Andy stood, and it wasn't until she'd rounded her desk in the outer office that she realized she was not hurrying into Miranda's office at a breakneck speed. Instead she calmly took her notepad and pen and approached Miranda. "Yes, Miranda?"
"You won't need that." Miranda glared at the pad and pen. "We're meeting Nigel in one of the conference rooms in a minute. He's been keeping the outfits under lock and key for the last two weeks."
"What outfits?" Andrea wasn't sure what Miranda meant.
"Oh, pay attention, Andrea. The outfits for the Christmas shoot. We need to fit them to you. Two inhouse tailors will take care of that and Serena will do your makeup." Miranda stood.
Andy felt herself start to tremble. Already today? Somehow she had told herself that the shoot was a while yet, even if she was aware of the time between such things and actual publication. The Christmas edition was more or less done except for this essential part.
She trailed after Miranda in her usual way and the familiarity of it was oddly reassuring. Not sure why she had agreed on modelling when she knew, or feared, she'd fail at it and draw Miranda's wrath upon her for all eternity. Yes, the clandestine photos of her had looked all right, some even more than that, but to deliberately "strike a pose" and do it in a way that satisfied its editor-in-chief and, even more important, the readers, was entirely different.
"It's the conference room in the far east corner." Miranda strode through the corridors like a missile locked on target and there was not one single staff member in sight. No doubt they'd heard Miranda's staccato heels and fled. Smart people.
Nigel stood by the door to the conference room like a sentry and grinned broadly. "This'll be fun, eh, Six?"
"Sure." Andy gave him a dubious glance. Behind him, Serena waved.
"Andy, come with me," Serena said and pointed at a makeshift curtain in the right corner. "We have to get you out of your Calvin Klein's and into a robe before I can try out the first look on you."
The reality of modelling, of being poked, prodded, and directed, began to dawn on Andy. She had been on enough shoots to know that most models became desensitized regarding nudity and scrutiny. This was going to suck so bad, because she wasn't. Not a prude by any means, in fact, she was quite comfortable in her own skin, but she wasn't used to…this. Quietly, she followed Serena in behind the curtain, mindful of that the thick fabric did nothing to stop their voices from carrying through the large room.
"This is a mistake, Serena," Andy whispered before she began to unbutton her shirt. "I know I said yes and I've signed a contract, but I honestly haven't thought it through…" She looked down at her simple Hanes bra
"Shh. Just so you know, I completely agree with Miranda and Nigel. You're the perfect choice for this shoot. You'll be wonderful—and without even trying. Just be yourself." Serena reached for a small hanger. Put on these instead of your regular tighty-whities. The first outfit will show this lovely lace trimming." She pointed at the set of white La Perla lingerie on the hanger. "I'll wait outside if that feels better."
"Okay." Andy removed the rest of her clothes and put on the lace bra and panties. Thin thigh-high stockings came next and she sighed in relief that there was no garter belt to go along with them. That was not her thing. She turned to the mirror and stared at her reflection. What the hell…the image of her dark hair, even bigger than usual eyes, and the crisp white lace underwear…she didn't look like herself. Or not a version of herself that Andy was familiar with. Having gone through one makeover already about eight months ago, this one was almost too much. How could freakin' underwear change how she felt about herself so completely?
"Andrea? May I come in?" Miranda's voice was so low, Andy could barely hear her.
She hesitated for a few moments. "Sure." Why the hell not? Andy felt as if she was freefalling as it was.
Miranda stepped inside and closed the curtain behind her. And came to a halt as she saw Andy in front of the mirror. "Oh, my…" Her voice was a mere whisper.
"I know. It's not me. At all. Just tear up the contract—"
"Don't be ridiculous, Andrea. You look marvelous. Ethereal and deeply sensual at the same time." Miranda approached slowly. "I knew you were the perfect choice, and this confirms it."
"But I feel so weird." Andy tugged the robe that was on the table and put it on. Tying the belt hard, she turned to Miranda. "And I don't feel like myself."
"The situation is unknown for you. Don't think I don't understand that. Modelling was never your dream, not even working as my assistant is why you came to New York. See this as another steppingstone on your career path. You will have invaluable insight into a world very few people see from this angle. And don't think you're not good enough. I won't allow it." Miranda stood well within Andy's personal space and now she framed Andy's face with both hands. "Just let Serena do her job and Nigel his. Patrick has arrived and he's ready to do some test shooting in natural light just to see what we need to be aware of on location later this week."
Andy couldn't breathe. Miranda was touching her face and standing so damn close. "Miranda," she whispered.
"Trust me." Miranda gently tugged at Andy's hair, the other hand still cupping her cheek. "Please."
That last word made something inside Andy snap and then open. So many restrained and well-guarded feelings rose to the surface, bubbled over, and blinded her for what was appropriate or not.
Andy turned her head and pressed her lips to the palm of Miranda's hand.
There was no air. Miranda tried to inhale, but someone had stolen all the oxygen in the Elias Clarke building. Andrea's lips against her palm didn't burn or scorch but reach further in and gently melted something that had been frozen solid for a long time. Without quite realizing her own intentions, Miranda wrapped her arms around Andrea's shoulders and hugged her for a much too short moment. "Come on. Serena's waiting." Miranda hesitated, which was enough out of character for her to become annoyed with herself. "You'll be fine."
Perhaps it was the last words, uttered with a hint of starkness, that made Andrea straighten her back and raise her chin. There. There was that regal look that she occasionally displayed. As much as Andrea's charming clumsiness was endearing, this was a glimpse into who she could, no would, become, given time and experience.
Andrea stepped out of the makeshift changing booth and calmly sat down at the makeup table. Serena started working on her. Foundation, contouring, blush, eyeshadow, eyebrows, mascara.
Miranda hovered. From a distance, yes, but she didn't miss a thing. "Keep it natural," she cautioned Serena, even if she knew she didn't have to micromanage the tall Brazilian woman. "Go full on with Andrea's lips." Normally, Miranda would have phrased it in a less personal way, speaking about a model's lips as if they were an entity of their own, or a product. But right now, Serena was enhancing the woman Miranda… Swallowing against an onset of nerves at where her thoughts had almost taken her, Miranda placed her hands on her hips. "Yes. Like so."
When Serena was done, Andrea stood and turned to Miranda. "I look like I'm not wearing anything but lipstick. Serena's genius." She smiled. "I like it."
Miranda merely nodded, but perhaps something in her face telegraphed how pleased she was, because Andrea's smile didn't fade.
"This one first?" Nigel held up a silver-white ballgown that came with a faux-fur trimmed bolero.
"Yes." Miranda took a seat, mainly because her knees felt like buckling. "Let's start with that one."
It was when Andrea came out of the changing booth that Miranda knew she was in more trouble with this girl than any heightened security alert. The dress caressed every curve, enhanced every sensuous part of Andrea. Suddenly, Andrea moved with a catlike grace, perhaps because of the narrow skirt. Long white gloves, no jewelry, and with her hair in a sleek braid…Miranda wasn't sure she was ready to share this version of Andrea with the world.
Andrea posed against a black backdrop, one outfit after another, and Miranda knew she had struck gold for Runway, and created havoc on her own heart. Reeling herself in, she watched Andrea return in her work clothes, but still wearing the makeup.
"You still think I can do this?" Andrea stopped next to Miranda and laced her fingers together. She looked mildly worried.
"You are perfect," Miranda murmured before she had time to apply any filters to her words.
Andrea's gaze softened. "All right, then."
Back at the office, Miranda only had time to reapply some makeup before she called out to Andrea. Turning to Emily, she nodded briskly. "I will be on the executive floor. Only pass calls through to Andrea's cell if they have something to do with the girls."
"Yes, Miranda." Emily looked quizzically at Andrea who merely shrugged where she stood, ready to trail behind her boss. The British first assistant had mellowed the last six months, but there was still an air of competitiveness around her. Miranda knew that the promotion she had planned for Emily in time for Christmas would make her very happy. Grimacing inwardly, Miranda thought of how making Andrea a first assistant would complicate everything she was feeling…but those feelings were futile as it was, so perhaps it would all sort itself out.
In the elevator, Andrea turned to Miranda, which was something she never did in this setting. "I want to apologize for my initial reluctance regarding this shoot. It is a great opportunity that a million girls would kill for."
"True." Her stomach clenching, Miranda kept the answer short.
"Are you all right?" Andrea asked, concern clearly winning over the fear of being presumptuous.
"Yes. Why do you ask?" Meeting Andrea's warm, honey gaze, Miranda wanted to slap the emergency stop button, but didn't.
"Because you're pale." Andrea stepped closer. "Please don't worry about, um, happened in the conference room. "I overstepped. I know I did. If you're truly freaked out, I promise it won't happen again."
Miranda tried to decipher the last part. "I'm not "freaked out," she said with a calm she didn't feel.
Andrea ran the back of her curled index finger against the outside of Miranda's hand. "Good. Me either. Just so you know."
Then the door opened, and they had reached the executive floor.
Annika stood at the end of the table opposite Kathryn who sat at the head of the table. All department heads' eyes were upon her and she waited a few extra moments, knowing this would grab their attention even more. To the side, Annika saw a few assistants ready with notepads or tablets. The brunette that had accompanied Miranda Priestly in the lobby sat right behind her boss; her eyes serious as she was ready to take notes.
"Welcome." Annika pushed her jacket back and placed a hand on her right hip. "You have all received the memo that we have a heightened security situation, but only Ms. Janeway has read the report my staff and I put together."
"And what's it all about?" A tall middle-aged man said with an undertone of "much ado about nothing" in his voice. Annika had read up on everybody's files and knew this was Felix Lester, the editor-in-chief of Auto Universe. He clearly felt he had better things to do than sit in on this meeting.
"I'm coordinating with NYPD and we are all in agreement that the rumors of sabotage that surfaced a couple of weeks ago are part of a credible threat." Annika let her gaze go full circle around the table.
"Sabotage?" Lester huffed. "You're saying someone would be so bothered by a publishing house they'd sabotage us? How, for heaven's sake? And who?"
Annika was used to this reaction from certain people who were prone to denial and disbelief. That didn't mean she had any patience for them in the long run.
"Just listen, Felix," Kathryn said, her voice even, but the low purr seemed to follow a direct line to Lester's spine as he straightened and lowered his gaze. Annika hid a smile.
"The folders before you entail all the measures my department and I deem necessary to keep you and your employees as safe as possible." Annika held up a copy. "We don't know who's behind the potential sabotage, or what it entails—not yet. It can be disgruntled current or former employee, someone working for a rival company, a lone mad person, a stalker—"
"Terrorism?" The woman to Annika's left interrupted, her eyes huge.
"Not likely, but as I said, we don't know yet. The most common attack on companies when it comes to companies aren't violent. They entail computer sabotage, hostile takeovers, that sort of thing. If it gets physical, explosives, arson, or personal attacks can happen. A person or group holding a grudge usually use weapons or send something in the mail. Letter bombs or white powder, for instant."
The room was silent now. Kathryn stood and placed her palms on the table. "Listen. This is worrisome and I was stunned too after reading Ms. Hansen's report. I want you to follow her guidelines to the letter. If you don't, don't bother coming into work at all, you will be replaced. We're not taking any risks when it comes to our employees or the company. I have the board's full support in this."
Nobody uttered a word and Annika could see why Kathryn Janeway had easily outmaneuvered the previous CEO. Her commanding persona was undeniable and even Miranda Priestly regarded Kathryn with respect.
Annika kept going. "On the third page is a list of occurrences that I want you and your employees to report if you see or hear anything about it. It's self-explicatory and I want you to send this out as a memo tugged as important and mandatory to everyone that work for you."
"Won't this alert whoever is out to sabotage Elias Clarke?" Lester piped up again, but his question was now polite and laced with true concern. "And it will reach the press."
"Compared to the risk of someone being unaware and thus a way in for the culprit, and thus succeeding…" Annika shrugged. "It can't be helped. I leave it to the very capable hands of the legal department at Elias Clarke and press liaison to have an appropriate dialogue with the media. As for the people or person behind this, I wouldn't go as far as saying this would deter them, but it might buy law enforcement time to follow what leads they have."
"How did this come to your knowledge?" Miranda Priestly asked.
"I can't go into details too much, but a letter was found on the premises along with several blueprints and maps. Enough to alert my predecessor and when I read the file, I used the contacts I have at the NYPD and as of last night, it is an official investigation. You can expect law enforcement, both from the NYPD and the FBI, to approach you."
Annika met Kathryn's gaze and for a flicker of a moment, the thoughts of last night, the image of Kathryn winking at her, interfered with her line of thought. Mentally shaking her head, Annika went through the last items on her list. When she was done, Kathryn dismissed her department heads. Everyone left except Miranda Priestly and her assistant.
"Yes, Miranda? I imagined you'd be the one who'd have more questions." Kathryn came over to the Runway editor-in-chief. "You've met Annika…Ms. Hansen?"
"I have." Miranda waved her assistant over. "This is Andrea Sachs, my assistant."
Annika could tell this introduction surprised Kathryn for a second, but then she extended her hand. "Ms. Sachs. I'm Kathryn Janeway. I've seen you rush by in the lobby on several occasions."
"Please, Ms. Janeway. Call me Andy." Andy smiled, looking both awestruck and concerned.
"What can I help you with, Ms. Priestly?" Annika placed her original copy of the report in her briefcase.
"Just Miranda. I'm about to do the Christmas shoot, and it's in a remote area down by the Hudson in an old, unused structure. If the individuals behind this sabotage wants to strike at Elias Clarke, destroying the shoot would be quite the blow. Runway is the flagship of this publishing house, after all."
Kathryn leaned her hip against the conference table. "You have a point. If they are after the company as a whole, that is."
"Or after Miranda, as a person. She's the front figure for the company. A household name." Andy stood next to her boss, her back straight.
Miranda looked over at Andy and for a moment she looked taken aback, which Annika deemed didn't happen often.
Kathryn nodded thoughtfully. "Yes. You're right, Andy. If someone would harm Miranda, or any of her major projects…I think we need to take this into consideration, Annika, when we allocate the protection. You need to vet that particular staff with extra care."
"I always do." Annika wondered if Kathryn realized she'd used Annika's first name. No doubt the perceptive women next to them had. She studied Andy and thought she saw something more than mere concern for her boss in the way the young woman looked at Miranda. Protective, yes, but also with a tinge of angst. "I believe we should provide extra security for you Miranda, and for anyone who matter to you. Your daughters. Andy. Anyone else at Runway who means something personally to you. I mean on a private level?"
"Nigel Kipling." Miranda's lips thinned. "Serena. Emily Charlton."
"I'll take care of that." Annika nodded. "As for you, Andy, as it seems you are the closest here to Miranda—"
"She'll be under the same protection as me," Miranda placed a hand on Andy's shoulders, "as she'll be staying in my home."
Kathryn read through the now updated folder one more time. She was going to meet with the FBI to discuss the potential threat and she wanted to make sure she knew the latest information, or intel, as Annika had put it.
Thinking back to the meeting, Kathryn pondered why some people, especially the privileged, had this gut reaction that nothing like this could ever happen to them, or had anything at all to do with them. She had even overheard a few of the editor-in-chiefs snicker about how it had to be one of the former assistants that Miranda Priestly had fired so callously. Not wasting time berating anyone, Kathryn had made mental notes of the ones snickering, knowing it might tip the scale in a less favorable way for either of them one day.
"Ma'am?" Harry Kim, Kathryn's first assistant poked his head in. "Ms. Hansen to see you…and special agents Torres and Paris." He made a wry face. "Whish is a tongue twister."
"Indeed, it is. Show them in."
Annika stepped inside first, which was perhaps a bit rude to the agents, but Kathryn didn't mind. Her chief of security was the hub of every step they were taking to deal with the situation.
After the introductions and handshaking, they all sat down around Kathryn's desk. She leaned back in her leather chair and listened as they briefed her of the situation. Not a lot was added that wasn't already in the folder, but it gave her time to ask follow-up questions regarding the increased security in general, and the idea that Miranda Priestly might be a target in particular.
Torres, the female agent, seemed to take their concerns at face value, but the man, Paris, seemed more cavalier about everything. Perhaps it was his way and only skin deep, but Kathryn found she took offence.
"So, you're saying Miranda Priestly's notoriety is not a special concern?" Kathryn asked and she could hear her voice had lowered to the level that was something between a growl and a purr. It was intimidating to most people and, sure enough, Paris began to backpedal. Torres sent him a slightly exasperated look, which proved Kathryn's point, to a degree.
After saying goodbye, having had a much more productive last fifteen minutes, Annika turned to leave as well.
"Wait." Kathryn rounded her desk and leaned against it. "Should we cancel the Christmas shoot? Give me your honest opinion."
Annika looked affronted. "I always do. And no. I've decided, if you agree of course as it is an added cost, that using another private company that I've used before, we can cast an iron ring around the building. I'll supervise it myself, but it also means that you have to be present."
Kathryn raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"
"Considering you are the second most likely target; we can't divide our forces. If we keep you, Miranda, and Andy, in the same location as much as humanly possible, along with Miranda's children and the two other people from Runway she mentioned, we'll, what do you say, keep all our eggs in one basket." Annika stood with one hand on her hip, and it was only now that Kathryn realized that her chief of security was armed.
"Eggs, huh?" Kathryn murmured and gripped the edge of the desk hard.
"Are you all right? You're quite pale." Annika stepped closer and placed her hands on Kathryn's shoulders. "You're not going to faint."
"Damn right, I'm not." That wasn't why she lost her color. For some reason, images of Annika throwing herself in front of Kathryn or any of the other people she was protecting, even taking a bullet, had played like a superfast movie in her brain. Kathryn cleared her throat and Annika let go of her slowly. "The Christmas shoot starts in two days. Trust Miranda to not be bothered with the fact that it's a Saturday." Shaking her head, Kathryn moved to resume her place behind the desk.
Annika began to get out of her way but wasn't fast enough. The two women bumped into each other and Kathryn began to fall back against the desk. Annika's hands were back on her shoulders and tugging her close.
"Careful. It wouldn't look good if you were injured when we're alone together." Annika gave a crooked smile, her full lips drawing Kathryn's attention.
"Perish the thought." Kathryn had to wet her lips; her mouth was quickly drying up. "I'm fine. Thank you."
Annika's hands lingered a few moments longer than necessary, but Kathryn still felt robbed when their absence cooled her skin under her shirt. Gasping, Kathryn looked up at Annika, who in turn stared back in clear disbelief.
"Oh, my," Kathryn said, placing a hand against her forehead.
Annika closed her eyes hard and when she opened them again, they held their usual flat expression. She nodded toward Kathryn in lieu of goodbye before opening the door to the outer office.
It made Kathryn feel marginally better when she was that Annika's hands were trembling too.
Andy stood in Miranda's kitchen surrounded by buzzing twins that were getting their overnight bags ready, which in this case meant making sure they had enough treats to help them through the weekend with their father.
"Dad never has anything but vegetables and meat at the house. A girl needs her sugar," Cassidy said dramatically and pushed a bag of M&Ms into her bag.
"I didn't think your mom let you have sugary things." Andy sat down on one of the stools and regarded the twins last-minute preps.
"And you thought right. One bag of candy each, Bobbsey. You know that." Miranda's cool voice cut through the mayhem and the sight of the twins frozen in the moment made Andy giggle nervously. It really looked very funny.
"Caroline." The mere lowering of Miranda's tone made both girls pull out four bags and put them on the counter.
"But why does Paulina horde this if we're not meant to have it?" Caroline pouted.
"Because that's her job to shop for us. It's meant to last over a bit of time. You know this too, Caroline." Miranda took the discarded bags of candy and placed them back in the drawer. "Your ride is here. Be good girls for your dad now."
"Yes, mom," the twins said simultaneously. Cassidy hugged her mom first and then skipped over to Andy and hugged her as well. "Take care of mom, okay? Don't let the bad guys get her."
Andy flinched. "What? How…"
"Oh, please. We're not deaf or stupid." It was Caroline's turn to hug Andy. "You both be safe."
Andy had to blink away errant tears from the corner of her eyes. "We will. You can call me anytime if you're worried."
The girls beamed and then, in a flurry of red curls and designer outfits, they grabbed their bags and jackets and were out the door. Andy could hear them argue about something down the stairs outside before the closing of a car door meant they were safe in their vehicle. Two guards were going to join the twins and their father in the Hamptons.
Miranda reentered the kitchen and drew a deep breath. "They are safer with James." She sounded as if she was trying to convince both of them.
"They are. Annika agreed." Andy had quickly developed a great respect for the new chief of security and Annika's strong presence and obvious expertise was reassuring.
"She did." Miranda seemed at a loss for a moment. "Are you hungry?"
"Yes, a little." Andy stood. "What can I do to help?"
"Paulina left us enough prepared dinners to feed and army. All we have to do is warm it. Another think Ms. Hansen approved of as we don't have to call out for meals or go out. Apparently "hunkering down" is what we're supposed to do until the shoot."
"Is it just me, or has the words Christmas shoot taken on a completely new meaning?" Andy smiled wryly. "Sorry. That was macabre."
"Yes. And also, an astute observation." Miranda opened the freezer. "Come and take your pick. They are all one portion sized."
Andy walked over to Miranda and then wished she hadn't. The juxtaposition between growing incredibly hot because she brushed against Miranda's side and the cold from the freezer made her tremble.
"Um. Chicken. Yeah. That'd be great." Andy pulled out a container and stepped to the side too quick, losing her footing.
"Dear God, are you trying to give me a coronary?" Miranda gripped her arm with one hand and held on her choice for dinner with the other. Placing her container on the counter behind them, she closed the freezer. Still holding onto Andy, she pulled her closer. "Are you all right? You're flustered."
"Oh, damn it," Andy whispered. She could only stare at Miranda and prayed to any deity deigning to listen to her that Miranda wouldn't hate her. "I'm sorry."
"What are you sorry about?" Miranda removed the container of frozen chicken from Andy's hands. Taking both Andy's hands in hers, she cupped them with hers, as if warming them.
"Everything. All that I feel. Everything." Andy clung to Miranda's hands, trying to figure out what was going on.
"Don't be sorry. Do you hear? It's unnecessary." Miranda raised their joined hands to her face and kissed Andy's knuckles. Not just ones, but several times, and not very fast, but slowly, so…not only in a comforting way, but with a sensuality that tore up a line of glowing embers along Andy's spine.
Miranda tucked the last of the dishes away in the dishwasher and started the machine. Andrea had excused herself after dinner and gone to the bathroom, which gave Miranda time to think about the mood between them. They were at a precipice of sorts, that much was clear. The current security situation had put a magnifying glass on what had been going on between her and Andrea for months. And sped things up. Was it also because this urgency that Miranda had let her guard down with Andrea? The idea of something happening to the young woman she saw almost every day was frightening. And Miranda Priestly didn't do well with fear. She'd experienced enough fear and uncertainly when she was even younger than Andrea, and she didn't care for those emotions to reappear.
"Can I help you with anything?" Andrea's voice made Miranda flinch and swivel.
"What? Oh. No. It's done. Why don't we make sure you have everything you need?" So close to start fidgeting, it was embarrassing, Miranda climbed the stairs to the third floor where the bedrooms were located. Hers were the master bedroom in the middle and to the left of her, the twins' rooms, and to the right, two guestrooms. She picked the one closest to her bedroom, not sure why, or at least not ready to admit to why.
"Here. There should be everything you need. Sleepwear, toiletries, phone chargers. I'll have outfits brought for you from the Closet tomorrow, or we can have Roy swing by your apartment—yes?" Andrea's hand on Miranda's arm stopped her word flow.
"I'll be fine. In fact, this is luxury for me. Obviously, you haven't been to my apartment. It is all right, but the walls are thin enough not to need my own Spotify, I have a bed, and armchair, and a crate for a coffee table. And my desk from college. That's it. This…" Andrea gestured toward the guestroom that was decorated in grey and soft yellow, "this is like a hotel room." Then she seemed to realize she was still holding onto Miranda's arm and yanked her hand back.
"Why so little furniture?" Miranda was curious, but more than that, she wanted to delay saying goodnight.
"Nate, my ex-boyfriend took all his stuff, and honestly, some that were mine, but he insisted was his, to Boston. I haven't gotten around to visit the thrift store yet. I did see a nice couch on the sidewalk a couple of weeks ago, but then it rained a lot and it was unsalvageable." Andrea spoke so matter of fact that Miranda understood this was how the young woman was used to acquiring pricier objects. As recycling was one of the topics that Miranda had had to embrace, due to the climate and environmental debates, she was aware of the movements that climbed into dumpsters and also scavenged in the back alleys behind grocery stores and restaurants.
"Well, enjoy the room," Miranda said softly.
"I will. And I appreciate you bringing me here. I spoke to Nigel earlier. Emily and Serena are staying with him to free security staff." Andrea began to fidget. "Um. About…earlier. In the kitchen. Before dinner?"
Miranda's heart skipped a beat. "Yes?" Did she want to know what Andrea was about to say. Did she harbor regrets? Would she offer excuses?
"I hope I didn't make you uncomfortable. I suppose my nerves got the better of me. Usually, I'm better at reeling myself in." Shrugging helplessly, Andrea's cheeks grew pink.
"No need for any reeling," Miranda said firmly, clinging to some of her work persona to not give in to the tremors inside. "Yes, we're all feeling the stress and I imagine you're nervous about the shoot as well."
"That's not it. Not really." Andrea slowly took Miranda's hand and squeezed it. "I fear for your safety. For the others too, obviously. But mainly for yours. You're the obvious target if they're after maximum exposure. I don't know what I'd do if I—if we lost you."
Miranda acted without thinking. She pulled Andrea in for a hug, wrapping one arm around her waist and pushing the other one into her hair, cupping the back of her head. "We're safe here, both of us. The girls are safe with their good-for-nothing father. Nigel and the other girls are hunkered down at his place apparently. We won't be back at Runway until after the shoot, and by then the security teams and the FBI will have caught whoever is behind this." She held onto Andrea for several moments. "And I couldn't bear to lose you either."
Andrea pulled back enough to meet Miranda's gaze. "Really?" she whispered.
"Really." Miranda felt her lips tremble slightly as she attempted a smile.
And that's when Andrea kissed her.
Annika stepped out of the car, looked around before allowing Kathryn to exit the vehicle. It was an ungodly early Sunday morning and Manhattan was covered in a few inches of snow.
"Five am. Why did I think this was a great idea? And why didn't you object?" Kathryn pulled up the collar of her coat.
"Because I agreed that going to the shoot at this hour made the job easier for the security staff and bodyguards." Annika smiled faintly. "And this is Andy's first shoot. I figured you'd want to be there. I spoke to some of the Runway staff and she has been very nervous."
"And you're right. Again." Kathryn walked toward the large old factory building. "Andy is an Elias Clarke employee, not a model, and she is also battling the same nerves about the threat as the rest of us."
Annika walked next to Kathryn, her eyes scanning the areas not very well lit, but saw nothing amiss. Over by the gate, two armed guards, one man and one woman, made sure nobody who didn't belong could get in.
"Good morning, Ms. Janeway," the female guard said smartly, sounding as if she was about to salute. It didn't surprise Annika. There was something about Kathryn that had that effect on people.
"Morning and morning. It's in the middle of the night." Kathryn chuckled as she passed the guards. "Stay warm. Are they sending out coffee to you?"
"Yes, ma'am," the male guard said. "We're taken care of."
"Good." Kathryn strode toward the opening that led into the courtyard.
Annika had been here twice, going over the structure and its blueprints with the current owner and her staff. She had two different exit strategies if something were to happen. Her staff knew which among the Elias Clarke employees they were responsible for if something went down.
"Oh my," Kathryn said, sounding in awe. "I can understand this choice for the Christmas edition. "This is magical."
"Why thank you, Kathryn." Nigel Kipling, Miranda's creative director stepped closer. "I found it by chance, and I couldn't be happier that Miranda approved."
Annika was as impressed as Kathryn and even as she kept her guard up, she could still appreciate the many flickering candles in the windows, the iron fire baskets, and the firs. Cast iron chairs and tables, rustic pine tables and benches, different backdrops mounted on scaffolds, a lot had been carried into the courtyard.
Nigel pointed to the far-left corner. "That's the are we've put up for anyone who isn't occupied with any tasks, ladies. Coffee, sandwiches, a fire to keep you warm, and lots of blankets and faux furs."
"Sounds perfect. Come on, Annika." Kathryn moved toward the corner, waving for Annika to join her. "I would kill for some coffee."
Fortunately, no lives had to be lost as Miranda was already in the corner, sitting with a cashmere blanket around her legs, sipping coffee. Behind her, Carmen was keeping guard. "Ah. Kathryn. Annika." She slid sideways to make room for them on the padded bench. "I recommend at least one blanket."
Kathryn took the center seat of the bench and patted the seat next to her. "Join us, Annika. You can see everything going on from here."
Groaning inwardly, Annika squeezed in next to Kathryn who deftly draped another blanket over both their legs. That, together with the crackling fire from a wide fire basket kept them warm.
Cupping the coffee mug with both hands, Kathryn sipped it and then moaned. "Now this is almost worth getting up at four in the morning over."
Annika wasn't sure if Kathryn meant the coffee, or the beautiful winter world Runway's people were creating before them.
"Yes." Miranda nodded solemnly. "As long as Andrea doesn't hold her breath long enough to asphyxiate."
"Excuse me?" Annika leaned forward to be able to see Miranda. "What do you mean?"
"The silly girl has a tendency to hold her breath in stead of hyperventilating like most people tend to do when they're nervous." Miranda shook her head. "I've been able to observe her some since she's stayed at my house for two nights now. It's astonishing."
Annika thought she saw tension around Miranda's lips and eyes at the mentioning of Andy. It was none of her business, but if those two share any of the unfortunate chemistry that seemed thick enough to cut between her and Kathryn, living under the same roof much be torture.
Kathryn shifted and her thigh pressed harder against Annika's, making "thick enough to cut" sound like an understatement. When Kathryn's right hand landed on Annika's knee under the blanket, she flinched and shifted her gaze to Kathryn's eyes.
"You cold?" Kathryn murmured.
Cold? Was she being facetious? "No." Another understatement. Annika felt so hot, she wanted to tear the blanket off her.
Patting Annika's knee, Kathryn smiled against the rim of her mug. "Good. Me either."
Realizing she had allowed Kathryn to distract her far too much, Annika scanned the courtyard again. Two men were hauling a crate toward the corner diagonally from where she was sitting. So much equipment to take a few photos. Annika went rigid.
"Annika?" Kathryn said, her tone serious.
Cursing herself, Annika stood, the blanket falling halfway to the ground. So much equipment. She needed to find the person in charge of going through it all before it was allowed into the courtyard—and fast.
Kathryn stood and looked after Annika who strode across the courtyard, clearly not caring if she accidentally stepped in front of the cameras. Miranda got up as well, shoving the blanket to the side.
"What's she up to?" Miranda took two steps forward, but Kathryn placed a hand on her arm.
"Stay here. I trust Annika and if she has to plough through your set, it's for a good reason." Kathryn squinted through the flickering lights from the fire and candles. "She's aiming for those two guys over there. I recognize one of them from the company we hire the guards from."
Serena and Emily approached the bench. "Something wrong, Miranda?" Serena asked. "Andy's ready."
"Good," Miranda said distractedly.
Emily looked perplexed. "Good?" she echoed. "Andy looks amazing."
"That's not what Miranda meant," Kathryn said and motioned for the two younger women to get closer to the fire. Real snow had begun to fall, and it must be getting colder as the snowflakes were very small.
"Where's Annika?" Serena looked around them. "I saw her over here only moments ago."
"She's just checking on something." Kathryn couldn't wait any longer. "Why don't you take a seat, all three of you. I'll go and see what's up. I'll look in on Andy as well."
Miranda shook her head. "I'll check on Andrea. You girls stay here. Emily, your lips are blue." Turning to the Carmen and another guard, she made an impatient gesture. "Move the bench closer to the fire." Then she strode off to the changing booth put up in the far-right corner.
Kathryn strode across the courtyard, her gazed locked on Annika's back. She was gesturing emphatically, which spoke volumes as Kathryn had never seen Annika other than serene. She walked up next to Annika.
"And you have scanned all the crates that has been moved in here. Even the ones delivered yesterday?" Annika towered over the much-shorter man.
"Yes, Ms. Hansen. I went over them with scanners and also opened each one to examine the content." The man held up his hand, palms forward.
"Look around you. Can you think of anything you haven't looked at that is being used here?"
"Eh…" The man blinked and then let his gaze wander.
"What are you doing here?" Annika said curtly, directing her attention toward Kathryn.
"I'm the boss here, if you haven't forgotten," Kathryn said calmly. "I need to remain informed. "Does the FBI have a presence in the courtyard?"
"Yes. Two undercover agents," Annika murmured. "I wish you'd stay closer to your personal guard, though."
"I am. Right now." Smiling, Kathryn regarded the man in front of them. "Well?"
"Except for the trees, I've had my hands on every crate in here. I swear." Shrugging, he then pointed at the group of four naked firs and the two decorated Christmas trees.
Annika paled. "The damn trees." She raised her wrist to her lips again. "Move everyone away from the set. We need to scan the fucking trees."
Kathryn had never heard Annika curse before and knew it showed just how concerned her chief of security was. Remembering, Kathryn spoke fast. "Andy and Miranda is in the changing booth with the staff there. Is that far enough away from the trees."
Annika shook her head. "No." And then grabbed Kathryn's hand, yanking her along as she began to run.
Andy heard the fabric covering the opening to the booth being yanked to the side. Miranda strode inside and here eyes were huge in her pale face. "Good. You're dressed. We need to move you out of here." She took Andy by the hand—and in front of everyone. Perhaps it was the unexpected, public touch that made Andy's brain slow down.
"What?" She blinked and tried to figure out what Miranda was talking about. "Makeup isn't—"
"We'll worry about that later. Come on now. Everyone out of here and do not dawdle." Miranda pointed to the opening. Move!"
It was as if she'd called fire. Everyone dropped pins, tape, clasps, makeup brushes, hair curlers, flatirons…and hurried out the door.
Andy's brain caught up with her and she squeezed Miranda's hand. "Something's happening."
"Annika seems to think so." Miranda yanked at Andy's hand.
Realizing she couldn't run in the ridiculous six-inch heel thigh high white lacquered boots, Andrea pulled free and pushed them off, glad they weren't zipped up yet. Not bothering to look for anything else to wear, she ran with Miranda through the opening where they met Annika and Kathryn.
"Good. Let's move over to the doors leading into the structure. We can't risk passing the trees, which is the only way to the gates." Annika spoke fast and the kept barking orders into her wrist mic.
Andy felt Miranda slip and looked down. Of course, her boss was wearing four inch heel boots. Why not? She slipped her arm around Miranda's waist and held her steady as they followed the rest of the crew and security personnel. As they moved through the opening behind some benches and a basket fire, Andy hoped everyone was mistaken and that it was a false alarm. She cared about the people she worked with and she loved Miranda with all her heart. If anything happened to anyone of them…
"Where's Emily?" Serena called out as they moved further into the structure. "I can't see her. Emily!"
Andy looked around them. She wasn't sure how many made up the crew on today's shoot, but after checking the faces around her, she was missing one more. "Nigel? Nigel!"
"Oh, dear God," Miranda gasped beside Andy, clinging to her. "Nigel! Emily!"
Annika quickly started asking question into her mic. "We're have two people unaccounted for. One man, Nigel Kipling, bald, glasses, light blue coat, black trousers. One woman, Emily Charlton, British accent, red hair, black slacks, purple coat." She pressed her fingers to her in-ear receiver. "Yes. No. You're sure. I'll go find out. Hansen out." Pulling a sidearm from inside her jacket, Annika motioned for them to stay put. "I'm going to look through the courtyard to make sure they're not still there. Stay here."
"Please." Kathryn Janeway was pale and gripped Annika's arm. "Be careful."
Andy felt Miranda tremble, or perhaps it was both of them. Wrapping her arms around Miranda, she held her close. Where was Emily and Serena?"
Annika quickly touched Kathryn's cheek with her free hand and hurried back through the opening to the courtyard. Andy held her breath and only when Miranda gently shook her, did she remember to exhale.
"This is insane." Kathryn paced back and forth. "We took every precaution."
"We did." Miranda turned slightly within Andy's grip, but didn't step away. "Annika has to find them."
"She will." Kathryn sounded sure, but her otherwise blue eyes were a dark grey. "They were right there by the fire when Annika realized what might be wrong. They must've—"
The explosion was deafening and then everything went dark.
Miranda clung to Andrea, her heart hammering so fast and hard in her chest, she thought it was going to break through her ribs. "Emily…Serena…"
Next to them, Kathryn staggered to her knees and got up on unsteady feet. "Annika."
Miranda cupped Andrea's face, not able to distinguish her features, but she was alive and vertical. "Are you injured?" she asked hoarsely.
"No. The wall between us and the explosion protected us." Andrea sobbed. "You?" She tugged Miranda closer and pressed her lips to her forehead. "Miranda?"
Miranda strengthened her grip of Andrea. "I'm all right." She was, physically. "We need to find the others."
"Nobody moves form this location until a bomb squad clears the area. Everyone move over to the far wall." Carmen had clearly assumed command in Annika's absence. "Once you're all settled, I'll make my way into the debris at the set—"
"No need." A voice behind Kathryn said, making the latter swivel.
"I'm here. I'm…all right. For the most part." A figure stumbled toward them through the dust that hadn't settled yet. "And you, Kathryn?" She appeared before them and as Carmen produced a flashlight, Miranda spotted a gash at Annika's hairline that was bleeding profusely.
"Oh, my God, Annika," Kathryn called out and gripped Annika's arm.
"Miranda? I need to sit down." Andrea startled Miranda as she began to sway. "I'm dizzy."
Together, Miranda and Carmen helped Andrea to sit down and Miranda knelt beside her, feeling with her hands over the shivering woman. "She's too cold," she barked, cursing inwardly as Andrea was only wearing the thin dress she was supposed to use under the white faux fur coat for the shoot. She began to unbutton her coat, when Carmen placed hand on her shoulder.
"No, ma'am. Keep it own, or you'll be in the same situation shortly. I can reach the blankets we used on the bench by the fire basket. It's in the corner closest to us." She made her way through the dust filled darkness.
Annika was busy trying to raise her staff via her wrist mic, but to no avail. "It must have broken when I was tossed against the wall." She pushed at the dripping blood, smearing it into her hair.
Miranda held Andrea close, trying to keep her warm. "I have you. Carmen's fetching blankets."
"Thank you," Andrea whispered through clattering teeth. "I don't think I've ever been this cold. Or maybe it's the shock…who'd want to do something like that to us. To you."
Miranda shook her head and then pressed her lips to Andrea's hair, ignoring the dust that had settled there. For once, she didn't know how to respond.
"Listen." Andrea flinched. "Do you hear that? Sirens? I mean, this is Manhattan and there are always sirens, but they're getting closer. Right?"
"She's right." Carmen appeared, wrapping blankets around them and handing more out to the people standing and sitting around them. "The cavalry is here."
"About damn time." Miranda huffed, but she was really just grateful that the emergency responders were going to help them get out of there. Sh needed to get Andrea home. They also had to locate Nigel and Emily. Next to them, Serena stood, refusing to wear a blanket, her hands balled into fists as she clearly waited for Emily to show herself.
Seconds became minutes before there were movements over at the other side of the large hall they were huddling in. Opposite of the opening they had escaped through, a group of fire fighters made their way through a narrow opening.
"Fire department's here," Miranda murmured to Andrea who only nodded and pressed her face into Miranda's neck. "They'll have us out of here in no time."
In front of the fire fighters, bulkily dressed individual made their way cautiously toward the courtyard, speaking in muffled voices.
A paramedic knelt next to Miranda and Andy, shining the beam of her flashlight over them twice before she spoke. "You'll get one of the first ambulances out of here, girl," she said to Andy. "And what about you, ma'am. Are you bleeding, or did you hit your head?"
"Neither. I'm however not going to let Andrea go to the ER alone." Miranda stood as two men lifted Andrea onto a stretcher.
"Oh, goodie. I was worried I'd have to strongarm you, ma'am. You look like the type," the paramedic said and smiled.
Miranda was about to do her usual spiel by chopping the woman off at the kneecaps, but she also heard the warm undertone in her voice. "Then by all means. But I'll walk." She was not going to be wheeled by her employees. And if the bomber was among them, she needed to show strength.
As they rounded the large structure, another familiar voice made Serena sob behind Miranda and Andy. An agitated British voice roared from the gate where the guards weren't letting anyone in.
"Emily," Serena exhaled with a whimper. "Deus tenha piedade de mim..."
Holding Andrea's cold hand in hers as she walked, or stumbled, rather, next to the stretcher, Miranda nodded to herself. So Emily was accounted for, and clearly unscathed enough to cause a racket. She shuddere. But where was Nigel?
Andy was so cold, she was sure the tremors would make her fall off the stretcher. When Miranda climbed into the waiting ambulance with her, she could have cried with relief. Still, there was something bothering her. "Shouldn't you stay and make sure Nigel—"
"No." Miranda's lips were a thin line. "I'm coming with you."
"Don't worry, Andy," Serena said from the rear of the ambulance. "Emily and I will find him. We won't leave until we know where he is."
Andy noticed that Serena didn't say "until we know he's all right" and of course that was true. Nobody knew where he was at this point, let alone if he was buried under the debris. "What about Annika and Ms. Janeway?"
"Annika's been bandaged and Ms. Janeway is refusing to leave as well. Carmen's in a car behind you to keep you safe at the hospital and we have all the security staff here." Serena patted Andy's foot through the blanket. "Just get warmed up, Andy. Miranda will take care of you."
Andy couldn't have blushed if she tried, she was so cold, but she closed her eyes to avoid the looks of everyone around her. The paramedics attached her to a heart monitor and hooked up an IV. As they began to drive to the ER, the remaining paramedic put more blankets around her and tucked heat pads underneath. It felt wonderful, but not nearly enough.
"Don't fall asleep. Please." Miranda murmured in her ear. "Look at me, Andrea."
Andy opened her eyes and found Miranda's face mere inches from her own. "You'll be fine, Andrea. They just need to make sure. I suppose hypothermia along with being that close to an explosion is not ideal."
This sounded so acerbic and preposterous, Andy began to giggle. Soon her throat constricted around the weird mirth and she began to sob. Immediately, Miranda slipped her hands under the blankets and stroked up and down Andy's left arm. "It's all right." She pressed her lips against Andy's temple.
Andy turned her head and hid her face against Miranda's neck. The warmth of her skin against Andy's lips made more for warming her than all the blankets in the world. "The dress is ruined," Andy said, hiccupping.
"Screw the dress." Miranda pressed her lips lightly against Andy's. This was a strange sort of repeat of the other night when Andy had done the same to Miranda. Certain that she had grossly overstepped that evening, Andy had excused herself and hid in the guestroom, but now as Miranda's lips trembled against hers, there was no hiding for any of them.
"Thank you for coming with me," Andy said quietly. "Are you sure you're all right?"
"Yes, but if it makes you feel better, I'll allow a quick onceover when they've taken care of you." Miranda turned to the paramedic. "I hope we're going to the Presbyterian."
"Yes. We are."
As the ambulance rushed through morning rush hour traffic, Andy had to disappoint Miranda and close her eyes. She was exhausted and as long as Miranda kept stroking her arm she could relax some.
Annika felt better after a paramedic had glued her scalp laceration and bandaged it. What she didn't like was the fact that Kathryn was at her side no matter where she went. Annika would've preferred if the stubborn woman she'd come to care for would listen to reason and go to the hospital to be checked out, or at least back home under guard. But of course not. Claiming she was responsible for every single person at this shoot, she remained by Annika's side and kept typing notes into her phone.
"Ms. Janeway." Agent Torres showed up with Agent Paris at her side. "We've managed to identify all but one individual within the gated area along with NYPD. Unfortunately we have a severely wounded male being extracted as we speak. We believe it might be the missing Nigel Kipling."
"What?" Serena came running. "You found Nigel?"
"I believe so." Torres shook her head in dismay. "He's in pretty bad shape. Which one of you are best equipped—"
"We'll all go," Kathryn said harshly. "We all know Nigel."
Under the watchful eyes of Annika's guards, they made their way back to the courtyard where firefighters were carefully extracting a person. As more and more became visible, Annika frowned. "That can't be Nigel Kipling…unless he changed his clothes."
"Why would he—no, that's not Nigel!" Serena took two steps forward before Annika managed to stop her. "That's…wait…that's the guy from the food truck. Look, Emily. That guy who nearly spilled coffee on you."
Emily stood on her toes and regarded the now uncovered, dusty appearance of the wounded man before them. "Yes. That's him. I recognize those hideous coveralls." Her voice trembled. "But where's Nigel?"
"Right behind you, finally," a blissfully familiar voice said, making them all swivel.
"Nigel!" Serena flung her arms around the bald man, hugging him fiercely. "Where were you? Everyone…we all thought…"
"We thought you died." Emily began crying.
"I nearly did from sheer embarrassment." Nigel patted Serena's back and nodded toward Annika and Kathryn. "I was in the portable toilet when the blast hit. Something fell and blocked the door. I just got myself out two minutes ago." He looked around. "Where's Andy and Miranda?" Paling, he gripped Serena hard enough to make her groan.
"Andy suffers some hypothermia and Miranda went with her." Emily pulled out her phone. "Oh, thank God, I have access again. I have to call Miranda instantly."
Annika placed a hand around Kathryn's waist, feeling her own fatigue surge. "Can we please get you checked out now so I can go back to dealing with this situation?"
"Yes. All right." Kathryn squeezed Nigel's arm. "Glad to see you in one piece, Nigel."
Annika pulled Kathryn with her before the woman changed her mind. "Now, Kathryn."
At the hospital, Andy watched Miranda answer her cellphone, listen quietly for a few moments and then begin to laugh—and then cry.
Miranda regarded Andrea as the young woman sat wrapped in several blankets on the lush den couch at the townhouse. After checking the young woman's vitals and observing her for six hours, during which Miranda only left Andrea's side to talk to law enforcement and be examined herself, the doctors had discharged her. As long as she stayed warm, ate and drank normally, Andrea was going to be all right. Miranda had gone through her own tests, which turned out negative. Apparently, the thick brick wall between them and the blast had taken the brunt of it.
"Miranda. You're hovering." Andrea smiled tiredly. "I'm fine."
"Yes, you are. Now." To her dismay, her hands shook, and something constricted her throat.
"I was just cold. And shocked." Andrea began unraveling the blankets, but Miranda stopped her by raising her hands and walking over to her.
Sitting down, she took Andrea's hands in hers and raised one of them to her lips. "I thought…" She had to clear her throat to continue. "I thought that I might lose you just when I…well, just when I found you."
Andrea's eyes widened. "You never could. I mean, you can never lose me." Coloring, which was lovely to see after having watched her skin be a mottled blue-grey tone earlier, Andrea bit her lower lip.
"But I will. You will move on to bigger and better things, leave Runway, and me…it is only natural."
"But that's just work stuff. If you want me in your life in a, hm, personal way. I mean, if I don't get this totally wrong, then, yes…you can never lose me."
Miranda blinked, trying to figure out what Andrea was saying. "I know we've been tiptoeing around each other for months, really. I can't say I've dealt with it very well as I loathe dithering. And yet you sound so sure that you want to be "in my life," as you put it."
"I love you." And there it was. That regal posture, where Andrea wasn't coltish, clumsy, or stuttering at all. Instead she moved her hand and arm with such grace as she extended it to cup Miranda's cheek. Stroking her thumb across Miranda's cheekbone, Andrea's eyes welled up. "I have for some time."'
Miranda slid forward on the couch and pulled Andrea into her arms, holding her tight. Pressing her face into the silken, newly washed hair, she inhaled, wanting to absorb everything about this brave woman. "I do too. I have come to love you more than I thought possible, Andrea." Shaking, and not very regal at all, Miranda knew, she pulled back and pressed her lips against Andrea's. Changing angles, she explored the full lips under hers, tasting Andrea as she tried to convey the truth and the depth of her emotions.
Whimpering, Andrea wrapped her arms around Miranda and pulled her down next to her on the deep couch. "You're so warm and nice," she murmured against Miranda's lips. "I knew, or thought I knew, that my love was completely one-sided. I had settled for being the best I could be at work. You know, making your life easier that way. And now…" They began a new series of kisses, deep and scorching.
Eventually, Miranda vaguely remembered that Andrea was meant to rest and be pampered. She pulled back and the sight of Andrea, looking wonderfully tousled and flushed, nearly did her in. "I should get you some chicken soup," Miranda said dreamily as she ran her fingertips down between Andrea's breasts and ending up on her stomach. "You haven't eaten yet.
"You can think of chicken soup now?" Andrea pursed her lips.
"I can, because your wellbeing matters to me even more than making love with you on the couch." Miranda thoroughly enjoyed how Andrea's flush went from pink to crimson in two seconds. "Although, there's some merit in getting you nice and warm, I suppose."'
Giggling, Andrea slumped back at the pillows. "Actually, I'd love to be in better shape when we make love. You deserve that I'm able to do you justice." She crinkled her nose.
"Uh-huh." Knowing full well she was the one blushing now, mainly at the idea of Andrea taking her time with her. She pictured them in her bedroom, on this couch, in the shower, on the desk at Runway after hours—Miranda stood so fast, she nearly fell over. "Soup. I'll go heat some soup. Paulina always has some in the freezer if the girls get sick." Miranda was certain she heard a low chuckle from Andrea as she left the room. Snorting at herself, Miranda promised herself that she'd use all the heated daydreams she'd had about Andrea when they finally made love. Do her justice—indeed.
Kathryn was on the phone with Elias Clarke's chairman of the board, when the special phone used by the doormen in the lobby buzzed.
"I have to let you go, Nancy, but I'll be in touch tomorrow when hopefully I know more." After hanging up, Kathryn lifted the small receiver. "Yes?"
"Good evening, Ms. Janeway. I have an Annika Hansen here to see you. She's not on your list for the evening—"
"That's all right, Carl. Send her up." A sudden bout of nerves made Kathryn walk over to the bar at the far end of the living room. She poured herself a bourbon, but merely stared at it before setting it down again. Instead, she walked to the front door and opened it. The elevator only reached the penthouse if Carl or any of the other four doormen sent it there. She was the only one who had a personal key.
The elevator door pinged open and Annika stepped out. She had changed clothes and was dressed in grey slacks, a black shirt and a long, leather coat. A new bandage on her forehead showed she had been seen by some healthcare professional, which was a relief.
"Welcome." Kathryn took a step back, letting Annika pass her. "Let me take your coat."
"Thank you." Annika's voice held a new rasp. No doubt the woman was fatigued after a long day dealing with the aftermath.
"Can I get you anything? A drink?" Kathryn motioned for the group of sofas in the living room. "Coffee?"
"Just water, please. I know it's ridiculous, but I've felt as if I can't get rid of the dust in my mouth all day, no matter how much I drink."
"No wonder. You were in the courtyard. Please, sit down. You look like you're about to fall over."
"I'm all right." But Annika sat down with a deep sigh. "This is a far too comfortable couch."
"I've slept there more nights than I can count. I'll sit down with my laptop or folders and wake up in the middle of the night with the markings of the keys on my cheek." Kathryn fetched two glasses of mineral water from the bar. "Pellegrino all right? Miranda swears by it."
"I'd settle for tap water at this rate." Annika gulped down some of the water. "Oh, thank you."
Sitting down next to Annika, Kathryn sipped her water before placing it on the glass coffee table. "I'm glad you stopped by in person, but that is purely from a selfish point of view as I'd much rather you'd gotten an early night's rest.
Annika closed her eyes briefly. "The idea of my hotel room wasn't pleasing…and I wanted to give you this in person." She handed Kathryn an envelope.
"What's this?" Kathryn frowned as she accepted it.
"My resignation." Annika squared her shoulders.
"What?" Alarmed, Kathryn snapped her eyes from the envelope to meet Annika's gaze.
"I failed in preventing the attack."'
Pushing at the couch, Kathryn scooted closer to Annika. "You saved everyone today. You figured out the only way the person responsible had been able to get the bomb in and you got us all out of there." She let the envelope fall to the floor and took Annika by the shoulders.
"But nothing. You are the reason we're not dead or seriously injured. The only one who was injured at all, was you. And that was because you ran toward danger when we couldn't find Nigel and Emily. I will not accept your resignation." Kathryn shook Annika gently. "At least not like this. Stay on and figure things out because from what I've heard directly from the police and the FBI, they're moving in on whoever hired that co called caterer."
"See this through with me—with us." Kathryn let her hands fall. "Please."
Annika opened her mouth and she looked like she was going to argue her point, but instead she closed it again and leaned sideways against the backrest. "All right."
Not sure how she'd been able to reach Annika that fast, Kathryn smiled. "Trust me. I know when I have the right person for the job in question right in front of me. It's my superpower."
Now it was Annika's turn to smile. "I believe you."
"Have you eaten?" Kathryn took Annika's left hand in hers.
"Yes. Someone sent pizzas and burgers for the entire security team and law enforcement." Annika raised an eyebrow. "Something tells me that was you."
"It was, but not only me. Miranda was in on it as well." Kathryn shrugged. "I'm glad everyone ate."
"She's all right. Judging from how Miranda sounded, she's not letting that girl out of her sight any time soon." Kathryn hadn't been entirely surprised at the tenderness and love in Miranda's voice when she spoke of Andy.
"I see." Annika nodded thoughtfully and it was only now that Kathryn realized that she hadn't pulled her hand back. Annika didn't seem to mind, in fact, she had laced her fingers with Kathryn's.
"You look exhausted. Why don't you use my guest room?" Kathryn squeezed Annika's hand gently. "It's almost midnight."
"I should go. I really should." Looking at their joined hands, Annika shook her head. "I just don't think I can make myself leave."
"I don't want you to." Cupping Annika's pale cheek with her free hand, Kathryn let her thumb stroke her high cheekbone. "Please, stay."
"You're sure?" Annika wasn't asking about the hospitability or the guestroom, Kathryn knew that. Her voice was too filled with surprised emotions for that to be the case.
"I'm sure. Don't ask me how I can possibly be sure of anything after a day like today, and after knowing you for only a very short time, but I am." There was nothing in the world that could have been easier to say, which was unfathomable. Kathryn teetered between not knowing Annika at all—and feeling as if she knew her heart.
"Then I'll stay." Annika pulled Kathryn in for a hug, taking her by surprise as Kathryn had thought she was being the initiator in…whatever this was. Now she wrapped her arms around Annika's neck and returned the embrace. After a few moments of feeling every curve of Annika's upper body, Kathryn cautiously pulled back a few inches. Annika looked back at her through half closed lids.
"God, woman. You really are half asleep." Smiling, Kathryn moved to get up, but Annika tugged her back against her.
"Can we just stay here? Just for a little? I'm quite comfortable."
"You'd be even more comfortable if you took your boots off and—yes, like that." Kathryn watched Annika toe the boots off. "Now, put your feet up while I get the guestroom ready—or we can do this."
Annika had pulled her legs up, tugged Kathryn closer and reclined against the armrest of the couch in a spooning position. Kathryn managed to reach one of the knitted blankets and covered them both. "Better? Annika?" When there was no reply, Kathryn looked over her shoulder at Annika and saw she was fast asleep.
Feeling her own fatigue weigh her down, Kathryn pushed a velvet covered pillow under her head. Annika's arm around her stomach held her in place and she had never felt safer.
Two days later
"Irving Ravitz?" Miranda rose and began pacing.
Andy could hardly believe the news that the FBI agent, Torres, had just given Miranda over the phone. Set on speaker, Andy had heard it all and it was still unfathomable.
"What on earth did he expect would come from it?" Miranda snarled.
"He has gone downhill quite a bit since he was outmaneuvered by you, the board, and Kathryn Janeway." Torres sighed. "And he has no concept of how his own actions at Elias-Clarke made himself the one to blame, not you or Ms. Janeway. Instead, he blames his fall from grace, his failing marriage, and even his children's wrath, on the two of you. He really isn't well. Somehow, he entertained the idea that if he got rid of you and Kathryn Janeway, he'd be back in power and able to run Elias-Clarke the way he saw fit. He would clear his reputation in the eyes of the world and his children—and get his wife back."
"That's insane," Andy whispered.
"So, he used his less clean connections to get in touch with the man posing as a caterer and when they learned of the Christmas shoot, and how high profile that was going to be, he saw this as his best shot."
"And he was prepared to hurt all those people because of some personal vendetta?" Miranda sat down next to Andy again, pulling her close. "How can he possibly have thought that would work?"
"He isn't well, as I said. I suppose he was once a capable man, but in this, all his reasoning was flawed and the people he enlisted to help him were not pros. If they'd been, we wouldn't have picked up on any chatter, no signs would have come on Ms. Hansen's or the NYPD's radar. We should be grateful that he and his cohorts were so inept."
"I will not be grateful for anything regarding that man," Miranda said bitterly.
Feeling the stress course through Miranda's body, Andy stroked her back in small circles.
"I am, however, grateful for the work you've all put in, Agent Torres," Miranda amended. "Have you spoken to Kathryn?"
"I have. There'll be a more formal debriefing tomorrow, but I realize that Elias-Clarke need to get their ducks in a row when it comes to the media storm that will no doubt erupt once his name is released. He is under arrest and several other arrests will be made."
"How did you learn of his name so fast?" Andy asked, hoping it was all right.
"The man pulled from the rubble has been lucid on and off. He gave up every name he knew of. He didn't know Ravitz's name but could describe him well enough for us risk a photo lineup. He instantly pointed to Ravitz's photo."
As Miranda finished the call and made a few more, Andy enjoyed just sitting next to her. She had slept beside Miranda last night and now they were back on the couch. Miranda finally disconnected the last call and leaned back, pulling her legs up.
"All done?" Andy pressed a gentle kiss against Miranda's cheek.
"For now, yes."
"So, what now?"
"What do you mean?" Miranda looked surprised.
"I mean, we go back to the office tomorrow, don't we? But what about now?"
"To correct you on that first part—we go back to the Christmas shoot tomorrow, at our backup location. You're not off the hook, my dear."
Andy blinked. "Wow. Really? I thought perhaps you changed your mind."
"Now, why would I do that?" Miranda tugged gently at Andy's hair. "As for your second question. Now what indeed." Smiling she framed Andy's face with her hands. "I have a suggestion."
Andy was going to ask what Miranda had in mind, but she didn't have to. As Miranda kissed her, held her, and showed her in no uncertain terms how much she wanted Andy, how much she loved her, that was all Andy needed to know.