This was a mistake, Bernie thinks. A terrible, terrible mistake. As Serena’s hands card through her hair Bernie closes her eyes and remembers just how this situation came about.
“Ah, um. That’s very flattering, Ms Fanshawe.” Bernie stammered down the phone as the CEO of Le Fleur Perfumes continued to compliment her down the phone from Denmark, where she was currently based. “Yes, ah, of course you can stay with me whilst you’re here on business. I’m sure Wolfe and Co would be delighted to stock your products.”
Ms Fanshawe had then made a very bold assumption which had Bernie blushing to the tips of her ears.
“No, Ms Fanshawe, no.” Her voice must have seemed a little too firm because suddenly Fleur’s voice was no longer as silky smooth as it had been. Worried that she’d ruin a good business deal if she didn’t correct herself soon, Bernie hastily continued. “It’s just that you sharing my bed might upset my, uh, wife.”
Two hours later had seen Bernie across the road and in the head office of one Serena Campbell, CEO of Passion de Vin, the largest suppliers of fine wines this side of France.
When Bernie had first met Serena, it had not been a pleasant affair. Serena had vowed a life-long-take-it-to-the-grave grudge against Wolfe and Co since Bernie’s father had snubbed her on a contract and chosen to supply their stores from a Dutch company. Serena had been infuriated. Dutch wine! What did the Dutch know about wine? Bernie, desperate to make friends rather than enemies with the woman whose office was directly opposite her own, had managed to soften Serena’s attitude by arranging a small deal with Passion de Vin which was now a healthy mutually beneficial business arrangement. Serena had a large buyer of the wines she sourced. Bernie had both a greater range of wines available in her stores and the beginnings of friendship with another businesswoman.
The beginnings of friendship was one thing. What Bernie was about to suggest was another entirely. Armed with luxury chocolates; the sort of coffee which sold for eye-watering prices in her stores; and a tester selection of Le Fleur cosmetics for good measure, Bernie arrived on bended knee before the desk of the famous wine merchant.
“My, my, Ms Wolfe. What a selection of bribes these look to be. Is this where you tell me you’re cancelling your contract and I hurl the coffee beans at your head?” Serena raised one perfect eyebrow dangerously. Bernie shook her head and dropped her items on the CEO’s desk.
“No, Serena. I, uh, please. I.” She waved her arms around helplessly.
“Please tell me you’re not like this in the boardroom, it’s a terrible business persona.”
“No! No, Serena. I, um, please can you? No. Ah. I.” Bernie sighed. “I need you to be my wife.”
The look on Serena’s face was a combination of several emotions which Bernie couldn’t name.
“Sorry, forget I said anything.”
“Bernie, are you proposing?” Serena’s brow was furrowed. “We’ve not even had a date yet.”
The word ‘yet’ gave Bernie some hope but now was not the time to dwell on the minutiae of speech.
“No. Not proposing proposing. Just. I have a client staying with me next weekend and she was being all, you know.”
“No I don’t know. Do tell, Bernie.” Serena’s eyes gleamed wickedly. Bernie rocked on her heels awkwardly.
“Please don’t make me explain, Serena.”
“On the contrary, Bernie, if you’re asking me to be your wife then I deserve to know all the details.” Serena got up and walked around her desk so she was toe to toe with Bernie, her signature leopard print heels putting them at the same height.
She placed her right hand on Bernie’s arm.
She placed her left hand on Bernie’s waist.
She whispered into Bernie’s ear before turning and walking back to sit behind her desk. Bernie remained fixated to the spot for several seconds before she could resume speaking again.
“You know, all, oh yes Ms Wolfe, how delightful you sound Ms Wolfe, I look forward to staying Ms Wolfe, I’m sure we can find lots to do Ms Wolfe, can I sleep in your bed Ms Wolfe,” Bernie finally responded. “So, I, um. I told her I have a wife. So now I need to produce a wife for her to meet. And, um, so I came here.”
“You needed a fake wife to meet a client and the first person you thought of was me?” Serena’s voice had gone soft and once again Bernie felt a flicker of hope ignite inside her.
“Well, uh. Yes. If you say no, I suppose I could ask Abi, my head of accounts.”
“No need,” Serena cut in quickly. “I’ll do it. Though I warn you some of my ex-partners have said that I can be very demanding.”
So now Bernie lies with her head in in Serena’s lap as she brushes her hair into something which doesn’t resemble the usual tangles Bernie has. Serena has been briefed on where everything is in Bernie’s house and they’ve created a backstory for their relationship. Now they are just waiting for the arrival of Fleur Fanshawe herself.
Fleur, never one to do as she’s expected to do, surprises them. Rather than knocking at the door, she knocks on the window to the sitting room where Serena is still carding her fingers through Bernie’s hair. In her shock to get up and to the door, Bernie nearly gives Serena headbutts Serena on the nose.
“My, my, Ms Wolfe. What a lovely home you have. And an even lovelier wife.” Fleur purrs as she’s shown into the sitting room. Bernie dips her head and it is Serena who takes over the conversation, telling Fleur all about their home and how they met and their respective businesses.
“You must do a deal with Bernie here!” Serena enthuses to the petite redhead. “She always buys me Le Fleur perfume; it would mean so much to her to be able to stock it in her stores.”
Fleur leans in close and sniffs Serena’s neck. Bernie feels a spike of jealousy shoot through her.
“Ah yes, Mrs Wolfe.” Both Bernie and Serena share a shocked glance at Fleur’s words, everything suddenly seeming a little more real. “You’re currently wearing my latest scent, Slaque, aren’t you?”
They settle down to coffee whilst Bernie and Fleur discuss the business arrangement.
“Coffee, darling?” Serena asks as she brings in the cafetière.
“Yes please, darling.” Bernie responds.
“Milk, darling?” Serena asks, her face momentarily showing her concern at not knowing Bernie’s coffee order.
“Of course, darling.” Bernie replies, conscious that Fleur is listening.
“Surely you know by now, darling?” Bernie laughs awkwardly then tries not to wince as she watches Serena put an unholy amount of sugar into her drink. She takes a sip and tries not to grimace.
“Thank you, darling.”
Later, when Bernie and Fleur have signed their business agreements, Fleur announces that she no longer needs to stay the night.
“There’s a charming lady who I am keen to make the acquaintance of whilst I am here in the UK. And since we are all done here, I think I’ll call in on her.”
“Another business contact?” Bernie asks.
“Oh no.” Fleur looks between Bernie and Serena and winks. “I always say business is for the boardroom, not the bedroom. And since you two are sharing the main bed here, I rather feel I’ll be much more comfortable elsewhere.”
Bernie gapes, momentarily stunned. She hadn’t considered that she and Serena are going to have to share her bed tonight. Her insides feel warm at the thought.
Bernie shows Fleur to the door so the cosmetics businesswoman can continue on her way.
“Thank you for coming, Ms Fanshawe.”
“It wasn’t a problem, I enjoyed doing business with you.”
Bernie nods and waves Fleur goodbye. Fleur has taken a couple of steps before she turns round again.
“Oh, and Bernie?”
“I know you’re not actually married but it was sweet of you to try and let me down gently.” Bernie opens her mouth in shock. She felt sure she and Serena had been convincing. “But you should consider putting a ring on it, you and Serena complement each other beautifully. Au revoir.”
As Fleur drives away, Bernie is aware of somebody else coming into the hallway.
“It’s late,” Serena says, gesturing to the dusk which is settling in. Bernie immediately knows what to reply.
“Stay the night with me.”