Serena hears the front door being unlocked on Friday evening with an internal sigh of relief. Adrienne has been quite sceptical about the existence of one Bernie Wolfe, live-in girlfriend and coffeeshop owner, arguing that there were no signs of the woman’s existence in the sitting room. Serena’s counter argument that Bernie had spent years serving overseas in war zones and therefore didn’t have much clutter had been rebuffed with a disbelieving scorn that Serena found irritating.
“I’m home, love,” Bernie calls from the hallway, and Serena goes to greet her, wanting a moment away from her overbearing mother.
“Hello, you,” she says, wrapping her arms around the blonde. She’s a little startled when Bernie immediately kisses her, but reasons that it’s not unheard of for someone to kiss their partner in greeting on returning to their home of an evening. She doesn’t expect the tongue sneaking into her mouth and curling briefly around her own, or the squeeze of her arse, but she figures Bernie is putting on a show for her mother when she hears Adrienne’s voice from the other end of the hallway.
“Why are you two making a spectacle of yourselves out here?” asks Adrienne in a querulous tone.
“Don’t worry, Serena,” Bernie says in a low voice, her hot breath hitting Serena’s ear and making her shiver. “I’ve got your back.”
“I’m so sorry, Ms McKinnie,” Bernie says, unwinding herself from Serena, which almost makes the brunette whimper. She wouldn’t mind being greeted in such a fashion every day, she realises.
“That fruit pie I promised you for dinner is in the box, love,” Bernie says with a nod at a plastic box on the hall table before she walks down the hallway to shake hands with Adrienne.
“Good evening, Ms McKinnie. I’m Bernie – Berenice properly – Wolfe.”
“What sort of name is ‘Berenice’?” demands Adrienne.
“One at least as old as your own first name,” Bernie responds easily, showing no sign of discomfort at Adrienne’s manner. “In my case, it’s Greek. Yours, of course, is the feminine form of ‘Adrian’, itself a form of the Roman ‘Hadrian’, after whom the Wall was named.”
Serena finds herself wanting to cheer at this exquisite, masterly rebuff of Adrienne’s rudeness, but she wisely bites her tongue as she carries the promised fruit pie towards the kitchen.
“Why don’t you two go and take a seat?” Serena suggests. “I’ll join you in a moment.”
“Anything I can do to help, love?” Bernie asks, and Serena can’t help admiring the ease with which she seems to use that little endearment. She sounds as if she’s been calling Serena ‘love’ for years, not less than five minutes.
“No, thank you. Go and take the weight off your feet. I know you were up ridiculously early this morning making bread and everything else for the coffeeshop.”
Bernie chuckles softly. “Yeah.”
Serena briefly tangles her fingers with Bernie’s as Adrienne moves into the sitting room and they exchange soft smiles, then Bernie follows the older woman.
When Serena returns to the sitting room only a few minutes later she finds her mother giving Bernie the third degree and she wishes she’d warned her that this might be her mother’s response.
“And what future prospects do you have? Adrienne asks. “Running a coffeeshop.” There’s a sneer in her tone if not on her face.
Bernie raises her eyebrows. “I’ve just this week signed the lease on a second retail unit by the university and I’ve already advertised for an experienced manager to take on the running of it, not to mention some baristas and an experienced baker. Though I’ll be baking our signature pastries to supply both shops.”
Adrienne doesn’t quite sniff with disdain, but Serena can see it in her mother’s eyes, and it irritates her as much as if Bernie really was her girlfriend.
“You don’t need to worry that I cannot support myself, Ms McKinnie, or pay my share of household bills. I bought my first coffeeshop out of the severance package that I received from the RAMC when I was forced to retire on medical grounds. It was a generous package that reflected both the longevity of my service and my senior rank. I could, if I so chose, buy half a dozen shops in and around Holby, and I would still have funds left over. On top of that, I have the money I inherited from my mother upon her death five years ago. I haven’t touched a penny of it since I inherited it as I have had hardly any need for money or material goods while I was serving overseas, and anything I did need I bought with my army salary. In fact, if we chose to, Serena and I could both retire and live very comfortably as ‘ladies of leisure’ for the rest of our lives with the money I have available.” Bernie fixes Adrienne with a firm gaze, then adds, “I’m not a gold digger, if that’s what you’re imagining.”
“Then why are you living here?”
Serena is shocked. “Honestly, Mother,” she protests, before she feels Bernie’s hand clasp her own.
“Why shouldn’t I live here?” she asks Adrienne. “I didn’t ask Serena to move in with me because my flat, above the coffeeshop, is smaller than this house, and since it is above the coffeeshop it’s invariably noisy first thing in the morning given that I begin baking around 4am. Why should Serena have to put up with that when she could remain here? I know this house isn’t the leafy detached you’ve been planning for Serena, but it’s certainly nicer than the flat above my coffeeshop. In fact, if Serena wants that leafy detached, I’d be quite happy to buy it for her myself.”
“Bernie!” Serena exclaims, startled by the idea.
Bernie shrugs. “I know. We haven’t discussed it. Because I assumed you were happy living here. I’m sorry, I should have asked if you’d rather we bought a house together.”
“I am happy here,” Serena says emphatically. “As for you– ” She turns to her mother “–why are you giving Bernie the third degree?”
“I’m not,” Adrienne says testily.
“Yes, you are. She has barely been home ten minutes and you’re treating her as if she’s done something wrong. I asked her to move in with me and that was my decision to make. I’m forty years old, Mother, and quite capable of choosing who I want to live in my house.”
She gets to her feet. “I need to check on dinner. Bernie, love, could you give me a hand?”
Bernie follows Serena into the kitchen, and it occurs to her that she had used ‘love’ to Bernie without a second thought. She is, she realises, in deep. Possibly too deep, but it’s too late to back out, not now that her mother is here. She sighs heavily and Bernie slides her arms around her from behind and squeezes her.
“Are you okay?” she asks softly.
Serena turns in her arms and asks, “Are you? I am sorry Adrienne’s being so awful. I honestly didn’t expect this inquisition.”
“She’s not usually this way with your partners?”
“Maybe it’s because she perceives me as lacking ambition since I’m only running a coffeeshop and not my own ward.”
“Well that’s ridiculous. Running a business is just as hard work and can be just as rewarding as running a ward. You’d think the fact that you achieved the rank of Major before being forced to retire would be good enough. I–”
Whatever Serena was going to say next is lost as Bernie’s soft lips find her own, cutting off her rant and Serena sinks into the kiss with a soft moan of pleasure, her right hand sliding into Bernie’s hair to cup the back of her head.
She barely notices it when Bernie backs her up against the cupboard and presses their hips together, her right thigh slotting easily between Serena’s and providing just the right amount of friction to put her on edge.
They’re pulled out of their lust-fuelled frenzy of kissing by the sound of the oven timer going off and Serena is forced to cling to Bernie’s shoulders because her knees have turned to jelly. Her chest is heaving as she fights for air and she is desperately aroused, but after a moment she slips away from Bernie, who looks equally wrecked, she notices, and goes to the oven.
“That. Was. Incredible,” she gasps, still trying to get sufficient air into her lungs.
Bernie’s face is flushed pink along her cheekbones and her hair is a mess, but Serena thinks she looks all the sexier for it, particularly given the darkness of the desire in her eyes. Then she smirks and Serena remembers that Bernie’s smirks are a fatal weakness for her, so she turns her attention to serving up dinner.
“I should apologise,” Bernie says as she helps Serena get everything organised.
“I shouldn’t have pinned you to the cupboard like that.”
“Bernie, if I hadn’t wanted you to kiss me senseless, I’d have said so.”
Bernie gives her a searching look and Serena gazes steadily back at her until the blonde nods acceptance of her words.
By the time they carry the food through to the dining room they’re looking fairly respectable, but Serena’s heart is still racing a little and she still feels embarrassingly aroused. She’ll need to take a shower so she can take care of herself before she gets into bed with Bernie tonight or she won’t be able to remember that their relationship is fake.
Adrienne seems to have got over whatever had got into her on Bernie’s arrival home and she makes conversation in a pleasant fashion, responding in detail to Bernie’s enquiries about her life in France. Serena feels herself relaxing a great deal as they eat the steak au poivre with a spring vegetable medley that is her mother’s favourite, and Adrienne even deigns to praise it: usually she’s sparing with her praise, particularly when Serena is cooking.
Bernie also heaps praise on her cooking, repeating her observation that Serena is better at this sort of cooking.
“Yes, but your pies and pastries are far better than mine. I’m a bit jealous.”
Bernie smiles. “Well, between us we can make a good meal.”
Serena chuckles. “True.”
They clear the plates and dishes from the table, and while Bernie tops up their wine, Serena serves up the pie Bernie brought – it’s her ‘five fruit’ pie with apples, rhubarb, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries in it, and Bernie carries through one plate holding a slice of the pie and the jug of cream, while Serena brings the other two plates.
“Try this, Ms McKinnie,” Bernie says, setting the plate down in front of her.
“Call me Adrienne,” she says, and Bernie hides her surprise at this invitation fairly well, but Serena nevertheless notes the way her eyebrows briefly flick up.
“Thank you, Adrienne.”
“What’s in this?” asks Adrienne, looking at the golden brown, tightly latticed pastry on the top.
“Try it and see if you can tell,” Serena urges.
Bernie has set the jug of cream down in front of Adrienne and she pours a small measure over her pie, then offers the jug to Bernie, who accepts it with a smile, pours, then passes the jug on to Serena.
“This pastry is very good,” Adrienne says, a note of surprise colouring her words.
“Thank you,” Bernie says with a small, pleased smile and a duck of her head.
“There’s apple and rhubarb in this,” Adrienne continues after a second mouthful. “And is that blackberries?”
“It is. There are two other kinds of fruit in there, too.”
“Five?” Adrienne says. “That seems a little excessive.” She eats another mouthful, chewing thoughtfully. “Strawberries and raspberries.”
“You’re quite right,” Bernie tells her, and shoots Serena an even more pleased smile when Adrienne actually moans softly over one mouthful.
“How long have you been baking?” asks Adrienne once they’ve cleared the table a second time and Serena’s put the coffee maker on.
“About eighteen months. I took it up to help me to deal with the stress and trauma of my injuries. Baking keeps the Anxiety and panic attacks at bay, and making bread is particularly therapeutic. I found that I was good at it, so I kept it up, and when my physical and mental health therapists all told me how much they enjoyed my bread, pies, and pastries, I decided to try opening a coffeeshop. I didn’t know what else to do with myself following my medical discharge from the RAMC since continuing as a trauma surgeon wasn’t an option, but I thought that supplying bread and other baked goods to a coffeeshop would be a way of doing something good, however small, for the community. And of course, because I have a lot of money, I knew I could afford the experiment even if it failed.”
“Wait until you taste Bernie’s croissants,” Serena says, glancing at her mother before grinning at Bernie. “You’ll swear they’re made in France.”
“Oh, no pressure there, then,” Bernie says with a wry smile.
After half an hour of conversation, Bernie excuses herself to go to bed, saying she’ll have to be up early to get to the coffeeshop in time to make the morning pastries.
“Goodnight, Adrienne,” Bernie says.
Serena feels a sense of satisfaction at the cordial tone in Adrienne’s voice – forgetting that Bernie isn’t her girlfriend and therefore it doesn’t actually matter what her mother thinks of her.
“Goodnight, love,” Bernie says, pressing a kiss to Serena’s temple.
A few minutes after Bernie goes upstairs, Adrienne says thoughtfully, “I think you’ve picked a real winner with that one.”
“Really? Then why subject her to the third degree when she was barely through the door?” asks Serena waspishly.
Adrienne raises an eyebrow. “How else was I to test her mettle?” Serena shakes her head, and her mother continues, “She’s clearly an exceptionally talented woman, both to have achieved the rank of Major in the RAMC and to have baked that pie tonight. And she’s wealthy, so she’ll be able to take care of you when you have to retire.”
“Good god, mother! I’m forty years old and not even considering thinking about retiring for years.”
“It doesn’t hurt to think ahead, Serena.”
“If you say so, mother.”
Serena gets to her feet and collects together their empty coffee cups. “Do you want another?”
“No, thank you. I think I will go to my room and read.”
“I know you’re annoyed at me,” Adrienne says as she gets to her feet, “but I only have your best interests at heart.”
“I know,” Serena says, because she does know, even if she finds her mother’s methods irritating. “Goodnight.”
While Adrienne heads upstairs to her room, Serena concentrates on loading up the dishwasher and washing up the handful of things that aren’t safe to be put in the machine. Then she checks the house is properly locked up before heading upstairs herself.
It’s a little too early for her to sleep and she doesn’t want to risk disturbing Bernie by reading in bed, so she decides to have a bath – it’s been ages since she had a good long soak as she generally doesn’t have the time to spare so a shower suffices.
She opens the door to her room carefully and feels her breath hitch at the sight of Bernie, sound asleep in her bed. She’s lying face down and has one arm under her pillow and the other is wrapped around it, and she smiles as she recalls Bernie telling her that she’s an inveterate snuggler.
She turns on the bedside lamp without bothering with the overhead one and notes that Bernie doesn’t stir in the slightest. She undresses as far as her underwear, then pulls on her bathrobe before moving into the ensuite to begin running the bath, adding her favourite bath salts to the water. Then she moves back into her room and sorts out her clothes for the following day. She glances at the chair on Bernie’s side of the bed and smiles at the sight of her neatly folded clothes piled on the seat of the chair with military precision.
She slips off her knickers and bra, and deposits them both in the clothes hamper in the corner of the bathroom, before shedding her robe and climbing into the bath with a sensual moan at how good the hot water feels. She can’t help wondering what it would be like to share a bath, or even a shower, with Bernie and with that thought comes a renewed surge of arousal which is heightened when she recalls the firm pressure of Bernie’s well-muscled thigh between her legs when they were kissing in the kitchen. She moans again and closes her eyes as she begins touching herself, skimming the palm of her hand over the hard buds of her nipples before pinching and tugging on each one in turn. Then she smoothes her hand down over her belly and caresses the tops of her thighs, well aware that the pulse of arousal between her legs has grown into a more desperate throbbing.
Briefly, Serena wonders if Bernie would be disgusted if she found out what she was doing in the bath while she slept in her bed just a few feet away. Perhaps she’d find it exciting, though, and perhaps she’d enjoy watching as Serena slides two fingers inside herself, biting back a too-loud moan of pleasure.
By the time she climbs into bed beside her faux girlfriend, Serena is feeling sleepy and languorous, and she can’t help wishing Bernie really is her girlfriend so that she can cuddle up next to the other woman. Instead, she curls onto her side, her back towards Bernie, and switches out the lamp before her eyes slide closed and she feels sleep stealing up on her.
Although Bernie had warned Serena that she was a cuddler, she still hadn’t imagined waking up with Bernie’s left arm wrapped around her torso so that her arm is pushed up against the underside of her breasts. Nor that her right hand would be resting between her thighs, cupping her mound. Serena feels herself flush with heat and desire as she realises that her nipples are hard, her breasts aching, and her sex damp and throbbing with want. She glances over at the digital clock on the nightstand and sees that it’s nearly time for Bernie to get up, then registers why she’s awoken so early, and she shifts out of Bernie’s grasp to head into the bathroom.
When she returns Bernie’s bedside lamp is on, and the woman in question is standing with her back to the ensuite’s door, putting on a black bra. Serena swallows a moan at the sight of Bernie in nothing but her underwear and croaks out a greeting.
“Morning,” Bernie says, her voice pleasingly low and husky. “Happy birthday. I’ll only be a few minutes and then you can get back to sleep.”
“Thank you. It’s okay, take your time,” Serena says, secretly enjoying the view of Bernie’s well muscled back and pert bottom from where she’s sitting propped against the headboard. “Adrienne won’t be up before 9am so I’ve time to go back to sleep before then.”
Bernie half turns, giving Serena a gloriously heart-stopping smile before she pulls on a white vest, then slides her skinny jeans up her legs.
“I have sometimes wondered if you painted those on,” Serena quips, and Bernie gives her a startled look, which makes her flush as she realises that she’s just revealed that she has, on occasion, looked at Bernie’s legs long enough to consider that.
“No painting required,” Bernie says after a moment, with a shy smile.
“Just as well, the fumes might be a bit overpowering!”
That elicits a chuckle, then Bernie ducks into the ensuite and after a little while Serena hears the toilet flush, then a tap running, then nothing else for several minutes until the light turns off and Bernie emerges smelling faintly of minty toothpaste and the cologne that she favours. She has scrubbed her face before applying her usual light make up and she’s done her best to tame her hair.
“I’ll be home by 5pm,” she says, crossing the room to collect her phone and keys from the nightstand, then pausing to pull on her familiar red checked flannel shirt. “I want to be able to grab a shower and to do something with my hair before I change, and we go out with Adrienne.”
“Okay, love,” Serena says.
“Have a good day.”
Serena’s a little surprised when Bernie bends down to press a brief, chaste kiss to her lips before she goes out. Given her mother is still in bed and asleep, there was absolutely no need for her to kiss Serena. As she slides back down under her duvet she can’t help wondering just how fake this relationship with Bernie Wolfe actually is, because it really doesn’t feel that fake at all.
After a morning spent out and about around Holby city, Serena suggests to Adrienne that they visit Bean and Gone for lunch and she’s pleased when her mother agrees quickly, though it occurs to her as they approach the coffeeshop that Adrienne probably wants to assure herself that the coffeeshop actually exists.
When they get there, it’s starting to get busy, but Bernie immediately spots them as they enter and gives a beaming smile at the sight of them. She comes out from behind the counter and clasps Serena’s upper arm before leaning in to kiss her, then she smiles at Adrienne.
“Come for lunch?” she asks and Serena nods, so Bernie leads them to a table in the corner where it’s a little bit quieter, then takes their orders herself after reeling off the long list of sandwiches, cakes, pastries, and sweet pies that Adrienne can select from. She also ascertains what they want to drink, then she strides off behind the counter to fetch their food and drinks.
“This place is certainly very tasteful,” Adrienne notes, looking around at the walls with their wide sky blue and white stripes, the handful of paintings and photos decorating those walls, and the comfortable armchairs and leather sofas that furnish the room.
Within a few minutes Bernie reappears carrying a loaded tray, which she sets down on their table before she proceeds to unload the plates of sandwiches, cups of coffee, and the plates holding their pastries. She also provides napkins and forks, checks there’s nothing else that they need, then disappears with an apology of, “Sorry, it’s Saturday and therefore busy.” She gestures at the lengthy queue, lips quirked into a wry smile.
“It’s fine,” Serena says. “Thank you.”
Bernie nods, then disappears back behind the counter to assist Morven, and Serena feels a slight pang of disappointment that Bernie cannot join them. She squashes it, then turns her attention to her sandwiches, which have been carefully arranged on a plate with little sprigs of parsley on top of each of the four triangles. Adrienne’s have been similarly presented, and Serena can’t help a little smile at the sight, admiring Bernie’s attention to detail.
They’re just finishing their pastries – Adrienne had selected a chocolate croissant and pronounced it as good as any she’s eaten in Paris – and their coffee when Bernie reappears at their table.
“Glad I caught you before you left,” she says, sounding a little breathless and looking pink along her cheekbones. “This is for you.”
She holds out a plain white cake box and Serena looks at it, then up at Bernie’s expectant face. “You didn’t have to go to the trouble of making me a birthday cake,” she tells her, before accepting the box and setting it down on the table. She lifts the lid and Adrienne murmurs her approval as she sees the cake. Serena can only stare, momentarily speechless, at the chocolate glazed cake.
“Is that–?” she begins, finally finding her tongue. “Is that a dacquoise?”
Bernie gives her a shy smile. “Specifically, a coffee dacquoise with a chocolate glaze. Happy birthday, love.” She ducks her head and presses a brief, chaste kiss to Serena’s lips, then adds, “I’ve got to get back to it, but I’ll see you later. Enjoy the rest of your day.”
“Don’t work too hard,” Serena admonishes and gets a wave in response as Bernie strides back to the counter for the second time.
Once they leave the coffeeshop, they head back to the car to put the cake safely away, then they head to the big shopping centre as Adrienne wants to buy Serena some new clothes and jewellery. Serena can’t help wishing Bernie was with them – she’s sure she’d find shopping with her ever hyper-critical mother a lot more bearable with the blonde at her side in supportive girlfriend mode.
They get home by 4pm, and Adrienne says that she wants a bath before they go out to dinner. Serena nods and after securing the cake Bernie gave her in the pantry, she takes her bags upstairs. Her mother bought her three new silk blouses, a dress, and two pairs of trousers, plus a necklace and matching earrings. Serena had bought Bernie a pair of gold stud earrings which she’s sure she’ll get a scolding for since Bernie’s not really her girlfriend and Bernie is wealthier than Serena, but she doesn’t care – she saw them and knew they’d look good on Bernie, so she gave in to her impulse and bought them. However, since she’s fairly sure that Bernie will object to having them, she’s going to wait until after her mother leaves before she gives them to the blonde.
Serena has showered and is standing, wrapped in her bathrobe, in front of her open wardrobe doors when Bernie gets home.
“Hello, love,” the blonde says, and drops a kiss on Serena’s temple. “How was the rest of your day.”
Serena blows out a breath. “Not too bad,” she says and tries not to react too obviously when Bernie moves to stand behind her, wrapping her arms around Serena’s body. “Adrienne took me shopping for clothes and jewellery.”
“Was it very stressful?” Bernie asks, her nose nuzzling behind Serena’s right ear.
Serena sighs. “Am I that obvious?”
Bernie chuckles softly. “You are pretty tense. We’ve got a bit of time, haven’t we?” When Serena nods, the blonde draws her over to the bed. “Sit down and I’ll give you a shoulder massage.”
“You don’t need to do that,” Serena objects, although she secretly loves the idea.
“Of course I don’t,” agrees Bernie. “But it’d help, wouldn’t it?”
“Yes,” she sighs and sits down on the side of the bed.
Bernie climbs behind her and shakes her hands and arms energetically, then says, “Tell me if I’m too firm – remember I’m used to kneading bread not massaging people.”
Serena chuckles, then moans embarrassingly loudly as Bernie’s long, slender fingers set to work.
“Well, that’s a good start,” the blonde says with a chuckle of her own. She stops within moments, however, and asks cautiously, “Are you wearing any underwear?”
Serena feels her face heat up, then the blush rushing south, down her throat and onto her chest. “Yes,” she says huskily.
“Okay. I’m going to move your robe off your shoulders as it’s too slippery for me to get a proper grip on you.”
Bernie eases the robe down just far enough for it to clear Serena’s shoulders, then goes back to work on massaging her neck and shoulders, and she feels the day’s tension easing out of her muscles.
“God, you’re good at that,” she says. “If you ever get bored of baking, you could set up in business as a masseur.”
Bernie chuckles. “Why thank you, ma’am.”
“You have very talented hands,” Serena observes when the blonde gives her shoulders a final squeeze, then moves off the bed. “Masseur, baker, surgeon.”
Bernie quirks the corner of her mouth and Serena flushes again as she realises what else the blonde is probably good at doing with her hands. Her mouth goes dry as she wonders just how good it would feel Bernie’s hands elsewhere on her body.
“I’m going to grab a shower,” the blonde says, her low, husky voice doing things to both Serena’s body and her imagination.
“Okay.” She feels a sense of relief when Bernie locks herself in the ensuite – the simmering sexual tension between them is driving her crazy. Which is somehow not something she’d foreseen when Bernie had proposed this plan.
She pulls her robe back up around her neck and shoulders, then moves in front of the wardrobe once more, determined to be fully clothed by the time Bernie emerges from the bathroom.
They manage to avoid any further incidents of UST – mainly because Serena only waits until Bernie emerges from the bathroom, fully wrapped in a far more substantial bathrobe than Serena’s, to tell her that she is going to join Adrienne downstairs. Bernie’s nod is distracted, her gaze flitting up and down Serena’s body. She’s wearing her new dress, a deep red one that’s practically the same colour as a Shiraz, and which clings to her curves in a very satisfying manner. Although she’s a little embarrassed by how much she wants Bernie, it’s still gratifying to see the blonde’s blatant admiration for the way she looks.
As she makes her way downstairs, however, she can’t help wondering whether she and Bernie are going to make it through this weekend without anything sexual taking place between them.
Then she wonders if it would be a bad thing if something did.
The three women enjoy good conversation and a delicious meal to celebrate Serena’s birthday, and when they get home Bernie is properly drooping following her very early start that morning, so Serena decides they should have an early night. She knows that her mother will happily occupy herself with the radio, a book, or the television in the guest room, so she feels no qualms about going to bed at the same time as Bernie.
Serena’s surprised, however, when she enters her bedroom, to see a somewhat haphazardly wrapped gift sitting on her pillow.
“Happy birthday, Serena,” Bernie says, her voice husky with the need for some sleep.
“Thank you.” She picks up the gift and smirks at the blonde. “You need gift wrapping lessons.”
Bernie smirks right back. “Are you going to teach me?” Her husky voice is so sexy to Serena’s ears that she has to force herself not to jump the other woman. Adding to the general sexiness is Bernie’s attire – a variation on what she wore the night she first came to dinner at Serena’s, only this time the waistcoat is a pale blue one and she’s wearing a matching blue bowtie.
“If you play your cards right,” Serena says, flirting right back.
Bernie chuckles, then nods at the gift. “Aren’t you going to open it?”
Serena smiles, then pulls the gift wrapping off to reveal a plain brown cardboard box. Lifting the lid, she finds not just the expected bottle of wine, but also what turns out to be a portable wine glass with – Bernie tells her eagerly – a spill-proof sippable lid and a double wall for insulation.
“I figured you could use it for picnics or beach parties, assuming you go to either of those,” Bernie says, tucking a loose strand of blonde hair behind her ear as she gives Serena a shy smile.
“I’ll have to, now,” Serena says with a grin. She notes that the bottle of wine – Shiraz, of course, because if nothing else, Bernie Wolfe pays attention – is wrapped in something white, and when she lifts it out, she discovers that it’s a specially designed ‘wine tote’ bag that will hold two bottles of wine.
“Also for picnics, I presume?” she asks, and Bernie nods. “Well, I’m very impressed by the ingeniousness of both the tote and the portable wine glass.” She looks at the label on the Shiraz. “And this is top quality stuff, too.”
Bernie’s shy smile returns. “The wife of my old CO is a sommelier in a top London restaurant, so I rang Clarissa and asked her for some suggestions. She was the one who put me onto the tote and the portable glass, too.”
“Thank you very much, Bernie,” she says, and wraps her arms around the blonde. “You didn’t have to go to so much trouble or expense, you know.”
“And what kind of girlfriend would your mother think me if I didn’t make some sort of effort?” Bernie asks, nuzzling her nose against Serena’s.
“Fair point.” She shifts and presses her lips against Bernie’s who immediately deepens the kiss, then nips at Serena’s bottom lip. Their tongues tangle together and they slide their hands against each other’s bodies until Serena, who’s desperately aroused, pulls back to say, “You know, my mother isn’t watching us and isn’t likely to come barging in here, so you don’t need to kiss me.”
“Do you want me to stop?” Bernie asks, nibbling along her jaw.
“God, no,” Serena sighs.
“Then I won’t.”
Bernie backs her up to the bed, unzips her dress (and catches it, laying it carefully over her chair) then lifts Serena onto the bed and kneels over her, eyes dark with desire.
“I’ve wanted you since the day we met,” she says, her voice husky with arousal.
“Oh god, me too,” Serena groans as Bernie cups her shins, then slides her hands tantalisingly slowly up her legs.
“What a hopeless pair we are,” Bernie says with a wry grin.
“Not anymore,” Serena says, and sits up, stilling Bernie’s hands, which have reached her thighs. “You’re overdressed, love.”
“I want to undress you,” she adds. “As if I’m unwrapping another present from you.”
Bernie chuckles, then lifts her hands away, allowing her arms to hang loosely by her sides. “Be my guest.”
Serena leans in and kisses her hungrily while unbuttoning her waistcoat. “This is by far the better birthday gift,” she murmurs against Bernie’s lips.
“I’ll take the other stuff back tomorrow then, shall I?” Bernie asks, her tone teasing.
“No.” Serena’s response is immediate and the blonde laughs softly, which makes Serena pinch her side. “Tease.”
“Guilty as charged.”
Once Serena has her down to her underwear: a matching bra and panties set in a bold red colour that’s surprisingly lacy, she pulls the other woman down to lie on top of her. They kiss languidly, hands roaming across each other’s bodies, until Bernie nips at Serena’s bottom lip, and that’s enough for Serena to take matters into her own hands and move things onto the next stage.
When Serena accompanies Bernie to her ex’s wedding in London three weeks after her birthday, the pair are there as an actual couple, rather than fake girlfriends. Bernie has stayed at Serena’s every weekend since her birthday, and Serena has stayed overnight at Bernie’s flat on three occasions, an arrangement that suits them both.
The pair have discovered that their sexual chemistry is ‘undeniable’, as Bernie phrased it, although Serena is more inclined to describe it as ‘scorching hot’. They have also discovered a great deal of compatibility in both their world views and their interests outside of the ‘scorching hot’ sex. Serena feels like she’s finally met her match – a woman who is smart, sexy, capable, determined, and full of sufficient energy to keep up with her needs. It feels a bit like a miracle, especially when she meets Alex on Friday night at the pre-wedding dinner for Alex’s family and closest friends. Alex is slim, like Bernie, with dark brown hair and, if Serena’s any judge, she’s at least a decade younger than Bernie. Serena’s a little surprised that she and Bernie split up, but she doesn’t say anything – for her part, she’s very glad that they did.
She also meets Bernie’s old CO and his wife, Clarissa, an attractive woman with blue, large framed glasses, shoulder length brown hair and sparkling blue eyes. She’s carrying a handbag decorated with stickers featuring bats and red squirrels, which Serena finds intriguing – she’s more used to seeing such stickers on children’s accessories than on the accessories of adult women. But she’s not interested in judging the woman, only in talking wine with her, if she gets the opportunity.
Dinner is delicious and by good fortune Serena is seated between Bernie and Clarissa, while Bernie has Clarissa’s husband Jack on her right.
“They’ll be talking shop half the night, I expect,” Clarissa says with a wry smile. “So you’re stuck with me.”
Serena smiles. “That’s absolutely fine with me. Bernie tells me you’re a sommelier, and that you were the one who advised her on what to get me for my birthday a few weeks ago.”
Clarissa grins and happily falls into an absorbing and instructive conversation with Serena. So absorbed is she, in fact, that she barely recalls eating anything and certainly couldn’t tell anyone what she ate afterwards.
“I see you made a new friend,” Bernie observes later as they’re getting ready for bed.
“I did,” Serena agrees happily. “Clarissa’s a fascinating woman.”
Bernie chuckles. “I knew you two would hit it off. If I didn’t know that Clarissa’s straight and very happily married to Jack, I’d be a little concerned.”
Serena sticks her tongue out in response to this, then smothers a shriek when Bernie grabs her and tumbles her onto the bed in an unexpectedly playful fashion.
They mock wrestle for several minutes until Bernie pins Serena down, her hands clasped by the wrists above her head and Bernie’s hips pressing firmly against hers.
“Do you yield?” Bernie asks, her voice husky.
“I might,” Serena says coquettishly. “Depends what’s in it for me.”
Bernie lowers her head and kisses her passionately, and Serena surrenders happily to her lover’s intentions.
As she falls asleep, spent and sated, some time later, Serena thanks her lucky stars for choosing to try the new coffeeshop near the hospital. Going to Bean and Gone has proved to be a life-changing experience. She’s never been happier.