Andrea's gaze flew to Miranda, and it was obvious that Queen Serena's suggestion—surely it wasn't a decree?—came as a complete surprise.

"But Your Majesty—" Miranda managed before the queen continued.

"Oh, calm down. I don't mean forever and ever." She motioned emphatically with her bejeweled hand. "Get engaged tonight, then get unengaged when Lady Andrea has found someone she truly loves, etcetera." Queen Serena snorted. "Unless you both luck out and find true love with each other, of course." She beamed. "Now wouldn't that prove me to be a matchmaker extraordinaire?"

"It would," Miranda said under her breath. "I don't see how this can work. Her father would never accept to give me Andrea's hand in marriage."

"He would, if I showed how favorable I find this whirlwind romance." The queen looked content. "Lord Sachs is not very hard to read. He is ambitious and greedy. How he could have married someone like Lady Louise, and have you, my stunning creature, is beyond me." She nodded at Andrea who finally found her voice.

"My father has many good sides, even if they might not be as readily distinguishable in public. At home, he's not as…presumptuous." Andrea drew a deep breath. "And as far as getting engaged to the general, to Miranda, I'm sure she finds it as farfetched as I do. We only met a few hours ago."

"And yet, your father assumes you'll fall in line and marry the man he's picked for you, in a very short time." The queen's voice softened as she cupped Andrea's cheek. "I know I'm obnoxious and always sound as if I'm joking, but behind that I'm very serious. We need to keep you safe. You're a budding architect, don't think I don't know this. We can't lose a woman like you in the Queendom. I can feel it in my bones that you're meant for greatness."

"Your—your bones?" Andrea wasn't sure she understood. "And how can you possibly know about my love for drawing houses?"

"Because I make it my business to do so. Especially since the general here and I stumbled upon your fate while traveling through the mirrors."

Almost dizzy now with all the new impressions, Andrea tried to think logically. The mirrors were authentic, or if not, she had gone mad. She had indeed been moved to another time, just moments ago. Even if she had doubted Miranda's words about her future, the fact that the queen backed her general up, and seemed genuinely concerned, spoke volumes. It might just be the case that if she followed her father's wishes, she might meet the person who in the future would end her life. "What do you say?" Andrea turned back to Miranda. "About this so-called engagement?"

Miranda stood silent for a few moments. "To save your life, it might be the only chance."

"I could simply turn down any suitor my father introduces me to." Andrea tried to figure out her options.

"True, but can you tell me that a person as vindictive and ambitious as Lord Sachs wouldn't retaliate or even blackmail you into submission? Take away freedoms and privileges—like attending the university for architects?" Queen Serena asked softly. "I've seen enough of his kind to know that when they're cornered, they fight dirty, even toward those they proclaim to love."

In her heart, Andrea knew this was true. How many times had she been publicly humiliated like earlier or coerced into going against her grain. Too many. "So?" She looked up at the ceiling, hoping for inspiration to come. "I'm at a loss."

"To avoid the dangerous chain of events that begin tonight, I think we should give it a go." Miranda took Andrea by the shoulders. "Once Lord Sachs accepts my proposal, and he will, you will be protected."

"And you will be tied down. Anyone you may have harbored true feelings for will be lost to you, even if it is temporary." Andrea felt tears well up in her eyes.

"I have no design on anyone else." Miranda closed the last of the distance between them and brushed her lips across Andrea's.

Andrea wasn't sure if it was only the kiss that made her slump into Miranda or if it was the exhaustion from all the conflicting emotions. She steadied herself by clinging to Miranda's upper arms. "Oh."

Miranda's eyes had grown a dark blue, and she bit her lower lip.

"I think that settles it." Queen Serena chuckled behind Andrea, who winced, having forgotten the royal presence.

"It does for me," Miranda said and raised and eyebrow at Andrea.

"Very well. Yes." Andrea straightened her back.

"Excellent." The queen pulled at a long silk rope hanging along the wall behind her. A servant appeared within moments. "Ah, yes. Fetch Lord Sachs and bring him here immediately." She turned back to Miranda and Andrea. "No time like the present. Right?"

"Right, Your Majesty," Miranda said, taking Andrea by the hand.

Andrea was surprised at the fine tremors in Miranda's hand. She squeezed it firmly. "Right."


Lord Sachs made for an imposing figure, physically speaking. Miranda saw him push his chest forward as he listened to the queen's exuberant speech about 'love at first sight' and how Andrea would reap all the court's benefits when she married the distinguished General Priestly.

"What benefits are those?" Lord Sachs asked, doing his best to sound humble. "I know of an equally distinguished gentleman, an earl, who will make sure my little girl has access to every part of the realm she desires to visit, and he has homes in every major town."

"Something tells me you're talking about Lord Ravitz." Serena smirked. "Not only is he a bit on the old side for you daughter, and you can't very well compare Ravitz's wealth and influence, with that of your queen and her next in command, can you?"

Miranda glanced at Andrea and saw the 'little girl' clench her jaws as well as her free hand. The other squeezed Miranda's hard.

"Oh, no, of course not, Your Majesty," Lord Sachs said quickly. "It is just one thing. Grandchildren. Two women together…and an old man like me…well, I have always dreamed of having grandchildren."

Miranda decided that if there ever was a lie, it was Lord Sachs claiming he liked children.

"There are more ways than the obvious to have children, Richard," Serena said, obviously using his first name to flatter his ego.

"Of course, of course." Lord Sachs turned to Andrea. "Is this what you want, truly, child?" Now his eyes were like opaque charcoal. This man did not intimidate Miranda, but she thought of Andrea having to deal with Sachs as a child. If this was how he looked at his daughter, all through the years… Miranda harnessed a snarl. She had never felt as protective of anyone in her life. It was a new, and quite strange, sensation.

"I'm certain, Father. Apart from how I feel about Miranda, I don't see how I could possibly hope to marry anyone of higher esteem or position. That has always mattered to you, Father, but you should know me well enough that I want to follow my heart." Andrea stepped closer to Miranda, and thus, farther from her father. "I firmly believe that a person can tell instantly if there can be lasting love. As long as the involved parties are in agreement, naturally."

"The romantic nonsense is neither here nor there, but you are correct. You are making a good choice, I'll grant you that." Lord Sachs bowed to the queen. "I am thrilled to agree to this arrangement. The details of the prenuptial agreement will have to go via my solicitors, which goes without saying. Andrea's dowry will be in direct correlation—"'

"Andrea's dowry will be in her name only," Miranda said firmly. "This will be agreed upon and stipulated via my solicitors."

Andrea's hand jerked in Miranda's, but she didn't let go. "Why?" she whispered.

Miranda rubbed her thumb along the back of Andrea's hand. "Later," she murmured back.

"I have had enough of doing business when we should indulge in pleasures." Serena motioned for them to follow her back toward the ballroom. "You can figure out the boring legal bits after the holidays."

The ballroom was filled with dancing people in beautiful clothes. Miranda saw Serena walk over to the chairs where Emily was sitting with the rest of the ladies in waiting. The queen held out a hand and led Emily onto the dancefloor to dance.

"May I have this dance, Andrea, or is your dance card full already?" Miranda asked.

Andrea nodded. "I'd love to. To be honest, I don't even have a dance card."

"Now that's good to hear. I feel reluctant to let go of you just yet. And we also want to keep you out of reach from Ravitz." She guided Andrea onto the floor just as the orchestra began playing a slow waltz. Tugging Andrea close with a hand on her waist, Miranda inhaled the sweet scent of her perfume. Her heart was suddenly racing, and even if she had acknowledged that she did find Andrea more attractive than any other woman she'd ever met—the obvious physical response still stunned her. Miranda, who took pride to always be in control, and clearheaded, was not accustomed to being overwhelmed by anything.

"I'm not a skilled dancer," Andrea muttered. "Good thing you're wearing boots."

"You're fine." Miranda managed to get the words out. "Very graceful."

Andrea snorted. "Liar." She peered at Miranda. "And you're blushing." She sounded surprised.

"It's…hot in here." It was hot with all the candles, open fireplaces, and bodies dancing around them, but Miranda wasn't about to lie to herself. She was actually blushing, which hadn't happened in decades.

"It is." Andrea moved closer as they turned and swirled in the sultry waltz.

Miranda had to bite the tip of her tongue to keep a loud moan from escaping her lips. Their breasts pushed together, and even if Miranda's dress unform was fairly well padded, she could still feel the contour of Andrea's forms.

The waltz came to an end, but they kept dancing, one waltz, or Colonnian folk dance, after another. During the sixth dances, Miranda felt someone tap her left shoulder.

"Now, now, General, you're monopolizing Lady Andrea completely. May I cut in? I have waited for this moment ever since I arrived." A middle-aged man, shorter than both Andrea and Miranda, stood next to them, a broad, wolf-like grin on his face.

Miranda felt, rather than heard, Andrea gasp.

"Lord Ravitz," Miranda wrapped her arm around Andrea's waist.


Lord Irv Ravitz was a diminutive man, but with a sly self-assurance that permeated the air around him. This was a man who made sure he got what he wanted, and Andrea knew he had his sights on her. Why, she had no clue.

"Sir," Andrea greeted the man she narrowly escaped, merely offering a brief bow of her head. "I was unaware that you even know who I am." Not about to cower before the powerful man, she looked him straight in the eyes.

"Of course, I do, Lady Andrea. Your father and I are close to reaching an agreement—"

"Er…Lord Ravitz," Father had made a beeline—perhaps to intervene, or act as a buffer—said in an ingratiating way. "An unforeseen occurrence that I was completely unaware of, completely, has been brought to my attention. It seems that my daughter harbors affection for another individual and who am I to get in the way of her tender heart. You know how young women can be, once they have their hearts set on something." Father chuckled, sounding slightly strained.

Ravitz's face darkened, and his demeanor changed to something that Andrea was sure, put the fear of God into people. "Sachs. This is highly disappointing. I was certain we had an ironclad agreement."

"We did, but that was before I knew…" Father gestured to Andrea.

Miranda stepped closer. "Lord Ravitz, I can understand your feelings of great disappointment, because I would be where you are if Andrea had declined my proposal. Luckily, she said yes, witnessed by our queen, and I couldn't be happier." She wrapped her arm around Andrea's waist again, and this time, the touch was firmer and sent tremors along Andrea's spine.

"You're marrying the woman that was promised to me?" Ravitz snarled but appeared to realize his budding tantrum was observed by Queen Serena as they stood by the throne area.

Then, the queen rose and joined them, looking unperturbed. "That is the hardship of unrequited love, Lord Ravitz," she said regally, and it was not difficult to detect the sparkle in her eyes. "We've all been there at one point, and we move on with grace, don't we, Lord Ravitz?" The command was obvious.

"Naturally, Your Majesty," Ravitz said quickly, bowing. "It is the right thing to do." He sent Father a searing glance and then returned his gaze to Andrea. "I just want to say that my hat is still in the ring, as the saying goes, should Lady Andrea change her mind."

"Good to know, Lord Ravitz," Andrea said, pressing closer to Miranda. Feeling the outline of Miranda's body through her dress uniform made her feel safer. "Besides, I believe that Miranda and I are going to announce our betrothal tonight. We want to share our happiness with our friends and family." Andrea wasn't sure where her courage and audacity came from, but something inside her told her that it was imperative to be clear and open about their 'relationship'. She could only hope that Miranda understood this and agreed.

"So soon?" Ravitz gaped. "I'm…amazed."

"No need," Miranda said calmly. "Andrea and I are quite determined." She cupped Andrea's cheek lightly. "What do you say, darling? Why not do it right this instant?"

Andrea's body reacted before her brain. Heat rushed through it, and for a moment this engagement felt real. She was about to announce her desire to marry the commanding officer of the queen's military service, General Miranda Priestly, and that would make it so much more authentic. Everyone around them would expect a couple in love, which was what they were expected to be. It was all a charade, but they could never let their guard down around other people. "Yes, Miranda, I would love for everyone to finally know." Andrea nearly choked on her words, but Miranda leaned in and kissed her lightly on the lips.

"Let's do it." Miranda took Andrea's hand and walked behind Serena who brought them into the area of the ballroom, just in front of the throne. All she had to do was stand there, silent, and her subjects noticed and stopped dancing. The music stopped in a beautiful glissando that faded away.

"Ladies and gentlemen," Queen Serena said, her melodious voice easily carrying throughout the ballroom, "we have some wonderful news to share on this evening of the Tajad celebration." She extended her hand to Andrea and Miranda, beckoning them to come closer. "Our esteemed General Miranda Priestly, is now engaged to be married to the stunning and brilliant Lady Andrea Sachs!"

Complete silence at first, then thunderous applause echoed through the hall, which Andrea knew was mainly because Miranda was so revered.

"Strike up a slow dance, Maestro, please," Serena called out. "Let's celebrate with a dance." She placed a hand in the small of Lady Emily's back. "May I have this dance?"

"Always, Your Majesty," Emily said, her voice trembling.

Miranda assumed her gentle hold around Andrea and danced her out on the floor. The music had a soothing tone, but faint, driving notes, made Andrea's heart race.

Andrea caught glimpses of people smiling broadly at her and Miranda, some even made encouraging gestures, but her senses were only focused on the woman holding her as they danced. How had this happened? How was it that Miranda was able to evoke such obvious reaction in Andrea's body, by mere close proximity? A few hours ago, Andrea had not even laid eyes on Miranda, and now, all she could think about was how desire drilled through her entire body, while they danced in celebration of their fake engagement.

Fake. Andrea tripped and could have fallen if Miranda hadn't strengthened her grip.

"You're fatigued," Miranda murmured in Andrea's ear. "I should take you to one of the queen's guest suites. It's been an upsetting evening for you."

Not only that, but it had also been an exhilarating, baffling, unreal evening. And most of all, despite magical mirrors, the most upsetting part was being in General Priestly's arms and being too, too close to be forgetting this wasn't real.

"I should go home," Andrea said quietly. "I could send the carriage back for Father—"

"It's begun snow heavily." Miranda nodded toward the large windows.

It was true. Snowflakes the size of mittens fell from the sky, beautifully lit by the torches and fire baskets.

"Oh my." Andrea sighed and leaned her forehead against Miranda's shoulder. "I suppose you're right."

"Let's bid the queen goodnight. She's back on the throne." Miranda guided Andrea off the dance floor. She explained in few words her plan to retire back to the guestroom wing.

"By all means. Looking at the weather, I can tell I'll have more overnight guests than I thought. My staff has prepared for this, though." Queen Serena winked at them. "You have your standing quarters as always, General. Make sure Lady Andrea is in an adjacent room—for her safety, naturally."

Andrea's cheeks warmed, but she merely thanked her queen.

They stopped by Andrea's father and let him know she wouldn't risk the journey home and that he was welcome to use one of the many guestrooms as well. Beside him, Ravitz was still fuming, his eyes burning with wrath.

"Goodnight, gentlemen," Miranda said lightly. "We bid you goodnight." She held Andrea's hand firmly in hers, and again, the feeling of being safe in Miranda's company made her relax.

As they reached the guest wing where Miranda's quarters were located on the first floor, Andrea stopped Miranda before she opened the door to the adjacent room. A servant hovered at the end of the corridor, ready to assist, but thankfully out of earshot.

"What is it?" Miranda frowned.

"A lot of guests will need accommodations." Andrea braced herself. "If I'm not being too forward, I think it's only right if we could share your quarters. Unless you mind very much."

Miranda blinked. For once, Andrea seemed to have surprised her. "I don't mind at all—on the contrary." Miranda unlocked the tall door. "Please." She stepped back and let Andrea enter.

Gold, white, and blue, were the dominant colors in Miranda's rooms. Tall windows with golden curtains, a royal-blue sitting area, and blindingly white trimmings around the walls and doors. Rugs with the same colors in intricate patterns adorned the dark wooden floors.

"Andrea," Miranda said in a low voice. "I admit, I'm confused."

Pivoting to face her, Andrea realized they were still holding hands. Not only that, but she was also reluctant to let go. "What about?"

"Your suggestion, mainly, that we share quarters. I have to ask if that means you intend to join me in my bed tonight. Or am I completely reading too much into this?" Miranda's eyes had darkened to almost violet.

"I would never presume." Andrea wasn't embarrassed about Miranda's question, just a little nervous. "I'm sure we can make up that very comfortable sofa for me. We can just ring for some sheets, blankets, and pillows."

"If anyone is sleeping on the sofa, it'll be me." Miranda placed her free arm around Andrea's shoulders and puller her closer. "That said, if you're not uncomfortable by sharing a bed, I would much prefer that."

This only gave Andrea pause in the sense that she wished she could read Miranda's thoughts right now. An innocent when it came to love and thus, lovemaking, Andrea was not skilled in reading the cues from this woman—if there were any.

"What's going through your head?" Miranda whispered, unknowingly mirroring Andrea's thoughts.

"Honestly? I can only think of how it might feel to sleep next to you, wake up beside you..." Andrea let go of Miranda's and then framed Miranda's face with her hands. She gently rubbed the silken skin along Miranda's cheekbones with her thumbs. She took her time and studied Miranda until the other woman began to shift. "Sorry. I didn't mean to make you cringe." Andrea lowered her hands, but then Miranda pulled her very close, flush with her own body.

"I have another question, Andrea. Now that you're here, in what is essentially my home…" She tipped Andrea's head back gently. "…may I kiss you?"


Miranda inhaled Andrea's sweet scent, as she slowly leaned in closer.

"Yes…" Andrea turned out to be the one who closed the last little distance, pressing her lips to Miranda's. Humming into the caress, Andrea wrapped her arms around Miranda's waist.

"Andrea…" Miranda whispered against Andrea's mouth. "I did not…expect this." Or had she? Hadn't she quickly understood that her fascination with Andrea's fate stemmed from something more? Wanting more, Miranda parted her lips and ran her tongue against Andrea's lower lip. Instantly, Andrea reciprocated, sinking further into Miranda's arms and angling her head to allow the kiss to deepen further.

Miranda pushed her hands into Andrea's long, glorious hair. It ran between her fingers like melted chocolate and touching freed more of her scent. Combined with the taste of Andrea, the soft, darkness of her mouth, the sensations made Miranda moan. Breathless arousal tore through her. She wanted to bring Andrea to the bedroom, peel off the stunning midnight blue dress and make love to her between the silk sheets.

"Mm…Miranda," Andrea murmured huskily when Miranda pulled back. "Don't let go."

Miranda chuckled quietly, holding onto Andrea's shoulders. "You have no idea how much I need to obey that command. The way you kiss, Andrea." She shook her head.

"I can't think of anything I want more than to kiss you again." Andrea smiled faintly. "I can't seem think of anything but you—period."

Something sweet and dark spread started in the lower part of Miranda's abdomen and then pushing its way through her entire body. "I normally take pride in my level head and cool demeanor. It serves me well. Until tonight. Until now."

"Do you resent me for it?" Andrea's voice held an uncertain tone.

Miranda pulled Andrea back into her arm, this time in a firm embrace, burying her face in her hair. "Never."

"You're sacrificing a lot to keep me safe. I know it was the queen's idea—her command—but…"

"The queen's idea, yes. She'd never command such a thing. And, in my opinion, this is the best option. It makes sure everyone knows you're under her protection, and mine. If you choose to at one point break off the engagement, I'll understand." Miranda's stomach quivered at the thought of Andrea moving on without her, once she was out of danger. That was the agreement however, and Miranda had to simply accept it.

"What do you mean…if I break off the engagement?" Andrea, of course, homed in on the main point.

Yes, what had she meant, exactly. Miranda didn't let go of Andrea. It sure felt safer to hide in her hair right now, than meet that clear, amber gaze. "I'm not being presumptuous. I know what we said, what the queen's plan is." As she uttered the words, Miranda wondered if Serena hadn't been trying to matchmake after all. "That said, if you want to continue our engagement, and move on to something more, eh, permanent, I want you to tell me, when the time comes."

"You keep talking about what I want." Andrea pulled back, slid her hands down Miranda's sleeves and took her hands in a firm grip. This forced Miranda to meet her gaze. "What do you want?"

You. Miranda would have slapped a hand over her mouth if Andrea hadn't held onto them. "To keep you safe," she said, hoping Andrea would accept it.

"That's pretty clear." Andrea raised their joined hands and kissed the back of Miranda's right one. "Please, just tell me."

The little gesture of tenderness appeared to decipher Miranda's carefully constructed way of dealing with the surrounding world. "You." Damn. A kiss on the hand and she turned to mush. "I want you."

Andrea startled Miranda by flinging her arms around her neck and hugging her close. "This is insane. For me, it's been mere hours. And yet…I'm right where I want to be right now. With you." She pressed her lips to Miranda's neck. "And all I have to do is think 'what if I never saw her again', to realize…I want you too."

Relieved, and more than a little taken aback, Miranda pulled Andrea along to the bedroom. "I don't know about you, but I need to get out of these clothes and lay down. Don't worry, I have no intentions of asking you for anything you're not prepared to give. I just want to rest. It's been a long evening, even, as you say, it's been merely a few hours. Though, considering the planning, it's been longer for me." Miranda stopped inside the door where the servants had lit the oil lamps just enough to cast a muted, golden glow around the room. She turned to Andrea and blinked. "Andrea?" She had meant to offer to assist Andrea in removing her dress, but instead, the garment was already half off as Andrea tugged at the bodice. "My God, you're going to rip it. Let me help you." She deftly unfastened the small hooks in the back and the dress fell to the floor. Miranda picked it up and folded it over a chair. "There is an ensuite privy over there." She pointed to the far wall. "In case you need it."

"Thank you." Andrea had pushed off her shoes and stockings, and now padded over to the privy, only dressed in her slip.

Miranda felt as if she finally could breathe when she let the last of the dress uniform drop into an armchair. She walked over to the fireplace and stoked it, adding a few more logs.

"Your turn." Andrea came back into the bedroom, looking fresh faced and having put her hair into a loose braid.

"Get into bed. The fire's going but it can still get cold in here." Miranda, who stood in her chemise over her briefs, felt her arms prickle with goose bumps. She carried out her nighttime routine in the privy and then returned to find Andrea in her bed. The sight of the young woman huddled close to the center of the massive bed, made her smile.

Climbing in between the sheets and pulling and extra throw over the thick duvet, Miranda leaned her head into her hand. "Shared bodily warmth."

"Excuse me?" Andrea smiled softly and looked over at Miranda.

"Shared bodily warmth. That's how you keep your body heat up."

"Only thing cold on me are my feet." Andrea shrugged, judging from the slight movement of the sheet. "But I'm ready to try anything to keep us warm."

Miranda returned the smile and pulled Andrea onto her shoulder. "Like this?"

"Yes. And, perhaps, like this." Andrea hooked her right leg across Miranda's.

Miranda took a deep, trembling breath. "Oh, yes."

They lay in silence for a while, neither of them appearing to need to talk. Miranda couldn't tell when she'd been with someone so in tune with her own mood.

"Sleep well, Andrea," Miranda said, pressing her lips to Andreas in a reasonably chaste kiss.

"Sleep well." Andrea pushed her arm around Miranda, and it was clear, from her gasp, that she hadn't meant for it to go inside Miranda's shirt.

"Just stay like that. It'll help with the shared—"

"Bodily warmth. I understand." Andrea kissed Miranda's neck again. "Never felt this hot. I think you have a point. A very valid point."

Miranda counted backward from twenty.

Didn't she just?



"There's something special having an entire castle to ourselves," Miranda said as she walked next to Andrea through the hallways of the queen's country estate.

"Ourselves. Well, not counting the seventy-five servants that work here on any given day." Andrea chuckled and took Miranda's hand. Even after three months of being engage to this woman, it never got old to be able to touch her, make love to her, and even just hold her hand. "Now what's the great secrecy about. You may as well give in and tell me."

"Now that would spoil the reveal, wouldn't it?" Miranda raised an eyebrow in a manner that made everyone of her subordinates stand at attention. "You just have to wait."

"You're unbearable. Lucky that…I'm so invested in us." Finding herself too shy, as always, when she came so close to telling Miranda how she really felt, Andrea cleared her throat and kept walking.

"As am I. I'm very lucky—and very invested." Miranda spoke with composure, but there was an underlying onset of nerves evident in her voice.

This made Andrea stop and walk Miranda backward until they reached the wall. She pressed her lips to Miranda's and closed her eyes to savor the kiss. Humming under her breath, Andrea ran her tongue gently along Miranda's lips. She gained immediate entrance, and the deepening of the kiss, the soft heat and familiar sensations, all contributed to her going breathless and trembling.

"Oh, my. What just happened?" Miranda said, smiling, when they parted to look at each other.

"This is called a kiss, General." Andrea was relieved that she could reassure Miranda this way at least, until she could get the three magical words over her lips. Any day now. It of course mattered that Miranda wasn't all that comfortable with declarations of love, it seemed, it only meant that they could both act awkwardly at times.

Andrea paid a little more attention to where they were in the castle. "We're close to the room of mirrors." Covering her mouth with one hand, she was instantly nervous and giddy. "Are we going to some other timeframe?"

"Yes." Miranda's eyes glittered, but the small tremor in her voice was back.

"Back or forward?"

Miranda smiled. "You will see, darling."

The term of endearment covered Andrea, wrapped around her like the softest of wool, and sent the words she'd come to fear, forward in her mind, and on her tongue. "Where's Serena gone to again?" she asked, stalling.

Miranda gave her a knowing look. "To the Northern border to discuss the trade agreement that doesn't give our farmers and manufacturers too little in revenue. I would die from boredom, but for some reason, Serena thrives on politics and negotiations."

"You would rather be at the borders with your subordinates and tell any monarch to do right by the Colonnian people, or else." Andrea squeezed Miranda's arm as they continued walking through the hallways.

"You may have a point."

They reached the room of mirrors and Miranda produced the key. They had been there twice before, the first time to make sure their engagement had truly changed Andrea's dire fate. Andrea remembered how they changed into clothes that would make them look like any regular citizen of Colonna and then stepped through one of the floor-to-ceiling mirrors. Unlike Andrea's first time, they had appeared just outside Camahl.

"Let's walk to town," Miranda had said, pulling her coat firmer around her.

"Where exactly? What year is this?" Andrea kept very close to Miranda.

"According to the settings on the frame of the mirror, we are about ten years into your future. We'll find someone to ask. We can only stay very briefly as both you and I can exist in this timeframe—and meeting ourselves can be eerie, possibly dangerous."

"Oh." Andrea nodded in understanding. "I can understand that." Andrea was concerned what they would find out and when they reached Camahl and ran into a posh looking group of men in their thirties, she could barely breathe until Miranda had talked to them and returned with a new light in her eyes.

"That was actually quite easy. Appears that you're well-known. We're not going farther into the city, but up the hill over there." She pointed to the east of them. "That's where you work and live. It is supposed to be the only house up there."

The house on the hill looked very different from the structures in Camahl. Made from both logs and stone, it was rectangular and without most of the decorative embellishments the people in Colonna favored, it was perhaps a tenth of Queen Serena's country estate, but still very large. It was surrounded by raised vegetable beds and something that looked like a futuristic irrigation system.

A bald, old man stopped just inside the fence that surrounded the house and looked quizzically at them. "You look familiar, ladies," he said, squinting. "My eyes are not what they once were, I'm afraid. Do I know you?"

"No, sir," Miranda said amicably. "My companion and I are travelling through Camahl and saw this amazing house and became curious. Who lives here?"

"Forgive my lack of manners. My name's Nigel Kipling. This is the house of Architect of the Crown, Lady Andrea, and her family, of course." The man looked almost affronted. "Lady Andrea designed this house and have designed at least forty other homes and buildings throughout the country. She's the queen's favorite architect, hence her title."

Andrea had stared at the man, openmouthed. She was still alive, had a career, and…a family."

"A family, you say?" Miranda asked.

"Oh yes. Twin girls and baby boy. The girls are a handful, that's for sure. The boy's only six months old and still not causing too much trouble."

"Children," Miranda murmured. She looked stricken.

"Oh, yes. Would you like some fruit? I just picked two baskets of apples." He held up two shiny green apples.

Andrea took them both as Miranda seemed immovable. "Thank you. That's so kind of you. Thinking of the children, she said, "It's amazing that Lady Andrea can get so much done, having young children."

"The boy's an angel, and the twins are thirteen years old, which at least means they're in school during the days." Nigel chuckled, a husky, contagious sound."

"Wait. Thirteen?" Hadn't Miranda indicated they were about ten years in the future? How could she have thirteen-year-old twins."

"Yes. They were adopted six years ago, after one of the general's friends, a widower, passed while on duty. Lady Andrea insisted the girls grow up with them—and they ended up adopting Carline and Cassidy, as well as little Jack."

After talking some more with Nigel, Miranda took Andrea by the arm and pulled her away. "Let's not push our luck. He might have poor eyesight, but someone who doesn't will be bound to show up."

Andrea knew Miranda was right. She hurried alongside her, tears glistening in her eyes. "We will have a family." She was barely able to get her words out.

"So, it seems." Miranda didn't display any tears, but the way she put her arm around Andrea's waist and pulled her close, showed she was either relieved, or quite shocked.

When they were out of sight of the house and there were no one around, Miranda pulled out a handheld mirror from her bag. She ran her fingers along the frame, took Andrea by the hand and pushed their joined hands against the glass. A dizzying few moments later, they were back in the room of mirrors. Miranda tossed the mirror onto the sofa in the center of the room and then covered her eyes, breathing heavily.

"You're alive. You'll live. We did stop it." She trembled so hard, Andrea wrapped her arms around her.

"Everything will be fine. I'll live. You'll live. And, it appears, we'll stay together." Andrea gently pushed Miranda's hand away from her face. "Are you worried about that? Us apparently having a family? Children?"

"Worried." Miranda quickly wiped at her eyes. "Not worried about anything much at all, right now. It appears you will decide to stay with me. I…part of me was certain I would somehow find a manner of driving you away at some point. The fact that you're alive in the future, and—"

Andrea remembered kissing Miranda, wanting to any remnants of fear from her being. They had stood with their arms around each other, for the longest time.

Now, Miranda stops by a mirror at the far wall. It looks quite unassuming, no decorations, just a clean, metal looking frame.

"This it? The secret?" Andrea studied the mirror. The glass appeared clearer than any of the others. "What timeframe is this?"

"I'll let you decide for yourself, darling." Taking some clothes from a hook next to the mirror, Miranda handed some of them to Andrea.

"Trousers. And what is this. A vest? I need to wear men's clothes? I'm intrigued."

Miranda donned similar clothes, made from what look like entirely alien materials. She assisted Andrea in fastening the odd-looking vest. "There."

"So, where are we going?" Andrea was dying for Miranda to tell her. This was clearly a place that Miranda found special.

"Before we go, I need to tell you something." Miranda framed Andrea's face with her hands. "In two months, we'll be married. It's time you know some of the country I come from. As you might have understood, I wasn't born in Colonna."

"That doesn't matter." Andrea covered Miranda's hands with hers. "Even if you're from one of the less developed countries around Colonna. I don't care."

"That's good to know. What I need you to know, is that I love you. So very much." Miranda kissed her lightly and then studied Andrea's expression.

Andrea pushed Miranda's hands away and then hugged her close. "Oh. Oh!" She swallowed against the tears suddenly running down her face. "Oh, Miranda, I love you more than anyone, or anything. I have wanted to tell you for a long time. I love you."

Miranda kissed Andrea, thoroughly and her kisses were slightly salty. Eventually, Miranda pulled back. "Ready?"

"As ready as I'll ever be. Just don't let go of my hand, please?" Andrea turned toward the mirror, standing next to Miranda.

"I won't let go of you, unless it's your wish." Miranda raised their joined hands and kissed Andrea's knuckles. "Here we go."

They stepped into the mirror and the universe spun around them.

The noise was ear-deafening and nothing Andrea had ever heard before. Around her, strange, automatic wagons swept by her and Miranda at a speed that made her press close to the woman she loved.

"Just hold on to me. You're fine." Miranda said.

They seemed to be in a small alley between the tallest structures she had ever seen in her life.

"Wh-what is this place? Is this your home?"

"It used to be. I visit every now and then, but my home is in Colonna, and, without a single doubt in my mind, with you." Miranda pulled Andrea with her, dangerously close to the automatic wagons.

Andrea hesitantly gazed at the startlingly impressive building in front of her. People, indeed, dressed in similar clothes as those Miranda and she wore, entered through large, glass doors. Looking up along the structure, she wondered how many people fit in there—even lived in there. That's when she spotted a vast sign several stories up.

Elias Clarke.