Chapter 1: On a cold and frosty morning
To say Bernie hadn’t been impressed by Cameron’s idea was a massive understatement, but as she tucked her scarf around her neck and watched her breath cloud in front of her, she almost though it was a good one. The hills and valleys in front of her sparkled with white, a glorious deep frost in the early morning sun. She pulled her gloves on and set out, boots crunching across the frozen grass.
It had been his Christmas present to her, something of a fait accompli. He’d sorted her leave and booked her a week in a little b and b on the edge of a tiny village in the peak district. She’d protested, saying it was far too expensive, meaning that she couldn’t think of anything worse than a quiet week to do nothing all by herself. But he and Charlotte had ganged up on her, pointing out she needed a break after a fun-filled year of recovering from being blown up and getting divorced, and eventually she’d acquiesced. And now, here she was, on her own, nothing but the soft noise of her feet and the huff of her breath to hear. And almost enjoying herself.
She didn’t really have a goal in mind. A map was stuffed in her bag, along with water and a packed lunch, which the owner of the b and b had pressed on her as she left. She would just walk, and see where she ended up. To begin with her mind felt crowded, thoughts pressing on her, worries and guilt built up over years, the constant feeling that she wasn’t good enough, could never be good enough, that accompanied her everywhere. But gradually, as she climbed up a hill, and watched the little birds chirping and flitting over the hedgerows, the voices quieted and she felt peaceful.
The last pull up had her panting, and wondering how she’d become so unfit so quickly. But finally she reached the top and stood, chest heaving, looking out over the beautiful view in front of her. Despite the sun, the frost still hadn’t disappeared and everything was coated in diamond sparkles. Smoke rose from the chimneys of the few cottages dotted around the hills. Christmas card land. It was stunning. A crunch of twigs, heralding the arrival of another hiker, made her jump and turn.
“Oh, I’m sorry to intrude,” the newcomer said.
“You aren’t,” Bernie said hastily, “Isn’t it lovely?” The other woman’s cheeks were flushed red with cold and exertion and her eyes sparkled as much as the frost. Bernie’s eyes were drawn irresistibly to the large fluffy hat on her head.
“It’s warm, if nothing else,” the other lady laughed, “Just what you need on a day like today. Are you visiting? I’m Serena, by the way.”
She held out a hand and Bernie shook it firmly. “Up for the week. I’m Bernie. Are you local?”
“No such luck. I’ve been sent up here to recuperate. What?” As Bernie laughed.
“I’m here for a similar reason. My kids all but ordered me up here. They said I needed a quiet break after a hard year.”
“And it is very quiet,” Serena agreed. She eyed Bernie speculatively. “You look like you could do with a good chat. Where are you headed to next?”
Bernie bit back the reply that sprang almost without thought to her lips, that she didn’t want company. Serena was interested and pretty and it wouldn’t do any harm to wander along with her for a while. “I’m not really. I don’t have a plan.”
“Fancy coming with me then? I’ve got a destination in mind – an Italian with an extensive wine list. It’s a bit of a way, but you look pretty fit to me.” This last said with a side-long glance that sent Bernie’s pulse racing.
“Sounds good to me. And I was in the army, so I was pretty fit. Although since I got blown up, my exercise regime has not been my priority.”
“Blown up? Well – come along and tell me all about it.” Serena produced a map from her pocket. “We’re here,” she prodded a gloved finger at the paper, “And here’s our destination.”
She looked querying at Bernie, who nodded. “You’re in charge.”
There was no mistaking the grin that spread across Serena’s face. “Well then, let’s go. A bottle or two of Shiraz await.”
By the time they reached the restaurant they’d swapped life stories and discovered a chemistry that made Bernie tingle. She wondered that she’d thrown her usual reticence to the wind, that she was telling a stranger such personal things. But perhaps that was it, perhaps the very fact that Serena was a stranger allowed her to be honest about herself.
They sat opposite each other at the table and as Bernie gazed at Serena she knew she wanted more, even if it was just for the next few days, just for holiday. Serena sipped her wine, ran her tongue over ruby-red lips and Bernie gulped. She slid her foot forwards a little, nudged against Serena’s, just gently enough that it could be construed as a mistake. But Serena only smiled and Bernie felt suddenly bold, and stretched out her hand across the table.
Serena’s fingers were slim and elegant, soft in Bernie’s grasp, and Bernie wanted her.
“I’m staying at the hotel just down the road,” Serena said, stroking her thumb slowly over Bernie’s. “Do you have plans for the afternoon?” The look in her eyes left no way that Bernie could misinterpret the question.
She lent forward, raised Serena’s hand to her lips and kissed it. “I think I do now.”
Chapter 2: On a cold and snowy afternoon
Bernie woke up slowly, enjoying the warmth of Serena’s body against hers. She stretched, feeling a gentle ache in her muscles. The long walk of the morning and the more pleasurable activities of the afternoon were telling.
Serena’s eyes were closed and she looked young, innocent, in her sleep. But as Bernie wriggled slightly, she opened her eyes and grinned. “So you weren’t just a dream then. Alright, soldier?”
“Uh huh. I could do with a soak. I ache!”
“I have a rather luxurious tub here, if you’d like to share?” Serena raised a wicked eyebrow and slipped out of the bed.
“Mmm,” Bernie said as she let her eyes wander leisurely over Serena’s body.
“Like what you see?”
“You know I do,” Bernie said, then sighed as Serena pulled on a thick dressing gown.
“It’s too cold to be naked out here.”
“Well, come back and be naked in here then.”
“With pleasure, but I thought you wanted a bath?” Serena smiled, then tugged the curtain open a little to let a last bit of daylight into the room. “Oh!”
“What’s wrong?” Bernie sat up, shivered a little as cooler air hit her bare chest.
“Well – look at that!” Serena drew back the curtain fully and Bernie looked out at a wall of white. “Snow!”
“Oh dear. Maybe I’d better forgo the bath and head off now.”
“What, into that? You must be mad. You wouldn’t even make it off the hotel grounds.”
“Maybe a bus. Or a taxi.”
“I have a better idea.”
“Stay here. With me.”
“Do you – do you mean that?” Bernie stared at Serena, who would have looked more imposing if her dressing gown hadn’t been white and fluffy.
“Of course I do. I wouldn’t dream of letting you go into that and a whole night of a gorgeous soldier in my bed is an added bonus.”
Chill or no chill, Bernie threw off the covers and crossed the room, catching Serena’s dressing gown by the belt and pulling her close. “Gorgeous, am I?” She tugged the belt open and slipped her hands inside, caressing Serena’s warm skin. “Come back to bed, Serena.”
“I thought you wanted a bath?” Serena said, then gasped as Bernie nibbled her neck.
“The bath can wait.”
Chapter 3: On a cold and peaceful evening
“You know,” Bernie said idly as she towelled herself dry, “It’s been years since I last saw a decent amount of snow.”
Serena looked out of the window. “It’s only coming down lightly now. Why don’t we go for a walk? There’s plenty of time before dinner.”
“Okay, you’re on. I wish I had a change of clothes with me though. I don’t fancy putting all this on again.” Bernie eyed her discarded clothes with distaste.
“You can borrow one of my shirts. I’m not sure I’ve got anything else that’ll fit you.” Serena dug in her wardrobe and her towel slipped lower on her back.
“Mmm,” Bernie said.
“Save that thought for later when we’ve recovered a little, why don’t you? Here you go.” Serena handed her a silky blouse with a wink.
“Is that a promise?” Bernie let her own towel fall to the ground as she pulled the shirt on.
“Oh, it is.”
“It’s beautiful,” Bernie breathed as the front door swung shut behind her. The snow lay a foot deep on the ground, and more flakes were floating gently down. The winter lights strung up around the grounds flickered as snowflakes drifted past them.
The snow deadened all the sound and it felt like there was nobody in the world apart from the two of them as they set out, hand-in-hand, across the white-covered lawn.
“It’s so peaceful,” Serena said.
“Yeah.” There was a lump in Bernie’s throat and Serena looked at her.
“Uh huh.” Bernie tightened her grasp on Serena’s fingers and they stood still for a moment, gazing at the scene.
“Why don’t we make a snowman?” Serena asked suddenly.
“You’re having a laugh!” Bernie said, jolted out of her pensive mood.
“Come on, when was the last time you made one?”
“When the kids were tiny, I suppose.” Bernie looked at Serena’s laughing eyes. “Well, why not.”
Thanks to the deep snow and the absence of people to share it with, their snowman was a masterpiece.
“It just needs a hat,” Bernie said when they’d found twigs and a couple of stones to make its face. She looked up at the furry monstrosity on Serena’s head.
“It’ll have to go hatless. I’m not giving this up!”
“Oh go on,” Bernie said, and made a dive for Serena’s head.
“Bernie! Bernie, what are you? Oh!” Serena tried to fend her off, tripped, fell full length into the snow and laughed. “I’ll get you for that.” She reached up, grabbed Bernie’s trouser legs and tugged her down.
“Well, I’m comfy,” Bernie remarked as she lay full length on Serena. “Could stay here for hours.”
A snowflake landed on Serena’s nose and she kissed it off. Her eyes drifted to Serena’s full, red lips but just as she was about to lean forward to kiss them, her phone buzzed unexpectedly and she sat up with a jerk. “Cameron!” She struggled to her feet.
“Cameron, is everything okay? What’s wrong?”
“Calm down mum,” Cam said, and she could imagine him rolling his eyes, “I just wanted to check that you were having a good time, or at least not actually dead with boredom.”
“No, no, I’m having a – a, uh, very pleasant time.” Bernie grinned at Serena, who had stood and dusted herself off. “Very pleasant.”
“Who’s that mum? Have you made a friend? I told you you would.”
“Yes, yes, You were right. Well done Cam. Well, I’m fine, you’re fine, so shall we say goodnight?”
Cameron made a resigned noise and Bernie hung up.
“We should send him a photo, at least,” Serena said.
“Of the snowman, Bernie. Not -”
“Ohhh, yes, of course. Come here.” Bernie pulled Serena close and lifted the phone in front of them. “You, me and our chilly friend.” She captioned the photo Wonderful, peaceful break and sent it off to Cameron. “I suppose we’d better be getting in for dinner.”
Serena caught the wistful tone in her voice and caught her hands, held her close. “We can come out again later.”
“I thought we were going back to bed?” Bernie said, suddenly torn.
“Plenty of time for both,” Serena laughed. “The rest of the week, if you’d like?”
“You’re full of fantastic ideas.”
“And I have some more, if you’re good.”
Chapter 4: On a warm and cosy night
“Now that,” Bernie said, as she lay back against the pillow, one arm flung wearily over her face, the other draped over Serena, “Was a fantastic idea.”
“I told you I had more.” Serena nuzzled into Bernie’s shoulder. “How’re you feeling?”
“Satisfied. Exhausted. You?”
“Shagged to tatters, darling.”
“Is that a good thing?” Bernie’s fingers drifted lazily through Serena’s hair, smoothing it out.
“What would you have done?” Bernie asked with sudden curiosity, “If we hadn’t met this morning?”
“Oh. Long walk, nice lunch, quiet afternoon of reading. Too much wine, probably.” Serena propped herself up on her elbow and studied Bernie. “It’s been a much better day than I anticipated.” She traced the scar that bisected Bernie’s chest and Bernie shivered.
“I don’t think I can manage another round. Not yet, anyway.”
“Nor I. I’m exploring. Do you mind?” Bernie shook her head and Serena’s fingers resumed their path. “Were you scared?”
“What, when this happened? Not to start with. Not until I was in the hospital waiting for the operation and wondering if I would end up paralysed.” Her voice caught and Serena stilled.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to bring back bad memories.”
“No, no it’s okay. Maybe I should have talked about it sooner. I bottled it all up. Bad habit of mine,” she pulled a rueful face. “Thank you for listening, today. It’s been good to let it all out.”
“You’re very welcome,” Serena said with a smile. “And I’ve been more than rewarded.”
“Hmm, have you? I seem to remember you doing most of the hard work.” Bernie rolled onto her side and pressed a kiss to Serena’s lips.
“I thought you were exhausted?”
“Oh, I am. But in the morning, Serena, when I’ve recovered a bit -”
Serena laughed. “I look forward to it. Oh Bernie, it’s late. We should sleep.”
“What is the time?” Bernie stretched out an arm, fumbled for her phone on the bedside table. “It’s only midnight. Not too bad. Oh – oh dear. I’ve got hundreds of texts from Cameron.”
“Is he okay?”
Bernie scrolled through and chuckled. “He’s being nosy. Asking a lot of questions about you. And – oh – jumping to the correct conclusion about my lack of response. He says you’re very pretty and he hopes we’re having fun. He’s put – he’s put a winky face next to that. Is that an appropriate way for a son to text his mum, do you think?”
“Let me see.” Bernie passed the phone over and Serena laughed. “He’s a cheeky one isn’t he. I’ve had worse from Elinor, I’m afraid to say.” Her fingers moved over the screen and she grinned at the expression on Bernie’s face. “Don’t worry, nothing salacious.”
“Fun has been had. Goodnight Cameron! Serena,” Bernie read aloud. “I’ll never hear the end of it.”
“Put the phone down, Bernie. That’s enough about our kids, blessedly absent as they are. You go and shower and I’ll make us some hot chocolate.”
“That sounds good.” Bernie placed her phone obediently on the bedside table and struggled out of bed on slightly weak legs. “Isn’t it a bit late for hot chocolate though?”
“Call it a midnight feast.”
“I thought we established, several times, that you’re too tired?”
“Oh I am, but it’s nice to think about.”
Serena laughed and swatted Bernie playfully. “Hurry up then. The sooner we’re showered the sooner we can sleep.”
Bernie threw a salute, “As you command, fraulein.” As she closed the door of the bathroom she heard Serena’s laugh ring out again, and smiled. Exhausted she might be, but it had been more than worth it.
Chapter 5: On a lazy morning
“What are your plans, after this week?” Serena asked Bernie as she passed her a cup of coffee.
“Hmm?” Bernie leant back against the pillows, “Plans? I don’t really have any. I suppose I should look for a house to buy. I’ve been renting a flat since the divorce but it’s not really big enough for the kids to stay over.”
Serena piled a plate with pastries and climbed carefully in next to her. “Croissant? Where will you look? London?”
Bernie took one and shrugged. “I don’t know really. I’ve never been particularly fond of London. Marcus’ job was there of course but I’ve lived all over. Never stayed anywhere long enough to put down roots. Army brat as a kid, in the army myself straight out of university. Marcus tried to pin me down with the kids but even that didn’t work.” She took a bite of croissant and sighed. “This is good. The b and b only does a fry up and I can’t eat that every morning.”
“Well, check out then,” Serena said matter of factly, “Spend the rest of the week here.”
“In the hotel?” Bernie pondered, “That’s an idea.”
Serena rolled her eyes. “I didn’t mean in the hotel, you nitwit. I meant here.”
“I – I wouldn’t want to intrude. Do you really want me?”
“Of course I do, wouldn’t ask otherwise. Do you want to stay?”
Bernie didn’t say anything, but she didn’t have to. Serena leaned carefully over the plate and kissed her. “That’s settled then.”
“What are your plans?” Bernie asked.
“Back to Holby and trying to juggle daughter, nephew and the hospital.”
“Did you ever want to just – leave it all? Up sticks and leave all the problems behind?” Bernie flushed as Serena looked at her curiously.
“Sometimes I think about it, and then I book a break and relax until I’m ready to get back to it. I did a fair amount of travelling when I was younger and for all its problems, Holby is home now.”
Bernie looked down at her coffee. “I’ve never felt that about anywhere.”
“Hey,” Serena tickled Bernie’s hand softly, “I didn’t mean to make you feel glum. You’re on holiday. I shouldn’t have asked – forget I did.”
“No, no, you’re right. I need some stability in my life, for me and the kids.”
“Then you’ll find it,” Serena said confidently. “In the meantime, have you finished?” She plucked the cup from Bernie’s grasp and set it on the bedside table. “I seem to remember a lot of talk last night...”
Bernie smiled. “So there was. Do you remember what it was about?” She put the plate of pastries on the floor and swung a leg over Serena so that she was straddling her. The satin nightdress that Serena had put on last night was no less alluring for having a few crumbs on it. Bernie dusted it off gently, making sure that her hands lingered.
Serena pressed up into her caress. “I don’t think you need reminding.”
Bernie shivered as Serena’s hands slipped under the t-shirt that she’d lent her. “ You’d be right.”
Chapter 6: In the B and B
“It’s not that I don’t like your shirts,” Bernie said as she dug in her drawer and pulled out one of her own vests, “But it is nice to be back in my own clothes.”
“Mmm,” Serena said and Bernie cast her a laughing glance.
“You look comfy.”
“When you said b and b, I imagined a single bed in a small room and a shared bathroom, not this – opulent luxuriousness.” Serena wriggled in the vast bed. “Thank you for sharing the experience with me.”
“If I recall, I didn’t have much say in the matter.” Bernie tugged the vest over her head and followed it with a shirt.
A tiny frown creased Serena’s forehead. “You did want to, didn’t you?”
“Did you hear me complaining?”
“Well – no.”
Bernie did up the last button and crawled over the covers to kiss Serena. “There you go then. You look good in my bed.”
“You look good in that shirt.” Serena traced Bernie’s collarbones, and, despite the enjoyable hour they’d just spent, Bernie hummed at her touch. “You – um. Do you have a scarf? Or a jumper?”
“Why?” Bernie asked, eyes closed.
“I quite like your collarbones,” Serena replied.
“And. I’ve left evidence.”
Bernie slipped off the bed and studied herself in the mirror. The length of her collarbones were lined with purpling bruises. “So you have.” She laughed. “Well, they’ve got a few days to fade before I go home and appal the children.” She turned to Serena. “Up you get then. We’ve got a good walk to get in before we go and eat far too much food at that Italian you like.”
Serena sat up and the bedcovers fell to her waist, displaying ample curves to Bernie’s gaze. “Or we could get our exercise in here.”
“I’m immune to your wiles,” Bernie said with a grin, “For a little while anyway. Don’t forget I’ve got to check out and there’s only ten minutes left to do that.”
“I could show you a good time in ten minutes.”
“I don’t doubt that. Clothes!” She handed Serena her shirt and bra. “Come on Campbell.”
Serena sighed, then laughed and slipped slowly out of bed and into her clothes. “I’m afraid I’ve developed a bit of an obsession.”
“Again, I’m not complaining,” Bernie winked, “And I look forward to an afternoon, an evening, and possibly a night of it.”
Chapter 7: In a quiet street
They walked hand-in-hand down a quiet side street. Christmas lights still twinkled in the windows of the shops, casting bright colours o n the snow that still lingered. Bernie glanced idly into a window, spotted the time on the clock and had a sudden realisation. “Hey,” she said, stopping and pulling a startled Serena to face her. “Happy anniversary.” Serena’s lips were cold but still inviting and she kissed Bernie back with fervour.
“Not that I’m complaining,” she said as she drew back, “But what was that about? What anniversary?”
Bernie grinned. “It’s precisely twenty four hours since we met yesterday.”
“Yesterday?” Serena gaped. “Did we really only meet yesterday?”
“Well, we have used our time wisely.”
“You can say that again. How shall we celebrate this momentous occasion?”
“Nice bottle of Shiraz with lunch?” Bernie suggested.
“It’s not fair that you know me so well already,” Serena grumbled, but smiled nevertheless. “Come on, lets keep moving. It’s too cold to linger.”
T hey walked on. Serena’s grasp was tight on Bernie’s hand and she looked at her curiously, but Serena’s expression gave little away and she didn’t pry.
Serena’s words came in a rush, as they sat in her favourite restaurant waiting for their food.
“It’s a long time since I had an equal,” she said, fingers toying with the ever-present pendant at her neck. “Somebody on my level, a – a partner. Somebody I don’t have to boss around or look good to. Somebody I can just share things with. Somebody who – who understands.”
Bernie stretched out across the table, caught Serena’s free hand and caressed it gently. “I know what you mean. I feel the same way.”
Serena looked helplessly at Bernie. “This is all – it feels. It feels magic. It feels unreal. Like there’s a spell over us and soon it’ll break.”
“It won’t break if we don’t want it to,” she squeezed Serena’s hand tightly, “I think I’d forgotten how it felt to just be purely, uncomplicatedly happy, and you make me feel that. Being with you makes me feel that. And I hope I make you feel the same way.”
Serena laughed and the odd expression left her face . “It’s all the endorphins, from the exercise we’ve been doing.”
“Exercise? That’s one way of putting it.”
“How would you put it?”
“Pure, unadulterated fun,” Bernie said, “Which we are going to have plenty more of.”
A n embarrassed cough made them both jump. “Your food,” the waiter said. He placed the plates down and then fled and they looked at each other and laughed.
“His ears were all red, did you see?” Serena grinned. “I live to embarrass the youth.”
“You must have fun with your F1s.”
“Oh yes. Anyway,” Serena raised her glass, “To us. And to many more exercise-filled days.”
Bernie clinked her glass against Serena’s. “Cheers.”
Chapter 8: Over past remembrances
Sitting cuddled up with Serena on a sofa in the hotel lounge, Bernie hummed with satisfaction. “This is the life,” she said, to Serena’s querying eyebrow. “Roaring fire, Irish coffee and a beautiful woman in my arms.”
“Agreed,” Serena said, “Although the coffee could be Shiraz.”
“You’d turn into a bottle yourself, drinking it that much.”
“A risk I’d be willing to take,” Serena said easily. There was a buzz and she pulled her phone out. “My daily check-in with Jason. He does worry about me.”
“And you worry about him,” Bernie retorted.
“Fair point.” Serena held her phone out and squinted at it as she typed out a response. “There, all done.” She hit send and gazed for a moment longer at the screen.
“Everything okay?” Bernie leant in to see what she was looking at. “Oh, Serena, what a lovely picture!” Serena’s background was a photo of her as a child, unmistakeably her, with what Bernie assumed was her mother, smiling and happy in front of a huge Christmas tree.
“It is, isn’t it.” Serena ran her thumb over the screen briefly. “We had such happy Christmases. When Elinor was younger I’d try so hard to recreate the magic that I’d felt as a child.”
B ernie slipped her arms around Serena’s waist. “I’m glad you have such good memories of her. You must have had a wonderful time.” Try as she might, she couldn’t keep the wistful tone out of her voice.
Serena tucked her phone away again and linked her hands over Bernie’s. “What about you?”
“Less wonderful, I’m afraid.” She paused for a moment, grateful for the soft warmth of Serena in her arms. “My father was, well, something of a Scrooge character. He didn’t approve of presents, really, so we always got useful things. Socks, school books, things like that. And he definitely didn’t approve of over-eating so we never had anything special for dinner.”
“Oh Bernie,” Serena said sympathetically, “That must have been miserable.”
Bernie shrugged. “It was what it was.” She buried her head in Serena’s shoulder for a moment, letting go of the pain that childhood memories invariably brought.
“What about when your two were little? Did you have fun?”
Bernie chuckled into Serena’s shirt and sat up again. “I definitely went all out, the first Christmas after Cameron was born. Settled down a little after that, and we had a good time, the years I was around.”
“You were away a lot?”
“I always managed to call them, wherever I was.” Another knot of hurt rose, memories of arguments with Marcus.
Serena squeezed her hands. “It must have been hard, being away. Did you have a good celebration this year?”
“Surprisingly good, given the divorce,” Bernie admitted. “The kids felt so bad about taking Marcus’ side to begin with that they both came to me for the day. And Cam surprised me with this trip.”
“Remind me to thank him.”
Bernie laughed and the last of the painful memories slipped away. “Then he’ll want to know precisely what he’s being thanked for.”
“I might tell him.”
“Wouldn’t I?” Serena’s eyes danced with mirth, but then she relented. “No, you’re right, I wouldn’t. There are some things children don’t need to know about their mothers, and how good they are in bed is definitely one of them.”
“Do stop talking.” Bernie leant forward and captured Serena’s lips with hers, savoured the hint of whiskey that she found.
Serena drew back momentarily. “With pleasure,” she said, and grinned, before their mouths met again.
Chapter 9: After a small mishap
After several Irish coffees, the late afternoon sun was tempting. Bernie and Serena strolled slowly through the village, no particular destination in mind. Serena eyed the pub thoughtfully but Bernie pulled her on. “Save a space for dinner.”
Serena laughed, “I suppose I should give my liver a few hours off. Well, what shall we do then? Want to look in any of the shops?”
Bernie flinched. “I’m not much of a shopper, but I’ll keep you company if you want to?”
“I thought you might not be. I’ve promised Jason a fridge magnet, so tell me if you spot one, will you?”
“Why a fridge magnet?”
“He likes having one from every place any of us have been. We’ve got quite a collection.”
“Are you taking something back for Elinor too?”
“She only wants money.” Serena sighed, “No, that wasn’t fair. Sorry. It just feels like it sometimes.”
“It’s the age,” Bernie said wisely, “Cameron was much the same.”
“I hope she grows out of it soon. Oh!” Serena stumbled and clutched at Bernie. “Oh dear.”
Bernie held her arms firmly. “What’s happened?”
“Tripped,” Serena shook her head, “Think I’ve ricked my ankle. What an idiot.”
“Can you walk on it?”
Serena put her foot down gingerly and winced. “No, I don’t think I can.”
“Okay, just put your arm around me.” Bernie slung Serena’s arm around her shoulders and put a firm arm around her waist. “There, I’ve got you.”
“We could call a taxi.”
“If you want, but it’s only a few minutes back to the hotel. I could give you a piggy back if you want.”
Serena’s face lit up despite her pain, “Oh, a big strong army medic are we? No thank you, if you can manage this will be fine.”
W ith Bernie supporting Serena, they made their way slowly back to the hotel and up to their room, where Serena collapsed thankfully on their bed. “I am sorry Bernie. Spoiling our afternoon.”
“Don’t be silly, you haven’t spoilt anything.” Bernie knelt down in front of Serena and carefully unlaced her walking boots and pulled them off. With gentle fingers she inspected the injured ankle.
“Stay there, I’ll be right back.”
“I wasn’t planning to go anywhere,” Serena said, amused, as Bernie vanished into the bathroom.
“Right,” Bernie reappeared, having retrieved various items. She unrolled a bandage and wound it neatly around Serena’s ankle.
Serena propped herself up on her elbows to watch. “Don’t tell me you brought a first aid kit with you?”
“You never know when you’ll need it,” Bernie pointed out, pressed a kiss to Serena’s leg and looked up with a grin, “Case in point, in fact.” She lowered Serena’s leg carefully and passed her a packet of painkillers. “And here you go.”
Serena swallowed the pills down and sighed. “Thank you for looking after me.”
Bernie sat carefully next to her. “Well of course I am! What else would I do? Go and skulk in the bar?”
“It’s -,” Serena’s voice was quiet and Bernie slipped an arm around her, held her close, “It’s been a long time since somebody did.”
“Always you looking after other people?”
“That’s the lot of a mum, isn’t it?”
Serena laughed. “As if. Oh, ignore me being maudlin.”
“Come on, lie down. We can have a nap before dinner.” Bernie helped Serena to shuffle up the bed, plumped up the pillows for her. When she was sure Serena was comfortable, she curled up next to her, pressed a kiss to her dark hair.
Serena’s hands found hers. “Thank you, Bernie.
Bernie smiled. “You’re very welcome.”
Chapter 10: After making plans
Bernie smiled fondly at Serena, who was fast asleep and making little snuffling sounds in her sleep, and climbed carefully out of bed. The hotel had left a pack of tourist leaflets out and she flicked through them idly before gathering the whole lot up and taking them back to bed. She plumped up her pillow and sat back against the headboard. Serena made a noise, reached out and curled an arm around Bernie’s waist.
“Oh, Campbell,” Bernie said softly and stroked her hair briefly before turning back to the pile of leaflets in her lap. She discarded the first one without consideration. Alton Towers would have been great when the kids were little but she didn’t see her and Serena enjoying it now. And it was closed for the winter, anyway. Lyme Park was next. She stared at it for a second, wondering why it looked so familiar before being enlightened – it was Pemberley in the BBC’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Bernie smiled to herself; while all the talk at the time had been of Colin Firth in a wet shirt, she’d only ever had eyes for Lizzie. That had made more sense when she’d finally realised she was gay. She put the Lyme Park leaflet aside and carried on.
“Bernie?” Serena’s voice was bleary and Bernie put the last leaflets aside and looked down at her.
“Hello you. Feeling better?”
“I could do with a cup of tea.”
“Tea? Oh dear.” Bernie got out of bed and crossed the room to put the kettle on.
“Don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll be back on the Shiraz later.” Serena rolled over and nudged the pile of leaflets. “Why is there a lighthouse in the Peak District?”
“Here you go,” Bernie put a steaming mug on the table next to her. “That’s not a lighthouse, Serena.”
Serena flicked the leaflet so it faced her. “Oh, no. I see now it’s a huge white b reast.”
“A very perky breast.”
“The breast of a twenty-five year old.”
Bernie laughed. “If you say so. That’s White Nancy.”
Serena sat up slowly and picked up her tea. “Are you going to elaborate?”
“It’s a folly that was built to commemorate the battle of Waterloo.”
“But why is it shaped like a breast?”
“The leaflet didn’t explain.”
“It must be nice to be that rich, mustn’t it? Just get up one morning and think, hey, you know what I should do today? Build a giant breast. Can we go and see it?”
“It’s at the top of a hill,” Bernie eyed Serena as she sipped her tea, “How’s that ankle of yours?”
Serena flexed it tentatively and winced. “Maybe give me a few days off before we tackle a hill.”
“What a pity we’re on holiday in an area that is renowned for hills. What shall we do with our time?” Bernie’s words were tempered with a teasing tone.
“Well,” Serena said with a wink, “I think horizontal activities will be fine.”
“So shall we spend the entirety of the next two days in bed?”
Serena smiled and stroked Bernie’s hair off her forehead. “As fun as that sounds, I think you’d go stir-crazy. If you’re happy to drive why don’t we do some exploring in the car? The snow has virtually gone. Did you spot anywhere nice in those leaflets?”
Bernie sighed into Serena’s touch. “You’re probably right. What about a trip to Pemberley?” She passed the Lyme Park brochure to Serena.
“Mmm, and maybe we’ll come across a wet-shirted Darcy in the grounds.”
“I hope we wouldn’t, not in this weather.”
“I suppose treating him for hypothermia might take the romance out of it a little. Well, shall we go tomorrow? You can help me around.”
“And then we can spend the afternoon in bed to recover.”
Serena laughed and pressed a swift kiss to Bernie’s lips. “Recovering. Yes.”
Chapter 11: At dinner
Bernie helped Serena hobble slowly down to the dining room for dinner. The waiters knew Serena well by this time and Bernie poured out the Shiraz that was waiting for them.
“Cheers,” Serena said and they clinked glasses. “Oh, this is very much needed.”
Bernie watched her sidelong as she held out the menu in front of her, squinting a little. “Alright?”
“What? Yes, fine. Have you chosen?”
“Yes,” Bernie said firmly, having not even glanced at the menu, “I’ll have the, um, pasta.”
Serena grinned. “Nice save.”
A waiter collected their orders and they were sitting quietly and companionably drinking their wine when Serena’s phone pinged.
“It’s not Jason’s time,” Bernie said as Serena frowned.
“No.” Serena angled her phone carefully, “Oh, it’s Elinor. What an unexpected surprise.”
“Is everything okay?”
“Yes,” Serena scrolled slowly, “She’s fine, I shouldn’t worry about her – well, that’s ominous – and could I transfer her some money. She says she’s down to a couple of tins of beans.”
“Can’t she ask Edward?”
“Edward is swanning around France somewhere with his child bride.”
Serena’s phone pinged again and she looked at it and laughed. “Always the drama queen. Look.” She passed it over and Bernie saw a selfie of a young woman, the spit of Serena, holding two tins of beans very sadly.
Bernie laughed, “Poor thing. Better save her from the beans.”
“I’m sure I lived on beans for ages when I was a student,” Serena said as she squinted at the screen to reply to Elinor.
“Do you think you might need glasses?” Bernie asked, then cursed herself as Serena glared at her.
“Glasses? Why would I need glasses?”
“It’s just, you’re a bit, um -” Bernie’s heart beat a little faster at the look on Serena’s face, wondering if she’d ruined a good thing, “You’re -” she held out an imaginary phone in front of her, frowned at it exaggeratedly, peered at it from various angles, “A bit like that.” She risked a look at Serena and was thankful to see a grin spreading across her face.
“A bit like what, Bernie?”
Bernie repeated the pantomime and this time Serena laughed out loud .
“I suppose I do need glasses. I’ve just been putting it off.”
“Why? Don’t you get tired of having to strain to look at things? Paperwork must be a nightmare.”
“You’re not wrong. It just makes me feel like I’m getting old. And I’ll look frumpy.”
“Serena Campbell, you may look many things but believe me, frumpy will never be one of them.” Bernie lifted Serena’s hand to her mouth and kissed it, “You’ll look gorgeous in glasses. Just like you do all the time.”
S erena grinned. “What’s your favourite look of mine then Bernie?”
Bernie tickled her fingers over Serena’s palm, slipped a finger under her shirt cuff and caressed the skin there. “Oh, I think you know.”
Chapter 12: After a bad dream
The heat pounded down on Bernie. Dust from the vehicles ahead was almost blinding them and grit from the road was spattering her constantly.
She came to, after the blast, trapped on her side. She couldn’t move, couldn’t scream, everything hurt and she felt so cold, suddenly. She shivered. She tried to scream again but no noise would come out of her mouth. The cold was gripping her, drawing her away. A tear trickled down her face.
“Bernie!” A voice pierced her panic, but she couldn’t hear where it was coming from. She tried to move again. “Bernie!” A soft hand pressed to her shoulder and she blinked – she was so close…
She opened her eyes to find herself looking straight into Serena’s concerned face. “Serena,” she gasped, “Oh.” Serena’s warm arms slipped around her and she was ashamed to find herself shivering uncontrollably.
“I’ve got you.” Serena stroked her back and Bernie pressed into her, trying to relax into Serena’s safe embrace. “Do you want to talk about it?”
Bernie didn’t raise her head, stayed where she was, carefully tucked under Serena’s chin. “The explosion. I dream about it, sometimes.” She breathed deep and slow, letting the shivers run through her body. “In my dream I wake up trapped in the car. Can’t move, can’t do anything, just wait and – and -” She suppressed a sob. “It didn’t happen like that. I didn’t regain consciousness until I was in the helicopter, being airlifted to safety. But it doesn’t stop my mind playing these tricks.”
Serena’s fingers carded through her hair. “Do you dream about it often?”
“Not often. Too much, though.” She sighed as soft lips pressed a kiss to her head. “Thank you.”
“Waking me up. Being here, like this.”
“No need to thank me, Bernie.”
“It’s a lot to ask of somebody I just met.”
Serena’s fingers paused momentarily in her hair, before resuming their task. “You mean a lot to me. I know – I know we haven’t known each other for very long, but, you do.”
Bernie finally raised her head to look straight into Serena’s dark, shining eyes. “You mean a lot to me too.”
“Maybe we should talk about it, in the morning. In the meantime, would some hot chocolate help? Or we could raid the minibar.”
Bernie laughed shakily, “I don’t think alcohol would be a good idea right now, but hot chocolate would be lovely.”
“Coming right up.” Serena untangled herself gently from Bernie and crossed the room to put the kettle on.
Bernie watched her and the way her nightdress hung just so and the soft lights sparkling in her hair.
“You’re beautiful,” she murmured.
“Hmm?” Serena set the kettle down and climbed back into bed.
“I said, you’re beautiful.” Bernie pulled Serena to her, one hand resting on her shoulder, the other finding its way into her hair. “You’re beautiful.” A bubble of pure happiness burst inside her and she laughed. “I’m so lucky to have met you.”
Chapter 13: At Pemberley
“You can see why she married him, can’t you,” Serena said as they gazed out of the window at the gardens, a thick frost once again coating the ground in sparkling white.
“What?” Bernie asked, “Who?”
“Elizabeth. Married Mr Darcy. Well, this would definitely persuade you, wouldn’t it?”
Bernie laughed and slipped an arm around Serena’s waist, “Aside from the dubious idea of marrying somebody simply for their relatively impressive garden, there would be one serious impediment to me marrying Mr Darcy.”
“He’s rather too male for me.”
“But you were married to a man,” Serena turned in Bernie’s arms.
“Were,” Bernie said, pressing a kiss to Serena’s forehead, “Past tense.” The room was empty aside for the two of them and she pulled Serena closer, kissed her soft lips, smiled at the feel of their bodies so close. “Never doing that again.”
“Bernie,” Serena said as they parted, “About last night. I meant it, you know.”
Bernie stood very still. “I know. I – Serena – I –”
An anxious frown crossed Serena’s face, “You didn’t? Oh, god, have I messed this up ?”
Serena tried to pull away but Bernie held onto her firmly. “I did. Serena wait.” Bernie traced one hand tentatively from Serena’s waist to her shoulder, her cheek. “I’m not good with words, usually. I’m not good at – at relationships. I run away, I ruin things. But with you, Serena,” she scanned Serena’s face, held her gaze firmly, watched the frown lines between her eyes fade, “ I don’t want to run. And I’m going to try not to ruin it. You’ve – you’ve made me very happy, th e last few days .”
A grin crossed Serena’s face and Bernie smiled in relief. “Likewise. In a variety of interesting ways.”
Bernie laughed, “That’s not what I meant and you know it.”
“True though,” Serena said with a wink. “Come on, enough of this sentimental chit-chat, let’s have a look round.”
The ground was crisp under their feet and their breath floated in front of them like mist.
“It is beautiful, isn’t it,” Bernie said as they made their way along the front of the house to the gardens.
“It is. And can you honestly tell me, Bernie, that if Colin Firth appeared at this moment, in a dripping wet shirt that was clinging to his every muscle, you wouldn’t have a good look?”
“I’d definitely have a look round for something to treat his inevitable hypothermia with,” Bernie said, “But no, not for me. All the person I want to have a good look at is right here.” She squeezed Serena’s hand. Then, wondering if she was coming on a bit strong, she added, “I take it you would be appreciating the view?”
“Well, I wouldn’t mind the view, hypothermia aside,” Serena admitted, “But, likewise, you’re all I want at the moment.”
Bernie stopped abruptly and pulled Serena to face her. “Campbell,” she said seriously, brushing Serena’s dark hair back from her face, “Are we becoming horribly romantic?”
“Why don’t you kiss me and we’ll find out?”
“Happy to oblige.” Despite the cold, Serena’s lips still felt warm and Bernie kissed her firmly, eagerly, wantonly even.
“Hmm, that’s the stuff,” Serena murmured as they parted, “Bet Darcy doesn’t kiss like that.”
Bernie laughed and took her hand. “We’ve got a lot more garden to explore,” she said and led Serena down the path. She glanced across at her, amused to see that Serena appeared to still be in something of a daze. “Glad to see my kisses have an affect,” she said, and then, having not been paying attention to where she was going, promptly tripped over a hedgerow. “Ouch!”
“Bernie! Are you okay?” Serena hauled her up. “What happened?”
“I was looking at you,” Bernie said a little sheepishly. “Oh, that holly is prickly.”
“It looks it,” Serena said, and, realising that nothing more than Bernie’s pride was hurt, she laughed.
“We’re a right pair aren’t we.”
“You said it. Can we find a nice bench so I can kiss you again?”
“That sounds like it would be safer, yes. Come on, I can see one over there.”
They reached the bench without further mishap and Serena pulled Bernie down, sat on her lap and wound her arms around Bernie’s neck. “Kiss me now, soldier?”
Oblivious to the cold and the hard bench beneath her, Bernie obliged.
Chapter 14: By the lake
Bernie wrapped her arms around Serena, rested her head on Serena’s shoulder, as they gazed across the lake at the house.
“You’d think it’d be frozen by now,” Bernie said idly, paying more attention to Serena’s warm body against hers than to anything else.
“If the weather holds maybe it will. I’ll tell you something that is frozen – my feet. I think I need to buy some thicker socks.”
“Hmm. We should get moving and warm them up.” Bernie nuzzled into Serena’s neck, pressed a kiss to the tiny bit of skin showing above her scarf.
“And yet we aren’t moving,” Serena noted.
“I’m sorry, I’m busy.”
Bernie sighed and straightened, “Come on then.” She slipped a hand down Serena’s shoulder and arm to clasp their hands together. “I saw a cafe, lets find it and get something to warm us up.”
“Oh, this is more like it,” Serena said, pulling off her hat as they walked into the wall of heat that was the cafe. “Mulled cider!”
“That sounds fantastic. I’ll have that as well.”
They carried their steaming mugs to a table that looked out over the grounds, sat facing each other, hands clasped in the middle of the table.
“You know, this is the best holiday I’ve had in ages,” Serena said after a while. “And that includes my trip to the vineyards of southern France.”
“Did you spend a lot of that holiday drunk?” Bernie asked shrewdly.
Serena laughed, “No, I did a lot of eating as well. Balanced it out. What about you? Best holiday?”
Bernie sipped her cider slowly. “I’ve never been very good at going on holiday. We went abroad a few times when the kids were little but I never found that particularly relaxing.”
“Going away with kids is just parenting on hard mode,” Serena said sagely. “What about when they were teenagers?”
“I was in the army and away a lot so they usually went without me.” Bernie sighed into her mug. “I should have put them first more than I did.”
“Hey,” Serena squeezed her hand tightly, “Don’t do that. If it had been Marcus who was off, would you think the same? Do you think he would?”
“You’re probably right.” Bernie managed a smile and Serena nodded.
“And you have a pretty good relationship with them now, don’t you? Have you heard from Cameron since the other night?”
B ernie fished out her phone. “Oh, a few hours ago, he asked if I was still having a good time.”
“And are you?”
“You know I am. This is definitely the best holiday I’ve had in decades. Thank you.” Bernie smiled softly at Serena, let herself melt into the look in Serena’s eyes. Summoning all her courage, she continued, “Would you – I – I don’t want to say goodbye to you at the end of this week. When we get home, would you like to go out to dinner?”
A smile spread slowly over Serena’s face. “Are you asking me on a date?”
“I know we don’t live particularly close at the moment but I thought, maybe I could come up to Holby, stay at a hotel for a night, take you out, somewhere with an extensive wine list?”
A little knot of tension inside Bernie relaxed as Serena laughed. “That sounds perfect, apart from one thing. You don’t need to stay in a hotel, Bernie. After the last few nights do you think I’d really waste an opportunity to have you in my bed?” Serena raised a sultry eyebrow and Bernie blushed.
A n embarassed cough made them jump and release hands. “Excuse me, your food?” A bright red waitress put their food down and fled.
Bernie watched her go. “We keep doing that.”
“It’s fun, isn’t it.”
“We really are one of those awful couples, aren’t we?”
“You said it.”
Chapter 15: In a sleigh
“Where next?” Serena asked as she pulled her hat firmly back on her head.
Berne studied the map of the house and grounds. “Stables and outbuildings? I think we’ll have seen everything after that.”
The stables were huge and spacious. Serena leant over the panels of a stall, inspecting the old tack that was laid out. “You know, I’ve always thought, in a different life, I might have been quite good at horse riding.”
“Did you ever try it?”
“Once, when I was a kid, with a friend. My mother didn’t approve of the idea though, so I wasn’t allowed lessons.”
Bernie smiled slightly at the wistful tone in her voice. “It’s never too late to learn, you know?”
“Can you picture me sitting on a horse being lead around on a leading rein?”
Bernie thought of Serena in tight jodhpurs and a neat riding jacket. “Oh, I definitely can.”
Serena’s eyes narrowed, “Really?”
“Well, you in the outfit,” Bernie admitted with a smile, “You’d look good.”
“Hmm. Well, thank you for the vote of confidence. Falling off might ruin the look that you’ve got going there, though.”
“You’re definitely not falling off in my imagination,” Bernie said with a wink. The stables were empty and she pulled Serena round, pushed her back against the partition and dropped her hands to her waist, holding her firmly. “Doing a really good job, in fact.” She kissed Serena firmly, enjoying the lingering taste of the mulled cider on her lips, moved her attention slowly down her neck to the spot that she particularly enjoyed nibbling on. Serena groaned and Bernie slipped a thigh between hers.
“Oh god, Bernie,” Serena sighed as she tangled her fingers in Bernie’s hair, “Don’t start what you can’t finish.”
Bernie’s fingers worked their way through layers of clothes to stroke the soft skin over Serena’s hip. “You’re just too irresistible, you know?” Then there was a clatter and voices outside and Bernie drew away reluctantly, tugging Serena’s top down neatly. “I’ll finish later,” she said with a voice husky with promise.
“I’ll hold you to that.”
A s the voices neared, they headed further down the stables.
“You know, I think this place is bigger than my first flat,” Serena said as they neared the far end.
“It’s bigger than my current flat!” Bernie peaked into the last stall. “Oh, look at that!”
“Is that a sleigh? It’s enormous.”
Bernie looked cautiously down the stables. The other group was still at the far end. “I’m going up.”
“I’m not sure you’re supposed to,” Serena said as Bernie scrambled up.
“If it was really bad, there’d be a sign. And there isn’t,” Bernie reasoned. She sat down on the seat at the back. “This must have been amazing. Imagine being drawn through snow-covered fields while you’re sitting here, all wrapped up. Bliss.” Bernie leant back against the firm wood and closed her eyes. There was a little fluffy of movement and a sigh and she reached out to find Serena’s hand. “Well done, Campbell. Now, close your eyes,” she lowered her voice, “We’re having a romantic drive through silent snowy fields, tucked up together. And when we get home, we’ll be heading straight upstairs to warm up in bed.”
Serena’s fingers stroked hers, “Sounds perfect. Shall we go home now?”
Bernie opened her eyes, eyed Serena’s flushed cheeks and laughed. “Why, something you want to do?”
Serena growled and pulled Bernie in for a swift kiss. “Some one , more like,” she whispered against Bernie’s lips.
Chapter 16: Laughing in bed
Bernie raced up the hotel stairs as though she was a teenager again, dragging Serena along with her.
“Bernie, what on earth?” Serena gasped, as finally their room door closed behind them.
“I didn’t want to wait any longer.” Bernie pushed Serena gently against the door, flung her ridiculous furry hat on to the floor and kissed her. She barely registered Serena’s fingers finding her hair, intent as she was on Serena’s lips, on working her way through Serena’s many layers of clothes. “Do you have to be quite so wrapped up?” she mumbled as she tugged Serena’s coat off.
“I feel the cold,” Serena protested half-heartedly, “Would it help if I did it?”
Bernie huffed a laugh and rested her forehead against Serena’s, hands lingering on the buttons of Serena’s shirt. “Sorry. I’m impatient.”
“Me too darling, me too. But an extra five minutes won’t kill us.”
“Speak for yourself,” Bernie groaned.
Serena laughed, “Come here, you.” She twisted neatly away from Bernie, took her hand and led her to the bed. Bernie allowed herself to be pushed down onto it, then pulled Serena forward so she was standing between her thighs.
“God, you’re gorgeous,” she whispered as she looked up at her.
“What were you thinking of, earlier, when you were imagining me horse riding?” Serena asked curiously.
Bernie ran her hands down Serena’s thighs. “You in jodhpurs,” she admitted, “Lovely, form fitting jodhpurs, showing these off… I wasn’t imagining you riding a horse though.”
“You weren’t?” Serena grinned, “What was I riding?”
“Can you guess?”
“I think I can...”
Bernie pushed herself back a little on the bed, feeling her pulse race. Three days of Serena and she couldn’t get enough. She was beginning to think she could never have enough. “I think you might kill me,” she murmured as Serena climbed onto the bed and straddled her lap.
“I’ll do my best not to,” Serena said with a grin, “You’re much better as you are.” She pulled Bernie’s coat off. “Who was complaining about clothes? You’re just as wrapped up as I was.” Serena began to work her way down the buttons of her shirt, brushing Bernie’s skin at every opportunity. “It’s as good as Christmas, undressing you, you know.”
“Have you been a good girl, Serena?” Bernie laughed.
“You know I haven’t.” Bernie’s shirt was tossed unceremoniously across the room.
“My turn?” Bernie said, reaching for Serena.
“Not this time Major.” Serena pushed her down onto the bed but Bernie grabbed her arms, pulled her down on top of her.
“Really?” Serena asked, a glint in her eye, “You’re on. I’m going to win.”
Bernie wrapped her legs around Serena’s waist and flipped them over. “I rather think I have the edge in this department, don’t you?” She took Serena’s hands and pinned them over her head, then frowned.
“Ah, haven’t thought this through, have you,” Serena grinned. “You’ll have to let go of me if you want to get my shirt off.”
“Hmm.” Bernie studied Serena, “How much do you like this shirt?”
“I’m not overly attached.”
“Excellent.” Bernie dipped her head, nipped the side of Serena’s neck as she passed, just because, and took the collar of the shirt between her teeth and tugged. She uncovered Serena’s bra, kissed the swell of her breast for good measure, but then got stuck.
Serena laughed, “And how are you going to get it off my arms, Bernie? Rip it with your teeth?”
Bernie sat up reluctantly. “Is that not a good plan?”
“Aha!” Serena took advantage of Bernie’s distraction to free her arms, then grabbed Bernie round the waist and pulled them both down, sideways, on to the bed.
Bernie gasped as she hit the duvet, then laughed. “Well played, Campbell.”
Serena drew her close and Bernie hummed as soft fingers crept around her ribs to find her bra clasp. “ Thank you, ” she said, somewhat smugly, “You didn’t win.”
Bernie kissed Serena as she pulled the shirt from her arms, “ This time .”
Chapter 17: In bed (again)
“Maybe we both won,” Bernie said as she trailed her fingers up Serena’s thigh.
“I’d say. That was excellent.” Serena leant back onto her pillow, slipped her fingers into Bernie’s hair and teased through the tangles.
“You know, I’ve never really done this before,” Bernie admitted, raising her eyes to meet Serena’s gaze.
“What, really?! You’re very good for a novice.”
“Oh! No, not – ah. I mean, being in bed in the middle of the afternoon. It feels ever so naughty.”
“Naughty?” Serena laughed. “Of all the things we’ve done over the last few days, it’s being in bed in the afternoon that’s naughty?”
“You’re mocking me, Campbell.” Bernie ran her hand up Serena’s thigh and waist and pulled her closer.
“Affectionately. Have you really never just jumped into bed in the middle of the afternoon before?”
“Marcus wasn’t one for spontaneity, and I was never really bothered. Can’t imagine why that was. Now, if I was coming home to you every day, then there’s every chance we would be in bed at every spare moment.”
“I did spend a lot of time in bed, at various points.”
“You have a voracious appetite. Lucky me.” Bernie kissed Serena, lingeringly. “How are you feeling now?” She stroked her thumb over Serena’s nipple and smiled as Serena sighed.
“Tired, but I could be persuaded to corrupt you further.” Serena pressed into her touch, slipped a firm thigh between Bernie’s. “While we’re on the subject, any other naughty things you’ve wanted to try but never had the chance?”
“Running through fields of wheat?” Bernie honked a laugh.
“Sex outside can be fun,” Serena mused, “What a pity it’s so cold at the moment.”
“Okay, here’s one,” Bernie said, as she found her favourite spot on Serena’s neck and nibbled, “I’ve always quite fancied having sex in the shower.”
“Sounds like a plan for this evening.”
“Oh,” Bernie sighed.
“Well, I’ve got a book that I’ve been wanting to read...” Bernie met Serena’s gaze, couldn’t contain her chuckle at the look of disappointment on her face. “I’m kidding,” she said, “I’d take a shower with you over almost anything.”
“Nothing that I can think of right now,” Bernie laughed and rolled over, pulling Serena underneath her. “God, you’re absolutely fantastic. Have I told you that recently?”
Serena’s eyes lit with amusement , “About half an hour ago, but feel free to say it again.”
Chapter 18: After a shower
“Did it live up to expectations?” Serena asked as she climbed out of the shower and retrieved a large fluffy towel, which she passed to Bernie.
Bernie took it and dried her face, then wrapped it neatly around herself. “Yes, although I think I could do with being more agile.”
“You seemed quite flexible enough to me,” Serena said with a wink.
“It’s a young person’s game isn’t it, really.” Bernie followed Serena out of the shower, caught her towel as she dried herself. “Here, let me do that for you.”
Serena’s skin was glowing from the warmth of the shower and Bernie dried her carefully, wondering that she got to enjoy such activities. She knelt on the floor to run the towel down Serena’s calves, an action that put her level with her thighs. “God, you’re gorgeous,” she murmured, and, forgetting her task, dropped the towel and pressed a kiss to one inviting thigh.
“Bernie!” Serena laughed, and Bernie hummed as fingers tightened in her hair. “You’re insatiable.”
“You’re irresistible,” Bernie countered. She dug her fingernails in ever so slightly as she held her and Serena’s little gasp and the tug in her hair told her it wasn’t unwelcome. She found a particularly delicious place between two freckles and nipped and sucked until a red rose bloomed.
Serena move backwards until she was leaning against the door and Bernie followed her happily.
“Is this okay?” she asked as a second red bruise rose.
“More than,” Serena said tightly. “Bernie -”
“Just a little more decoration first,” Bernie said, adjusted her position so she was nosing Serena’s inner thigh. Her knees were beginning to hurt but she didn’t care, Serena and Serena’s body were all that she needed to think about.
When a line of roses had spread across Serena’s thigh, Bernie looked up. Serena’s head was tilted against the door, her eyes were closed and her chest was heaving. Bernie grinned. “It’s like you’re wearing a garter,” she said.
“Bernie, I swear...”
“Sorry darling.” Bernie stood up, biting back a murmur of pain as her knees creaked, and kissed Serena. She trailed her fingers across the top of Serena’s thighs and into coarse hair until she found silky wetness. Serena sighed and Bernie kissed her again. “Who’d have thought, at our age, we could have such stamina.”
“Less conversation, more action,” Serena groaned. Bernie laughed, and obliged.
Chapter 19: In the snow
The snow was coming down again as they enjoyed a nightcap in the bar , thick snowflakes whirling. “We could do with that sleigh now, couldn’t we,” Bernie murmured to Serena as she watched the dance from the warmth of their table.
“We could.” Serena sounded distracted and Bernie turned to her, querying.
Serena swallowed. “It’s just – oh, nothing, it’s silly.”
Bernie reached over the table to squeeze her hand. “Tell me?”
“The way the candlelight is catching your hair, and you in that white shirt, it makes you look...” her voice trailed off and she blushed.
“Makes me look like what?”
“Angelic,” Serena rushed out. “I know it’s silly.”
Bernie’s breath hitched. “Not silly,” she said softly, “Although you do know I’m anything but an angel, don’t you? That shower earlier proved that.”
“Doesn’t stop you looking like one,” Serena said, and Bernie laughed.
“I suppose not.” Bernie looked at her thoughtfully for a moment. “Drink up, I have a plan.”
“I’m not sure I’m up for another round just yet,” Serena said as she drained her glass, “You might have to wait till the morning.”
“Not that sort of plan,” Bernie replied, “Coats and boots, Campbell.”
“It’s cold,” Serena said as the hotel door closed behind them. “What’s this plan of yours? I’m not going far in this.”
“Not far,” Bernie assured her, taking one thick-gloved hand in hers. She led Serena carefully to the snow drift that she’d spotted building up against a bank. She turned around and caught Serena’s other hand as well. “Trust me?”
“Yes,” Serena said after a moment, and Bernie pushed her.
“Bernie!” Serena landed softly in the pile of snow and Bernie grinned.
“Don’t move, I’m coming too.” She flopped down next to her.
“What on earth?”
“Snow angels!” Bernie waved her arms and legs enthusiastically in the snow and climbed carefully to her feet. “Look, there’s a proper angel for you.” She smiled down at Serena. “Your turn.”
“Are you drunk?” Serena queried, “I didn’t think you’d had that much this evening.” Nevertheless she created her own angel, then stretched out a hand to Bernie, who grabbed it and hauled her to her feet.
“Drunk on you, perhaps.” A snowflake landed on the tip of Serena’s nose and Bernie brushed it carefully off.
“That’s a line, Bernie, and you’ve already got me into bed. Many, many times.”
Bernie laughed and pulled Serena in to a warm hug. “Well, what do you think of our angels then?”
Serena snuggled in close. “They’re lovely, Bernie, but can we get back inside please? And no more whiskey for you tonight.”
“Fair enough,” Bernie shrugged, and hand-in-hand they retreated to the warmth of the hotel, leaving their snow angels behind them.
Chapter 20: Just because
“A walk, then?” Bernie said, as she tugged on her walking boots, “If you’re up to it?”
Serena flexed her ankle. “Not even a twinge, I’ll be fine.” She knelt on the floor to retrieve her own boots from under the bed, where she’d thrown them the previous night, rocked back with a startled, “Ouch!”
“I thought you said there wasn’t a twinge?” Bernie said, “What’s wrong?” She offered a hand to Serena, who pulled herself up and handed Bernie a pine cone.
“Shoved my hand on this,” she said, “What on earth is a pine cone doing under the bed?”
“Must have fallen off some Christmas decoration or other.” Bernie laughed a little, “Find me another dozen or so and I could fashion you a nice Christmas wreath.”
“You could?” Serena raised an eyebrow, knelt down to have a second go at finding her boots. “You don’t strike me as the crafty type.”
“Oh, I’m not. But Charlotte booked us on a wreath-making course before Christmas. She thought it would be fun.”
Serena sat on the end of the bed and pulled her boots on. “And was it?”
“Well, it wasn’t too awful. And I made the biggest wreath there. Look.” Bernie scrolled through the pictures on her phone to find one of the wreath she’d constructed, and showed Serena.
“That is… that is one very large wreath,” Serena agreed. “Was it a competition?”
“You mean, no,” Serena guessed shrewdly. “What did Charlie think?”
“She was pleased that I was enjoying myself, if somewhat embarrassed by me.”
“Isn’t that the lot of daughters everywhere, to be embarrassed by their mothers?” Serena held out a hand to Bernie, and Bernie pulled her gently off the bed.
“Good point.” Bernie slipped her arms around Serena’s waist. “Oh, hello.”
“Hello yourself.” Serena smiled up at Bernie, let Bernie kiss her softly. “Aren’t we supposed to be going out?”
“We are,” Bernie agreed, “And we will, in a minute.”
Chapter 21: On the hill
The snow was still deep in the hills. “We probably should have realised it wouldn’t have melted up here,” Bernie said, looked over at Serena, whose eyes were sparkling and cheeks red with the cold, “Are you okay to carry on?”
Serena grinned, “I’m game if you are.”
Bernie stretched a hand out, caught Serena’s gloved hand, “Well then, lets go for it.”
The snow was knee height and made for slow progress. The path was clearly signposted and Bernie wasn’t worried about getting lost. As they rounded a bend, the view spread out in front of them. “Oh, wow,” she breathed, taking in the rolling snow-covered hills, the little clusters of houses dotted around.
“It’s glorious,” Serena agreed.
They stood for a moment, shoulder to shoulder, quietly.
“Bernie,” Serena broke the silence, “I had an email from my CEO this morning.”
“He’s going to set up a trauma unit on my ward.”
“Oh?” Bernie turned to face her, curiously.
“And he’ll be recruiting for a trauma surgeon.”
“Oh.” Bernie scanned Serena’s face, “Would – should I –?”
“You should definitely apply. I can’t see anybody of a higher calibre than you applying, because there isn’t anybody.”
Bernie leant into her. “Flatterer. But, I mean. If I worked in Holby, with you...”
“We can work together and date,” Serena said with a laugh.
“Do you not have rules about work place romances?”
“I have very strong opinions about them, but somehow, when it comes to you, I find myself keen to break my own rules.”
“What if it didn’t go well between us?” Bernie bit her lip. The future that Serena was spreading out in front of her seemed too good to be true.
“Well, we’d cross that bridge when we came to it,” Serena said, squeezing her hands before letting her go,“But I don’t think we will. Bernie, honestly, I’d love to work with you. I think we’d be really good together.”
Bernie laughed suddenly, “We are good together, Campbell.”
“So you’ll apply?”
“I will,” Bernie confirmed. She turned back to the path, still in a daze, and tripped over a hidden rock, fell face down into the snow.
“Bernie!” Serena bent down beside her, “Bernie, are you okay?”
Bernie lifted her face out of the snow, blinked and spluttered. The snow had provided her with a soft landing, and aside from her pride she was unhurt. “Fine,” she said as she pushed herself back to her feet.
“Oh, Bernie!” Serena was clearly on the verge of laughter, “Oh, you look like a snowman.”
Bernie glanced down at herself, at the snow that had coated her thoroughly, and laughed. “Snow woman , thank you.”
Chapter 22: By the window
Bernie woke with a jump as a crash of thunder pealed out, breathed deeply as her heart beat slowed to its normal speed. Unexpected loud noises still took her back to her deployment, to the explosion that had ended her military career. She reached out for Serena, hoping to comfort herself with her presence, but Serena’s side of the bed was empty. Bernie reached blindly for her light switch.
“Serena?” She blinked into the sudden light. Serena was sitting curled up in the armchair by the window, curtains parted so she could see out, but turned as Bernie spoke.
“You’re awake.” Serena smiled softly and a flash of lightening illuminated her.
“What are you doing?” Bernie pushed herself up, shuddered slightly as the thunder rang out.
“Watching the storm. It’s so beautiful.” Serena eyed her. “Are you okay?”
Bernie shrugged, “Not much of a fan of thunder, these days.”
“Come and cuddle with me,” Serena offered, holding out a hand.
Bernie slipped out of bed, grabbed her dressing gown and padded in bare feet over to the armchair. “Budge up, then.” She squeezed herself next to Serena, sighed as Serena wrapped her arms around her and held her close. “Did it wake you up?” she said as another flash of lightening zigzagged across the sky.
“It did, but I didn’t mind. I like watching a good thunderstorm.” She pulled Bernie even closer as the thunder crashed again. “It makes me feel so safe, when I’m inside and warm and dry and just watching it play out.”
“I can understand that. I wouldn’t mind lightening, but the thunder...” Bernie couldn’t suppress a shiver.
“It’s okay, Bernie. I’ve got you.”
Serena pressed a kiss to Bernie’s hair and Bernie leant her head against Serena’s shoulder, closed her eyes, let Serena’s steady, slow breathing calm her. “Thank you.”
Chapter 23: On the last day
“Last day of the holidays,” Bernie said with a sigh, on waking up. She rolled over and put a possessive arm around Serena. “I’m going to miss this.”
“As am I,” Serena agreed. “This has been one of the best holidays I’ve had, and it’s all thanks to you.”
“Definitely the best I’ve ever had.”
“Even better than your honeymoon?” Serena teased, as she ran her fingers gently through Bernie’s messy hair.
“I’ve had a lot more sex than on my honeymoon,” Bernie said with a grin, “You and your insatiable appetite.”
“Mmm, you have been very… giving…” Serena kissed her and Bernie responded enthusiastically.
“It’s fun giving when the recipient is so passionate. Not to mention beautiful.” Serena’s body was warm against hers. Bernie trailed her fingers up smooth thighs. “We don’t have to be anywhere very soon, do we?” she asked. She could feel Serena’s breath quickening. “I feel like being generous again.”
“You are very, very good at that,” Serena said, sometime later, pushing back damp hair from her forehead and smiling down at Bernie, who was nestled between her thighs. “I’m going to miss it.”
“But not for long,” Bernie said, wriggling back up the bed until she was face to face with Serena again. “Date on Friday.”
“Date on Friday, job application over the weekend, new job next month,” Serena said firmly.
“That’s the aim,” Bernie agreed with a smile. “But if I don’t get it, I’ll take some locum work in Holby and move anyway. I’m not letting you get away now that I’ve found you.”
“Likewise,” Serena said. “But Hanssen will love you, Bernie. Who wouldn’t want renowned trauma surgeon Berenice Wolfe on their staff?”
B ernie laughed. “I’m not sure whether renowned is the right word. Stubborn and bloody tough, perhaps.”
“Sometimes that’s what you need to be, in our game. Where are you going?” She added as Bernie made a move to get out of bed.
“Breakfast?” Bernie suggested, but the look in Serena’s eyes made her lie back again.
“There’s an hour left,” Serena said, “And I intend to spend at least some of that doing some giving of my own.” With a feral smile she rolled over, pinned Bernie beneath her.
Bernie grabbed her waist, held her tightly and laughed. “Well, I’m not going to argue with you.”
Chapter 24: On Christmas Day
Serena hummed as she moved around the kitchen, peeling, chopping and stirring. She was prepping all the food ready for their Christmas dinner tomorrow, and she’d left Bernie in the living room sorting out the tree and the rest of their decorations.
“Um, Serena?” Bernie called, “Can you come here?”
Serena dropped peeler on the side, wiped her hands on her apron and headed for the living room. “What’s up?” she asked. Bernie was standing, very sheepishly, by the tree and clutching a large box of lights.
“You remember that I bought these lights in the sales back in January?”
“I do...” Serena said cautiously.
“And how I thought that £15 wasn’t too bad for a ten metre string?”
“And I thought you’d been ripped off? Yes.”
“Well, the thing is...” Bernie choked slightly, “I misread the box. The power chord is ten metres long.” A honking laugh escaped her, and she bit it back, trying to look serious again.
Serena raised an eyebrow. “Bernie… Bernie, how long is the string of lights?”
“A bit longer.”
Bernie gave way with a grin. “Oh, Serena. It’s seventy five metres long.”
Serena’s brain short-circuited briefly. “Seventy five? Seven five? Seventy five ?!”
“Yes!” Bernie’s laugh bubbled up again, “Serena, I am sorry!”
“You don’t seem it. What on earth are we going to do with seventy five metres of lights?”
“We could always buy another tree? I’m kidding!” Bernie raised her hands in surrender.
Serena stared at her for a moment, then laughed, long and loud. “Well, it’ll be christmassy at least. I’ll leave you to figure out what to do with them, I have a stuffing to make.”
Christmas dinner with the assorted family turned out well. Bernie and Serena smiled at each other across the table as their children laughed and bickered and fought over the roast potatoes. It was the first true family Christmas either of them had had in years and they savoured it, along with the delectably cooked Turkey, stuffing, potatoes, brussel sprouts and, with a groan for their stomachs, christmas pudding.
“Oh mum!” Cameron said when he saw the pile of lights she’d tucked behind the tree, “Trust you! This must be the brightest tree in England.” He flopped down on the sofa. “That was a feast and a half. I’m so pleased you two found each other,” he said to Serena, “That was miles better than mum used to manage.”
“Cheek!” Bernie said, but without energy, being too full to argue. “But he’s right, that was excellent Serena. Thank you.” She sat down carefully and pulled Serena down next to her, pressed a soft kiss to her red lips.
Jason put on the box set of Doctor Who he’d received from Bernie, and a quiet settled over the room, broken by the occasional cry of exterminate .
In the evening Charlotte and Cameron departed for their father’s house and Elinor and Jason disappeared to their respective bedrooms. “Just us,” Serena murmured as she cuddled Bernie.
“Bernie, it’s been such a wonderful day. It’s been a wonderful year.”
Bernie smiled down at her fondly. “It has. And all thanks to a chance meeting on a hill.” She stood up slowly, offered her hand to Serena and helped her off the sofa. “Dance with me, Campbell?”
She flicked on the radio, wound her arms around Serena’s waist, smiled as Serena’s arms twined round her neck. Together, they swayed gently to the music.
Serena leant her head against Bernie’s chest, listened to the steady beat of her heart. “I love you, Bernie.”
Bernie’s eyes were soft with dreams as she smiled down at Serena. “I love you too.”