Disclaimer: Same as usual. Not my characters-and no copyright infringement intended. Just playing! :-)

Beta readers: Laura, Eden, Maggie and Sam. Thank you-I owe you tons! *hugs all around*

A/N: I think this is the first time that I've written in first person/present

Run Like the Devil

A MirAndy short story

By Gun Brooke

"What if I don't want this life?" Andrea looks at me with huge, darkening eyes. She's sitting rigidly in the back of the Mercedes as we approach the horde of paparazzi waiting outside the next fashion show. I stare at her, listen to those unfathomable words that seem to disqualify everything I stand for, everything I am.

"Don't be ridiculous, Andrea," I try. "Everybody wants to be us."

"Us? You mean you." She snorts, a thoroughly unhappy sound. "I doubt anyone would want to be me. No social life. Ditched by my boyfriend. Literally screwed over by yet another guy. Ridiculed on a daily basis by my boss, not to mention, seriously let down." Her lips tremble before she presses them into a fine line.

I am used to people fearing me. Hating me, even. Until this moment, I have allowed myself to think Andrea was different. I have allowed her in more than anyone else in my employ. Hell, among anyone I know, including any of my husbands. Cleary I have disappointed her by doing so. I never should have permitted her to see my tears last night.

The pain in my heart is now nearing the point where it is about to stop from the agony each contraction brings. The car stops and Andrea steps out to assist me with the door on my side.

That's when I can't take it anymore. My chest aching, I scoot over on what I have come to think of as Andrea's side of the backseat. I feel the warmth of where her body had just occupied the leather. It scorches my palms; I bite down hard around a persistent moan, open the door and step outside.

And then I run.


Paris is a marvelous city. A haven for lovers, especially in the spring. The autumn isn't bad either, but I pay no attention to such matters when I hurry down the street, away from the media mayhem. Away from her. All I can think of is this must be what a full-blown ulcer feels like when it ruptures. My stomach burns all the way up through my esophagus, the acid stinging as if my insides have been invaded by fire ants.

I crisscross the streets until I know I have not only lost any potential followers, but I am completely lost as well. I'm not worried; I know I only have to hail a cab to get back to the hotel. I immediately regret even thinking about returning, of facing Nigel, the press, my peers…and Andrea. Spotting a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop, I veer to the left and enter the tiny establishment. Standing at the counter, I notice the corner table is empty, which is a small miracle as there are only four tables in all. I murmur, "Un café au lait, s'il vous plait, très chaud," and take a seat.

It is now I realize my purse is humming. Frowning for a second, I try to wrap my scattered brain around what could possibly cause the vibrations and then I realize it's my phone. Set to silent mode to not disturb me during the fashion shows, it is now growling like a hungry little beast in the belly of my Prada purse. I carefully reach in and pull it out, as if it indeed has sharp fangs and claws. The screen is lit up with Andrea's face, a photo I secretly snapped of her only a few weeks ago. She's smiling, that broad, searing smile that makes me go numb and speechless and the phone vibrates nearly out of my hand.

I don't answer, but cruel curiosity makes me check how many unanswered calls I have. I blink, stunned. Forty-two! How long have I been gone? Thirty-one of them are from Andrea. I check my watch. Almost an hour.

She is clearly panicking, which serves her right. She sent me into full panic mode, didn't she? The accusation in her eyes and the pain in her voice sent me into this exile I didn't want.

Yet another flick of a fingertip shows me she's left several messages in my voice-mail. Now I'm torn. I dread her words. I can only imagine what epithets she'll hurl at me. Coward, failure, traitor, weakling, selfish bitch—I stop before I make myself hyperventilate.

A young man shows up with an enormous mug of café au lait. "Merci beaucoup," I say. Strange how much easier it is to be polite in French. Perhaps because the entire language is built on old-fashioned politeness and style.

I reluctantly gaze at my phone again. It's stopped vibrating, but instead it gives a muted ping and gives off another type of vibration, like a pulsating heart. Text messages. Of course. Well, perhaps I'll start there. I need to know what's going on at the other end. What if they've called the police? I can envision the French gendarmes storm the coffee shop, weapons ready, all set to neutralize the crazy American editor who clearly has lost her mind.

Sipping the scorching hot coffee, relishing the way it stings my tongue, I open the first text.

What happened?
Where are you?

How odd. No accusations, no curses or name-calling. Just surprise. I click on the next, bracing myself.

I'm on the street.
Waiting. Should I go
inside and take notes?

I have to smile. Ever the efficient assistant, Andrea is trying to please me. To do as I told her. Her job. What I wouldn't give to have her sitting across from me with that concerned, soft expression on her face. I tap the next message with a trembling finger.

Everyone is asking for you.
What should I tell them? Will you be back?
Since I'm probably fired, I might as well tell you I'm so pissed and so worried right now. Pick up your phone!

My eyes burn and I have to blink repeatedly. Andrea isn't asking when, but if I'll be back. Of course this infuriating young woman has figured out that something is very, very wrong. The phone buzzes again. It's Nigel. I ignore it. Instead I go through four more texts of a similar nature to the one I just read. I can tell Andrea is getting increasingly agitated and panic stricken.

The eighth text is different. I can clearly feel Andrea is at the end of whatever rope she's clinging to. Doesn't the stubborn girl realize that I'm a lost cause? Today, everything's coming together like the perfect, most disastrous of storms. Stephen, Irving, Nigel, Andrea—I've either screwed over or been screwed by all of them. Andrea, not as much, but the way she spoke to me and the fact that she was with that incompetent, devious Thompson fellow… It makes my stomach lurch. For the sake of my own sanity I push the images of tumbling naked bodies out of my mind.

Resolutely, I tap to open the eighth text.

I don't know what to do or what to say to make you answer or text me back.
I'm so worried, and so angry, even Nigel is scared of me.
You don't have to tell me anything.
Just answer with a "that's all" or something so I know you're all right. Please.

Could I? I press my trembling lips together, trying to harness my emotions. Why would I? Why would I make anyone else feel remotely better when my world seems to be crumbling? Yes, I had outmaneuvered Irving and Jacqueline. Yes, I emerged victorious and still reign supreme over Runway. It was all I wanted. Wasn't it?

Then why do chocolate brown eyes haunt me? Why is Andrea, my assistant, for heaven's sake, on her my mind, instead of the girls, or even Runway, right now? Am I that guilt-ridden from the words we'd had before I…left? Or was it something else? Something more? My heart shies away from the matter lurking at the edges of my mind and after browsing through texts from Andrea that start to breathe of defeat, I finally can't take it anymore.

I think about it for a few minutes while reinforcing my system with caffeine. Tapping away at my phone I send her a text and then literally hold my breath.

Find a hotel far away from the fashion circus.
Book me a room. If you really want to talk, book one for yourself.

The reply comes within fifteen seconds.

Consider it done. Two rooms.
I'll get back to you in a few minutes.

I exhale so quickly, it makes me dizzy.

Thank God.

The hotel is unassuming, generic, and filled with business people that I surmise are not in the fashion industry, judging from their clothes. Black and grey blazers and suits on both men and women. An occasional dress, but even the more feminine garments look like they are cut by a tailor with a Wall Street complex.

I pull up my phone again and read the last text from Andrea.

Room 8022.
I'm already there.

I step into the elevator and perhaps my well-honed fierceness is still unaffected by recent events. Nobody enters with me. As if hypnotized, I keep my eyes on the numbers rolling by above the door. At the eighth floor it pings open. My legs are not entirely stable, and I blame that on being hungry. I know for certain Andrea would never stick me in a hotel without room service, but—suddenly I stop so fast, my Louboutin heels dig into the ghastly patterned carpet. "Room 8022. I'm already there." Is it a mere oversight that she wrote "room," singular? So she isn't staying after all.

I find the room at the far end of the corridor, which suggests it is at least a corner room. I raise my hand to knock, but flinch when Andrea pulls it open before I have the chance to.

"Miranda!" To my stunned surprise, she reaches out and pulls me into the room, wrapping her arms around me. "You scared me! Don't do that again, please. Please?" Her long arms hug me close, pinning my arms to my sides, which makes it impossible for me to free myself. That said, I'm not sure I could, as my whole body is in a state of shock. Clearly Andrea is distraught enough to disregard completely the "do not touch" rule that one of my old assistants instigated. I really have no problem with tactile people, even if I'm a very private person, but it suits its purpose. Who in their right mind would reach out and pat a dragon? Clearly a rhetorical question. Andrea.

"Please sit down. I packed you an overnight bag with a few changes. It's over there. I can unpack if you want. I called room service. They're bringing up some starter dishes. Soup. Salad. Or did you eat? I didn't and I thought—"

"Stop. Talking." I hold up my hand and Andrea's mouth closes so fast and hard, I'm prepared to see chips of her teeth fall out between her lips. "No. I didn't eat. I had coffee." I remove my fur-lined coat and she snatches it up and hangs it for me. I gaze around the room and it is only a room, not a suite, naturally, but it's…adequate. I regard the king-size bed carefully and then remove the blanket covering the end. I'm always apprehensive of anything that isn't white and starched in a hotel room. No matter how many stars it boasts, I have the suspicion they don't clean blankets at the same temperature as white bed linen. "Where's your room?"

"Oh. That." Andrea turns dark pink and then white. "Hotel rooms are not easy to come by during fashion week. This was it. Unless you were prepared to go all the way to the other side of Charles De Gaulle."

"This is it? As in just the one room in the entire hotel?"


"So, to repeat myself, where are you staying?" Of course she doesn't want to stay. Why would she? Last time we spoke, we were both furious.

"I thought I might stay here with you. Since you want to talk." Tugging at her fingers, a telltale sign she is a bundle of nerves, she smiles tremulously.

"You're joking." But it's pretty clear she isn't. "One bed. A loveseat." Now I feel my cheeks warming, which, of course, is ridiculous. "Where will you sleep?"

"It's a big bed. I either stay to talk this through or I go back to our original hotel and stay in my room there and we can skip the talking."

That doesn't appeal to me in the least. Now that I have Andrea in my sight again, I'm not prepared to be without her. What does that mean? Why is the idea of Andrea walking out the door and returning to the luxury hotel like a knife between my ribs?

"And you don't have anything else you need to…handle?" I know my eyes are like cold diamonds now. I've seen my own reflection while in the same mood enough times to know. As fire breathing as people claim I am, I know my eyes can freeze people into human icicles if I choose to.

"You're talking about Christian," Andrea says, her lips tense. "He helped Irv and that Jacqueline-woman Follet betray you. I don't ever want to see him again, let alone spend any time with him."

"Too much wine on your part?" I say, chiding.

"That and a bruised heart."

"Ah. I'm going to change into"—I almost say "something more comfortable," but stop myself— "something else." I grab the overnight bag and walk into the bathroom, nearly slamming the door as I grapple with my confusion.

The mirror shows me the truth and then some. My complexion is paler than usual, and some of my foundation has rubbed off as I've touched my face while upset and exasperated. My hair is perfect still, which is all to do with the high-end hairspray I had administered this morning. Was it really—I checked my watch—twelve hours ago? Somehow time had rushed by and it was now 7 pm. Impossible, but obviously true.

I hurry with the shower. For some reason I feel unsettled being naked with just a door between Andrea and me. I find she has packed some dove gray slacks and a thin white cashmere sweater. I don the clothes over the white La Perla lace lingerie she's brought. I see the bra show through some. No matter. I adjust my makeup and fluff the hair so it isn't as perfect anymore. Not sure what makes me do that as it doesn't emphasize my image to look too human.

I walk out into the hotel room and realize, belatedly, that I should've knocked, but who knocks when leaving a bathroom. I mean, really. Andrea stands dressed in jeans and a navy blue bra. Her feet are bare and she's pulling from her suitcase a long white button-down shirt. Andrea's head snaps up and her eyes widen as she freezes for a moment. Then she surprises me by smiling shyly before putting on her shirt.

Before I even have time to formulate an apology, I'm saved by the bell. Or the knock on the door, as it were. Andrea hurries to open it and motions for a man with the large tray to place it on the desk area. She thanks and tips him in one fluid movement.

"Please. Sit here." Andrea pulls out the chair that appears most comfortable and pulls over the vanity stool for herself.

"Accommodating the old lady?" I cannot stop myself from teasing her and raise an eyebrow deliberately to drive the joke home.

What? No, no—" Her eyes become narrow slits and then she snorts. "Funny. As if."

I sit down and eye the offerings on the tray. "Chicken soup?"

"I don't know about you, but I need some healing after today." Her smile fades a little, only to reappear, not so shy anymore. "And after the way I spoke to you, I'm sure you need something strengthening as well."

"You mean you ordered some scotch?" I deadpan, having quite the moment watching Andrea's face fall for a fraction of a moment.

"Ha-ha. Um. Not really. Orange juice. Coffee. Water. Sorry, they don't carry Pellegrino. They have Perrier." She stops talking and sits down. "Sorry. I babble when I get nervous."

"I never noticed." This time she catches on right away and to my shock, and I confess, delight, she sticks out a lightning fast tip of her tongue.

I quickly cover my mouth, but can't help but chuckle and reveal a smile.

Andrea mimics my gesture, slapping her hand over her mouth, her eyes huge, but with an amber sparkle. "Can't believe I did that!"

"Neither can I. A day for many firsts, so it would seem." I pull a bowl of chicken soup close to me, and, completely unexpectedly, it's delicious. "What did you tell Nigel?"

"I—" Andrea sighs and looks regretful. "I know you didn't want anyone to know anything. I really understand that, but Nigel was going out of his mind with worry. I couldn't let him think you'd been mugged and tossed in the Seine."

Startled, I look up.

"No. He doesn't know where you are." Andrea raises her hand as she begins to eat her soup with the other. "He just knows that you're all right and that I'm here to take care of you. I will keep him posted. Unless you'd rather talk to him yourself?"

I hold up my hand. "I do not. You may confirm that I'm…all right."


Glaring now, I huff impatiently. "And, that's all."

"Nigel deserves more than your favorite brush-off." Andrea isn't budging. She still looks at me with that indecipherable, persistent sweetness.

I try to rally my dragon-self, to breathe some incinerating fire and deal with this topic, but to no avail. Instead I hear my voice soften and say, "Very well. Tell him we'll be there for the last event tomorrow afternoon."

"We will?" Andrea pushed her hair behind her ears. "You're not firing me?"

"No. You're not fired. Period."

Her eyes darken and the amber sparkles yet again. Dressed in the fresh, simple shirt, she's never looked more beautiful. "Now that we have that settled, we need to talk."

"Sure. As long as you answer some of my questions too." Andrea finishes her soup and eyes the bowl of Caesar salad. "What do you want to know? I'm an open book, pretty much."

I decide to not waste time. "You disapprove of the life I lead."

Andrea's head snaps up, her eyes suddenly huge. "Oh, God." She covers her mouth with one hand again. "Was that it?"

"What do you mean?"

"Was that what tipped the scale and made you run?"

"Don't flatter yourself," I say brusquely and pull a bowl of salad closer. I viciously stab a piece of lettuce, bring it to my mouth and chew on it. I'm watching Andrea process my words for a few moments. I know I'm lying and, unaccustomed to the cringing feeling inside, I fight to keep my façade in place.

"I'm not."

What was she up to? Was she mimicking me by making her voice go softer with each word? Was this what I'd taught this young woman: speak so quietly that you make everyone to listen so intently and hang on your every word, and when they're forced lean in, you nudge them off balance? "Then explain."

"I think different aspects of your life collided. Irv, Stephen, Nigel…and me. One or two, you would have been able to go to war and not even suffer a dent in your armor, but all of that, plus worry about the girls…I think my words were not the worst, but they tipped the scale."

I know Andrea is courageous. Resourceful. Strong. Stubborn. I had no idea she was also clairvoyant. Placing the fork slowly on the desk, before I stab something—or someone—else, I wonder how I'll get out of this. She's peeling away at my protective layers, one by one, and I'm starting to hemorrhage. "Stop it." I speak through clenched teeth, my voice almost unrecognizable even to myself.

"Miranda, it's all right…" Andrea looks alarmed, but I am not entirely sure she's actually afraid for her own sake. She looks more concerned than afraid.

"I said, stop it."

She stands so fast I don't have time to react. Rounding the desk she kneels on the floor next to me and takes my hands. "Miranda. I promise it'll be all right."

"What do you think you're doing?" I hiss.

"I'm doing the only thing I can think of. The only thing that makes sense." Andrea, silly, crazy girl, places one of my ice cold hands against her cheek. "I'm doing what my heart tells me is right."

I want to huff with disdain. I really want to yank my hands back and create physical distance between us. Preferably be on the other side of Paris. Or fly to London. Or something. Instead, I just sit there and stare at her. "Your heart? Where was your heart last night? Oh, that's right, in Christian Thompson's bed." I'm not proud of it, but the lashing out shows I have some boldness left; I'm not beaten. Not yet, not without a fight.

"We've covered that already. You're not the only one going through hell. I slipped, but at least I found out in time what a douchebag he is. I wanted to forget about the fact that Nate left me. I wanted to drown the hopelessness of what I feel for someone else. I succeeded with neither, but in my defense it was human to at least try."

Her words run over me like a river and the only thing I retain is her saying "what I feel for someone else." My mind whirls around these words, examine them from every angle, turning them, twisting them, and the pain, oh God, the pain is unbearable.


I cling to her hands now. I might even be hurting her. "Who?" I manage.

"What?" Honest confusion fills her eyes.

"For whom do you have hopeless feelings?"

She claims to be an open book, but now a protective force field surrounds her. She doesn't pull back her hands, or push away from me, but her eyes are suddenly opaque. "It doesn't matter. Not now. Not yet." She speaks with a voice that's like velvet covered titanium.

I have to let go of one of her hands and press it against the searing pain in my stomach. The chicken soup is suddenly not agreeing with me and I hope I won't throw up right then and there.

"God, Miranda. What's wrong?" Andrea does the unfathomable. She pulls me close, working an arm between the small of my back and the chair. "You went all white. You feel sick?"

"Yes." Sick of life. Sick of trying and trying, but never quite reaching the excellence, the level I aim for. When you think about it, I fail most of the time. Despite the many awards Runway has earned and the power I wield in the industry, I do not feel I am where I want to be. Then I feel Andrea run her hands in small circles over my back. Soft, with just the right pressure, she caresses more than massages. She gives me a napkin with her other hand. I simply stare at it, at a loss what to do.

"Let me help you." Andrea takes it back and dabs at my cheeks. Only then do I realize that I'm crying.

"Come," Andrea whispers. "Let's get comfortable. We can order more food later if you like." She tugs at me and I allow her to guide me toward the bed. I sit down and watch her take a seat next to me. She is determined to comfort me and somehow it seems completely natural to lean my head on her shoulder. "That's it. Just let it out."

I weep soundlessly, a habit of a lifetime. Nobody has ever seen or heard me cry before Andrea. Not any of my husbands, not the girls, not even my parents. Now I let the tears fall freely, and Andrea gives me the napkin again. She doesn't say anything. No annoying, empty platitudes, just strong young arms wrapped around me. As if she will never let go, which, of course, is completely ridiculous.

My tears come to an end and I know I should straighten up and put some distance between us. As it turns out I might as well have tried to pull out my nails one by one with my teeth. I rest my head on her slightly damp shoulder. I have a minor headache now, not as bad as they sometimes get, but enough to make me sigh and raise a hand to my temple. Unsurprisingly, Andrea reacts instantly.

"I have Tylenol."

"Of course you do." I wasn't even aiming for malice and that was just as well as I sounded breathless and fatigued.

"Why don't you lie down and I'll bring you some?" Andrea shifts as if to stand and to my utter embarrassment I moan quietly as an objection.

"Hey, I'm not going anywhere. I'll just get some water and the Tylenol. All right?"

"If you must." I massage my temples and sit up. Rigid again now, even if I'm not totally wound up anymore.

Andrea moves lithely around the room and quickly returns with two capsules and a glass of mineral water. I take the pills and then I just don't know what to say or do. All I can think of is that she's seen me at my most vulnerable, in my weakest state in years. Decades. I feel the urge to leave reappear.

"Why don't you go to bed, Miranda?" Andrea sits by my side again, tilting her head. "I'll get rid of the tray and put some soft jazz on the radio, or something."

"Before you leave, you mean?" I ask hollowly. I have resigned myself to the fact that I'll be spending this night alone in a barely adequate, generic hotel. Why I suddenly feel so ostracized when I have chosen to run, to leave, I have no idea.

"Leave? No. I'm not taking my eyes off you, Miranda. I promised Nigel, and besides, we still have things to discuss. Deal with. Speaking of which, I need to text him." After sending off a few words to Nigel, Andrea gets up, removes the untouched, cold beverages from the tray for later and then places the tray on the corridor floor. She returns and rummages through our bags, holding up a nightgown for me and some sort of long t-shirt of indeterminate origin for herself. "Want to go first?" She pulls out my toiletry bag as well and hands it to me.

I take the nightgown and the Vuitton toiletry bag and walk into bathroom. Reluctant to examine what the crying has done to my face, I am surprised that I'm not too puffy or the makeup too smeared. I remove every trace of foundation and eye makeup, brush the spray out of my hair and then change into the nightgown. I leave the La Perlas on underneath. There is no way in hell I'll be sharing a bed with Andrea without them on. After brushing my teeth, I step outside, only to have to brush by Andrea, who stands just outside, patiently waiting her turn. Her scent, sweet and fruity, engulfs me, and the way it hits me right in my solar plexus means I'm in deep, deep trouble.

I pull back the cover and lie down. The sheets are cool against my hot skin and I shiver. I have no clue which side of the bed Andrea prefers. She just has to accept the right side. I've always curled up at the very outer part of the left side of the bed. Even when Stephen started sleeping in the guestroom across the hall I didn't reclaim the rest of the king size bed. The mere thought of Stephen makes me decide to buy a new bed the moment I get back to New York.

Andrea returns and walks around, turning off all the lights except one on her side of the bed. "Did you want some music on?" she murmurs.


"Okay." She rounds the bed again to fetch a glass of water from the desk. As far as I can tell, she's dressed only in the grey, tattered t-shirt.

I suppress another, even more embarrassing, moan and hold my breath as she settles into bed.

"Won't you turn around, please?" Andrea whispers and this request, so unexpected and disturbing, makes me tremble. I glance at her over my shoulder. She's lying on her side, resting her head in her left hand. "Please?"

Why? I want to know, but I'm nervous about the answer, so I merely do as she asks. What on earth has this young woman put in my chicken soup to make me act like this? "So?" I raise a deliberate, slightly mocking eyebrow.

Andrea lifts her right hand, which trembles a little, and lets her thumb caress said eyebrow. I'm not prepared, that's my only defense. I'm totally unprepared and when she touches my face, I can't help the low whimper that escapes between my parted lips.

"So stunning," Andrea whispers. "Can you blame me for feeling the way I do?"

The universe is going mad. Everything I thought I knew is in shreds and now this. Her careful touch, her dark, nearly black eyes. And the way her voice shakes. "What do you mean?" I have to create a steady foundation even if this means knowing she's joking, or pitying me. I need to know the truth, not matter how it hurts.

"Can't you see? Feel my heart." When she takes my hand, I fear she may place it on her chest, but instead she presses my fingertips to the pulse point on her neck. Her carotid is fluttering madly. "Can you feel it? My heart is about to jump out of my throat. Don't you realize how much I care?"

Wait. Wait now. I still have my hand against her neck and somehow it moves slowly until it cups her neck under the glorious chestnut hair. "How? How do you care?" Closing in on the truth, I'm barely able to inhale new oxygen.

"Are you going to hate me if I tell you?" Now it's Andrea's turn to produce fat tears that end up clinging to her eyelashes before they run down her cheeks. "You-you can't hate me, Miranda. It would kill me."

Hate? My mind mulls the impossible word over for a moment. "Never."

Smiling tremulously through the tears, Andrea sighs. "Good. Good." She scoots closer and I realize we're lying together in the center of the bed. "I care about you. I don't know when everything changed, but I do. When Stephen hurt you so badly, I was torn between hating his guts and being relieved that you were rid of him. Not very noble, is it?" Andrea shrugs.

I pull her closer. "No. Not very," I agree. I wait for her to continue.

"I've never had these types of feelings for another woman. I've never even kissed a girl, not even out of curiosity in college. It was Nate and I for several years. He ended up despising me for my choices and for prioritizing you, your calls, and the job. Everything." Suddenly Andrea pushes forward and hides her face against my shoulder. "The last month or so, he was so resentful, I slept on the couch. I couldn't be near him."

"Andrea." I pull her into my arms, completely defenseless now. "He doesn't deserve you."

"I failed him. I somehow couldn't handle a demanding job and my social life. At least that's what I told myself. I really hoped everything would work out at first, but then, as time went by, I started developing a different outlook. Most of my thoughts are somehow tied to—to you—" Andrea shivers and I tug her closer. My heart is beating wildly now.

"Shh," I say, my voice husky from my previous tears and the emotions coursing through my system. I get up on my elbow and look down at Andrea. "You're not alone in this." I try to convey what I feel even if I'm not quite sure myself. "You're not alone, Andrea."

"Miranda." Wrapping her arms around my neck she holds me closer and somehow, in some bewildering manner, her mouth is beneath mine, only a breath away.

I hover over her, inhale her scent, my lips nearly touching hers as I murmur her name. "Andrea."

She cups my face and then I kiss her. A mere brush of lips, soft, undemanding, because I'm still uncertain of what this means. Then I realize how my thighs are trembling, how drenched my La Perlas are. Her legs tangle with mine and now there's no going back. I just know we both are well beyond the boundaries established at a workplace. I part her lips and suddenly she rolls us and ends up between my legs. My nightgown rides up to my hips as she undulates against me, her eyes as wild as her hair.

"Oh, God, Miranda," she whimpers. "I want you. I want you so much."

Relief, terror, and more relief shatter the very last of my resolve. I push up the deplorable, but, oh so soft t-shirt of hers and caress her full breasts with my cheeks and my chin before taking her left nipple in my mouth. Andrea arches against me, and moans my name over and over, like a prayer. I know I won't stop now unless she tells me to. I try to tell her.

"Andrea…" Oh, her hard nipple is delicious, dark, pebbled, and perfect. "Tell me if you d-don't want…this…" I am almost out of air, but I force myself to breathe evenly as I shiver and wait for her reply.

"Don't stop!" she cries out and pushes at my nightgown. "I have to see you. I need to. I need to see you and feel you. Know that this is real," she babbles, almost sobbing the words out.

I dread showing my fifty-one year old body to this gorgeous young woman, but only superficially. I know Andrea won't mind some faded stretch marks, or less than firm curves. I let go of my vanity and the way she stares down at me is enough to convince me. Andrea finds me beautiful, desirable, and, oh God, I slide my hand down to cup her on the outside of her lace panties. She's as drenched as I am.

"Yes. Touch me. Touch me." Andrea rubs shamelessly against my hand. She reaches down, pushes off her panties and kicks them to the foot of the bed. "Lift."

I comply and she efficiently removes my La Perlas. Soon her t-shirt is gone, as is my nightgown. I've never felt so free. Refusing to compare her to any other lover, or husband, not wanting to stain the moment with negative thoughts, I merely devour her with my eyes where she stands on all four over me.

"May I?" she asks, her voice low and vibrating.

"Anything you want."

"You brave woman." Andrea smiles tenderly. "You're amazing." She kisses my collarbones, down between my breasts, down in a circle around my belly button, and up again. When she takes my nipple between her lips, then her teeth, I gasp. Soon, all I know is her hot, scorching mouth walking with kisses back and forth between my nipples. She tugs, licks, sucks, and then simply abandons them and starts a new journey down. Now engaging her hands as well, she cups me, holds my swollen folds, parts them, and I cry out at the sensation of her breath against me. "You're gorgeous," she murmurs against my wetness. "Amazing."

I cannot be passive anymore. As much as I enjoy being pampered like this, I need, no, crave, Andrea. I surprise her by pulling her up and rolling us on our sides. "I must have you too," I try to explain and this lights something behind her eyes. That amber glow she has so often directed toward me pulls me in and I push my hand down and in between her sticky thighs. I'm so aroused by how she feels, and when she parts her legs so willingly, so trustingly, I let my fingers circle her entrance until she growls and reciprocates.

As it turns out, she beats me to it. So very carefully she enters me, her fingers gentle, but insistent, and I groan and follow her. She's so tight; her heat surrounds my two fingers. We move slowly, trying this startlingly new way of making love. I should feel clumsy, out of my element, but I don't. Andrea shakes all over and is so flushed her skin is blotchy on her chest. I burn at her touch, but most of all, her presence in my arms, in my bed, takes my breath away.

"You're mine," she says, suddenly. "You have to be. I can't lose this. You're mine…"

I smile. A smile that is no doubt a bit feral as my libido won't allow for anything soft and gentle right now. "Yes," I answer her. "I am yours. And you're mine, Andrea."

"Don't leave me again," she begs. "Please." She undulates with jerky movements now, her glance feverish. "Don't run away. Miranda. Stay. Stay. Oh!" Andrea arches against my hand, her own still moving at a perfect pace between my legs. "Miranda!" My fingers end up in a vice-like grip when she contracts around them, over and over. I try to guide her through the orgasm, but it's hard when I'm seconds from coming.

"Come, Miranda. I want you to come in my arms. I've got you." Andrea is short of breath, but she curls her fingers inside me and presses her thumb against my clitoris, pushing the hood up, intensifying the caress tenfold. I am not ashamed to say it. I cry her name and turn my face into the pillow to muffle my groans that don't seem to stop. The orgasm is close to painful and I realize it's been so very, very long.

When I finally emerge from the dampness of the pillow, I know I must have cried for a while as Andrea's arms are around me and she is rocking us both. My hand is still within this wondrous creature and she doesn't seem to mind. I extract it gently and hold onto Andrea.

"I love you." My whisper makes her crush me close to her.

"God, Miranda. I love you. I love you with all my heart."

My universe is slowly righting itself. The bed is warm and snuggling close to Andrea is as close to complete bliss I've ever been. I feel a little smile play on my lips and it feels so good. Our walls are down and I don't miss them. Tiny voices try to make themselves heard, bringing cautions and warnings, but I refuse to pay any attention to them. I'm fully aware of the difficulties we face. The outside world will do its best to challenge and perhaps destroy us. I won't let it happen. I love Andrea and the great miracle, only surpassed by the birth of my twins, is that she loves me back.

Still, my inner voices of reason demand that I at least broach the subject. "We have to go back tomorrow," I murmur. "Will you be all right?"

"With being your best kept secret?" Andrea kisses my forehead. "Yes. For the simple reason that the alternative is impossible."

I melt into her. Trust Andrea to hit nail on the head. "Yes."

"Then there's the divorce. Runway. The press. Honestly, Miranda, I don't think anyone will think it strange that you have a greater need for your assistant than usual."

I chuckle, but I also know that nothing is that simple. "Perhaps." I rub her back. "I know I ask a lot of you."

"It's not like it's totally risk-free for you either, Miranda." Andrea buries her face in my neck. "A lot can happen."

"We won't let it." I don't know how I suddenly am so sure. Perhaps because my love for Andrea is my guide.

"Damn straight." Andrea nods against my skin. "God, I'm exhausted."

"As am I."

It takes only another minute or two for Andrea to fall asleep. I revel in the sensation of sleep approaching, and in the meantime I listen to her breathe and enjoy the feeling of her arms around me. Tomorrow's going to be hard, but I'm not all that worried.

I have Andrea.