Actions

Work Header

Bean and Gone

Chapter Text





“Are you okay?”

Serena looks up from the coffee table onto which she’s just barely resisted slamming down her phone and sees Bernie, the blonde woman who served her coffee a short time ago. She is rather gorgeous, Serena thinks (not for the first time), in her skinny black jeans, white vest top and red checked shirt worn unbuttoned, with the sleeves rolled up. A move which exposes the corded muscles of her arms and her deceptively slender wrists that Serena’s stared at a few too many times while watching her serving customers. (Not to mention the long, slender fingers which Serena may, embarrassingly, have imagined on her body on occasion.)

“Serena?”

Serena jolts out of her reverie with a feeling of mortification. “Sorry,” she says, feeling guilty for getting lost in gazing at Bernie. “I – uh – I’m fine.”

“Look, I don’t want to pry, but are you sure? You seemed rather distressed just now when you were on your phone.”

Serena glances around at handful of customers who are reasonably scattered around the room. “Are you sure you want a semi-stranger venting at you?”

Bernie smirks and oh god, Serena had no idea that this woman could smirk in such a devastatingly attractive manner. “I’m also available for venting,” she says, and sits on the other end of the leather couch where Serena’s ensconced herself. “Tell me everything.”

Serena chuckles weakly. “If I told you everything we’d be here until at least this time tomorrow. I think your boss might object.”

“My boss?” Bernie’s smirk transforms into a full blown grin and Serena wonders how she hasn’t swooned yet. “Why ma’am, are you unaware I own this joint?” She says this in a terrible fake American accent and Serena bursts out laughing, which makes the other customers look their way, then smile to themselves as Bernie lets loose the most astonishing honking laugh in response to Serena’s laughter.

“My god, where did you get that laugh?” she asks once she finally has enough breath to speak.

“Why ma’am, I’ve had this here laugh all ma life.”

“Stop it,” Serena pleads. “Why are you using a fake American accent?”

Bernie grins. “Because it usually makes people laugh. Worked on you, didn’t it?”

“It did,” Serena agrees. “Thank you.”

“Any time.” Bernie briefly clasps her forearm. “Now, do you want to tell me what upset you about your phone call?”

Serena sighs, feeling her mirth fade. “It’s my fortieth birthday soon and my mother, in her infinite wisdom, has decided that she cannot allow me to celebrate it without her.”

“And is she an awful mother?” Bernie asks gently.

“No. Well, no, not really. Just a very driven woman who is incredibly ambitious on my behalf.”

“Ah. Parental expectations are always tricky to negotiate. That’s one thing I don’t miss about my parents being gone.” Bernie gives her a soft smile. “So what, in particular, is troubling you with regard to her impending visit? Which maternal expectations are you not going to meet?”

Serena frowns. “How did you know?”

Bernie shrugs. “Stands to reason there’s something or you wouldn’t be so troubled by the prospect of her visiting you. Is it your job?”

Serena shakes her head. “No. She’s delighted that I’m a consultant at the local hospital.”

“Good for you,” Bernie says with a warmth that surprises Serena. “Is your accommodation not up to your mother’s standards?”

“Well, not really – but I don’t have to worry about that. She knows I cannot yet afford to move into the ‘leafy detached’ she regularly pictures me having some day.”

“Okay. So, I’m guessing the problem is a relationship one?”

Serena sighs heavily. “Yes.” Bernie raises both eyebrows, and she sighs a second time, then says, “I haven’t told her that I split up with my last girlfriend. And if I tell her that I’m single again, she’ll start in on the lectures about being left to grow old without anyone to take care of me. And she’ll be utterly relentless about it.”

Bernie frowns, then smiles. “So, what you need is a fake girlfriend for the duration of your mother’s visit.”

Serena stares at her speechlessly, then asks, “And just where am I going to find such a person and get to know them sufficiently well that we can pass ourselves off as a couple in just over two weeks time?”

“Haven’t you got a colleague up at the hospital who could stand in?”

Serena flushes. “No. Most of my fellow consultants are just that – fellows. Or rather men. Of the two women consultants besides me, Jac wouldn’t play the fake girlfriend even if I paid her a substantial sum of money, and Fleur is already known to my mother as having a wife. Who is not me.”

“Ah. No single close friends?”

“No.” Serena sighs heavily. “I suppose I’ll just have to confess and endure the endless lectures. You’d think, given that her own husband, my father, left us when I was young that it’d put her off pairing me up, but alas, it hasn’t.”

“I could do it. If you didn’t think it was a terrible idea.”

Serena stares at Bernie, startled by the other woman’s suddenly shy demeanour. “Why would you do that?”

Bernie shrugs, but there’s something in her eyes that tells Serena this isn’t just a casual offer.

“Wait. Let me guess. You also need a date for something.”

Bernie chuckles weakly. “Should’ve known you’d figure that out, smart woman like you.”

“So, what’s your event?”

“You absolutely do not have to say yes,” Bernie says. “Because it would be a huge commitment on your part.”

“Well, now you have to tell me,” Serena says with a smile and a quick squeeze of Bernie’s knee.

“I’m going to a wedding in a month’s time. It’s – uh – it’s my ex. And she’s marrying one of our best friends.”

“Ouch,” Serena says. “I can understand not wanting to go alone. Where is this wedding?”

“London. I was thinking of going on Thursday afternoon as there’s some sort of pre-wedding dinner on Friday evening, then the wedding itself is on Saturday afternoon. And I’d planned to come back on Sunday some time. I’d cover the cost of accommodation and travel if you wanted to arrive separately.”

“Surely the hotel accommodation would be a room that we’d share? If I’m meant to be your girlfriend.” Serena frowns. “Significant other? Partner? Whatever label you’d want to use.”

Bernie blows out a breath, her fringe flicking up out of her eyes. “That’s why it’s a huge commitment,” she says softly. “It’s less the duration of the event for which I need a date than it is the fact that you’d have to share a room.” Her voice lowers. “A bed. With me.”

“Do you snore?”

“Alex never complained that I did.”

“Do you hog the covers?”

Bernie smirks and once again Serena feels the power of that smirk. “No. I should warn you, though, that Alex did mention that I’m an inveterate snuggler.”

“Duly noted,” Serena says, smirking right back, because two can play at that game, thank you very much.

“How much time would you want me to spend with you for your mother’s visit? If we did this?”

“She’ll fly in on Friday,” Serena says, then seeing Bernie’s confusion, adds, “She lives in Paris and she hates trains, so she flies whenever she visits.”

“Okay. Will you be meeting her at the airport?”

Serena nods. “I usually do, yes.”

“So, would you want me to be at the house when you got back from the airport? Does she think you and your girlfriend are living together?”

“She knows we are – or rather my ex and I were living together. She wouldn’t expect you to be at the house in the middle of the day, but she’d expect you to come home from work and be there after that.”

“Okay. Does your mother – what’s her name, by the way?”

“Adrienne McKinnie.”

“Does Adrienne know what your girlfriend does? Or what your ex did?”

“No.” Serena huffs a laugh. “We actually met in a coffee shop, although not this one.”

Bernie nods. “I’ve only ever seen you in here alone.”

Serena gives her a slightly startled look. “You’ve noticed me to that extent?”

Bernie ducks her head a little, hiding behind her fringe, and Serena can’t help wondering if that’s why she has it so long – to hide behind. “Can you blame me for noticing the attractive brunette who comes in every morning before work for her ‘strong and hot’ coffee and a ‘medicinal pastry’, and who seems to spend a large chunk of at least one day a week doing paperwork in the corner while we ply her with said coffee?”

“You think I’m attractive?” Serena asks, feeling a warmth in her belly at being noticed.

“Pfft. Of course I do. Doesn’t everyone?”

Serena bites her lip. “I think you’re very attractive, too,” she admits.

Bernie gives her a startled look. “Me? I’m no more than passably handsome.”

“Nonsense,” Serena says firmly, her voice stronger.

Bernie shakes her head, smiling. “So, Ms McKinnie, what do you think? Shall we be each other’s dates for your mother’s birthday visit and my ex’s wedding?”

“You do realise you’ll have to live in my house for three nights and two days?” Serena demands.

Bernie shrugs. “But I don’t have to be there the whole time if you don’t want me to be. I do have a coffee shop to run. I presume Adrienne would be expecting to enjoy a meal out on the evening of your birthday?” Serena nods. “And the rest of the time? Would she expect me to be there at your side throughout?”

“I suppose not, not if I tell her that you have a business to run. But she’ll expect you to be there for Sunday lunch, not just the evening meal.”

“I can do that. If this is what you want?” Bernie’s voice is as soft as her expression, and Serena feels her stomach swoop with desire.

This is a mad idea, she thinks frantically. Because how will I stop her from finding out the fact that I’ve fancied her since the very first morning I came in here in search of that ‘strong and hot coffee’? Then she remembers Bernie’s remark about her being attractive. Maybe her crush isn’t one-sided, then.

“Very well. We have a deal, Ms–” She holds out her hand and gives Bernie an expectant look as she realises she has no idea what her last name is.

“Wolfe.” Bernie takes her hand and Serena notices that Bernie’s skin feels as dry as her own, she presumes from needing to wash her hands regularly while handling food. “So, when is your birthday?”

“The seventeenth.”

“Okay.”

It’s only when Bernie withdraws her hand that Serena even notices that they’ve been holding each other’s hand all this time, and she ducks her head to hide her blush. “We should exchange numbers,” she suggests, holding out her phone, then tries not to make it obvious that she’s watching avidly as Bernie’s long, slender fingers take her phone and enter her number.

“Text me your address and then I’ll have your number,” Bernie suggests.

Serena nods. “You should come over for dinner one evening soon so that I can familiarise you with the layout of my place. If you’re going to be spending three nights–”

“Three?” repeats Bernie, sounding somewhat shocked.

“Oh, yes, sorry. I should’ve said. My mother will fly back on Monday. Is – is that okay?”

“Of course,” Bernie says quickly. “After all, you’ll be sharing with me for three nights. Well, unless you wanted to come down to London on the Friday. There’s no reason you have to–”

“I’ll travel down on Thursday with you,” Serena says. “It’s been ages since I’ve had a trip to London and I’d love the chance to do some shopping, and maybe see a show, on the Friday – if you don’t have anything else planned?”

“No. I haven’t even RSVP’d to Alex yet – because I was debating not going since I don’t – didn’t – have a plus one to take and I didn’t want her pitying me, or thinking I’m still hung up on her.”

“How long is it since you broke up?”

“Nearly two years.”

“And you haven’t dated anyone in the interim?” Serena is surprised, given how very desirable Bernie is.

The blonde shakes her head. “I’ve had dinner or been to the movies or whatever with other women now and again. I signed up to one of those apps, but nothing serious has come of any those hook ups. The occasional night together, but I haven’t really clicked with anyone.”

“I can understand why you are suggesting our fake dating deal,” Serena says. “We’ll both be able to save face.”

Bernie nods and seems to be about to say something else when Morven, one of the assistants, calls her to the phone.

“Sorry, I’d better go. Text me your address and let me know which evening you want me to come for dinner.”

“I will. And thank you, Bernie. I do appreciate your kindness in making this offer.”

“Well, you’re doing a kind thing, too,” Bernie says with a soft smile. She touches the tips of two fingers to her temple in a vague salute, then cross the coffeeshop to take the cordless phone from Morven.

Serena sighs, not sure whether to feel elated or terrified that she and Bernie are going to be doing this. Probably both, she decides, and pulls up her calendar to check her shift schedule for the week ahead so that she can let Bernie know which evening to come for dinner.

SC-BW-SC-BW-SC

Serena checks that everything is as it should be: a nice bottle of Shiraz is open and breathing on the counter; the dinner table is laid with the nicest plates and glasses, and a pristine tablecloth; the candles are already lit; and dinner itself will be ready to serve in about twenty minutes. All she needs, now, is her dinner guest.

As if on cue, her doorbell rings on the heels of that thought, and she smiles happily at the thought of Bernie being so prompt. She swipes her hands against her apron, which reminds her to take it off, and she hastily whips it off, then hurries to answer the door, stepping back to allow the woman who is going to be pretending to be her girlfriend into the house.

She holds out her hands to accept Bernie's coat, a long black wool one that reaches just past Bernie's knees, and slips it onto the coat rack, then turns around to greet her.

For a moment, however, she can only stand and stare in hungry appreciation at the vision that has been vouchsafed to her. She has only ever seen Bernie in her trademark skinny black jeans and a checked flannel shirt, so she is wholly unprepared to see Bernie in slim black tailored trousers, a white dress shirt with honest-to-God cufflinks at the wrists, and a navy blue waistcoat embroidered in gold thread. The collar of the shirt is open to display a small green pendant in the hollow of her throat, as well as her collarbones. She has also styled her usually unruly blonde hair into sleek waves.

“Wow,” Serena breathes after what might well have been an eon. “Don't you scrub up mighty fine?”

“Thank you,” Bernie says in a soft voice, a flush of pink lying along her cheekbones. “You look fantastic. That red dress really suits you.”

“Thank you,” Serena says. The dress is a relatively new one, that she's only worn once before for a hospital fundraising event, and she likes the way it looks on her as it shows just the right amount of cleavage and is short without being scandalous.

“Can I get you a drink?”

“I'll have a glass of water, please.”

“You're not teetotal, are you?” Serena asks, annoyed with herself for not thinking to ask Bernie that before.

“No,” Bernie says, frowning slightly. “But I am driving.”

“Oh. Sorry,” Serena says. “I sort of assumed you'd come in a taxi.”

Bernie gives her a small smile. “I don't get the chance to drive very often since I bought Bean and Gone, so when I do get the opportunity, I tend to jump at it and you live far enough across town from me to make it worthwhile getting the car out.”

“Fair enough.”

They're in the lounge half of the large room that serves as the sitting room and dining room combined, and Serena gestures at the sofa and armchairs.

“Make yourself comfortable,” she says, “and I'll get you some water. Still or sparkling?”

“Still. I personally feel that sparkling water is an abomination.”

Serena snorts a little at that. “With ice or without?”

“With ice if it's not already chilled, otherwise without. Thanks.”

Serena gives her a brief nod, then heads into the kitchen where she has to take a moment to get a grip on herself and remind herself that she and Bernie are not dating. They are simply pretending in order to save face for each other in what would otherwise be an uncomfortable couple of social situations.

Which is a pity, really, because Bernie Wolfe looks absolutely delicious tonight; more than good enough to eat.

Serena shakes her head, then moves to the refrigerator and gets out a bottle of still water for Bernie, decanting it into a glass, before pouring herself a glass of Shiraz.

She finds Bernie standing in front of the tall bookcase against the wall opposite the fireplace. It houses both Serena's medical texts and her record collection, and Bernie is reading the spines of the books, her hands shoved into the pockets of her slacks, which serves to pull the fabric tight across her pert bottom.

Serena bites back a wanton moan and clears her throat as she moves to stand beside Bernie. “Not much of interest to read there,” she observes.

“Actually, I’ve read many of them,” Bernie says, accepting her glass of water, and Serena can only stare at her in shock.

“You studied medicine?” she asks.

Bernie frowns. “I was a frontline trauma surgeon for a decade and a half,” she says. “Sorry, I somehow thought you knew that.”

“No, I did not.”

“Oh. Well, Major Berenice Wolfe, RAMC, at your service.” She salutes and Serena feels her knees go weak at the thought of this woman in a uniform.

“Are you okay?” Bernie asks, stretching out a hand to clasp Serena’s forearm. “You look a bit faint.”

“I – uh – I’m fine,” she says, but lets Bernie steer her across to the sofa where she sits down, then takes a gulp of wine to steady her nerves. “You’d better tell me about your career in the RAMC. After all, as your girlfriend, that’s something I’d be expected to know.”

Bernie gives her a soft smile. “It is.” She swallows some water, then says, “I suppose the first thing to know is that after I graduated, I did the necessary officer training before I went to serve in the Middle East. Members of the RAMC are non combatants, though officers are trained to use weapons in case of need; I’ve only twice had to fire a gun at those designated as the enemy. On both occasions that was to defend the wounded and unarmed citizens who were in danger from insurrectionists. I suppose I should also mention that I’ve been trained in unarmed combat.”

Serena tries not to gulp at the mental image of Bernie heroically fighting someone in hand to hand combat. She takes another swallow of wine, then nods to encourage Bernie to continue.

“It was nearly two years ago, while I was serving in Afghanistan and actually not long after I’d been promoted to the rank of Major that I got blown up by a roadside IED.”

Serena gasps, horror and pity filling her at the thought of Bernie being injured, and she grabs Bernie’s free hand in her own, without even noticing that she’s done so until Bernie gently squeezes her fingers.

“It’s okay,” she says with a soft smile. “I’m okay. I mean, I wasn’t okay at the time, obviously.” She smirks. “Getting blown up does tend to interfere with one’s day.”

“Are you usually so blasé about such things?” Serena demands, not at all won over by the smirk, delightful though it is.

“Serena.” To her surprise Bernie grips her hand and lifts it to rest on her knee. “It’s nearly two years ago now, and I have more or less recovered, apart from a bit of chronic pain in my back if I spend too many hours on my feet, which I do my best to avoid.”

“So, your back was injured?”

Bernie shakes her head. “Not exactly. I had an unstable C5/C6 spinal fracture with a traumatised cervical disc in the same area, and a pseudoaneurysm in the right ventricle. They managed to stabilise me in Kabul and flew me back to Queen Elizabeth Hospital, in Birmingham, where they have a Ministry of Defence Hospital Unit set up specifically to treat operational casualties that cannot be treated in the field.” She pauses to drink more water and glances at Serena’s face. She’s sure her expression must be attentive as she listens avidly to Bernie’s account.

“Anyway, they had to get a neurosurgeon and a cardiothoracic surgeon into the theatre to operate on me together, although before they did that, however, they had to re-stabilise me as my BP dropped quite dramatically and I was also severely tachycardic for a time.” Serena gulps and Bernie’s tightens her hold on her hand, and she feels startled as she realises that she’d forgotten Bernie was still holding her hand.

“The pseudoaneurysm ruptured before the neurosurgeon was through with the disc repair so the cardiothoracic surgeon had to manually restart my heart while I was still on the table. But I survived. Of course, I was pretty weak for quite a while afterwards and I needed quite a bit of rehab before I was fit to work.”

“So how did you end up running a coffeeshop?” Serena asks curiously.

Bernie shrugs. “I toyed with the idea of going back, but it felt a bit too much like tempting Fate. I’d finished up the ten year contract I’d agreed to do, and the surgeons weren’t certain what effect my injuries would have on my ability to operate.” She swallows audibly. “They were initially concerned I might be left paralysed. Even when that didn’t happen, I, and they, still felt considerable concern that carrying out a long surgery or even surgery in a moving vehicle might not be possible.”

“In a moving vehicle?” Serena repeats, awed.

Bernie nods. “A necessity sometimes, unfortunately.”

Before she can continue her story the oven timer pings, so Serena ushers Bernie over to the dining table, refusing her offer of assistance in bringing the meal to the table.

“Would like a glass of wine with your meal?” Serena calls from the kitchen.

“I would. I’ll just have the one, though, please.”

“Of course.”

After a short interval Serena brings through the baked salmon in a garlic and herb sauce with Mediterranean vegetables and golden potatoes, then she fetches them both a glass of wine to go with it.

“Tuck in,” she says as she takes her seat and is pleased when Bernie murmurs with obvious delight at the first forkful she tastes.

“This is delicious,” she says once she’s emptied her mouth. “You’re a much better cook than I am. I can bake pastries, cakes, pies. And bread, of course. But I somehow end up getting bored if I try to cook anything else.”

Serena chuckles. “Whereas I tend not to bother with making desserts. Though I do enjoy eating yours.”

Bernie blushes and Serena does her best to ignore the flush of pink along her cheekbones. “I should finish telling my story,” she says after a couple more mouthfuls.

Serena nods. “I am interested in hearing the rest.”

Bernie gives her a half smile, then proceeds to tell her about a couple of occasions on which she was forced to operate on an injured person while in the back of a moving vehicle.

“Having steady hands was crucial,” Bernie explains. “Even moreso than when carrying out a conventional surgical procedure. I’m forty and up until I was blown up I’d had no worse health issue than a sprained joint on a couple of occasions when I was a kid and playing sports a little too enthusiastically. And then there I was, recovering from a serious spinal injury and a serious heart issue. I didn’t ever want to be in the position where my back let me down and I’ve definitely had issues with severe back ache and shaking hands when I’ve been standing and baking for too many hours. Even now, nearly two years after I sustained those injuries – which has proven me right in my decision to leave the RAMC.”

“They didn’t offer you a desk job?” Serena asks curiously.

“They offered me a teaching job. And I was tempted since I trained a lot of people during my time overseas. But then Alex and I broke up, so I decided on a clean break.”

“So what made you decide to buy a coffeeshop?”

Bernie chuckles. “I taught myself to bake as part of my recovery and rehab. I started with making bread – it was therapeutic kneading it, and it was a good test of my upper body strength. I found I was good at it – better than I expected, to be perfectly honest. I used to take spare loaves with me when I went for my physio appointments and they went down very well. Then I branched out into cakes and pastries, and someone suggested I go into business, and I thought to myself, well what else are you going to do as a civilian? So I looked around at the different premises for sale and found the place that’s become Bean and Gone. I knew it was a good spot – close to both the hospital and the railway station, not to mention a couple of office complexes. I hired someone to come and re-decorate it since I still wasn’t up to painting and decorating, then I hired Morven and Arthur Digby since I knew I didn’t know enough about coffee to be a good barista. And those two are star baristas.”

Serena hums around a mouthful of food. “Isn’t that the truth,” she agrees.

Bernie chuckles knowingly and Serena feels her face heating up.

“So, you’ve gone from frontline trauma surgeon to coffeeshop owner and star baker,” she says. “Quite the switch, but I think it was a good move.”

“Thanks. Business is so good that I’m considering whether to branch out.”

“Oh?”

Bernie nods. “I’ve thought about opening up a second shop nearer to the university campus. After all there’s always students in need of regular caffeinating.”

Serena laughs. “You’d probably make a mint.”

“I might.”

Bernie gives her a conspiratorial grin and Serena feels a swoop of desire in her belly. She ducks her head and concentrates on eating the last couple of mouthfuls of dinner.

“Would you like dessert? I’m afraid it’s only Marks & Spencer’s best given my culinary talents don’t lie in that direction.”

Bernie chuckles. “I don’t mind,” she says reassuringly. “What is the dessert?”

“Strawberry cheesecake.”

“Sounds good,” Bernie says with one of her soft smiles. “I’m in.”

“And do you want some coffee?”

“Please.”

“Okay. I’ll be right back.”

Serena heads into the kitchen, glad of a little respite from Bernie’s presence, because her simmering desire is threatening to boil over. She wonders how on Earth she’s going to manage sharing a bed with the other woman – the very real possibility of waking up with Bernie wrapped around her, given her self-confessed ‘cuddler’ nature, worries her. Just because the blonde finds her attractive doesn’t mean she is actually attracted to Serena – there is a difference, as she herself knows. Why did she agree to this mad idea, she wonders. Then she remembers – it’s to avoid her mother’s relentless worry about Serena ending up alone. She sighs, then sets about getting the coffee machine started before carrying the cheesecake through to the other room.

The rest of the evening passes as pleasantly, with Serena talking a bit about her roles within Holby City General Hospital – as Deputy CEO, as lead on AAU, and as a vascular surgeon.

“I feel positively lazy compared to you,” Bernie jokes over coffee, which they’re drinking while seated on the sofa.

“Pfft. Running a successful coffeeshop is not laziness.”

“Maybe not, but you’re essentially doing three different jobs all rolled into one. I feel exhausted just thinking about it.”

“I often feel exhausted doing it,” Serena admits with a wry smile.

She’s sitting facing Bernie, her back against the arm of the sofa and her feet tucked under her, and when the blonde reaches down and clasps her knee, giving it a squeeze, she can feel her body reacting with desire.

“Would it be so awful to give part of it up?” Bernie asks softly. “You’ve told me that you’ve been passed over for the CEO’s position twice and you know what they say about always the bridesmaid.”

“Never the bride,” Serena says, scowling a little at the old saying.

“Exactly.” Bernie peers at her over the top of her coffee cup, her fringe in her eyes, and Serena has to restrain herself from reaching out to brush it out of the way. Bernie’s brown eyes are, she has discovered, incredibly compelling.

She sighs. “I’ll give it some thought.”

Bernie nods, smiling softly, and squeezes her knee again. “Obviously, I’m not telling you what to do, but it seems to me that you don’t particularly enjoy being Deputy CEO or dealing with the hospital Board.”

“No, you’re right.” Serena covers Bernie’s hand with her own and squeezes. She can’t quite bring herself to let go, however, so she leaves her hand on top of Bernie’s, which is resting on her knee.

“Got to look out for my girlfriend, haven’t I?” she says, giving her a sly grin over the top of her coffee cup.

Serena barely manages not to choke at that grin and the way Bernie’s eyes are sparkling with mirth. She squeezes her hand and says, “You are completely incorrigible, I can see.”

That elicits a chuckle. “I do my best.”

“Mmhmm.”

They finish their coffee, hands still linked on Serena’s knee, then Bernie sighs. “I should be going. I’m opening up tomorrow.”

“Very well. Oh, I was thinking. You had better bring some of your things over here before my mother arrives on Friday. It will look strange if you turn up next Friday after work carrying a suitcase.”

Bernie chuckles. “I don’t actually own a suitcase. But I take your meaning.”

She draws her hand back from Serena’s knee after one final squeeze, then gets to her feet and stretches her arms above her head and Serena has to avert her eyes otherwise she’ll just start blushing. She uncurls from the sofa and crosses the room to a drawer below the bookshelves, fishing out a set of keys.

“Here,” she says, holding them out to Bernie. “My spare keys. I was thinking that you could come over with your stuff while I’m out collecting Adrienne from the airport on Friday.”

“What time does Adrienne’s flight get in?”

“It’s due to land at 2pm. I’ll be leaving here after 1pm.”

“Okay.”

“It’s not too late to back out,” Serena says.

“Why would I back out?” Bernie asks. “This was my idea, after all. But if you want to back out, I’ll quite understand.”

“No!” Serena exclaims, horrified at the idea, and Bernie gives her a surprised look. “Sorry. But no, thank you.”

“Okay. Well, I’ll see you here at around 6pm on Friday.”

“Okay.”

“Thank you for dinner. It was delicious.”

“You’re welcome.” Serena helps Bernie into her coat and is a little startled when the blonde leans in and brushes her lips against Serena’s cheek.

“Goodnight, Serena.”

“Goodnight, Bernie.”

She watches as the other woman makes her way down the drive before climbing into a low-slung sports car that’s parked behind her own sensible car. Serena is surprised Bernie can fit into the car, but she folds her lanky frame inside it, flashes her headlights once, then reverses down the drive and onto the street before pulling away.

Serena closes the door and locks it with a soft sigh, then makes her way to the kitchen to load the dishwasher. She has, she’s realised tonight, got it very bad indeed for Bernie Wolfe.