“Are you okay?”
Serena looks up from the coffee table onto which she’s just barely resisted slamming down her phone and sees Bernie, the blonde woman who served her coffee a short time ago. She is rather gorgeous, Serena thinks (not for the first time), in her skinny black jeans, white vest top and red checked shirt worn unbuttoned, with the sleeves rolled up. A move which exposes the corded muscles of her arms and her deceptively slender wrists that Serena’s stared at a few too many times while watching her serving customers. (Not to mention the long, slender fingers which Serena may, embarrassingly, have imagined on her body on occasion.)
Serena jolts out of her reverie with a feeling of mortification. “Sorry,” she says, feeling guilty for getting lost in gazing at Bernie. “I – uh – I’m fine.”
“Look, I don’t want to pry, but are you sure? You seemed rather distressed just now when you were on your phone.”
Serena glances around at handful of customers who are reasonably scattered around the room. “Are you sure you want a semi-stranger venting at you?”
Bernie smirks and oh god, Serena had no idea that this woman could smirk in such a devastatingly attractive manner. “I’m also available for venting,” she says, and sits on the other end of the leather couch where Serena’s ensconced herself. “Tell me everything.”
Serena chuckles weakly. “If I told you everything we’d be here until at least this time tomorrow. I think your boss might object.”
“My boss?” Bernie’s smirk transforms into a full blown grin and Serena wonders how she hasn’t swooned yet. “Why ma’am, are you unaware I own this joint?” She says this in a terrible fake American accent and Serena bursts out laughing, which makes the other customers look their way, then smile to themselves as Bernie lets loose the most astonishing honking laugh in response to Serena’s laughter.
“My god, where did you get that laugh?” she asks once she finally has enough breath to speak.
“Why ma’am, I’ve had this here laugh all ma life.”
“Stop it,” Serena pleads. “Why are you using a fake American accent?”
Bernie grins. “Because it usually makes people laugh. Worked on you, didn’t it?”
“It did,” Serena agrees. “Thank you.”
“Any time.” Bernie briefly clasps her forearm. “Now, do you want to tell me what upset you about your phone call?”
Serena sighs, feeling her mirth fade. “It’s my fortieth birthday soon and my mother, in her infinite wisdom, has decided that she cannot allow me to celebrate it without her.”
“And is she an awful mother?” Bernie asks gently.
“No. Well, no, not really. Just a very driven woman who is incredibly ambitious on my behalf.”
“Ah. Parental expectations are always tricky to negotiate. That’s one thing I don’t miss about my parents being gone.” Bernie gives her a soft smile. “So what, in particular, is troubling you with regard to her impending visit? Which maternal expectations are you not going to meet?”
Serena frowns. “How did you know?”
Bernie shrugs. “Stands to reason there’s something or you wouldn’t be so troubled by the prospect of her visiting you. Is it your job?”
Serena shakes her head. “No. She’s delighted that I’m a consultant at the local hospital.”
“Good for you,” Bernie says with a warmth that surprises Serena. “Is your accommodation not up to your mother’s standards?”
“Well, not really – but I don’t have to worry about that. She knows I cannot yet afford to move into the ‘leafy detached’ she regularly pictures me having some day.”
“Okay. So, I’m guessing the problem is a relationship one?”
Serena sighs heavily. “Yes.” Bernie raises both eyebrows, and she sighs a second time, then says, “I haven’t told her that I split up with my last girlfriend. And if I tell her that I’m single again, she’ll start in on the lectures about being left to grow old without anyone to take care of me. And she’ll be utterly relentless about it.”
Bernie frowns, then smiles. “So, what you need is a fake girlfriend for the duration of your mother’s visit.”
Serena stares at her speechlessly, then asks, “And just where am I going to find such a person and get to know them sufficiently well that we can pass ourselves off as a couple in just over two weeks time?”
“Haven’t you got a colleague up at the hospital who could stand in?”
Serena flushes. “No. Most of my fellow consultants are just that – fellows. Or rather men. Of the two women consultants besides me, Jac wouldn’t play the fake girlfriend even if I paid her a substantial sum of money, and Fleur is already known to my mother as having a wife. Who is not me.”
“Ah. No single close friends?”
“No.” Serena sighs heavily. “I suppose I’ll just have to confess and endure the endless lectures. You’d think, given that her own husband, my father, left us when I was young that it’d put her off pairing me up, but alas, it hasn’t.”
“I could do it. If you didn’t think it was a terrible idea.”
Serena stares at Bernie, startled by the other woman’s suddenly shy demeanour. “Why would you do that?”
Bernie shrugs, but there’s something in her eyes that tells Serena this isn’t just a casual offer.
“Wait. Let me guess. You also need a date for something.”
Bernie chuckles weakly. “Should’ve known you’d figure that out, smart woman like you.”
“So, what’s your event?”
“You absolutely do not have to say yes,” Bernie says. “Because it would be a huge commitment on your part.”
“Well, now you have to tell me,” Serena says with a smile and a quick squeeze of Bernie’s knee.
“I’m going to a wedding in a month’s time. It’s – uh – it’s my ex. And she’s marrying one of our best friends.”
“Ouch,” Serena says. “I can understand not wanting to go alone. Where is this wedding?”
“London. I was thinking of going on Thursday afternoon as there’s some sort of pre-wedding dinner on Friday evening, then the wedding itself is on Saturday afternoon. And I’d planned to come back on Sunday some time. I’d cover the cost of accommodation and travel if you wanted to arrive separately.”
“Surely the hotel accommodation would be a room that we’d share? If I’m meant to be your girlfriend.” Serena frowns. “Significant other? Partner? Whatever label you’d want to use.”
Bernie blows out a breath, her fringe flicking up out of her eyes. “That’s why it’s a huge commitment,” she says softly. “It’s less the duration of the event for which I need a date than it is the fact that you’d have to share a room.” Her voice lowers. “A bed. With me.”
“Do you snore?”
“Alex never complained that I did.”
“Do you hog the covers?”
Bernie smirks and once again Serena feels the power of that smirk. “No. I should warn you, though, that Alex did mention that I’m an inveterate snuggler.”
“Duly noted,” Serena says, smirking right back, because two can play at that game, thank you very much.
“How much time would you want me to spend with you for your mother’s visit? If we did this?”
“She’ll fly in on Friday,” Serena says, then seeing Bernie’s confusion, adds, “She lives in Paris and she hates trains, so she flies whenever she visits.”
“Okay. Will you be meeting her at the airport?”
Serena nods. “I usually do, yes.”
“So, would you want me to be at the house when you got back from the airport? Does she think you and your girlfriend are living together?”
“She knows we are – or rather my ex and I were living together. She wouldn’t expect you to be at the house in the middle of the day, but she’d expect you to come home from work and be there after that.”
“Okay. Does your mother – what’s her name, by the way?”
“Does Adrienne know what your girlfriend does? Or what your ex did?”
“No.” Serena huffs a laugh. “We actually met in a coffee shop, although not this one.”
Bernie nods. “I’ve only ever seen you in here alone.”
Serena gives her a slightly startled look. “You’ve noticed me to that extent?”
Bernie ducks her head a little, hiding behind her fringe, and Serena can’t help wondering if that’s why she has it so long – to hide behind. “Can you blame me for noticing the attractive brunette who comes in every morning before work for her ‘strong and hot’ coffee and a ‘medicinal pastry’, and who seems to spend a large chunk of at least one day a week doing paperwork in the corner while we ply her with said coffee?”
“You think I’m attractive?” Serena asks, feeling a warmth in her belly at being noticed.
“Pfft. Of course I do. Doesn’t everyone?”
Serena bites her lip. “I think you’re very attractive, too,” she admits.
Bernie gives her a startled look. “Me? I’m no more than passably handsome.”
“Nonsense,” Serena says firmly, her voice stronger.
Bernie shakes her head, smiling. “So, Ms McKinnie, what do you think? Shall we be each other’s dates for your mother’s birthday visit and my ex’s wedding?”
“You do realise you’ll have to live in my house for three nights and two days?” Serena demands.
Bernie shrugs. “But I don’t have to be there the whole time if you don’t want me to be. I do have a coffee shop to run. I presume Adrienne would be expecting to enjoy a meal out on the evening of your birthday?” Serena nods. “And the rest of the time? Would she expect me to be there at your side throughout?”
“I suppose not, not if I tell her that you have a business to run. But she’ll expect you to be there for Sunday lunch, not just the evening meal.”
“I can do that. If this is what you want?” Bernie’s voice is as soft as her expression, and Serena feels her stomach swoop with desire.
This is a mad idea, she thinks frantically. Because how will I stop her from finding out the fact that I’ve fancied her since the very first morning I came in here in search of that ‘strong and hot coffee’? Then she remembers Bernie’s remark about her being attractive. Maybe her crush isn’t one-sided, then.
“Very well. We have a deal, Ms–” She holds out her hand and gives Bernie an expectant look as she realises she has no idea what her last name is.
“Wolfe.” Bernie takes her hand and Serena notices that Bernie’s skin feels as dry as her own, she presumes from needing to wash her hands regularly while handling food. “So, when is your birthday?”
It’s only when Bernie withdraws her hand that Serena even notices that they’ve been holding each other’s hand all this time, and she ducks her head to hide her blush. “We should exchange numbers,” she suggests, holding out her phone, then tries not to make it obvious that she’s watching avidly as Bernie’s long, slender fingers take her phone and enter her number.
“Text me your address and then I’ll have your number,” Bernie suggests.
Serena nods. “You should come over for dinner one evening soon so that I can familiarise you with the layout of my place. If you’re going to be spending three nights–”
“Three?” repeats Bernie, sounding somewhat shocked.
“Oh, yes, sorry. I should’ve said. My mother will fly back on Monday. Is – is that okay?”
“Of course,” Bernie says quickly. “After all, you’ll be sharing with me for three nights. Well, unless you wanted to come down to London on the Friday. There’s no reason you have to–”
“I’ll travel down on Thursday with you,” Serena says. “It’s been ages since I’ve had a trip to London and I’d love the chance to do some shopping, and maybe see a show, on the Friday – if you don’t have anything else planned?”
“No. I haven’t even RSVP’d to Alex yet – because I was debating not going since I don’t – didn’t – have a plus one to take and I didn’t want her pitying me, or thinking I’m still hung up on her.”
“How long is it since you broke up?”
“Nearly two years.”
“And you haven’t dated anyone in the interim?” Serena is surprised, given how very desirable Bernie is.
The blonde shakes her head. “I’ve had dinner or been to the movies or whatever with other women now and again. I signed up to one of those apps, but nothing serious has come of any those hook ups. The occasional night together, but I haven’t really clicked with anyone.”
“I can understand why you are suggesting our fake dating deal,” Serena says. “We’ll both be able to save face.”
Bernie nods and seems to be about to say something else when Morven, one of the assistants, calls her to the phone.
“Sorry, I’d better go. Text me your address and let me know which evening you want me to come for dinner.”
“I will. And thank you, Bernie. I do appreciate your kindness in making this offer.”
“Well, you’re doing a kind thing, too,” Bernie says with a soft smile. She touches the tips of two fingers to her temple in a vague salute, then cross the coffeeshop to take the cordless phone from Morven.
Serena sighs, not sure whether to feel elated or terrified that she and Bernie are going to be doing this. Probably both, she decides, and pulls up her calendar to check her shift schedule for the week ahead so that she can let Bernie know which evening to come for dinner.
Serena checks that everything is as it should be: a nice bottle of Shiraz is open and breathing on the counter; the dinner table is laid with the nicest plates and glasses, and a pristine tablecloth; the candles are already lit; and dinner itself will be ready to serve in about twenty minutes. All she needs, now, is her dinner guest.
As if on cue, her doorbell rings on the heels of that thought, and she smiles happily at the thought of Bernie being so prompt. She swipes her hands against her apron, which reminds her to take it off, and she hastily whips it off, then hurries to answer the door, stepping back to allow the woman who is going to be pretending to be her girlfriend into the house.
She holds out her hands to accept Bernie's coat, a long black wool one that reaches just past Bernie's knees, and slips it onto the coat rack, then turns around to greet her.
For a moment, however, she can only stand and stare in hungry appreciation at the vision that has been vouchsafed to her. She has only ever seen Bernie in her trademark skinny black jeans and a checked flannel shirt, so she is wholly unprepared to see Bernie in slim black tailored trousers, a white dress shirt with honest-to-God cufflinks at the wrists, and a navy blue waistcoat embroidered in gold thread. The collar of the shirt is open to display a small green pendant in the hollow of her throat, as well as her collarbones. She has also styled her usually unruly blonde hair into sleek waves.
“Wow,” Serena breathes after what might well have been an eon. “Don't you scrub up mighty fine?”
“Thank you,” Bernie says in a soft voice, a flush of pink lying along her cheekbones. “You look fantastic. That red dress really suits you.”
“Thank you,” Serena says. The dress is a relatively new one, that she's only worn once before for a hospital fundraising event, and she likes the way it looks on her as it shows just the right amount of cleavage and is short without being scandalous.
“Can I get you a drink?”
“I'll have a glass of water, please.”
“You're not teetotal, are you?” Serena asks, annoyed with herself for not thinking to ask Bernie that before.
“No,” Bernie says, frowning slightly. “But I am driving.”
“Oh. Sorry,” Serena says. “I sort of assumed you'd come in a taxi.”
Bernie gives her a small smile. “I don't get the chance to drive very often since I bought Bean and Gone, so when I do get the opportunity, I tend to jump at it and you live far enough across town from me to make it worthwhile getting the car out.”
They're in the lounge half of the large room that serves as the sitting room and dining room combined, and Serena gestures at the sofa and armchairs.
“Make yourself comfortable,” she says, “and I'll get you some water. Still or sparkling?”
“Still. I personally feel that sparkling water is an abomination.”
Serena snorts a little at that. “With ice or without?”
“With ice if it's not already chilled, otherwise without. Thanks.”
Serena gives her a brief nod, then heads into the kitchen where she has to take a moment to get a grip on herself and remind herself that she and Bernie are not dating. They are simply pretending in order to save face for each other in what would otherwise be an uncomfortable couple of social situations.
Which is a pity, really, because Bernie Wolfe looks absolutely delicious tonight; more than good enough to eat.
Serena shakes her head, then moves to the refrigerator and gets out a bottle of still water for Bernie, decanting it into a glass, before pouring herself a glass of Shiraz.
She finds Bernie standing in front of the tall bookcase against the wall opposite the fireplace. It houses both Serena's medical texts and her record collection, and Bernie is reading the spines of the books, her hands shoved into the pockets of her slacks, which serves to pull the fabric tight across her pert bottom.
Serena bites back a wanton moan and clears her throat as she moves to stand beside Bernie. “Not much of interest to read there,” she observes.
“Actually, I’ve read many of them,” Bernie says, accepting her glass of water, and Serena can only stare at her in shock.
“You studied medicine?” she asks.
Bernie frowns. “I was a frontline trauma surgeon for a decade and a half,” she says. “Sorry, I somehow thought you knew that.”
“No, I did not.”
“Oh. Well, Major Berenice Wolfe, RAMC, at your service.” She salutes and Serena feels her knees go weak at the thought of this woman in a uniform.
“Are you okay?” Bernie asks, stretching out a hand to clasp Serena’s forearm. “You look a bit faint.”
“I – uh – I’m fine,” she says, but lets Bernie steer her across to the sofa where she sits down, then takes a gulp of wine to steady her nerves. “You’d better tell me about your career in the RAMC. After all, as your girlfriend, that’s something I’d be expected to know.”
Bernie gives her a soft smile. “It is.” She swallows some water, then says, “I suppose the first thing to know is that after I graduated, I did the necessary officer training before I went to serve in the Middle East. Members of the RAMC are non combatants, though officers are trained to use weapons in case of need; I’ve only twice had to fire a gun at those designated as the enemy. On both occasions that was to defend the wounded and unarmed citizens who were in danger from insurrectionists. I suppose I should also mention that I’ve been trained in unarmed combat.”
Serena tries not to gulp at the mental image of Bernie heroically fighting someone in hand to hand combat. She takes another swallow of wine, then nods to encourage Bernie to continue.
“It was nearly two years ago, while I was serving in Afghanistan and actually not long after I’d been promoted to the rank of Major that I got blown up by a roadside IED.”
Serena gasps, horror and pity filling her at the thought of Bernie being injured, and she grabs Bernie’s free hand in her own, without even noticing that she’s done so until Bernie gently squeezes her fingers.
“It’s okay,” she says with a soft smile. “I’m okay. I mean, I wasn’t okay at the time, obviously.” She smirks. “Getting blown up does tend to interfere with one’s day.”
“Are you usually so blasé about such things?” Serena demands, not at all won over by the smirk, delightful though it is.
“Serena.” To her surprise Bernie grips her hand and lifts it to rest on her knee. “It’s nearly two years ago now, and I have more or less recovered, apart from a bit of chronic pain in my back if I spend too many hours on my feet, which I do my best to avoid.”
“So, your back was injured?”
Bernie shakes her head. “Not exactly. I had an unstable C5/C6 spinal fracture with a traumatised cervical disc in the same area, and a pseudoaneurysm in the right ventricle. They managed to stabilise me in Kabul and flew me back to Queen Elizabeth Hospital, in Birmingham, where they have a Ministry of Defence Hospital Unit set up specifically to treat operational casualties that cannot be treated in the field.” She pauses to drink more water and glances at Serena’s face. She’s sure her expression must be attentive as she listens avidly to Bernie’s account.
“Anyway, they had to get a neurosurgeon and a cardiothoracic surgeon into the theatre to operate on me together, although before they did that, however, they had to re-stabilise me as my BP dropped quite dramatically and I was also severely tachycardic for a time.” Serena gulps and Bernie’s tightens her hold on her hand, and she feels startled as she realises that she’d forgotten Bernie was still holding her hand.
“The pseudoaneurysm ruptured before the neurosurgeon was through with the disc repair so the cardiothoracic surgeon had to manually restart my heart while I was still on the table. But I survived. Of course, I was pretty weak for quite a while afterwards and I needed quite a bit of rehab before I was fit to work.”
“So how did you end up running a coffeeshop?” Serena asks curiously.
Bernie shrugs. “I toyed with the idea of going back, but it felt a bit too much like tempting Fate. I’d finished up the ten year contract I’d agreed to do, and the surgeons weren’t certain what effect my injuries would have on my ability to operate.” She swallows audibly. “They were initially concerned I might be left paralysed. Even when that didn’t happen, I, and they, still felt considerable concern that carrying out a long surgery or even surgery in a moving vehicle might not be possible.”
“In a moving vehicle?” Serena repeats, awed.
Bernie nods. “A necessity sometimes, unfortunately.”
Before she can continue her story the oven timer pings, so Serena ushers Bernie over to the dining table, refusing her offer of assistance in bringing the meal to the table.
“Would like a glass of wine with your meal?” Serena calls from the kitchen.
“I would. I’ll just have the one, though, please.”
After a short interval Serena brings through the baked salmon in a garlic and herb sauce with Mediterranean vegetables and golden potatoes, then she fetches them both a glass of wine to go with it.
“Tuck in,” she says as she takes her seat and is pleased when Bernie murmurs with obvious delight at the first forkful she tastes.
“This is delicious,” she says once she’s emptied her mouth. “You’re a much better cook than I am. I can bake pastries, cakes, pies. And bread, of course. But I somehow end up getting bored if I try to cook anything else.”
Serena chuckles. “Whereas I tend not to bother with making desserts. Though I do enjoy eating yours.”
Bernie blushes and Serena does her best to ignore the flush of pink along her cheekbones. “I should finish telling my story,” she says after a couple more mouthfuls.
Serena nods. “I am interested in hearing the rest.”
Bernie gives her a half smile, then proceeds to tell her about a couple of occasions on which she was forced to operate on an injured person while in the back of a moving vehicle.
“Having steady hands was crucial,” Bernie explains. “Even moreso than when carrying out a conventional surgical procedure. I’m forty and up until I was blown up I’d had no worse health issue than a sprained joint on a couple of occasions when I was a kid and playing sports a little too enthusiastically. And then there I was, recovering from a serious spinal injury and a serious heart issue. I didn’t ever want to be in the position where my back let me down and I’ve definitely had issues with severe back ache and shaking hands when I’ve been standing and baking for too many hours. Even now, nearly two years after I sustained those injuries – which has proven me right in my decision to leave the RAMC.”
“They didn’t offer you a desk job?” Serena asks curiously.
“They offered me a teaching job. And I was tempted since I trained a lot of people during my time overseas. But then Alex and I broke up, so I decided on a clean break.”
“So what made you decide to buy a coffeeshop?”
Bernie chuckles. “I taught myself to bake as part of my recovery and rehab. I started with making bread – it was therapeutic kneading it, and it was a good test of my upper body strength. I found I was good at it – better than I expected, to be perfectly honest. I used to take spare loaves with me when I went for my physio appointments and they went down very well. Then I branched out into cakes and pastries, and someone suggested I go into business, and I thought to myself, well what else are you going to do as a civilian? So I looked around at the different premises for sale and found the place that’s become Bean and Gone. I knew it was a good spot – close to both the hospital and the railway station, not to mention a couple of office complexes. I hired someone to come and re-decorate it since I still wasn’t up to painting and decorating, then I hired Morven and Arthur Digby since I knew I didn’t know enough about coffee to be a good barista. And those two are star baristas.”
Serena hums around a mouthful of food. “Isn’t that the truth,” she agrees.
Bernie chuckles knowingly and Serena feels her face heating up.
“So, you’ve gone from frontline trauma surgeon to coffeeshop owner and star baker,” she says. “Quite the switch, but I think it was a good move.”
“Thanks. Business is so good that I’m considering whether to branch out.”
Bernie nods. “I’ve thought about opening up a second shop nearer to the university campus. After all there’s always students in need of regular caffeinating.”
Serena laughs. “You’d probably make a mint.”
Bernie gives her a conspiratorial grin and Serena feels a swoop of desire in her belly. She ducks her head and concentrates on eating the last couple of mouthfuls of dinner.
“Would you like dessert? I’m afraid it’s only Marks & Spencer’s best given my culinary talents don’t lie in that direction.”
Bernie chuckles. “I don’t mind,” she says reassuringly. “What is the dessert?”
“Sounds good,” Bernie says with one of her soft smiles. “I’m in.”
“And do you want some coffee?”
“Okay. I’ll be right back.”
Serena heads into the kitchen, glad of a little respite from Bernie’s presence, because her simmering desire is threatening to boil over. She wonders how on Earth she’s going to manage sharing a bed with the other woman – the very real possibility of waking up with Bernie wrapped around her, given her self-confessed ‘cuddler’ nature, worries her. Just because the blonde finds her attractive doesn’t mean she is actually attracted to Serena – there is a difference, as she herself knows. Why did she agree to this mad idea, she wonders. Then she remembers – it’s to avoid her mother’s relentless worry about Serena ending up alone. She sighs, then sets about getting the coffee machine started before carrying the cheesecake through to the other room.
The rest of the evening passes as pleasantly, with Serena talking a bit about her roles within Holby City General Hospital – as Deputy CEO, as lead on AAU, and as a vascular surgeon.
“I feel positively lazy compared to you,” Bernie jokes over coffee, which they’re drinking while seated on the sofa.
“Pfft. Running a successful coffeeshop is not laziness.”
“Maybe not, but you’re essentially doing three different jobs all rolled into one. I feel exhausted just thinking about it.”
“I often feel exhausted doing it,” Serena admits with a wry smile.
She’s sitting facing Bernie, her back against the arm of the sofa and her feet tucked under her, and when the blonde reaches down and clasps her knee, giving it a squeeze, she can feel her body reacting with desire.
“Would it be so awful to give part of it up?” Bernie asks softly. “You’ve told me that you’ve been passed over for the CEO’s position twice and you know what they say about always the bridesmaid.”
“Never the bride,” Serena says, scowling a little at the old saying.
“Exactly.” Bernie peers at her over the top of her coffee cup, her fringe in her eyes, and Serena has to restrain herself from reaching out to brush it out of the way. Bernie’s brown eyes are, she has discovered, incredibly compelling.
She sighs. “I’ll give it some thought.”
Bernie nods, smiling softly, and squeezes her knee again. “Obviously, I’m not telling you what to do, but it seems to me that you don’t particularly enjoy being Deputy CEO or dealing with the hospital Board.”
“No, you’re right.” Serena covers Bernie’s hand with her own and squeezes. She can’t quite bring herself to let go, however, so she leaves her hand on top of Bernie’s, which is resting on her knee.
“Got to look out for my girlfriend, haven’t I?” she says, giving her a sly grin over the top of her coffee cup.
Serena barely manages not to choke at that grin and the way Bernie’s eyes are sparkling with mirth. She squeezes her hand and says, “You are completely incorrigible, I can see.”
That elicits a chuckle. “I do my best.”
They finish their coffee, hands still linked on Serena’s knee, then Bernie sighs. “I should be going. I’m opening up tomorrow.”
“Very well. Oh, I was thinking. You had better bring some of your things over here before my mother arrives on Friday. It will look strange if you turn up next Friday after work carrying a suitcase.”
Bernie chuckles. “I don’t actually own a suitcase. But I take your meaning.”
She draws her hand back from Serena’s knee after one final squeeze, then gets to her feet and stretches her arms above her head and Serena has to avert her eyes otherwise she’ll just start blushing. She uncurls from the sofa and crosses the room to a drawer below the bookshelves, fishing out a set of keys.
“Here,” she says, holding them out to Bernie. “My spare keys. I was thinking that you could come over with your stuff while I’m out collecting Adrienne from the airport on Friday.”
“What time does Adrienne’s flight get in?”
“It’s due to land at 2pm. I’ll be leaving here after 1pm.”
“It’s not too late to back out,” Serena says.
“Why would I back out?” Bernie asks. “This was my idea, after all. But if you want to back out, I’ll quite understand.”
“No!” Serena exclaims, horrified at the idea, and Bernie gives her a surprised look. “Sorry. But no, thank you.”
“Okay. Well, I’ll see you here at around 6pm on Friday.”
“Thank you for dinner. It was delicious.”
“You’re welcome.” Serena helps Bernie into her coat and is a little startled when the blonde leans in and brushes her lips against Serena’s cheek.
She watches as the other woman makes her way down the drive before climbing into a low-slung sports car that’s parked behind her own sensible car. Serena is surprised Bernie can fit into the car, but she folds her lanky frame inside it, flashes her headlights once, then reverses down the drive and onto the street before pulling away.
Serena closes the door and locks it with a soft sigh, then makes her way to the kitchen to load the dishwasher. She has, she’s realised tonight, got it very bad indeed for Bernie Wolfe.
Serena hears the front door being unlocked on Friday evening with an internal sigh of relief. Adrienne has been quite sceptical about the existence of one Bernie Wolfe, live-in girlfriend and coffeeshop owner, arguing that there were no signs of the woman’s existence in the sitting room. Serena’s counter argument that Bernie had spent years serving overseas in war zones and therefore didn’t have much clutter had been rebuffed with a disbelieving scorn that Serena found irritating.
“I’m home, love,” Bernie calls from the hallway, and Serena goes to greet her, wanting a moment away from her overbearing mother.
“Hello, you,” she says, wrapping her arms around the blonde. She’s a little startled when Bernie immediately kisses her, but reasons that it’s not unheard of for someone to kiss their partner in greeting on returning to their home of an evening. She doesn’t expect the tongue sneaking into her mouth and curling briefly around her own, or the squeeze of her arse, but she figures Bernie is putting on a show for her mother when she hears Adrienne’s voice from the other end of the hallway.
“Why are you two making a spectacle of yourselves out here?” asks Adrienne in a querulous tone.
“Don’t worry, Serena,” Bernie says in a low voice, her hot breath hitting Serena’s ear and making her shiver. “I’ve got your back.”
“I’m so sorry, Ms McKinnie,” Bernie says, unwinding herself from Serena, which almost makes the brunette whimper. She wouldn’t mind being greeted in such a fashion every day, she realises.
“That fruit pie I promised you for dinner is in the box, love,” Bernie says with a nod at a plastic box on the hall table before she walks down the hallway to shake hands with Adrienne.
“Good evening, Ms McKinnie. I’m Bernie – Berenice properly – Wolfe.”
“What sort of name is ‘Berenice’?” demands Adrienne.
“One at least as old as your own first name,” Bernie responds easily, showing no sign of discomfort at Adrienne’s manner. “In my case, it’s Greek. Yours, of course, is the feminine form of ‘Adrian’, itself a form of the Roman ‘Hadrian’, after whom the Wall was named.”
Serena finds herself wanting to cheer at this exquisite, masterly rebuff of Adrienne’s rudeness, but she wisely bites her tongue as she carries the promised fruit pie towards the kitchen.
“Why don’t you two go and take a seat?” Serena suggests. “I’ll join you in a moment.”
“Anything I can do to help, love?” Bernie asks, and Serena can’t help admiring the ease with which she seems to use that little endearment. She sounds as if she’s been calling Serena ‘love’ for years, not less than five minutes.
“No, thank you. Go and take the weight off your feet. I know you were up ridiculously early this morning making bread and everything else for the coffeeshop.”
Bernie chuckles softly. “Yeah.”
Serena briefly tangles her fingers with Bernie’s as Adrienne moves into the sitting room and they exchange soft smiles, then Bernie follows the older woman.
When Serena returns to the sitting room only a few minutes later she finds her mother giving Bernie the third degree and she wishes she’d warned her that this might be her mother’s response.
“And what future prospects do you have? Adrienne asks. “Running a coffeeshop.” There’s a sneer in her tone if not on her face.
Bernie raises her eyebrows. “I’ve just this week signed the lease on a second retail unit by the university and I’ve already advertised for an experienced manager to take on the running of it, not to mention some baristas and an experienced baker. Though I’ll be baking our signature pastries to supply both shops.”
Adrienne doesn’t quite sniff with disdain, but Serena can see it in her mother’s eyes, and it irritates her as much as if Bernie really was her girlfriend.
“You don’t need to worry that I cannot support myself, Ms McKinnie, or pay my share of household bills. I bought my first coffeeshop out of the severance package that I received from the RAMC when I was forced to retire on medical grounds. It was a generous package that reflected both the longevity of my service and my senior rank. I could, if I so chose, buy half a dozen shops in and around Holby, and I would still have funds left over. On top of that, I have the money I inherited from my mother upon her death five years ago. I haven’t touched a penny of it since I inherited it as I have had hardly any need for money or material goods while I was serving overseas, and anything I did need I bought with my army salary. In fact, if we chose to, Serena and I could both retire and live very comfortably as ‘ladies of leisure’ for the rest of our lives with the money I have available.” Bernie fixes Adrienne with a firm gaze, then adds, “I’m not a gold digger, if that’s what you’re imagining.”
“Then why are you living here?”
Serena is shocked. “Honestly, Mother,” she protests, before she feels Bernie’s hand clasp her own.
“Why shouldn’t I live here?” she asks Adrienne. “I didn’t ask Serena to move in with me because my flat, above the coffeeshop, is smaller than this house, and since it is above the coffeeshop it’s invariably noisy first thing in the morning given that I begin baking around 4am. Why should Serena have to put up with that when she could remain here? I know this house isn’t the leafy detached you’ve been planning for Serena, but it’s certainly nicer than the flat above my coffeeshop. In fact, if Serena wants that leafy detached, I’d be quite happy to buy it for her myself.”
“Bernie!” Serena exclaims, startled by the idea.
Bernie shrugs. “I know. We haven’t discussed it. Because I assumed you were happy living here. I’m sorry, I should have asked if you’d rather we bought a house together.”
“I am happy here,” Serena says emphatically. “As for you– ” She turns to her mother “–why are you giving Bernie the third degree?”
“I’m not,” Adrienne says testily.
“Yes, you are. She has barely been home ten minutes and you’re treating her as if she’s done something wrong. I asked her to move in with me and that was my decision to make. I’m forty years old, Mother, and quite capable of choosing who I want to live in my house.”
She gets to her feet. “I need to check on dinner. Bernie, love, could you give me a hand?”
Bernie follows Serena into the kitchen, and it occurs to her that she had used ‘love’ to Bernie without a second thought. She is, she realises, in deep. Possibly too deep, but it’s too late to back out, not now that her mother is here. She sighs heavily and Bernie slides her arms around her from behind and squeezes her.
“Are you okay?” she asks softly.
Serena turns in her arms and asks, “Are you? I am sorry Adrienne’s being so awful. I honestly didn’t expect this inquisition.”
“She’s not usually this way with your partners?”
“Maybe it’s because she perceives me as lacking ambition since I’m only running a coffeeshop and not my own ward.”
“Well that’s ridiculous. Running a business is just as hard work and can be just as rewarding as running a ward. You’d think the fact that you achieved the rank of Major before being forced to retire would be good enough. I–”
Whatever Serena was going to say next is lost as Bernie’s soft lips find her own, cutting off her rant and Serena sinks into the kiss with a soft moan of pleasure, her right hand sliding into Bernie’s hair to cup the back of her head.
She barely notices it when Bernie backs her up against the cupboard and presses their hips together, her right thigh slotting easily between Serena’s and providing just the right amount of friction to put her on edge.
They’re pulled out of their lust-fuelled frenzy of kissing by the sound of the oven timer going off and Serena is forced to cling to Bernie’s shoulders because her knees have turned to jelly. Her chest is heaving as she fights for air and she is desperately aroused, but after a moment she slips away from Bernie, who looks equally wrecked, she notices, and goes to the oven.
“That. Was. Incredible,” she gasps, still trying to get sufficient air into her lungs.
Bernie’s face is flushed pink along her cheekbones and her hair is a mess, but Serena thinks she looks all the sexier for it, particularly given the darkness of the desire in her eyes. Then she smirks and Serena remembers that Bernie’s smirks are a fatal weakness for her, so she turns her attention to serving up dinner.
“I should apologise,” Bernie says as she helps Serena get everything organised.
“I shouldn’t have pinned you to the cupboard like that.”
“Bernie, if I hadn’t wanted you to kiss me senseless, I’d have said so.”
Bernie gives her a searching look and Serena gazes steadily back at her until the blonde nods acceptance of her words.
By the time they carry the food through to the dining room they’re looking fairly respectable, but Serena’s heart is still racing a little and she still feels embarrassingly aroused. She’ll need to take a shower so she can take care of herself before she gets into bed with Bernie tonight or she won’t be able to remember that their relationship is fake.
Adrienne seems to have got over whatever had got into her on Bernie’s arrival home and she makes conversation in a pleasant fashion, responding in detail to Bernie’s enquiries about her life in France. Serena feels herself relaxing a great deal as they eat the steak au poivre with a spring vegetable medley that is her mother’s favourite, and Adrienne even deigns to praise it: usually she’s sparing with her praise, particularly when Serena is cooking.
Bernie also heaps praise on her cooking, repeating her observation that Serena is better at this sort of cooking.
“Yes, but your pies and pastries are far better than mine. I’m a bit jealous.”
Bernie smiles. “Well, between us we can make a good meal.”
Serena chuckles. “True.”
They clear the plates and dishes from the table, and while Bernie tops up their wine, Serena serves up the pie Bernie brought – it’s her ‘five fruit’ pie with apples, rhubarb, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries in it, and Bernie carries through one plate holding a slice of the pie and the jug of cream, while Serena brings the other two plates.
“Try this, Ms McKinnie,” Bernie says, setting the plate down in front of her.
“Call me Adrienne,” she says, and Bernie hides her surprise at this invitation fairly well, but Serena nevertheless notes the way her eyebrows briefly flick up.
“Thank you, Adrienne.”
“What’s in this?” asks Adrienne, looking at the golden brown, tightly latticed pastry on the top.
“Try it and see if you can tell,” Serena urges.
Bernie has set the jug of cream down in front of Adrienne and she pours a small measure over her pie, then offers the jug to Bernie, who accepts it with a smile, pours, then passes the jug on to Serena.
“This pastry is very good,” Adrienne says, a note of surprise colouring her words.
“Thank you,” Bernie says with a small, pleased smile and a duck of her head.
“There’s apple and rhubarb in this,” Adrienne continues after a second mouthful. “And is that blackberries?”
“It is. There are two other kinds of fruit in there, too.”
“Five?” Adrienne says. “That seems a little excessive.” She eats another mouthful, chewing thoughtfully. “Strawberries and raspberries.”
“You’re quite right,” Bernie tells her, and shoots Serena an even more pleased smile when Adrienne actually moans softly over one mouthful.
“How long have you been baking?” asks Adrienne once they’ve cleared the table a second time and Serena’s put the coffee maker on.
“About eighteen months. I took it up to help me to deal with the stress and trauma of my injuries. Baking keeps the Anxiety and panic attacks at bay, and making bread is particularly therapeutic. I found that I was good at it, so I kept it up, and when my physical and mental health therapists all told me how much they enjoyed my bread, pies, and pastries, I decided to try opening a coffeeshop. I didn’t know what else to do with myself following my medical discharge from the RAMC since continuing as a trauma surgeon wasn’t an option, but I thought that supplying bread and other baked goods to a coffeeshop would be a way of doing something good, however small, for the community. And of course, because I have a lot of money, I knew I could afford the experiment even if it failed.”
“Wait until you taste Bernie’s croissants,” Serena says, glancing at her mother before grinning at Bernie. “You’ll swear they’re made in France.”
“Oh, no pressure there, then,” Bernie says with a wry smile.
After half an hour of conversation, Bernie excuses herself to go to bed, saying she’ll have to be up early to get to the coffeeshop in time to make the morning pastries.
“Goodnight, Adrienne,” Bernie says.
Serena feels a sense of satisfaction at the cordial tone in Adrienne’s voice – forgetting that Bernie isn’t her girlfriend and therefore it doesn’t actually matter what her mother thinks of her.
“Goodnight, love,” Bernie says, pressing a kiss to Serena’s temple.
A few minutes after Bernie goes upstairs, Adrienne says thoughtfully, “I think you’ve picked a real winner with that one.”
“Really? Then why subject her to the third degree when she was barely through the door?” asks Serena waspishly.
Adrienne raises an eyebrow. “How else was I to test her mettle?” Serena shakes her head, and her mother continues, “She’s clearly an exceptionally talented woman, both to have achieved the rank of Major in the RAMC and to have baked that pie tonight. And she’s wealthy, so she’ll be able to take care of you when you have to retire.”
“Good god, mother! I’m forty years old and not even considering thinking about retiring for years.”
“It doesn’t hurt to think ahead, Serena.”
“If you say so, mother.”
Serena gets to her feet and collects together their empty coffee cups. “Do you want another?”
“No, thank you. I think I will go to my room and read.”
“I know you’re annoyed at me,” Adrienne says as she gets to her feet, “but I only have your best interests at heart.”
“I know,” Serena says, because she does know, even if she finds her mother’s methods irritating. “Goodnight.”
While Adrienne heads upstairs to her room, Serena concentrates on loading up the dishwasher and washing up the handful of things that aren’t safe to be put in the machine. Then she checks the house is properly locked up before heading upstairs herself.
It’s a little too early for her to sleep and she doesn’t want to risk disturbing Bernie by reading in bed, so she decides to have a bath – it’s been ages since she had a good long soak as she generally doesn’t have the time to spare so a shower suffices.
She opens the door to her room carefully and feels her breath hitch at the sight of Bernie, sound asleep in her bed. She’s lying face down and has one arm under her pillow and the other is wrapped around it, and she smiles as she recalls Bernie telling her that she’s an inveterate snuggler.
She turns on the bedside lamp without bothering with the overhead one and notes that Bernie doesn’t stir in the slightest. She undresses as far as her underwear, then pulls on her bathrobe before moving into the ensuite to begin running the bath, adding her favourite bath salts to the water. Then she moves back into her room and sorts out her clothes for the following day. She glances at the chair on Bernie’s side of the bed and smiles at the sight of her neatly folded clothes piled on the seat of the chair with military precision.
She slips off her knickers and bra, and deposits them both in the clothes hamper in the corner of the bathroom, before shedding her robe and climbing into the bath with a sensual moan at how good the hot water feels. She can’t help wondering what it would be like to share a bath, or even a shower, with Bernie and with that thought comes a renewed surge of arousal which is heightened when she recalls the firm pressure of Bernie’s well-muscled thigh between her legs when they were kissing in the kitchen. She moans again and closes her eyes as she begins touching herself, skimming the palm of her hand over the hard buds of her nipples before pinching and tugging on each one in turn. Then she smoothes her hand down over her belly and caresses the tops of her thighs, well aware that the pulse of arousal between her legs has grown into a more desperate throbbing.
Briefly, Serena wonders if Bernie would be disgusted if she found out what she was doing in the bath while she slept in her bed just a few feet away. Perhaps she’d find it exciting, though, and perhaps she’d enjoy watching as Serena slides two fingers inside herself, biting back a too-loud moan of pleasure.
By the time she climbs into bed beside her faux girlfriend, Serena is feeling sleepy and languorous, and she can’t help wishing Bernie really is her girlfriend so that she can cuddle up next to the other woman. Instead, she curls onto her side, her back towards Bernie, and switches out the lamp before her eyes slide closed and she feels sleep stealing up on her.
Although Bernie had warned Serena that she was a cuddler, she still hadn’t imagined waking up with Bernie’s left arm wrapped around her torso so that her arm is pushed up against the underside of her breasts. Nor that her right hand would be resting between her thighs, cupping her mound. Serena feels herself flush with heat and desire as she realises that her nipples are hard, her breasts aching, and her sex damp and throbbing with want. She glances over at the digital clock on the nightstand and sees that it’s nearly time for Bernie to get up, then registers why she’s awoken so early, and she shifts out of Bernie’s grasp to head into the bathroom.
When she returns Bernie’s bedside lamp is on, and the woman in question is standing with her back to the ensuite’s door, putting on a black bra. Serena swallows a moan at the sight of Bernie in nothing but her underwear and croaks out a greeting.
“Morning,” Bernie says, her voice pleasingly low and husky. “Happy birthday. I’ll only be a few minutes and then you can get back to sleep.”
“Thank you. It’s okay, take your time,” Serena says, secretly enjoying the view of Bernie’s well muscled back and pert bottom from where she’s sitting propped against the headboard. “Adrienne won’t be up before 9am so I’ve time to go back to sleep before then.”
Bernie half turns, giving Serena a gloriously heart-stopping smile before she pulls on a white vest, then slides her skinny jeans up her legs.
“I have sometimes wondered if you painted those on,” Serena quips, and Bernie gives her a startled look, which makes her flush as she realises that she’s just revealed that she has, on occasion, looked at Bernie’s legs long enough to consider that.
“No painting required,” Bernie says after a moment, with a shy smile.
“Just as well, the fumes might be a bit overpowering!”
That elicits a chuckle, then Bernie ducks into the ensuite and after a little while Serena hears the toilet flush, then a tap running, then nothing else for several minutes until the light turns off and Bernie emerges smelling faintly of minty toothpaste and the cologne that she favours. She has scrubbed her face before applying her usual light make up and she’s done her best to tame her hair.
“I’ll be home by 5pm,” she says, crossing the room to collect her phone and keys from the nightstand, then pausing to pull on her familiar red checked flannel shirt. “I want to be able to grab a shower and to do something with my hair before I change, and we go out with Adrienne.”
“Okay, love,” Serena says.
“Have a good day.”
Serena’s a little surprised when Bernie bends down to press a brief, chaste kiss to her lips before she goes out. Given her mother is still in bed and asleep, there was absolutely no need for her to kiss Serena. As she slides back down under her duvet she can’t help wondering just how fake this relationship with Bernie Wolfe actually is, because it really doesn’t feel that fake at all.
After a morning spent out and about around Holby city, Serena suggests to Adrienne that they visit Bean and Gone for lunch and she’s pleased when her mother agrees quickly, though it occurs to her as they approach the coffeeshop that Adrienne probably wants to assure herself that the coffeeshop actually exists.
When they get there, it’s starting to get busy, but Bernie immediately spots them as they enter and gives a beaming smile at the sight of them. She comes out from behind the counter and clasps Serena’s upper arm before leaning in to kiss her, then she smiles at Adrienne.
“Come for lunch?” she asks and Serena nods, so Bernie leads them to a table in the corner where it’s a little bit quieter, then takes their orders herself after reeling off the long list of sandwiches, cakes, pastries, and sweet pies that Adrienne can select from. She also ascertains what they want to drink, then she strides off behind the counter to fetch their food and drinks.
“This place is certainly very tasteful,” Adrienne notes, looking around at the walls with their wide sky blue and white stripes, the handful of paintings and photos decorating those walls, and the comfortable armchairs and leather sofas that furnish the room.
Within a few minutes Bernie reappears carrying a loaded tray, which she sets down on their table before she proceeds to unload the plates of sandwiches, cups of coffee, and the plates holding their pastries. She also provides napkins and forks, checks there’s nothing else that they need, then disappears with an apology of, “Sorry, it’s Saturday and therefore busy.” She gestures at the lengthy queue, lips quirked into a wry smile.
“It’s fine,” Serena says. “Thank you.”
Bernie nods, then disappears back behind the counter to assist Morven, and Serena feels a slight pang of disappointment that Bernie cannot join them. She squashes it, then turns her attention to her sandwiches, which have been carefully arranged on a plate with little sprigs of parsley on top of each of the four triangles. Adrienne’s have been similarly presented, and Serena can’t help a little smile at the sight, admiring Bernie’s attention to detail.
They’re just finishing their pastries – Adrienne had selected a chocolate croissant and pronounced it as good as any she’s eaten in Paris – and their coffee when Bernie reappears at their table.
“Glad I caught you before you left,” she says, sounding a little breathless and looking pink along her cheekbones. “This is for you.”
She holds out a plain white cake box and Serena looks at it, then up at Bernie’s expectant face. “You didn’t have to go to the trouble of making me a birthday cake,” she tells her, before accepting the box and setting it down on the table. She lifts the lid and Adrienne murmurs her approval as she sees the cake. Serena can only stare, momentarily speechless, at the chocolate glazed cake.
“Is that–?” she begins, finally finding her tongue. “Is that a dacquoise?”
Bernie gives her a shy smile. “Specifically, a coffee dacquoise with a chocolate glaze. Happy birthday, love.” She ducks her head and presses a brief, chaste kiss to Serena’s lips, then adds, “I’ve got to get back to it, but I’ll see you later. Enjoy the rest of your day.”
“Don’t work too hard,” Serena admonishes and gets a wave in response as Bernie strides back to the counter for the second time.
Once they leave the coffeeshop, they head back to the car to put the cake safely away, then they head to the big shopping centre as Adrienne wants to buy Serena some new clothes and jewellery. Serena can’t help wishing Bernie was with them – she’s sure she’d find shopping with her ever hyper-critical mother a lot more bearable with the blonde at her side in supportive girlfriend mode.
They get home by 4pm, and Adrienne says that she wants a bath before they go out to dinner. Serena nods and after securing the cake Bernie gave her in the pantry, she takes her bags upstairs. Her mother bought her three new silk blouses, a dress, and two pairs of trousers, plus a necklace and matching earrings. Serena had bought Bernie a pair of gold stud earrings which she’s sure she’ll get a scolding for since Bernie’s not really her girlfriend and Bernie is wealthier than Serena, but she doesn’t care – she saw them and knew they’d look good on Bernie, so she gave in to her impulse and bought them. However, since she’s fairly sure that Bernie will object to having them, she’s going to wait until after her mother leaves before she gives them to the blonde.
Serena has showered and is standing, wrapped in her bathrobe, in front of her open wardrobe doors when Bernie gets home.
“Hello, love,” the blonde says, and drops a kiss on Serena’s temple. “How was the rest of your day.”
Serena blows out a breath. “Not too bad,” she says and tries not to react too obviously when Bernie moves to stand behind her, wrapping her arms around Serena’s body. “Adrienne took me shopping for clothes and jewellery.”
“Was it very stressful?” Bernie asks, her nose nuzzling behind Serena’s right ear.
Serena sighs. “Am I that obvious?”
Bernie chuckles softly. “You are pretty tense. We’ve got a bit of time, haven’t we?” When Serena nods, the blonde draws her over to the bed. “Sit down and I’ll give you a shoulder massage.”
“You don’t need to do that,” Serena objects, although she secretly loves the idea.
“Of course I don’t,” agrees Bernie. “But it’d help, wouldn’t it?”
“Yes,” she sighs and sits down on the side of the bed.
Bernie climbs behind her and shakes her hands and arms energetically, then says, “Tell me if I’m too firm – remember I’m used to kneading bread not massaging people.”
Serena chuckles, then moans embarrassingly loudly as Bernie’s long, slender fingers set to work.
“Well, that’s a good start,” the blonde says with a chuckle of her own. She stops within moments, however, and asks cautiously, “Are you wearing any underwear?”
Serena feels her face heat up, then the blush rushing south, down her throat and onto her chest. “Yes,” she says huskily.
“Okay. I’m going to move your robe off your shoulders as it’s too slippery for me to get a proper grip on you.”
Bernie eases the robe down just far enough for it to clear Serena’s shoulders, then goes back to work on massaging her neck and shoulders, and she feels the day’s tension easing out of her muscles.
“God, you’re good at that,” she says. “If you ever get bored of baking, you could set up in business as a masseur.”
Bernie chuckles. “Why thank you, ma’am.”
“You have very talented hands,” Serena observes when the blonde gives her shoulders a final squeeze, then moves off the bed. “Masseur, baker, surgeon.”
Bernie quirks the corner of her mouth and Serena flushes again as she realises what else the blonde is probably good at doing with her hands. Her mouth goes dry as she wonders just how good it would feel Bernie’s hands elsewhere on her body.
“I’m going to grab a shower,” the blonde says, her low, husky voice doing things to both Serena’s body and her imagination.
“Okay.” She feels a sense of relief when Bernie locks herself in the ensuite – the simmering sexual tension between them is driving her crazy. Which is somehow not something she’d foreseen when Bernie had proposed this plan.
She pulls her robe back up around her neck and shoulders, then moves in front of the wardrobe once more, determined to be fully clothed by the time Bernie emerges from the bathroom.
They manage to avoid any further incidents of UST – mainly because Serena only waits until Bernie emerges from the bathroom, fully wrapped in a far more substantial bathrobe than Serena’s, to tell her that she is going to join Adrienne downstairs. Bernie’s nod is distracted, her gaze flitting up and down Serena’s body. She’s wearing her new dress, a deep red one that’s practically the same colour as a Shiraz, and which clings to her curves in a very satisfying manner. Although she’s a little embarrassed by how much she wants Bernie, it’s still gratifying to see the blonde’s blatant admiration for the way she looks.
As she makes her way downstairs, however, she can’t help wondering whether she and Bernie are going to make it through this weekend without anything sexual taking place between them.
Then she wonders if it would be a bad thing if something did.
The three women enjoy good conversation and a delicious meal to celebrate Serena’s birthday, and when they get home Bernie is properly drooping following her very early start that morning, so Serena decides they should have an early night. She knows that her mother will happily occupy herself with the radio, a book, or the television in the guest room, so she feels no qualms about going to bed at the same time as Bernie.
Serena’s surprised, however, when she enters her bedroom, to see a somewhat haphazardly wrapped gift sitting on her pillow.
“Happy birthday, Serena,” Bernie says, her voice husky with the need for some sleep.
“Thank you.” She picks up the gift and smirks at the blonde. “You need gift wrapping lessons.”
Bernie smirks right back. “Are you going to teach me?” Her husky voice is so sexy to Serena’s ears that she has to force herself not to jump the other woman. Adding to the general sexiness is Bernie’s attire – a variation on what she wore the night she first came to dinner at Serena’s, only this time the waistcoat is a pale blue one and she’s wearing a matching blue bowtie.
“If you play your cards right,” Serena says, flirting right back.
Bernie chuckles, then nods at the gift. “Aren’t you going to open it?”
Serena smiles, then pulls the gift wrapping off to reveal a plain brown cardboard box. Lifting the lid, she finds not just the expected bottle of wine, but also what turns out to be a portable wine glass with – Bernie tells her eagerly – a spill-proof sippable lid and a double wall for insulation.
“I figured you could use it for picnics or beach parties, assuming you go to either of those,” Bernie says, tucking a loose strand of blonde hair behind her ear as she gives Serena a shy smile.
“I’ll have to, now,” Serena says with a grin. She notes that the bottle of wine – Shiraz, of course, because if nothing else, Bernie Wolfe pays attention – is wrapped in something white, and when she lifts it out, she discovers that it’s a specially designed ‘wine tote’ bag that will hold two bottles of wine.
“Also for picnics, I presume?” she asks, and Bernie nods. “Well, I’m very impressed by the ingeniousness of both the tote and the portable wine glass.” She looks at the label on the Shiraz. “And this is top quality stuff, too.”
Bernie’s shy smile returns. “The wife of my old CO is a sommelier in a top London restaurant, so I rang Clarissa and asked her for some suggestions. She was the one who put me onto the tote and the portable glass, too.”
“Thank you very much, Bernie,” she says, and wraps her arms around the blonde. “You didn’t have to go to so much trouble or expense, you know.”
“And what kind of girlfriend would your mother think me if I didn’t make some sort of effort?” Bernie asks, nuzzling her nose against Serena’s.
“Fair point.” She shifts and presses her lips against Bernie’s who immediately deepens the kiss, then nips at Serena’s bottom lip. Their tongues tangle together and they slide their hands against each other’s bodies until Serena, who’s desperately aroused, pulls back to say, “You know, my mother isn’t watching us and isn’t likely to come barging in here, so you don’t need to kiss me.”
“Do you want me to stop?” Bernie asks, nibbling along her jaw.
“God, no,” Serena sighs.
“Then I won’t.”
Bernie backs her up to the bed, unzips her dress (and catches it, laying it carefully over her chair) then lifts Serena onto the bed and kneels over her, eyes dark with desire.
“I’ve wanted you since the day we met,” she says, her voice husky with arousal.
“Oh god, me too,” Serena groans as Bernie cups her shins, then slides her hands tantalisingly slowly up her legs.
“What a hopeless pair we are,” Bernie says with a wry grin.
“Not anymore,” Serena says, and sits up, stilling Bernie’s hands, which have reached her thighs. “You’re overdressed, love.”
“I want to undress you,” she adds. “As if I’m unwrapping another present from you.”
Bernie chuckles, then lifts her hands away, allowing her arms to hang loosely by her sides. “Be my guest.”
Serena leans in and kisses her hungrily while unbuttoning her waistcoat. “This is by far the better birthday gift,” she murmurs against Bernie’s lips.
“I’ll take the other stuff back tomorrow then, shall I?” Bernie asks, her tone teasing.
“No.” Serena’s response is immediate and the blonde laughs softly, which makes Serena pinch her side. “Tease.”
“Guilty as charged.”
Once Serena has her down to her underwear: a matching bra and panties set in a bold red colour that’s surprisingly lacy, she pulls the other woman down to lie on top of her. They kiss languidly, hands roaming across each other’s bodies, until Bernie nips at Serena’s bottom lip, and that’s enough for Serena to take matters into her own hands and move things onto the next stage.
When Serena accompanies Bernie to her ex’s wedding in London three weeks after her birthday, the pair are there as an actual couple, rather than fake girlfriends. Bernie has stayed at Serena’s every weekend since her birthday, and Serena has stayed overnight at Bernie’s flat on three occasions, an arrangement that suits them both.
The pair have discovered that their sexual chemistry is ‘undeniable’, as Bernie phrased it, although Serena is more inclined to describe it as ‘scorching hot’. They have also discovered a great deal of compatibility in both their world views and their interests outside of the ‘scorching hot’ sex. Serena feels like she’s finally met her match – a woman who is smart, sexy, capable, determined, and full of sufficient energy to keep up with her needs. It feels a bit like a miracle, especially when she meets Alex on Friday night at the pre-wedding dinner for Alex’s family and closest friends. Alex is slim, like Bernie, with dark brown hair and, if Serena’s any judge, she’s at least a decade younger than Bernie. Serena’s a little surprised that she and Bernie split up, but she doesn’t say anything – for her part, she’s very glad that they did.
She also meets Bernie’s old CO and his wife, Clarissa, an attractive woman with blue, large framed glasses, shoulder length brown hair and sparkling blue eyes. She’s carrying a handbag decorated with stickers featuring bats and red squirrels, which Serena finds intriguing – she’s more used to seeing such stickers on children’s accessories than on the accessories of adult women. But she’s not interested in judging the woman, only in talking wine with her, if she gets the opportunity.
Dinner is delicious and by good fortune Serena is seated between Bernie and Clarissa, while Bernie has Clarissa’s husband Jack on her right.
“They’ll be talking shop half the night, I expect,” Clarissa says with a wry smile. “So you’re stuck with me.”
Serena smiles. “That’s absolutely fine with me. Bernie tells me you’re a sommelier, and that you were the one who advised her on what to get me for my birthday a few weeks ago.”
Clarissa grins and happily falls into an absorbing and instructive conversation with Serena. So absorbed is she, in fact, that she barely recalls eating anything and certainly couldn’t tell anyone what she ate afterwards.
“I see you made a new friend,” Bernie observes later as they’re getting ready for bed.
“I did,” Serena agrees happily. “Clarissa’s a fascinating woman.”
Bernie chuckles. “I knew you two would hit it off. If I didn’t know that Clarissa’s straight and very happily married to Jack, I’d be a little concerned.”
Serena sticks her tongue out in response to this, then smothers a shriek when Bernie grabs her and tumbles her onto the bed in an unexpectedly playful fashion.
They mock wrestle for several minutes until Bernie pins Serena down, her hands clasped by the wrists above her head and Bernie’s hips pressing firmly against hers.
“Do you yield?” Bernie asks, her voice husky.
“I might,” Serena says coquettishly. “Depends what’s in it for me.”
Bernie lowers her head and kisses her passionately, and Serena surrenders happily to her lover’s intentions.
As she falls asleep, spent and sated, some time later, Serena thanks her lucky stars for choosing to try the new coffeeshop near the hospital. Going to Bean and Gone has proved to be a life-changing experience. She’s never been happier.