The atmosphere inside the Knickerbocker Pub on Chancery Lane is alive with the din of incomprehensible music and legal jargon garbled by drink. Serena squeezes past Ric Griffin and his latest true love on her way to the bar. Today calls for something distinctly red in a large glass.
Uproarious laughter catches her ear, buried within it a signature braying mirth that’s permeated Serena’s professional pursuits for years. Bernie Wolfe is in the house.
Middle Temple barrister Jac Naylor, in typical fashion, takes advantage of Serena’s navel-gazing to shoulder past her and put in her drinks order with the bartender. Zosia March, the junior barrister under her tutelage and her perpetual minder, grimaces in apology without making any move to correct Jac’s social faux pas. Typical but tolerable in Serena’s current mood. Not even Jac’s entitlement can sink her soaring spirits when she has the presence of Bernie to buoy them.
It stands to reason that both Serena and Bernie would be here, each having scored wins in their court cases this afternoon. Serena sent her team home to have an early night and begin recovering from the last few months of gruelling trial preparation. Bernie, ever her polar opposite, had rounded her associates up for a night on the town. They couldn’t be more different, and yet here they are again, dancing circles around each other. Today’s courtroom successes would the making of them were they any younger, yet rank only as another notch in their well-worn belts today. Maintenance is the chief concern at their level.
Serena is well aware of her strengths as an attorney, as a person, and is ruthlessly efficient in accounting for her weaknesses. Bernie is the same; it’s one of the many ties that bind them. A thirty-year career in litigation has seen some of the greatest minds of Serena’s profession come and go, yet she endures. That’s come with its own costs and can be isolating—the top usually is. It’s why she nurses her rivalry with Bernie so closely. The only competition worth acknowledging for Serena is Bernie and she must admit she guards it with what some might call jealous possessiveness against interlopers. Two distinguished female silks on at Lincoln’s Inn? Still a rare occurrence to see in this day and age, a fact neither takes for granted. Which doesn’t stop others from attempting to curry favour.
Guy Self sidles up to her while she’s waiting to be served. “Serena, join us for a drink?”
“Henrik and Angus and other members from the Law Society. Some of them are very eager to have a word with you after today.” Guy’s been attempting to lasso Serena into joining his arguably shadowy cabal of corporatist-leaning legal eagles for as long as Serena can remember. Knowing his reputation for slightly below-board chicanery, she’s refused. She doesn’t have any desire to go back on those refusals. Corporate legal wrangling is anything but her preferred area of interest.
“As tempting as that offer is, I’m afraid I have to pass. It’s just wine for me, thanks. Here to soak up the atmosphere and be on my way.”
“I can’t tempt you at all?”
“Not even remotely.”
“Oh, but it does,” Serena assures to his retreating back. That will come back to bite her. He’ll ensure it.
Serena fields no fewer than four invites for a nightcap of that ilk before she gives up the bar as impossible. That isn’t what she’s in the mood for at present. Not with those individuals, at any rate.
“Oi, Campbell! Sit with us.” Spying Serena at a loose end, Bernie beckons Serena to join her table. Her whole legal team’s gathered around her, swapping ‘best of’ moments from their most recent trial. Bernie’s holding court, as she does, like a captivating woman king surrounded by her fawning courtiers. She’d snort at the description, never mind that it’s true.
As a matter of principle, Serena doesn’t usually like to take orders from Bernie, but her company’s the only company that won’t grate on Serena’s nerves and there’s room at her table. Serena supposes she must be in a Bernie kind of mood. She commandeers the empty seat directly opposite Bernie’s and nods her gratitude.
“Thanks for the invite. A bit more crowded in here than usual, isn’t it?” A gaggle of nattering pupils fall over each other at the nearest table over, loudly extolling the virtues of their respective mentors. From the smell wafting off a couple of them, they’ve hit the whiskey early on this Friday evening crawl. Serena rolls her eyes and Bernie smiles into her wine; they were that young once.
“You have to admit, there’s a bit more to celebrate than usual.” Bernie lifts her glass to her legal team–a pupil, a research assistant, and two junior barristers a few years out from pupillage. “It’s a party, isn’t it?”
They lift their voices to agree. Hear, hear! As if they’d think to do otherwise. Bernie shrugs at Serena’s admonishing look. Serena enjoys admiration, it’s sycophancy she can’t stomach. Bernie offers to include Serena in her drinks all-around and Serena permits it this once, for the sake of celebration. Today has been a very good day.
Serena takes a glass of Shiraz from a server, knowing Bernie must have signalled him at some point. Bernie glories in being one step ahead at all times.
Bernie, were it her choice, would eschew drinking altogether rather than reciprocate the gesture. Bernie buys her own drinks, always has. It’s a proclivity that’s partially a power play and partially a simple fact of Bernie’s personality. Berenice Wolfe makes her own decisions, down to what she drinks, and she won’t be coaxed into any kind of psycho-social debt for a glass of vino she could purchase herself.
Serena is much the same. Gifts are a tool of flattery and flattery comes with strings. Despite years of camaraderie, some of Serena’s colleagues seem certain that buying her a drink entitles them to a substantial share of her time. They count on it. Bernie doesn’t. Bernie’s drinks to Serena come without strings because Serena Campbell doesn’t have a thing that Bernie needs. Serena isn’t the next rung to the top for Bernie. Serena is the top. So is Bernie. Hence the lack of Machiavellian plotting betwixt the two of them.
Serena and Bernie are rivals. Equals evenly matched in charisma and ability. They’re friends. Each has seen the other at their personal and professional worst (feckless ex-lovers and spouses; baseless charges of incompetence). They’re also something else. Beyond the friendly antagonism that sprouts from their perpetual jockeying for top spot in Lincoln’s Inn, there’s slowly building tension that neither has acknowledged in years of feeling it.
They don’t talk about that, or rather, they haven’t talked about it yet.
Tonight might be the night.
“You were good today,” says Bernie over the strenuous objections of her mouthy protégé, Oliver Valentine.
Serena has seen to it that a serial child murderer will not see the light of day for decades. It had been a close cut, built on frighteningly circumstantial evidence, yet she had pulled it to the end with an impassioned closing statement invoking the 999 recordings of the killer’s final victims. A stroke of genius in Bernie’s mind. But then she considers Serena to be the height of the practice of law to begin with. Has said as much. Serena doesn’t disagree.
“I was brilliant.”
Bernie conceals her smile behind her wine, a luscious oaked Chardonnay that pales beside how unsteady Serena makes her feel when she lets her ego off its lead. “Well, I know how much you hate flattery.”
Serena raises a finger to the contrary. “Ah, I hate needless flattery; I love the truth.”
“In that case, you were truly brilliant today.”
Serena beams. Her teeth are stained faintly blue from the vintage of wine she loves. Bernie has bottles of it chilling at her flat, waiting like she is.
“No more than you today,” Serena retorts. “Thirty years for trafficking. And here I thought that one might walk on a technicality.”
“Not on my watch.” Bernie takes grim satisfaction in her victory. She wishes the suffering of the traffickers victims had never happened, but she’s relieved to have done her part in putting a stop to it.
Serena plays her fingers over her collarbones, distracted. Distracting. “Didn’t doubt that for a second. Not with you.”
Where Bernie might hear brown nosing from a subordinate or more senior colleague, Bernie takes Serena’s compliment at first blush. Serena Campbell is her only exception because Serena is, in Bernie’s view, her only peer. What use would a peer find in lying to her when instead she could gloat? Finding common ground with Serena, as always, fills Bernie with a sort of bubbling affection. Campbell and Wolfe, of one mind again.
She inclines her chin to meet Serena’s conspiratorial look. “A heady compliment, Ms. Campbell.”
“Don’t let it go to your head or I’ll start withholding.” Serena fixes her with one of her signature winks and sits back, smiling, to return to her glass. She’s going easy tonight, it’s still half-filled. Bernie lets herself wonder whether Serena has other plans to commemorate this winning day, lets herself hope rather foolishly that if she does she can be persuaded to change them—for an old friend.
“It’s how you like me.” Serena holds her gaze for a long moment, her sparkling eyes beckoning Bernie to draw a little closer to the line they’ve tacitly agreed not to broach. Come now, they taunt, aren’t you the big macho army lawyer? Surely, you can’t be afraid of me. A challenge as old as their association, older than Bernie realized up to a couple of years ago.
“You’d be surprised.”
Serena rubs the rim of her glass along her lower lip, taking an ungenerous sip, keen to keep her wits about her. “No, I wouldn’t.”
They maintain thrilling eye contact till eyebrows rise around the table and Morven knocks back a shot, the arc of her arm interrupting their staring match. Ollie texts his fiancée, feigning not to have seen; not that he misses a trick, that one. Essie leaves to take a phone call. Something about her foster son and Sacha in crisis at the Inns of Court; a mother and legal researcher’s work is never done. Bernie’s pupil begs off for the night; she pays him no mind.
Bernie has been afraid of Serena before, terrified not of her prowess in the courtroom, nor of her whip-smart intellect, but of the emotions she wields like a lasso, drawing the unsuspecting into her orbit to stay. Astral bodies emit gravitational pull; for Serena, it’s love. Bernie, still tender from the knocks of a disintegrating marriage was in no state to love when Serena asked. And so here they’ve remained, trapped in the bubble of a friendly stalemate for an embarrassment of years.
Bernie is feeling terribly brazen of a sudden. She wants more to celebrate than the course of justice run smooth. She wants a prize worth taking home.
She raises her glass, startling Ollie and Morven to attention. “To another outstanding victory?”
Serena is raising her glass to join in when she feels a soft yet unmistakable touch graze her leg. Skin on skin. A bare foot. Manicured if the light scratching that ensues tells her anything. It begins with a gentle caress at the notch of her ankle and slips under the hem of her trouser leg on its journey up her shin. What are you up to, Serena thinks. What is Bernie Wolfe ever up to?
Bernie observes Serena’s confusion with a piercing stare not unlike what she pins on hardened criminals about to get their comeuppance. Are you about to give me mine? Serena hopes she’s earned a good rough time of it if Bernie’s doing the sentencing.
Bernie’s enticing gaze is belied by the amused slant of her mouth. Serena is being teased. But more dangerous, Serena is being tempted.
She clears her throat and lifts her glass to join the toast, belatedly. “To another outstanding victory.”
They clink glasses and the touch momentarily drops away, only to return outside her trouser leg when they both settle back into their seats. The touch migrates, cresting Serena’s knee with a teasing whirl and dipping into the narrow valley between her thighs where her position impedes Bernie’s progress. Contact can progress if Serena permits it. That’s the game. That’s the Rubicon. If Serena gives her the go-ahead, Bernie’s total conquest of Serena will begin. She wins. If Serena rebuffs her, Bernie has the advantage of discomfiting Serena with an untimely advance. Bernie wins.
They’re rivals, they’re friends, and, yes, they’re much more to later be determined, but oh how Serena hates it when Bernie wins. She comes over all cock-of-the-walk and smug. Serena can’t recall a time she hasn’t wanted to unzip Bernie’s trousers with her teeth when she takes it upon herself to sweep into Serena’s office on a winner’s high to announce yet another blow struck against the criminal class. Bernie borders on irresistible with the fire of triumph in her eyes.
Berenice Griselda Wolfe QC, formerly Major Wolfe of Army Legal Services, is having a red letter day. It isn’t the birds singing or the notoriously grim weather that’s put her in a jovial mood, but work. The court has found in her favour once more, resulting in the rightful incarceration of a rather duplicitous shipping magnate trading in human lives who thought his connections would protect him from being subject to the proper course of justice. Serena well knows that Bernie basks in bringing down his type most of all. Bernie is all delight this evening, poured into a comfortable chair, surrounded by her chums from chambers. She is all delight having Serena where she wants her.
Serena is startled from Bernie’s touch and her indecision by the appearance of a mutual friend. Raf di Lucca, another partner in chambers, ambles up with his ever-present partner in mischief, legal research head, Fletch. “Celebrating early?”
“Celebrating right on time, in fact,” replies Bernie. “It’s the two of you running late. How are the brood?”
Fletch snags an empty chair from another table to fill in the gap beside Raf. They’ve already hit the bar for pints. “Doing their homework and getting ready for bed if they know what’s good for them. We’ve got the neighbours keeping an ear out for adolescent hijinks in the early hours.”
Serena shifts and Bernie’s foot disappears. There are other things to consider now. Their history in total.
“Evie still growing like a weed?” Bernie asks.
Raf pulls a face. “Tell me about it. She just brought a boy round to meet us. Peeta, he’s called.”
Fletch takes a deep drink; this can’t be a new topic of discussion. “He’s a nice kid and all, but Raf doesn’t like him.”
Serena and Bernie share an amused look as the men banter back and forth about the boy’s supposedly dubious intentions. Serena is only too glad to be shot of childrearing, as much as she misses Elinor now that adulthood’s carried her off to distant shores.
Fletch claps Raf on the shoulder and tucks him into his side to stopper his complaints. “We gave her the talk more than once. I trust her to make the decisions that are best for her, and she knows she can go to Serena if she needs a woman to talk to.”
Serena agrees. “She already has my number. Raf, you’ve got a clever girl. She’ll be fine.”
Bernie as usual weighs her words carefully. “Evie’s got plans and I don’t think she’s going to let a boy stand in her way.”
“There you go,” Serena assents. Bernie’s got a vat of wisdom for others; were that she would only take a dram of it to sort out her own life. To sort them out.
Raf’s discontent eases in the face of their confidence. Still he grumbles, “That doesn’t mean I like him, or trust him.”
Fletch bumps their shoulders together in congenial solidarity. “Just wait till it’s Mikey, or Theo, or Ella.”
Raf covers his face with a groan. “One down, three to go.”
Their conversation drifts afterward to subjects other than Raf and Fletch’s precocious bunch. They talk generally of Raf’s latest divorce suit between an intensive care consultant and their much younger partner, growing messier by the court date. Fletch mentions a tricky bit of legal precedent he’s chasing down in the archives at Lincoln’s Inn. Serena loses the thread of the topic soon after it begins, captivated by the end-of-night hoarseness overtaking Bernie’s voice as she dives right into the mire of legal theory with broadly gesticulating hands.
They talk for so long Serena about finishes her wine. She doesn’t signal for another as that isn’t the sort of celebration she wants despite a lack of detailed plans for this evening. Joining colleagues at the pub is her usual speed on the heels of a high-profile case, and then a luxurious night’s sleep with a lie-in the next morning. Her punishing workload leaves little room to nurture love affairs to sweeten the pot. Seeing Bernie tonight, looking as good as she looks, acting as daring as she never does, however, has compelled her to alter her routine, to make room for the possibility of a private party for two.
Bernie’s under-the-table tricks have rewritten their rules. Serena wants to throw them out.
The presence of a foot nudging her knees apart startles Bernie out of her laughter at the tail end of Fletch’s raunchy joke about laws and sausages. She coughs to cover her lapse, looks to find Serena’s given up studying her glass to study Bernie.
Bernie tries to pick up the thread of conversation she abandoned, tries not to feel rattled by Serena’s scrutiny, or the havoc being wreaked by her touch. Bernie started them on this path, she’ll see it through.
Serena’s toes inch up the inside of her knee. Bernie’s wine takes an unplanned detour and she coughs again, this time unintentionally. Turnabout is fair play and she briefly forgot Serena is anything but an amateur.
Ollie whacks her across the back. “All right, boss?”
“Smashing,” Bernie declares before anybody can express further concern, or attempt to give her the Heimlich. Serena Campbell is going to be the death of her, the vixen, and she knows it if her smile is anything to go by. Bernie drinks to soothe her suddenly dry throat. This isn’t a game, fun as it is to play where others can see, this is Serena, and when it comes to how Bernie feels about her, every bit of it is serious.
Serena curls her fingers around the stem of her wineglass, manicured nails tinkling on the crystal in time to a melody only she knows. Bernie is intimately acquainted with Serena’s hands. Those hands steadied Bernie through an acrimonious divorce and her own father’s funeral. Bernie held those hands as Serena laid her mother to rest, and kissed the backs of them when Elinor clung to life after her car accident. Those hands roved underneath Bernie’s clothes during their first, and thus far only, kiss. Bernie questions whether she knows her own hands as well as she knows Serena’s. What she wouldn’t give to know the rest of her equally well.
“All right, Bernie?” Serena asks once her stare has grown heated and long. Serena’s colour is high. Her eyes gleam in Bernie’s direction. Her lips are red and softly plump from nibbling them in concentration. Bernie little doubts her demeanour is similar. Her own desire magnified and reflected back at her.
“Nothing to report.”
“Good. I’d hate to see you hurt.”
Bernie surreptitiously drops her hand under the table to stroke Serena’s ankle. “Me, too.”
She wouldn’t have done that last year when they were tiptoeing back to their intimacy of old. Yesterday is even a question. Tonight is the ultimate test of what Bernie will give to have the woman she wants.
Serena’s foot shifts. The moment hangs, an unknown turning point occurring underneath the table. Could be Bernie’s still wary of learning what it means to be ensnared by Serena Campbell. Only the truth could not be any more glaring.
She already knows.
Bernie spreads her legs apart to permit Serena’s foot slide up her inner thigh. Serena can have her if she still wants her.
Serena drops the pretence when Bernie does.
Fletch is in the middle of a story about Evie defending Mikey from a gang of bullies accusing him of being too cozy with his best friend. “So’s Evie tells ‘em, ‘There’s nothing wrong with him being close to his best mate. If you think so, maybe you’re the problem, and if you wanna be a problem you can take it up with me and my dads.’”
Serena says, “I told you, she’s a clever girl. She knows what she’s about.”
“Not the only clever clogs of our acquaintance,” Bernie interjects.
“Oh?” Serena has kept still, hasn’t moved her nylon-clad food higher than she previously dared despite receiving tacit permission to proceed.
“Don’t be coy. You know she learned half of what she knows about standing her ground from you.”
Raf and Fletch agree with Morven chiming in a touch unsteadily after her last shot. Her latest turnaround with Cameron has gone awry. Serena has refrained from taking sides and Bernie has been ordered not to intervene, and so neither shall. Bernie gives the girl’s shoulder a squeeze and says nothing about it. Still trying her best despite every setback. Part of the reason Serena can’t give her up.
“She certainly didn’t get all of that from me, but I’ll take a bit of credit for her stubbornness. A girl’s got to be more than a little stubborn to get ahead in this world. Knowing what she wants and refusing to take no for an answer will take her farther than going along to get along.”
“Do you know what you want?” Bernie asks, nudging Serena’s foot resting on the seat cushion between her knees. Serena lowers her foot to the floor, only for her ankle to be trapped between Bernie’s interlocked shins before she can withdraw it. This is not a rejection.
“I’ve known what I wanted all along. It’s other people who need to catch up.” Serena has waited for a very long time for one particular person to get the memo. She’s grown tired of waiting.
“Noted.” Bernie inclines her chin and disentangles her bandy legs from Serena’s. She tosses back the last of her wine, neck stretched long and pale, as alluring as the scales of justice, and like them Serena wants to leave her mark all over it.
Bernie stands. She’s come to a decision at long last; she’s the soul of resolution and a sound mind. She knocks on the table top. “Accompany me to the ladies, won’t you? I need to borrow your, ah, your lip balm.” She sounds proud of herself for coming up with that on the fly. Serena loves this ridiculous woman. This might be the night she says that out loud.
Bernie knows very well Serena hasn’t worn lip balm since she completed a clerkship for a Supreme Court Justice in the States. She’s perused Serena’s extensive lipstick collection frequently on visits to her home before Law Society council dinners, their reflective cases only marginally less distracting than Serena in a midnight blue dress spritzing expensive perfume on her décolletage.
“I’ll see what I can find.”
“Is that wise, ma’am?” Oliver interrupts, glancing between Bernie and Serena apprehensively. Raf and Fletch share a look. Morven, her junior barrister apprentice, studies her drink more intently than a middle-shelf spirit could possibly warrant.
“When I want your input into my private activities, Mr. Valentine, I’ll ask for it. No need to hold your breath. Ms. Campbell?” She inclines her chin toward the ladies and Serena moves to follow her. Conspicuous chatter breaks out at the table the moment their backs are turned.
Serena harrumphs under her breath. “Lip balm, seriously?”
“Not remotely the point.”
They swan into the ladies toilets in lockstep, the backs of their fingers brushing, daring one or the other to entangle them.
Bernie checks the stalls for occupants and Serena locks the outer door when they’re in the clear. The Knickerbocker’s ladies’ washroom is half the appeal of the place. Strenuously clean, well-stocked, bearing a strategically-placed sofa for those in search of momentary respite from the world outside.
Instead of straddling Bernie on the sofa as she had in countless of Bernie’s most vividly recalled fantasies, Serena backs her toward the sink.
“And here I thought I’d be the one on top our first time,” Bernie snarks as her backside meets the edge of the granite counter top.
“Not a chance, but if you behave yourself, maybe next time.” Serena interrupts Bernie’s sure-to-be witty rejoinder with a kiss so soft it dissolves all Bernie’s untold reservations. Soft lips and designer lipstick. The same as when Bernie kissed her in that empty courtroom. Different because Bernie knows where this is going. She knows who she wants and cannot do without.
Bernie’s hands wander and Serena sighs her welcome, mouth opening under Bernie’s. Bernie can’t wait to take her home where there are no time limits and no nosy juniors expecting them back. Every minute the bathroom door remains locked increases the risk their private bubble will be burst from the outside.
“You sure I can’t change your mind?” questions Bernie when they part.
“Very sure. If you want to give the orders, you’ll have to earn your invite.”
“And how do I do that?”
Serena rocks on her toes to lay a kiss on Bernie that steals her breath. Bernie’s lost count of how many that makes. “All you have to do,” Serena says, “is come when you’re called.”
“Coming, I have no problem with.”
“I bet you don’t.” Bernie fails to swallow her snickering in time. Serena pokes her chest, herself fighting a smile. “That’s enough out of you, Wolfe. Be good.”
Bernie pretends to sober. She lives to cheer Serena up and she’s better at it than most. “Apologies, ma’am,” she answers dutifully with a mock salute.
Serena crosses her arms, her stern body language belied by the promise in her eyes. “I don’t think you’re sorry at all. We’ll have to do something about that.” She flicks Bernie’s uppermost button loose. Bernie holds her breath, yearning and trying for patience. “This okay,” Serena asks. Like Bernie before her, she wants them both to be sure.
Serena slips each pearlescent button loose till Bernie’s bare to her waist but for her bra. “There, much better.” She makes a pilgrimage of each mole dotting Bernie’s chest. Fingers first, lips second. Bernie’s tightening nipples she treats to suckling kisses through the cup of her bra.
“Going to make an example of me?” She hopes so.
Serena tugs the tails of Bernie’s blouse free of her trousers. “With all my might.”
Bernie nods toward the neglected sofa in the corner. She’s itching to pin Serena to the leather and kiss her senseless, or until last call, whichever arrives first. “There’s a perfectly good couch, if you’re interested.”
“You’re one to talk about appropriate make out spots. No, I think I want you right here and I don’t intend to stop till your knees give out. Quote me on that.”
Bernie wets her lips. “Serena— ”
Serena kisses off her objections. She traces the seam of Bernie’s lips with her tongue, licks her way into Bernie’s mouth like she belongs. Bernie lets her, will let her every single time.
“No, no,” Serena murmurs. “No talking, not yet. The talking’s where I lose you. Action, soldier. That’s where we thrive.” She places Bernie’s hands atop the counter and stretches up to kiss her again. “Don’t move.”
Serena Campbell QC, a barrister not unaccustomed to presenting cases before the International Criminal Court on matters of war and human rights violations, who kneels only reluctantly for the Royals and for no man in particular, kneels willingly for Bernie Wolfe. The inexplicable palpitations in Bernie’s breast would frighten her if she weren’t already aware this is love.
Serena is graceful on the ground irrespective of the cracking in her knees that makes Bernie wince in sympathy.
Serena winks up at her and tugs Bernie nearer by the belt loops of her trousers. “Tickety-boo.”
Bernie disbelieves her eyes right up until she can’t. Serena on her knees, her intent obvious. She gets to have this now. Bravery is underrated. Serena tickles the backs of her knees. Bernie braces herself on the sink. Serena sweeps her palms up her thighs to part her legs. Serena’s never been afraid of the physicality of them, lack of experience be damned.
“I’ve wanted to do this next bit for a good long while,” Serena says.
“I should have let you. I’ve wanted to.”
Serena noses into the flies of Bernie’s slim-cut trousers, panting hotly enough to warm Bernie’s skin through the fine cotton wool. Bernie gulps loudly overhead. After loosening the cat’s eye button on top, Serena catches the delicate metal zip between her teeth and carefully, slowly drags it southward, her nose etching a line of heat down Bernie’s pelvis then over the thin weave of her black underwear. She breathes heavily at the effort it takes to complete the delicate task without leaving saliva on the pristine fabric. Bernie breathes even heavier, her hand hovering over Serena’s shoulder.
“You aren’t really…”
Serena swirls her tongue over the patch of black fabric already wet from Bernie’s arousal.
“Oh, you are. You are.”
Serena noses down her legs, nipping randomly at tender spots along her inner thighs. Bernie thinks about complaining about having to explain hickeys bruised the colour of Serena’s lipstick to her GP next week, but that doesn’t strike her as a real problem. She’d explain them to the bloody gardener if she had to; these are badges of honour.
Serena drags Bernie’s underwear down using her teeth and the very tips of her fingers. Bernie levers herself up onto the edge of the counter to help ease Serena’s way but offers no further assistance.
“I never took you for a Pillow Queen.”
“I’ll give you Pillow Queen, all right. I’ll show you mine when you show me yours. Don’t you want to impress me, Campbell?”
Serena sinks her teeth into Bernie’s hip in censure, but it only makes Bernie moan. She’s always liked a bit of rough with her soft.
“Oh god, Serena. I see you’re not wanting for practice.” She’d known Serena would be an exceptional lover, she hadn’t considered she’d nail Bernie’s more obscure kinks on the first try.
Serena soothes the mark blooming on Bernie’s hipbone with her tongue. “You thought I spent the years pining? With all that tension I had to work out, I’d have dropped dead without some relief.”
“I’ll try not to be jealous.” Unsuccessfully. Serena has never wanted for willing lovers; gender is no object.
“Be jealous. Be furious. That’s how you left me.” Her thumbs dig into Bernie’s hips before she can stop herself.
Bernie winces. The sting is but a part of the cause. “Sorry.”
Serena softens. “Like you mean it.”
She cups Serena’s cheek. “I’m so sorry, Serena. There aren’t any words how much I regret missing out on this.” On you, she thinks. “I’m going to make it up to you.”
Serena nuzzles her hand. “You’d better. Now, I think we have some unfinished business.”
“We do.” Bernie leans against the mirror. “Get to it,” she orders cheekily.
Serena licks a stripe up Bernie’s thigh, and then switches to the other to give it the same treatment. Bernie shifts, impatient to have that tongue where she needs it.
Serena blows over her, her hot breath thrilling. The sensation goes straight to Bernie’s core. “You’re going to make me pay for being cheeky, aren’t you?”
“Not tonight.” Serena rakes her nails up Bernie’s inner thighs and settles between them. She frees one of Bernie’s legs from her trousers and underwear bunched at her ankles and settles it over her own shoulder. “This isn’t a punishment, this is an invitation.”
Bernie arches into the first swipe of Serena’s tongue. She’s been aroused for such a long time it borders on painful, every touch scalding to her deprived nerves. She’s a year past wanting anybody else, months past being able to quiet her hunger for Serena with a cold shower. She’d fooled herself into thinking that meant her hunger had abated when it only meant she’d acclimated to it. It was innate to her, her situation normal; her baseline physiological response to Serena Campbell was to ache for her on sight. Her new baseline is to plead for her not to stop. Serena spreads her open with her thumbs and dives in, rapturous, lips and tongue exploring, tasting. Serena’s new situation normal, if Bernie gets to choose.
Bernie grabs at the shoulders of Serena’s suit jacket for want of an anchor; without it, she feels she might fly apart. Wanting Serena and having her are incomparable states of being; having suffered the former, the latter is bliss.
Serena raises her head just enough to pant, “If you muss my hair, Berenice Wolfe, I’ll turn you over my knee.”
“Knew you had a disciplinarian streak, Fraulein.” Serena punctures Bernie’s absentminded smugness with a sharp pinch to the arse. “Bloody hell!”
“Was that a complaint?” Serena’s voice has gone low and dangerous, her eyes sharp as broadswords fresh from the forge. Bernie blinks to keep her in focus. Serena’s authoritative streak has long been a turn-on; never before has she been allowed to indulge it firsthand. She can’t deny she’s wetter for being taken to task.
“Didn’t say I didn’t like it.”
“I thought not.” Serena nuzzles back into the coarse hair at the apex of Bernie’s thighs and breathes deep. “Good girl.”
Oh yes, definitely wetter.
“You should see yourself.” Caught in the undertow of Serena’s ministrations, the hypnotic caress of her lips over heated flesh, Bernie struggles to follow her directions. “Go on, give us a look,” Serena cajoles. She’s back at it at once, dipping her tongue into Bernie as her nose nudges at her throbbing clit.
Bernie glances behind her and whimpers, arrested at the view of them together. Serena’s propped her half-stripped on the sinks position secured only by the grace of Bernie’s own white-knuckled grip and the unrelenting friction of Serena’s mouth. The image of Serena’s head rocking between her legs won’t leave her in peace any day soon.
Her stomach tightens.
Serena strengthens her grip on Bernie’s thighs, redoubles her effort. Her tongue presses deep and slow. Her lips are red and swollen, her chin glistening and her eyes blown coal black. She’s a perfect picture of ecstasy. Bernie’s own lust reflected back.
Tension coils in Bernie’s belly. Her legs begin to shake.
Serena licks up from Bernie’s entrance to her engorged clit and traps it between her lips.
Bernie’s voice goes high and breathy as she murmurs, chants Serena’s name. She cups the back of Serena’s neck, dares not sink her fingers into her hair. What if she stops? Bernie won’t survive.
Serena works her tongue over Bernie’s clit over and over, refusing to yield as Bernie jerks against her mouth.
“Hmm?” is her distracted reply.
Bernie moans, “Serena, please.”
Serena chuckles. She pins Bernie by the hips and begins to suck in earnest, drawing a litany of creative yet grammatically dubious profanity from Bernie till her voice breaks and her spine bows. A deep, shuddering orgasm crashes over her in a wave of heart-pounding, nerve-tingling sensation. She claps a hand over her mouth to keep from crying out, cognizant of the world gathered just outside the bathroom door. She barely succeeds.
Just when Bernie’s about to come back to herself, Serena pushes two fingers into her to tow her back to the edge. Renewed arousal floods through Bernie and she shudders. Serena paints her thighs with kisses to soothe her.
“Ser—“ Bernie voice fails her. She can’t. She can’t. The hummingbird flutter of Serena’s tongue against her clit paired with the dizzying stroke of Serena’s fingers tells her she will. A second orgasm builds, an almost imperceptible need growing within her, stoked to life by Serena’s iron will. Bernie will take whatever Serena gives her and she’ll like it. She’d known she would.
Serena drags the flat of her tongue through Bernie’s sensitive folds, humming her pleasure at the taste tickling her taste buds. Her contentment vibrates through Bernie, striking each nerve as a key on piano wire. Her thumb is a weighted counterbalance on her clit; Bernie’s pulse hammers within it. Serena’s fingers curl and twist, unrelenting, satisfying, gratifying. Bernie swallows a whine.
Her eyes fall shut; the world falls away.
Bernie once said she was afraid Serena didn’t know what she wanted out of their relationship. It occurs to Bernie this many years later that it wasn’t Serena’s feelings that were ever in doubt. They aren’t in any question now.
Serena rises from the floor as soon as Bernie finally wrenches her hands free of Serena’s jacket. Her knees pop audibly and she knows she’ll have bruises come morning; she’s got her heart set on being covered in them. She traces nonsense shapes on the outsides of Bernie’s bare legs and Bernie meets her halfway, lips puckered for a kiss. Serena knows she’ll kiss these lips again.
Serena washes her face and hands to remove the evidence of their activities. The washroom is quiet but for the splash of the water and Bernie’s still-rapid breathing. Serena has nothing to fear from the silence; she’s ebullient and Bernie can’t keep her eyes off her. A far cry from their last whack at intimacy when all they could do was avoid one another in the days that followed.
“That was totally impractical.” Bernie’s first words once she’s caught her breath. She can’t stand upright yet, not with her legs unsteady as they are, but she can speak again. Good enough for government work.
“That’s why I had to do it. You’d never have seen it coming.” Serena wrinkles her nose. “No pun intended.” She applies a fresh coat lipstick and feels instantly refreshed. Cosmetics can disguise a surfeit of naughtiness. She fears her damnable flush is going to tell before her lips breathe a word.
“You planned this.” Bernie eases down from the countertop pull up her underwear and trousers. Serena revels in the play of muscles as Bernie bends over even as she mourns the loss of that impeccable view.
Serena scoffs. “Don’t be ridiculous. How could I plan for you to lure me into the ladies room for a quickie?”
Bernie rounds on her, bemused. “Actus reus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea. That’s–”
“I know what it means. You’re not the only one who’s sat Latin or Law, thanks very much.” She pats Bernie’s hip, kisses her put upon her pout. “I’m not guilty of anything, Berenice. I have neither guilty mind nor have I committed a guilty act.” She draws a nail down the centre of Bernie’s chest. “Try again.” She dips her head to kiss Bernie’s bared sternum down to her breasts. She leaves her mark in True Red. “I just dare you.”
Bernie strokes the nape of her neck. “Oblique intention, then. You must have known where this was headed.” Her face is a moue of disappointment when Serena stops.
“Of course I knew. Your foot between my legs was a dead giveaway.” Serena peers up at her, eyebrows provocatively arched. “Mother warned me about girls like you, all talk and no tongue.”
“You’re one to speak about tongue after, after…” She falls into a whimper as Serena kisses her way back up Bernie’s chest and the tendons of her neck. Her pulse thumps, thumps, thumps under Serena’s tongue.
“After I gave you a thorough tonguing. You can say it.” Serena nibbles at Bernie’s lips.
Bernie whines softly, eyes shut, breathing fast. Her hands grab at Serena’s curves of their own volition; she likes something to hold on to and Serena is plenty. Finally.
Serena eases back. “Look at that, you’re all undone. Don’t worry, I’ll cover for you.”
Bernie catches her. “Oh, no you don’t. I’m nowhere near done with you yet.”
“You think you’ve got another round in you, Ms. Wolfe? I don’t know that I believe you.”
Bernie fixes her with a heated look. “Meet me at the taxi carousel out front at the end of the night.”
“Why should I?” Serena has every reason to believe that history will repeat itself despite her optimism. Experience has taught her that wanting is not the same as winning.
“We have too much to talk about for you to go to bed now.”
“What makes you think I plan to sleep? The night’s young, I could find someone else to celebrate with and make it a real party.”
Bernie catches her by the chin.
“Meet me.” Bernie’s eyes burn with suppressed desire. She’s at her most persuasive when brimming with passion. Any cause that can evoke that much passion, those are the cases she wins.
They’ve played this game for years. One will approach the point of no return and the other will retreat. Tonight they’ve gone farther than ever before. The last time Serena pushed, Bernie skipped town to take an academic reading tour of the Ukrainian court system for three months. Their friendship was another year in recovering. The status quo doesn’t do it for Serena, not after this.
“I’ll meet you.”
Bernie kisses her, hard and long, leaving Serena’s mouth a solid ache and her head a mess. Serena isn’t the only one to know what buttons to push to get what she wants.
“If you disappear on me–”
“I won’t if you give me a reason to show up.”
“Demanding an encore is awfully bolshy for a woman with your track record.”
Bernie says her name, soft and dear, reverent as only she can and Serena knows she’ll be at the appointed rendezvous spot waiting until Bernie fights down her fear of ruining their friendship for the only thing that could eclipse it.
Serena’s lips rediscover Bernie’s and her fingertips tap enticingly at her just-zipped flies. Bernie groans.
“Don’t disappoint me again.”
Serena thumbs lipstick off Bernie’s mouth and leaves it on her collar, smirking more victoriously than Bernie at her awful best.
“Come along, Ms. Wolfe. We’ll be missed.”
Bernie hurries to put herself in order. She looks like a well-shagged disaster, with good reason.
This has been a good day; if Serena has her druthers, they’ll make the best of tonight.
Bernie’s hand settles at the small of Serena’s back on the walk back to their table. Ollie’s made himself scarce and Morven’s about hit her limit. Someone’ll have to summon Jasmine to ferry her home.
It’s Fletch that notices the placement of Bernie’s hand but Raf who welcomes them back to the fold with an unreadable glance at her collar. “There you are. We were about to mount a search party for the two of you. Everything all right?”
“You know how it is, Raf,” Serena replies, her naughty grin blinding. “Women problems.”
Raf and Fletch share a sceptical, telling look. Bernie and Serena have only rarely been as subtle as their reputations. Bernie doesn’t give damn anymore. Let the rumours run.
Serena takes an empty chair and signals a server at the bar. “Glass of wine for the road, Bernie?”
Bernie’s parched and there’s plenty to drink to. “Sure. White?”
With an affectionate eye roll, Serena concedes at last the cause of converting Bernie to her beloved Shiraz. “So be it. White, it is. My treat.”
“Then, don’t mind if I do.” Bernie resumes her seat at the head of the table with Serena sat to her right and their friends filling in the gaps around them. Company worth keeping.
In an hour or two, Bernie’s going to have her night in court with the only woman she’d let stand judge, and whatever the outcome, Bernie will come out a winner. That’s business as usual. It’s what she does best.