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The Way to a Chief Inspector's Heart...

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"This is the life, Jones." Tom Barnaby lay back on the brightly coloured plaid blanket with one hand tucked behind his neck and his legs crossed at the ankles. The sun was high in the sky, the clouds were of the fluffiest variety, and in his raised hand, he held a chicken drumstick, half-devoured.

Detective Sergeant Ben Jones watched his commanding officer with a smile. "Glad you approve, sir. A picnic seemed the most sensible thing to do, what with this case chasing us all over Midsomer."

"Good thinking. I like initiative, Jones." Tom had all but denuded the bone and was down to the very last morsel of meat. Almost regretful to be running out, he nibbled at it gently.

"Is that so, sir?" Ben asked, in a curious tone.

"Hm." Tom rolled onto his side, not giving a moment's thought to the inevitable crumpling of his suit. "What else are you keeping in that treasure trove of a picnic basket?" he asked, looking quite hopeful.

Ben grinned. "Well, sir, we have sausage rolls, Scotch eggs, potato salad, Dundee cake, fresh strawberries, bread rolls - white and wholemeal ones, chocolate éclairs and - as we're on duty - ginger beer instead of the champagne that usually goes with strawberries on a picnic."

Tom gaped at him in undisguised disbelief. "That's very amusing, detective."

Looking rather offended, Ben insisted, "I'm not joking, sir. See for yourself."

Tom laughed out loud at the sulky expression, not to mention the very idea that Jones should have brought even half those things along. Supporting himself on his elbow, he pulled the wicker basket closer and opened the lid. Peering over the side, he started examining its contents, poking at gingham-wrapped packages and lifting up lidded containers. The longer he poked and prodded, the more astonished his expression became.

"I told you," Ben said smugly.

"Where did you buy all this? And when? And why?" Tom asked when his jaw was finally working again.

"I didn't. I made it. Well, except the strawberries and ginger beer, of course."

"You... made it?" When Ben nodded, looking rather bashful, Tom chuckled. "I had no idea! You have hidden talents, Jones."


Amazement temporarily put aside in light of all those treats at his disposal, Tom told him, "If you prepared all this yourself, I'm going to try the lot. And don't even try to stop me."

Ben sat up and crossed his legs, beaming from ear to ear. "Wouldn't dream of it, sir. Go right ahead. Here, start with a sausage roll." He picked it up in a napkin and handed it to Tom. "They're an old family recipe; there's paprika and a special herb mix in there, and a few other ingredients that are top secret, so I can't tell you."

Chuckling, Tom visually examined the highly recommended pastry, and then took a hearty bite. It all but melted in his mouth. "Jones, you are amazing!" He made a sound of pure pleasure. "Remind me to put you up for promotion at the earliest opportunity."

Blushing furiously, Ben handed him a Scotch egg next, which turned out to be every bit as delicious. So it went, with Ben handing Tom an open bottle of ginger beer to wash down each item as he worked his way through them.

"I don't suppose," Tom mumbled finally around a mouthful of Dundee cake, after having sampled his way through the entire range on offer, "that you'd be willing to give my wife cooking lessons?"

Ben snickered. "Ah. I did wonder why you always seem especially pleased to be called out on a case at mealtimes."

Tom had the decency to look slightly sheepish. "My wife has the best of intentions, but I'm afraid starving hordes would prefer fasting to one of her culinary experiments."

"That's a shame, sir. Considering how fond you are of a good meal."

Tom frowned at him. "Are you calling me gluttonous?"

"Not at all, sir! I'm calling you a sensualist." Ben smiled. When Tom gave him a speculative look, he quickly, and without running the suggestion through his mind sufficiently first, added, "I quite enjoy cooking and baking. If you'd like to... I mean, if you want to, occasionally... I'd love to have you for dinner... come over for dinner, I mean. Oh my God."

Tom's eyes had widened during that monologue. When Jones finally got to the rather damning end of it, he cleared his throat. "Well, I... why not?"

Ben's mouth fell open. "You're saying yes?"

"I have to admit, I'm not 100% sure what it is I'm agreeing to, and I'm blaming a food-induced rush of endorphines for that, but..." Tom's voice trailed off as he gazed longingly into the still nearly full basket of goodies. A particularly ripe strawberry glistened in the sunlight, and he couldn't help himself. He reached out for it and was about to pop it into his mouth, when Jones was suddenly kneeling in front of him.

"Never mind why you're saying yes. Are you saying yes?"

Tom looked at him, dimly realizing Jones was asking for confirmation that yes, he would come over. For dinner. And he found himself nodding. He could not possibly refuse. The food was too delicious, Jones' kitchen skills quite superb, and Jones' eyes were... pleading.

Smiling, Ben leaned very close and, taking advantage of Tom's shock at the sudden invasion of his personal space, wrapped one hand around the back of Tom's neck and kissed him soundly. He was pleased to meet no resistance. Even when he prodded at his superior's lips until they parted, and introduced his tongue into the proceedings, there was still no resistance. In fact, there was what could only be called an enthusiastic response.

When Ben drew back breathlessly, he felt bold enough to take the strawberry from Tom's fingers and raise it to his mouth. "Open up."

Tom did, and the treat was pushed between his lips.

"If you do come," Ben said softly, presumably referring to their dinner assignation. "I'll serve you the sweetest cherries you've ever tasted." He leaned in and whispered into Tom's ear, "But you'll have to eat them from my mouth." When Tom groaned softly, he smirked. "Sir."