For the next week Andy attempted to contact Miranda. All calls rolled to voicemail and remained unanswered.
Life continued at the Runway offices as photo shoots, previews, and all the facets of running a successful magazine took precedence. Before anyone had quite realized it any more than to confirm that they were hitting all their essential deadlines, a month had passed, and a man appeared to determine whether the recommendations in place were being followed.
"Where is Andy?" Emily sputtered.
"I was sent to review your progress," the unknown man replied.
"And who, pray tell, are you?" Emily huffed.
"Mike Chipman. So, if you can provide me with the most recent financial reports and make yourself available to answer questions, I'd appreciate it."
"I will do no such thing. Not just anyone can come in here and obtain such sensitive information. I demand you have your company send Andy here immediately." Emily sat down at her desk and ignored the man.
Nigel entered the office, raising his eyes at the sight of a man, perhaps a bit over six feet tall in an ill-fitting suit and sporting a bewildered look on his face. He raised a folder to shield his lips as he mouthed to Emily, "Who's that?"
"That, I can't even talk about," Emily answered with a glare. Just then Miranda swept into the office, removing her coat and placing it with her purse on the second assistant's desk.
As Emily followed the editor into her office, Miranda said, "Who's that?"
"Nobody. Um, uh—the consulting firm sent him to follow-up with the recommendations, but I was just sending him on his way. I have no idea why they didn't send Andy."
Miranda had a shocked look on her face which quickly morphed into a disinterested expression. "Very well. Take care of it. That's all."
Soon, heedless of his objections, Emily had sent Mike on his way without the information he sought.
"I tried to contact Andy, but her phone is disconnected," Nigel revealed in a low voice to Emily the next morning. Miranda, sitting at her desk, pretended to work as she listened.
"Do you know where she lives? Maybe we should stop by," Emily said.
"Why, Emily, I had no idea you cared so much. She grew on you, didn't she?" Nigel teased.
"Like a fungus. Tonight?"
Miranda looked up when Nigel entered her office. "Nigel, change the African shoot to the Canadian Rockies. Banff. Let me know if you have any problems with the shift." She looked back at her computer screen, not caring to witness his stunned expression.
"Right away. Here is the latest mock-up for the September issue." He passed it over while studying the woman. She had seemed out of sorts for the past month, withdrawn and sad. "Anything else?"
"Yes. From now on I am mandating that all previews will occur here. Let the designers know. I am going to work with Emily to block certain days and times for the run-throughs, previews, photo shoots, and departmental meetings. Once we have determined what will work best, we will inform everyone." She stared at Nigel for a moment before breaking their connection. "That's all," she murmured as she turned her chair toward the windows.
Miranda remained deep in thought for most of the day. Although no one quite understood what had shifted the dynamic in the Runway offices, the feeling blanketed the editor-in-chief's offices so completely that each person who entered automatically lowered his voice and left quickly.
Nigel couldn't keep the grin off his face as the door opened to reveal a stunned Andy.
"Oh, my God. What are you doing here?" Andy exclaimed as she stepped aside to allow them to enter.
"Hey there, Sunshine," Nigel greeted her as he leaned in to air-kiss first one cheek, then the other. Emily copied the action, foregoing any verbal greeting. They looked around curiously. Half-filled boxes lined the far wall of a well-kept apartment. Nigel nodded his approval.
"What's with the boxes?" Emily asked abruptly.
"Oh, well, before we get into that, I was just about to order some Thai. Would you like to join me?" Andy invited.
"I think I could manage to hold some greasy, fattening food down this one time," Nigel said with a smirk.
Andy chuckled. "Thai food is neither greasy nor fattening, and you know it." She raised her eyebrows in question toward Emily.
"Very well. If I must. Where's the menu?" Soon they had ordered, and Andy opened one of several wine bottles stashed in the kitchen.
She sat in a comfortable chair perpendicular to the couch where Nigel and Emily sat. "So, are you moving to a new apartment?" Nigel opened after taking a sip of his wine.
With a sigh, Andy said, "No. I am moving back to Ohio if I can't get a job this month." Noticing their shocked expressions, she asked, "Didn't you know I got fired because of the Runway report?"
"No. We had no idea. We couldn't understand why they had sent someone else to review our progress yesterday. That's why we are here," Emily said. Nigel frowned at the cynical laugh Andy emitted. It did not seem to jibe with the sparkling personality they had gotten to know.
"Right. Well, evidently, I failed utterly to fulfill my duties to cut the budget significantly enough to please our client. Irv threatened to blackball our company unless I was fired. As it is, he refused to pay for all the work we did." Andy shook her head. "I don't understand it. My recommendations were sound. I just, I don't know what went wrong. And now I am blacklisted in my industry." Andy shrugged. "My savings are running out. It looks like I'll have to go back to my hometown with my tail tucked between my legs."
Her sad look stirred something in Nigel. He had seen that look many times in the past month on a certain editor's face. Leaning forward, he patted her arm. "You give Uncle Nigel a couple of days. I'll come up with something for you. You aren't going anywhere."
The look of hope that entered Andy's eyes strengthened Nigel's resolve to get to the bottom of Andy's dismissal. He had a bad feeling it had everything to do with Miranda.
Hearing the door to her office click shut, Miranda narrowed her eyes and watched as her art director sat down in one of the chairs located in front of her desk. "Nigel?" she questioned in a low voice.
"Good morning, Miranda. How are you today?" Nigel said blithely.
"Don't you dare pull that polite tone with me. What is the meaning of this?" she gestured toward her closed door.
"Ah, yes. I couldn't help but presume you would not want anyone to hear our conversation." He raised his hand to stop her response. "Just let me say what I came here to say." He leaned forward. "Miranda, I may not be able to guess exactly what happened, but I know you had a hand in Andy's dismissal."
She gasped, "What are you talking about?"
Nigel firmed his lips. "Don't play coy. It doesn't suit you. Andy was fired from her job and blacklisted due to the report she submitted. If she doesn't secure a job this month she'll have to move to Ohio, for Christ's sake." He crossed his legs at the ankles in a deceptively relaxed pose. "I know you were fighting to save your job, Lord knows I was on the receiving end last year, but Andy wasn't a part of this industry. She didn't deserve this, Miranda."
They stared at each other. Finally, Miranda sighed and rolled her eyes. Drumming her fingers against her desk, she said, "She was fired." He nodded.
"Irv didn't even pay the consulting firm. He threatened to blackball them if they didn't cut Andy loose," Nigel said.
"That's, that's outrageous!" Miranda sputtered. Turning toward her phone she pounded the number keys forcefully. "Nancy, get me Donald. This is Miranda." After a pregnant pause, Miranda spoke into the phone once again. "Donald. How are you? And Melania? Yes, we'll have to meet for dinner soon. In the meantime, there is a woman in need of a job. She recently worked for a publishing consulting firm, but they have parted ways. Oh, yes, she is very good at what she does. I'm sure you could find a place for her. In New York. I'll send the information over immediately. Donald, I won't forget this. I owe you."
She sat silently staring at the phone while she tapped her lower lip with a finger. Nigel did not interrupt. Finally, she looked up. "Was there anything else?" She looked worn out, defeated, small.
"I know it's none of my business, but whatever happened between the two of you has hurt you, too. I suggest you contact her, Miranda. Life's too short, and you could do a lot worse than spending time with her." Nigel left without waiting for a reply.
When Andy and Miranda finally crossed paths again two weeks later, Miranda could not contain the hunger that appeared in her darkened, blue eyes. Andy crossed to the editor's desk and threw a stack of paperwork down. "I can't believe you did this!" Andy hissed. She ran a hand through her glossy, long hair in frustration. "You emailed an altered report to save your own hide and got me fired. I never imagined you, I could never dream—"
"Andrea, please close the door and sit down." Realizing she had shocked the younger woman, Miranda called out quietly, "Emily." When her first assistant arrived, she directed, "Hold all calls. We are not to be disturbed. And close the door. That's all."
Andy breathed deeply as if to calm herself before beginning again in a softer voice. "Just tell me why, why did you do this after we had spent time together? I thought, I thought you liked me. You led me to believe…" Andy's forlorn look prompted Miranda to answer candidly.
"I do like you. Very much. But Runway is my life. I made the mistake of mixing my professional life with my personal feelings. What I did was despicable simply because you were an unwitting pawn." Miranda gestured toward the report. "Obviously, you found out that I switched the reports. I want you to know, though, that I have begun incorporating your ideas. In addition, I forced Irv to pay your former employer with the condition that they release to you the commission you would have earned if they had not fired you." Miranda waited while Andy digested the information.
"That's why I got that check," Andy mused to herself. She looked up. "Did you, did you have something to do with my new job, too?" Miranda smiled sadly.
"It was the least I could do. I'll understand if you cannot forgive me, but I wish you would. I enjoyed our dinner together. I'd like to do it again."
"You, you would? Really?" Andy stuttered. Andy shook her head, her face darkening like a summer storm as she jumped up. "This makes no sense! You say you like me, but you didn't hesitate to callously wine and dine me and then send a doctored report from my computer while I was stupidly running to the store to buy us wine. You made it personal, Miranda. Jesus!" Andy ran a hand through her chocolate mane as she stopped in front of Miranda's desk.
"Andrea. Let's look at this rationally. You have a better job, you got your commission, and I have incorporated your recommendations. I may have hurt your feelings, but, at the time, sending that report was my best option. Now that our business dealings have concluded, let's move on."
"Let's move on? Let's move on? Miranda, what do you expect me to do? Just fall in to your arms now that the timing is more convenient for you?" Andy sneered as she crossed her arms and glared at the editor. "And why did you kiss me? Were you planning on seducing me so I'd change the report?"
A flash of guilt crossing Miranda's face verified Andy's guess.
"Oh, God!" Andy exclaimed as she threw her arms in to the air. "I can't believe this!"
Miranda blinked slowly. Anger seeped through her tone as she replied, "I have apologized. I have explained. I have asked for forgiveness. I have admitted my mistakes. If you do not know enough about me by now to recognize that normally I never, ever extend myself in such a way, then perhaps we have nothing left to discuss."
"Well, you know what, Miranda? All those actions are part and parcel of a relationship, so you better come to peace with them," Andy growled.
They stared at each other.
Slowly, Miranda smiled. "Are we in a relationship, Andrea?"
Andy rocked back on her heels. "Um, I, I didn't mean it that way. I am still very angry. I don't know what I'm saying."
"Give me another chance," Miranda requested softly. "I could have seduced you and enjoyed every moment, but I didn't. I realized, just a little too late, that I care about you. Let me prove it to you." Andy finally nodded and plopped on to the chair in front of Miranda's desk. "Thank you. So. Your new job."
"Right. I certainly can't complain. It's much better," Andy said.
"I would think so. Donald and I have enjoyed a long association," Miranda said. "Have you started there, yet?"
"Oh, yes. I got a call out of the blue two weeks ago and started the next day. Then yesterday I got the commission check. I called my old boss to find out why, and we got to talking about my dismissal. He actually offered me my old job back." Andy laughed.
Leaning forward, Andy sifted through the paperwork she had thrown on the desk and separated several pieces of paper. "Miranda, while I was reviewing all these financial documents to prepare my recommendations, I became puzzled by some withdrawals. I found something really interesting, something I think you may be able to use to protect your interests." Scooting to the edge of her seat, Andy bent further over the desk as Miranda leaned in to see where Andy was pointing.
"See here, here, and here? Look on these other pages—they have the same account number. It seemed odd. I'd never seen a US account with those routing numbers. After a bit of digging I found out that these deposits were made to an offshore account registered to a bogus corporation with only two directors: Irving and Louise Ravitz." Andy looked up at Miranda's gasp, smiling. "I get the feeling those transfers from Runway monies were not authorized by you."
They were not so far away from each other. Both were leaning over the desk to read the small entries on the pages. The space between them was hardly insurmountable, hardly vast, hardly significant. So, it was a small matter to lean in just a bit more to meet in the middle.
This kiss promised absolution, forgiveness, new beginnings. It spoke of passion, longing, and regret. And when it finally ended, they did not need to discuss it. They did not need to determine whether this was the right road, the best road for them. Because they had already begun traveling it together weeks before.
"I assume you live at the same apartment?" Miranda whispered.
"Yes." Andy's eyes were clouded with lust. Miranda smiled softly.
"I'll pick you up at eight." Miranda leaned in once more to capture willing lips. "Until tonight."
After a romantic dinner, Miranda invited Andy back to her home. "For a nightcap," Miranda smirked.
Andy just shook her head. Once in Miranda's silver Porsche Boxster Spyder roadster, Andy said, "I really like your car. It's sexy, like you."
Miranda smiled wolfishly. "It has its charms," she said.
Andy covered Miranda's hand with her own, and they lapsed into companionable silence. It didn't matter that most of their relationship had been acrimonious. They knew the whys of their past behavior, of Miranda's past behavior, specifically. With that knowledge, Andy was able to forgive past grievances.
The townhouse, with its glamorous hardwood floors, antique furniture, and wealthy ambiance might have intimidated Andy in different circumstances. However, their evening had been filled with flirting and innuendo, touches and gazes that reassured her of Miranda's intentions. Much to Miranda's apparent amusement, Andy chose not to drink.
"Andrea, you need not worry. Unlike last time, I will not take advantage of you if you become inebriated."
"But, Miranda, you didn't take advantage of me last time," Andy disagreed.
"Oh, but I did, in the worst possible way. I betrayed your trust and got you fired, all to save my own job. Not my finest moment." Miranda looked out the window, her visage caressed by the soft lamplight.
"Miranda." Andy took the older woman's hand and kissed her knuckles. "It was just a job. I would have been much more upset if we had made love, and I hadn't been sober enough to remember. I don't want to miss a moment."
"Are you sure?" Miranda asked tenderly, now taking her turn to kiss the back of Andy's hand.
"Yes. Very sure. Take me to bed, Miranda. This is something we both want." Miranda rose swiftly, pulling Andy up with her. Wrapping her arms around the brunette, Miranda initiated a fiery kiss, one which left no doubt that she intended to explore Andy's supple body well into the night. She led Andy toward the staircase, pausing only to secure the locks and dim the lights.
Once in the bedroom, Andy took the lead, confidently revealing her body to an ardent gaze. Soon she stood naked, and Andy wasted no time in unbuttoning Miranda's shirt, unzipping her skirt, unrolling silk stockings, and dispensing of the lingerie. They stood staring at each other, not yet giving in to the desire to touch, to stroke, to love.
"You are beautiful, Miranda. I've wanted this so much." Andy reached out a shaking hand to glide over pronounced collar bones. Miranda shivered.
"Andrea, please." Miranda's eyes were so intense they seemed to penetrate into Andy's soul. Andy's breathing sped up as arousal overtook her ability to restrain herself. She reached for Miranda.
Andy took her time to explore Miranda's mouth. She caressed Miranda's tongue with her own for several moments, tangling and withdrawing as her hands roamed Miranda's back. The older woman's shortened breaths, low moans, and hands restlessly squeezing Andy's hips encouraged Andy to continue her ministrations.
Climbing on the bed, Miranda pulled the brunette on top of her. She searched Andy's eyes as her hands pulled the hot body tightly against her own. Groaning at the feeling, Miranda's closed her eyes. "Please," she whispered.
That was all the incentive Andy needed. She bent her head to open-mouth kiss Miranda's porcelain skin, forging a path down an elegant neck to the underside of a firm breast. "You taste so good," Andy crooned before taking a nipple into her mouth. Sucking firmly, Andy spent several minutes licking and pulling up with her lips on the reddened nub before switching to the other breast. Miranda's low moans and intermittent groans spurred Andy on.
As the younger woman began to move her hand down, Miranda wrenched Andy's head up for another kiss while rolling her onto her back. Miranda tilted her pelvis as she settled between Andy's legs, causing the younger woman to hiss at the intimate contact. Miranda set a slow, steady pace, rolling her hips forward and stroking Andy's tongue in sequence. Andy cupped Miranda's behind in her hands pulling her closer as the silver-haired woman sped up her gyrations.
"Don't stop," Andy gasped.
"I don't intend to," Miranda answered. She dipped her head to lick a breast, eliciting a low groan. "I love the way you sound, Andrea. An-dray-ahh."
"Oh, oh my God," Andy panted just before she climaxed. Miranda hit her peak just after, and they surged together, holding each other firmly.
Miranda slowed her movements but did not stop. Instead, she thrust slowly and firmly against Andy, who wrapped her legs around the older woman's waist wantonly. Miranda sucked on Andy's pulse point as she slipped two fingers into Andy's dripping channel. She groaned her approval. "You feel delicious, Andrea," Miranda said throatily. "So tight, so magnificent." After several thrusts, Miranda added another finger and sped up her rhythm. The noises Andy made, the grunts and groans, fed Miranda's excitement.
"Come for me, Andrea. I want to feel you pulling at my fingers. I need to feel you lose control—to know that I've made you feel this way." Miranda kept whispering encouraging words, sensually licking at Andy's ear and neck, before capturing those bewitching lips once more.
"Uh, uh, oh…Miranda!" Andy shouted. She thrust three fingers into Miranda and curled them as she pressed her thumb on the engorged clit. Miranda shrieked as her orgasm took hold, Andy quickly following.
Collapsing on top of Andy, Miranda panted. Both kept their fingers in place as they caught their breath.
"That was, that was incredible," Andy whispered.
"Indeed," Miranda gasped. She kissed the base of Andy's throat before moving to her side, effectively removing Andy's fingers from her. She withdrew her own fingers gently. "You have ruined me, you must realize."
"What? What do you mean?" Andy asked, worry clear in her voice.
"Isn't it obvious? I was a mess after you disappeared. Everyone noticed, although only Nigel dared mention it. And now that I've held you in my arms, well…" Andy's blinding smile slowly gentled into a sensual one as she ran a finger down Miranda's side. "It seems you are my strength and my weakness. What do you recommend?"
"I recommend we capitalize on these feelings by focusing on your talents," Andy murmured as she cupped a breast. "And institute the obvious solution to your problem by making sure I remain in your life."
"Hmm, I suppose that might be the best strategy. Of course, we will have to reevaluate this plan every so often."
"We will?" Andy searched smiling blue eyes, relaxing when she realized Miranda was teasing her.
"Oh, yes. Absolutely. In fact, we may end up spending quite a bit more time together conducting in-depth research to support this plan of action."
"If we must," Andy said with a mock-sigh. "Since I know how valuable your time is, we should start right away."
"Is that your official recommendation, Andrea?" Andy's kiss answered that question quite effectively.