The rain fell in sideways sheets, cold and relentless, the winds whipping it in every direction, making an umbrella, slicker, and rain boots nearly useless. Not that Andy had any of those things. Her two-hundred-dollar Burberry umbrella had refused to open and finally snapped when she tried to force it; the cropped rabbit jacket with the oversize collar and no hood cinched fabulously around her waist but did nothing to stop the bone-chilling cold; and the brand-new stacked suede Prada pumps cheered her with their poppy fuchsia color but left the better part of her foot exposed. Even her skinny leggings left her legs feeling naked, the wind making the leather feel as protective as a pair of a silk stockings. Already the fifteen inches that had blanketed New York were beginning to melt into a slushy gray mess, and Andy wished for the thousandth time that she lived anywhere but here.
As if to punctuate her thought, a taxi barreled through a yellow light and blared its horn at Andy, who had committed the grievous crime of trying to cross the street. She restrained herself from offering him the finger—everyone was armed these days— and instead gritted her teeth and hurled mental curses his way. Considering the size of her heels, she made decent progress for the next two or three blocks. Fifty-Second, Fifty-Third, Fifty- Fourth . . . it wasn’t too far now, and at least she’d have a moment or two to warm up before beginning the race back to the office. She was consoling herself with the promise of a hot coffee and maybe, just maybe, a chocolate chip cookie, when suddenly, somewhere, she heard that ring.
Where was it coming from? Andy glanced around, but her fellow pedestrians didn’t seem to notice the sound, which was growing louder every second. Br-rrring! Br-rrring! That ringtone. She would recognize it anywhere for as long as she lived, although Andy was surprised they were still making phones with it. She simply hadn’t heard it in so long and yet . . . it all came rushing back. She knew before she pulled her phone from her bag what she would find, but she was still shocked to see those two words on her caller ID screen: MIRANDA PRIESTLY.
She would not answer. Could not. Andy took a deep breath, hit “ignore,” and tossed the phone back into her bag. It started ringing again almost immediately. Andy could feel her heart begin to beat faster, and it got more and more difficult to fill her lungs. Inhale, exhale, she instructed herself, tucking her chin to protect her face from what was now pounding sleet, and just keep walking. She was less than two blocks from the restaurant—she could see it lit up ahead like a warm, shimmering promise—when a particularly nasty gust propelled her forward, causing her to lose her balance and step directly into one of the worst parts of a Manhattan winter: the black, slushy puddle of dirt and water and salt and trash and god knows what else so filthy and freezing and shockingly deep that one could do nothing but surrender to it.
Which is exactly what Andy did, right there in the pool of hell that had accumulated between the street and the curb. She stood, flamingo-like, perched gracefully on one submerged foot, holding the other one rather impressively above the watery mess for a good thirty or forty seconds, weighing her options. Around her, people gave her and the slushy little lake wide berth, only those with knee-high rubber boots daring to tromp directly through the middle. But no one offered her a hand and, realizing that the puddle had a large enough perimeter that she couldn’t jump to escape in any one direction, she steeled herself for another shock of cold and placed her left foot beside her right. The icy water rushed up her legs and came to a stop on her lower calf, subsuming both fuchsia shoes and a good five inches of leather pant, and it was all Andy could do not to cry.
Her shoes and leggings were ruined; her feet felt like she might lose them to frostbite; she had no option for extricating herself from the mess except continuing to slog through it; and all Andy could think was, That’s exactly what you get for screening Miranda Priestly.
There wasn’t time to dwell on her misery, though, because as soon as she made it to the curb and stopped to evaluate the damage, her phone rang again. It had been ballsy—hell, downright reckless—to ignore the first call. She simply couldn’t do it again. Dripping, shivering, and near tears, Andy tapped the screen and said hello.
“Ahn-dre-ah? Is that you? You’ve already been gone for an eternity. I’ll ask you only one time. Where. Is. My. Lunch? I simply won’t be kept waiting like this.”
Of course it’s me, Andy thought. You dialed my number. Who else would be answering?
“I’m so sorry, Miranda. It’s really horrid out right now, and I’m trying my best to—”
“I’ll expect you back here immediately. That’s all.” And before Andy could say another word, the line was disconnected.
No matter that the icy water trapped in her shoes was squishing around her toes in the most disgustingly imaginable way, or that it had been hard enough to walk in those heels when they were dry, or that the sidewalks were growing slicker by the second as the rain began to freeze: Andy began to run. She sprinted as best she could down one block and had only one more to go when she heard someone calling her name.
Andy! Andy, stop! It’s me! Stop running!
She would recognize that voice anywhere. But what was Max doing there? He was away that weekend, upstate somewhere, for a reason she couldn’t quite remember. Wasn’t he? She stopped and turned, searching for him.
Over here, Andy!
And then she spotted him. Her fiancé, with his thick black hair and piercing green eyes and rugged good looks, was sitting astride an enormous white horse. Andy didn’t particularly like horses ever since she’d fallen from one in second grade and shattered her right wrist, but that horse looked friendly enough. Never mind that Max was riding a white horse in midtown Manhattan in the middle of a blizzard—Andy was so ecstatic to see him, she didn’t even think to question it.
He dismounted with the ease of a practiced rider, and Andy tried to remember if he’d ever mentioned playing polo. In three long strides he was at her side, enveloping her in the warmest, most delicious embrace imaginable, and she felt her whole body relax as she collapsed into him.
“My poor baby,” he murmured, paying neither the horse nor the staring pedestrians any mind. “You must be freezing out here.”
The sound of a phone—that phone—rang out between them, and Andy scrambled to answer it.
“Ahn-dre-ah! I don’t know what part of ‘immediately’ you don’t understand, but—”
Andy’s whole body was shaking as Miranda’s shrill voice drilled into her ear, but before she could move a single muscle, Max plucked the phone from her fingertips, tapped “end” on the screen, and tossed it with perfect aim directly into the puddle that had previously claimed Andy’s feet. “You’re done with her, Andy,” he said, wrapping a large down comforter around her shoulders.
“Ohmigod Max, how could you do that? I’m so late! I haven’t even made it to the restaurant yet, and she’s going to kill me if I’m not back there with her lunch in—”
“Shhh,” he said, touching two fingers to Andy’s lips. “You’re safe now. You’re with me.”
“But it’s already ten after one, and if she doesn’t—”
Max reached both hands under Andy’s arms and lifted her effortlessly into the air before gently depositing her sidesaddle on top of the white horse, whose name, according to Max, was Bandit.
She sat in shocked silence as Max removed both her soaking wet shoes and tossed them to the curb. From his duffel bag—the one he carried everywhere—Max pulled out Andy’s favorite fleece-lined bootie-style slippers and slid them onto her raw, red feet. He settled the down comforter over her lap, tied his own cashmere scarf over her head and around her neck, and handed her a steel thermos of what he said was specially sourced dark hot chocolate. Her favorite. Then in one impressively fluid motion, he mounted the horse and picked up the reins. Before she could say another word, they began to trot down Seventh Avenue at a good clip, the police escort in front of them clearing the way of traffic and pedestrians.
It was such a relief to be warm and loved, but Andy couldn’t get rid of the panic she felt at not completing a Miranda-assigned task. She’d be fired, that much was sure, but what if it was worse than that? What if Miranda was so livid that she used her limitless influence to make sure Andy never got another job? What if she decided to teach her assistant a lesson and show her exactly what happened when one simply walked out—not once but twice—on Miranda Priestly?
“I have to go back!” Andy shouted into the wind as their trot became a run. “Max, turn around and take me back! I can’t . . .”
“Andy! Can you hear me, sweetheart? Andy!”
Her eyes flew open. The only thing she felt was the pounding of her own heart as it raced in her chest.
“You’re okay, baby. You’re safe now. It was just a dream. And from the looks of it, a really horrible one,” Max crooned, cupping her cheek with his cool palm.
She pushed herself up and saw the early morning sun streaming in from the room’s window. There was no snow, no sleet, no horse. Her feet were bare but warm under the buttery soft sheets, and Max’s body felt strong and safe pressed against her own. She inhaled deeply, and the scent of Max—his breath, his skin, his hair—filled her nostrils.
It was only a dream.
She glanced around the bedroom. She still felt half asleep, fuzzy from being awakened at the wrong time. Where were they? What was happening? It took a glance at the door, from which hung a freshly steamed and utterly gorgeous Monique Lhuillier gown, before she remembered that the unfamiliar room was actually a bridal suite—her bridal suite—and she was the bride. Bride! A rush of adrenaline caused her to sit straight up in bed so quickly that Max exclaimed in surprise. “What were you dreaming about, baby? I hope it didn’t have anything to do with today.”
“Not at all. Just old ghosts.” She leaned over to kiss him as Stanley, their Maltese, wedged himself between them. “What time is it? Wait—what are you doing here?”
Max gave her that devilish grin she loved and climbed out of bed. As always, Andy couldn’t help but admire his broad shoulders and tight stomach. He had the body of a twenty-five-year-old, only better—not too hard and muscled, but perfectly tight and fit.
“It’s six. I came in a couple hours ago,” he said as he pulled on a pair of flannel pajama pants. “I got lonely.”
“Well, you better get out of here before someone sees you. Your mother had some whole big thing about us not seeing each other before the wedding.”
Max pulled Andy out of bed and wrapped his arms around her. “Then don’t tell her. But I wasn’t going to go all day before seeing you.”
Andy feigned irritation, but she was secretly glad he’d sneaked in for a quick cuddle, especially in light of her nightmare. “Fine,” she sighed dramatically. “But get back to your room without being seen! I’m taking Stanley out for a walk before the masses descend.”
Max pushed his pelvis against hers. “It’s still early. I bet if we’re fast we can—”
Andy laughed. “Go!”
He kissed her again, tenderly this time, and let himself out of the suite.
Andy gathered Stanley in her arms, kissed him squarely on his wet nose, and said, “This is it, Stan!” He excitedly woofed and tried to escape, and she had to let him go so he wouldn’t scratch her arms to shreds. For a few lovely seconds she managed to forget the dream, but it quickly reappeared again in all its detailed realness. Andy took a deep breath and her pragmatism kicked in: wedding-day jitters. A classic anxiety dream. Nothing more. Nothing less.
She ordered breakfast from room service and fed Stanley bits of scrambled eggs and toast while fielding excited phone calls from her mother, sister, Lily, and Emily—all of whom were champing at the bit for her to begin preparations—and leashed Stanley up for a quick walk in the brisk October air before the day got too frantic. It was slightly embarrassing to wear the terry-cloth sweatpants with a hot-pink BRIDE emblazoned across the butt that she’d received at her bridal shower, but she was secretly proud, too. She jammed her hair into a baseball cap, laced up her sneakers, zipped up a Patagonia fleece, and miraculously made it out to the sprawling grounds of the Astor Courts Estate without seeing another living soul. Stanley bounded as happily as his little legs would allow, pulling her toward the tree line at the edge of the property, where the leaves had already changed into their fiery fall colors. They walked for almost thirty minutes, certainly long enough for everyone to wonder where she’d gone, and although the air was fresh and the rolling fields of the farm were beautiful and Andy felt the excited giddiness of her wedding day, she couldn’t get the image of Miranda out of her mind.
How could this woman still haunt her? It had been nearly ten years since she bolted from Paris and her soul-destroying stint as Miranda’s assistant at Runway. She had grown so much since that dreaded year, hadn’t she? Everything had changed, and for the better: the early post-Runway years of freelancing, which she’d proudly parlayed into a steady gig as a contributing editor writing for a wedding blog, Happily Ever After. A few years and tens of thousands of words later, she was able to launch her very own magazine, The Plunge, a beautiful glossy high-end book that was three years into the endeavor and, despite all predictions to the contrary, was actually making money. The Plunge was getting nominated for awards, and advertisers were clamoring. And now, in the midst of all her professional success, she was getting married! To Max Harrison, son of the late Robert Harrison and grandson of the legendary Arthur Harrison, who’d founded Harrison Publishing Holdings in the years right after the Great Depression and had built it into Harrison Media Holdings, one of the most prestigious and profitable companies in the United States. Max Harrison, long on the circuit of most eligible bachelors, a guy who’d dated the Tinsley Mortimers and Amanda Hearsts of New York City, and probably a fair number of their sisters, cousins, and friends, was her betrothed. There would be mayors and moguls in attendance that afternoon, just waiting to cheer on the young scion and his new bride.