Miranda's back stiffened and her head reared back as she managed, while still sitting, to look down on him like the bug he was. "Never." She clipped out tersely.
"I think you might be a bit confused, Miranda," Irv remarked, chuckling. "You're not only going to watch this; you're going to tell her what to do every step of the way. Every time you look at her after this, you're going to see her servicing me and hear your own voice directing her for my pleasure."
"And if I don't?" Miranda challenged.
"Then I'll destroy both your careers."
Miranda smirked at him, anger lending her the courage she needed. "I have more than enough money to keep us both comfortable for the rest of our lives. Nor is it anywhere you can get your hands on it."
"Planning to lock your children in the same vault, Miranda?" he asked her slyly.
"You wouldn't!" She couldn't believe even Irv would so directly threaten her girls. Before he had simply alluded to the potential trouble he could cause them throughout the years and made only the vaguest suggestion concerning Miranda seeing to their safety.
He spread his hands and smiled with feigned innocence. "Whatever do you mean, Miranda? I'm a businessman. I was merely observing that all types of accidents can occur. You can't really lock your children away for safekeeping, now can you?" His look turned evil and vindictive. "I want her naked, now. Tell her."
Harry, who had stood to the side and just behind Andréa, moved to the other chair and relaxed into it, crossing her legs at the knees. "I don't believe we've been introduced, Mr. Ravitz."
"The only thing I want to meet with you is between your legs, bitch," Irv snarled at her. "Now shut up. I'll get to you soon enough."
"I really think you should get to me first," Harry responded with a mischievous grin. "I'm Bernice Harrington-Wells. I think you know my father, Daniel Harrington-Wells. Ring a bell?"
Miranda couldn't hide her surprise, nor Irv his, and he jumped to his feet, cursing. "What the fuck are you trying to pull, Miranda?"
"P-pull?" It took a moment for Miranda to gather herself enough to respond fully. "I have no idea to what you are referring, Irv."
"Trying to pass this skinny whore of yours off as Daniel Harrington-Wells' daughter. You're grasping at straws, you ancient bitch." He glared, fisting his hands and taking a step toward her.
Andréa intercepted him and seated herself on the arm of Miranda's chair, arm draped along its back. "I wouldn't do that if I were you. Harry is exactly who she says she is. She went to Northwestern, you know. Pre-Law and Journalism. Same as me. We were even roommates for a while." Miranda could hear the evil grin in Andréa's voice; she didn't have to look up to confirm it.
"The world lost a great attorney when Andy decided to pursue journalism instead of going on to Stanford Law with me, but that's okay. To each her own. I'm a practicing member of the bar for us both," Harry added with a smirk of her own. "But that's me. It's my dad that's important to this discussion."
Irv gathered himself quickly, and dropping back down on the couch, propped his feet on the coffee table and crossed them at the ankles. His arms stretched along the back of the couch to either side of him. "Like Miranda, I have no idea what you're talking about."
"I don't believe you'll be able to bluff your way out of this, Irv," Miranda took great pleasure in informing him.
"Out of what?" He shrugged. "We're just having a nice little chat and maybe a night cap to congratulate ourselves on another successful gala. Nothing wrong in that."
"Except that isn't what's happening, and you know it," Andréa snarled at him.
"He said/she said," Irv observed. "You have no proof that this is anything other than what I say it was. If you try to say differently well, everyone knows Miranda has been out to get me for years."
"It's the other way around, you bastard," Andréa bit out.
"Either way, it's all just hearsay and completely unsubstantiated. No one will listen to the ravings of three dyke bitches."
"My dad will," Harry pointed out. "He'll listen to me."
"Your father is a major shareholder in Elias-Clarke, yes, but not the only one, nor does he hold enough shares to worry me," Irv waved her away.
"He holds 30% of the voting stock, Irv," Miranda pointed out.
"So do I. Stalemate," Irv shot back.
"Dad is so generous. Did you know he gave me 10,000 shares for my twenty-first birthday, Miranda?" Harry asked conversationally.
"Really, Harry?" Miranda responded as if astonished. "He is indeed generous. I hold 20,000 myself."
"Still not enough," Irv crowed. He glanced over at Harry. "Why don't you scurry back home to daddy? You're not needed here. The grownups are going to play now." His eyes roved over Andréa while he licked his lips.
"Play time's over, you wanker," Emily's voice reverberated through the room, startling everyone.
"Ah, Emily, there you are," Miranda called to her as yet unseen assistant. "Be a dear and tell me you have all that transpired."
"Every bleeding word," Emily assured her with glee.
"What--?" Irv started, only to be cut off by Miranda.
"You bugged my office, Irv. A man that intent on blackmail would go even further in his own domain. I'm quite lucky that Emily pays such close attention to budget reports. All budget reports. Even the ones that show payments for electronic upgrades on both the Runway floors and this one. The only problem is Runway didn't receive any upgrades. It didn't take a genius to catch on. We have not only your voice, but thanks to your conniving mind, we have a full videotape of our little session here tonight," Miranda concluded, eyes glowing with glee.
Face suffused with anger, Irv leapt to his feet again. "So what do you want? Your pet safe? Fine, it's done. Your job? You can keep that, too. What else, Miranda?" He growled, death in the glare he fixed on her.
"You made a fatal error, Irv. As I told you before, Andréa is an independent woman. She may have been able to fend for herself, though she'll never have to find that out. But you, you sniveling weasel, you threatened the welfare of my children. There's nowhere you can hide from me." Miranda rose to meet him glare for glare.
"Actually, Harry has a little paperwork for you to sign." Andréa broke the stalemate. "You're signing your shares over to Miranda. Then there's a rather thick folio of pictures being delivered to your wife as we speak." She smirked as Irv paled and seemed to wilt before their eyes. "She has most of the wealth in your family, right? I mean, outside of the shares you're giving Miranda. You're not going to have much left."
"Don't worry, Irv," Miranda said, offering him a shark's smile as she watched him scribble his name on the documents Harry shoved in front of him. "Cynthia isn't the type of woman to just divorce you. Not if she can own you outright. I'm sure you'll enjoy being the toy for a change. Ladies, shall we go? Emily, you as well."
"Yes, Miranda," came the disembodied voice in agreement.
Miranda gestured Harry and Andréa through the door ahead of her. Pausing, she turned back to the man crumpled dejectedly on the couch. "Oh, and Irv. That's all!" She knew her laughter would ring in his ears long after she'd gently closed the door.
They returned to the hotel suite and shared a glass of champagne in celebration. Andréa stayed close to Miranda's side throughout.
"Six, if you knew Harry all along, why did you wait until now to call on that friendship?" Nigel asked.
"To do what?" Harry responded for them both. "I'm an attorney. Ravitz hadn't done anything litigious that we had proof of until tonight. Andy and I have talked about the situation several times, but all I could do was encourage my dad to vote against his proposals, as I did."
"What I don't understand is why Andy had you show up tonight," Emily questioned.
"Em, Irv's been after me for ages," Andy explained from where she sat on the arm of Miranda's chair. "I figured that once he had Miranda under his thumb, and by association me as well, he'd try to act on it. It's no secret that I'd do anything to protect her." She slipped her arm around Miranda's shoulders and dropped a kiss on the silvery hair. "He was counting on that to get me where he wanted, and if he could torture Miranda in the processwell, I guessed that he'd jump at the chance. I was hoping that having Harry along would provide the deterrent we needed if he thought other board members and major shareholders might get wind of his activities. I hadn't counted on how overblown his ego had actually become."
"Yet, it was that same overblown ego that worked so nicely to our advantage," Miranda observed.
"How did you know he has his office bugged?" Andy asked.
"It stood to reason that if he was willing to bug my office to obtain blackmail material against me, he'd do the same to his own in hopes of being able to control other professionals, including the board. The video capabilities I believe were for his own benefit. I've been aware for some time that he holds liaisons in his office," Miranda finished smugly.
"He does," Emily agreed. "He also keeps the videos in that hidden control booth of his. Or, at least, he did. They're now locked in your office safe, Miranda. The one Irv doesn't know about."
"Well done, Emily. I'm sure Cynthia will find them both informative and helpful should Irv prove fractious in the future," mused Miranda.
Nigel chuckled. "I'll say she will. I don't believe that all of Irv's paramours were strictly of legal age. He's always been rather indiscriminate in his preference for extremely young women. Matching a few faces with names should give her a jail sentence to hold over his head, along with a social stigma that will end his career permanently."
"Ugh." Miranda shivered in disgust. "I'll be sure to inform her when we meet for coffee. I have no doubt there will a call from her first thing in the morning. Emily, arrange a meeting as quickly as possible when the call comes in. I'll deliver those discs along with a full explanation at that time. Away from the office would be better. I prefer Irv not have time to prepare a defense. Let him think I'm holding them to use against him."
"And with Miranda now holding 60 percent of the voting shares, he's going to be emasculated at home and at work," Andy informed them, grinning smugly.
"It was quite insightful of you to have that contract ready, Darling. Whatever caused you to think to have Harry prepare it?"
"I didn't," Harry admitted. "Andy wrote that contract herself. She aced civil and contract law. I don't know a practicing attorney who can write a better one. Even our professors couldn't find any loopholes in Andy's work. Like I said, the world missed a great attorney when she settled on journalism."
"The world's loss was entirely my gain. Had her choice been different, I might never have met my Andréa."
Andy returned the squeeze to her fingers with one of her own.
"I somehow think fate would have seen to it we met no matter what profession either of us might have chosen, Miranda. Some relationships are just meant to happen. We're one of them." She leaned down and gave Miranda a soft kiss.
"And on that note, I think the rest of us should return to the gala for any needed damage control," Nigel said, rising from his place on the couch and gesturing to the door. "Ladies, I promise each of you a stiff drink and a dinner consisting of something besides cheese cubes. I'll even charge it to Irv's personal expense account. Emily liberated the budget code while we were there."
"Do make it incredibly expensive, Nigel. You know how Irv likes to celebrate extravagantly," Miranda advised.
With a one-fingered salute to their leader, Nigel escorted the rest of their group out. Once the door closed, Miranda tugged Andréa more fully into her lap. Arms wrapped around a slender waist, she captured full lips with her own. It was some time before they separated, gasping for breath.
"No more avoiding, no more secrets," Miranda pledged. "We go public at once."
Andy grinned and rose to pull Miranda up by one hand. "Maybe we could wait until morning. We have this lovely suite with an enormous bed. I'm sure there's a better way to spend the next few hours besides proclaiming our relationship to the masses."
"You've become quite good at prioritizing, Andréa. I think that's an excellent suggestion. Plus, we'll have room service for later when you need to replenish your energy." Miranda used their joined hands to lead Andy towards the bedroom.
"My energy? What about yours?" Andy asked, laughing.
"You'll have your turn, Andréa, right after I feel I've sufficiently made up for lost time. I intend to deplete your energy reserves until you beg me to stop," Miranda promised as she pushed Andy back onto the bed.
"Knowing you, the begging will start a long time before we reach that point." Andy lifted open arms which Miranda gladly filled.
"Indeed." She finally had Andréa where she wanted, and Miranda had no wish to waste even a moment in continued conversation. There was tomorrow and endless tomorrows afterward for that. Tonight was for them and the promise of a fated love without end.
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