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now I need someone to hold, be my fire in the cold

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This time, when Serena wakes, there are no golden strands tickling her nose. Just a steady warmth at her back and a weight across her waist as she blinks the sleep from her eyes.

Bernie’s breath is even and soft against her neck, each exhale ruffling the fine hair at her nape.

She knows she should pull away, that Bernie would be horrified if she knew she’d curled so tightly around Serena in her sleep. But being wrapped in Bernie’s strong, slender arms feels so nice, so safe.

The last thing she wants to do is leave.

Instead she lets herself drift, eyes half closed, unconsciously matching Bernie’s breathing with her own. It’s easy to imagine a morning like this in her own comfortable bed, Bernie’s warm body making it hard to bear the thought of leaving, and she’s distantly amazed at how very right it feels.

Behind her, Bernie stirs, mutters something unintelligible and splays her hand flat across Serena’s stomach, pulling her in that much closer. Serena holds her breath, holds her limbs still, desperate not to wake Bernie.

Another snuffle comes near her ear, Bernie’s lips glancing against her skin, making her shiver. Then Bernie’s hand moves again, comes up to softly cover Serena’s breast.

Desire floods Serena, thick and hot. It’s all she can do to keep herself from grinding back into Bernie, encouraging her touch.

The feeling is quickly chased by a stab of confused guilt. Bernie is her friend, has no idea what she’s doing in her sleep; Serena’s throat tightens at the thought of taking advantage, the idea that she might want to.

She reaches down, gently curls her fingers around Bernie’s wrist. Moves the wandering hand to rest on the bed. Bernie jerks a bit, snuffles some more, and Serena shuffles forward, putting some space between them.

Bernie rolls away, onto her back, and Serena can’t help sighing with relief.

“Morning,” Bernie says, soon enough, her voice low and rough with sleep.

It plucks at the lingering thread of arousal in Serena’s veins, and she pushes the feeling away as she rolls to face Bernie, smiles fondly at her sleepy eyes, the bird’s nest of hair.

“Happy Christmas,” she says softly.

Bernie’s face slips into an unguarded grin that makes Serena’s heart stutter a bit.

“Happy Christmas,” she replies, before a massive yawn stretches her jaw wide. She buries her face back into her pillow. Asks, words muffled, “What exactly was in that hot cocoa last night?”

“Whiskey for sure, and some Kahlua.” She chuckles a bit at Bernie’s groan. “Though I think Sian was getting a little creative with the recipe towards the end.”

“That woman is evil.” Bernie turns her head just enough to peer at Serena, furrowing her brow like a disgruntled golden retriever. “I don’t suppose we could just have a lie in today?”

“I’m afraid not, darling.” It feels so natural, Serena doesn’t even realize what she’s said. Nor does she stop herself from brushing a strand of hair from across Bernie’s pillow creased face, tucking it back behind her ear. “If we stay in bed much longer, we’ll never hear the end of it.”

Something suspiciously close to a pout crosses Bernie’s face, and she tugs her pillow over her head with a “hmpf.”

Serena chuckles softly as she slips from the bed, surveys the recalcitrant lump for a moment, a mischievous grin tugging at her lips as she reaches down to grip the duvet. Pulls, hard, whipping the fabric from the bed, baring Bernie to the chill air of the bedroom.

She rushes away, laughing all the way to the shower, Bernie’s indignant curses echoing in her wake.

Things change when they join the others. Serena’s not sure why, exactly, but it’s suddenly so easy to grasp Bernie’s hand, to lean against her, to telegraph to the world that they’re together, for all that it’s a pretense.

They spend most of the day in a tight orbit to one another, working in tandem as they help prepare supper. Even when Bernie isn’t by her side, Serena’s eyes invariably seek her out, lingering on the lines of her body as she leans over the table, setting out the serving dishes.

“You really have got it bad.” Serena startles at Sian’s words, glares at her friend. “Not that I can blame you.”

“Oh shush,” Serena says, cheeks warm. She glances up again, catches Bernie looking back her way with a crooked little smile. It’s only when Sian’s hip bumps hers that she realizes they’ve both been staring.

Her blush deepens and she forces her focus back on the potatoes she’s slicing.

They settle in the sitting room after supper. It’s a tight fit with everyone and their bellies fair groaning with rich food and too much wine. Serena snags a corner of the couch, tucked up beside Sian and as far from Mark as she can manage. Bernie sits on the floor at her feet, waving off Serena’s concerns as she leans back against padded arm, her soft hair just brushing against Serena’s finger tips.

Sian passes out the small gifts she’d asked everyone to bring. Serena pulled a few things out of her re-gift closet before they left, enough for both her and Bernie, didn’t want to put the extra pressure of gift shopping on her with it being so last minute. Bernie cranes her head back with an incredulous look when Hillary coos over a garish multi-colored scarf she’s pulled from a package with Bernie’s name on it.

“Don’t tell Ric,” Serena whispers, lips close to Bernie’s ear. “When he asked why I never wear it, I told him Elinor took it.” She grins at Bernie’s startled honk of a laugh, squeezes her shoulder a bit.

Gift opening turns to carol singing, Bernie’s reedy voice blending with Serena’s lusty alto. There’s a seemingly unending amount of mulled wine courtesy of their host, and before long they’re all changing the words, ad libbing far from family friendly versions and laughing themselves to tears.

Someone pulls out a case of crackers, everyone gleefully pairing off to break them open. Serena gives the other end of hers to Bernie, and they pull hard on the count of three, wincing a bit at the loud pop. The red paper crown flutters into her lap, and Serena carefully unfolds it, places it on Bernie’s head with all the inebriated pomp she can muster.

It promptly slips down over one of Bernie’s eyes, and Serena dissolves into giggles.

She leans down to straighten it, pushing it back out of Bernie’s eyes, along with her unruly fringe. The laughter dies on her lips when she realizes how close Bernie is, close enough to see those wide dark eyes flick downward, lingering on her lips.

It’s the most natural thing in the world, to lean in the last few inches, to slant her mouth across Bernie’s and chase the lingering spice of the mulled wine with the tip of her tongue.

A chorus of obnoxious throat clearing pierces the bubble around them. Serena jerks away, heart hammering unevenly in her chest, desperate not to look at Bernie’s kiss swollen lips.

She can’t help thinking she crossed a line, fake relationship or not, but Bernie doesn’t pull away. Just looks up at Serena with those fathomless eyes, and it feels like the earth tilts beneath her.

“I think I’d better turn in,” she manages weakly, tuning out the ribald explanations for her exhaustion hollered from across the room.

Serena presses a kiss to Sian’s cheek, levers herself up with a hand on Bernie’s shoulder, and makes her way to the bedroom. She’s already in her pajamas when Bernie comes in, and slides between the sheets to the sounds of Bernie puttering in the ensuite.

A part of her wants to go to sleep, to avoid talking to Bernie, seeing the emotions she fears on her friend’s face. But the room spins each time she closes her eyes, stomach churning queasily with worry and too much wine.

So, she stares at the ceiling instead.

The bed dips with Bernie’s weight, the duvet rustling as she settles. Serena can feel her gaze like a tangible thing, the only sounds Bernie’s soft breathing and her own unsteady heartbeat.

“Serena?” Bernie’s voice sounds so small, so worried, Serena’s helpless to ignore it.

Rolling onto her side, she faces Bernie, her vision adjusted enough to the dark to make out the concerned furrow of Bernie’s brow, the tension in her lips.

“I’m sorry.” The words are thick in Serena’s throat, and Bernie’s frown deepens. “That I made you uncomfortable. That, that I forced you into all this, and made a mess of your holiday.”

Hot tears prick at her eyelids, and Serena blinks them back furiously.

Gentle fingers slide against the back of her hand where it rests between them, hesitate a moment, then curl around her own fingers.

“Serena, no.” She expects to see disapproval when she meets Bernie’s eyes, but all she finds there is warmth. “I’m not uncomfortable, and you didn’t force me to do anything. In fact,“ Bernie clears her throat, tongue darting out to wet her lips. “This is actually the nicest Christmas I’ve had in years.”

Serena just nods, afraid of what will come out if she opens her mouth. Carefully she turns her hand, slotting their fingers together and giving Bernie’s hand a soft squeeze.

Bernie returns the gesture, uses her grip to pull Serena a little closer, near enough that she can feel Bernie’s warmth, their bare toes bumping.

Serena’s breathing slows with the weight of too much wine, confusing emotions ebbing enough to let her eyes flutter shut. She thinks she feels a gentle kiss pressed to her hairline, but sleep takes her before she’s sure, and she sinks into slumber.

❄ ❄ ❄

A distant ping penetrates Serena's mind, pulling her from sleep, followed by another. And another. Blinking in the pre-dawn dark, she dimly registers that she and Bernie are just as they fell asleep, face to face, hands intertwined.

Carefully sliding her hand free, she rolls onto her back with a groan, fumbling on the nightstand for her phone. She peers at the too bright screen, at the list of notifications.

happy crstmas!!!!! love u mum xxxxx wish u wer here

The last is just a string of incomprehensible emojis and a selfie of a clearly inebriated Elinor, squashed between Edward and his child bride in no better state.

Angry tears fill her eyes, blurring the screen, the grammatically dubious texts serving as yet another reminder of her daughter’s desire to be with anyone but her.

She slaps the phone back on the table with a huff, willing herself not to cry.

"S'rena?" The sheets rustle beside her, Bernie blinking up at her owlishly. "What time is it?"

"It's early," Serena says, praying Bernie will take the roughness of her voice for tiredness. "Go back to sleep."

"What's wrong?"

No such luck, then, she thinks, cursing Bernie's ability to see right through to the heart of her.

"It's nothing. Apparently Elinor just noticed that it's Christmas. Well, was Christmas."

She can't keep the note of bitterness from her voice, the hurt that seeps through. Fingers slide against her own, curling around her hand and tugging slightly. Serena sighs, burrowing back under the warmth of the duvet.

"I'm sorry," Bernie says softly, her thumb rubbing gentle circles against Serena's knuckles. "It's hard, being without your kids."

Her voice hitches a little, tugs at something in Serena's chest. She squeezes Bernie's hand tight, shifts a little closer.

"I suppose we just need to remember they're adults. They can make their own decisions."

Bernie hums in response. "Doesn't it make it any easier." Her hand slides up over Serena's wrist, fingers brushing the inside of her forearm, triggering a spate of goosebumps. "I'm sorry about Ellie. And I'm sorry you had to spend your Christmas snogging me instead of being with her."

It’s clearly meant to be a joke, a bit of humor to lighten the mood. But Bernie looks at her with those soft, caring eyes, and Serena speaks before her mind has a chance to process.

"I'm not."

Bernie’s eyes go wide, and Serena realizes what she’s said. It would be easy to walk it back, say she meant something else, but at that moment she knows with absolute certainty that she doesn’t want to. That whatever this is, she doesn’t want to ignore it, to pretend it isn’t happening.

The spark of hope she sees in Bernie’s dark eyes buoys her courage.

“I’m not sorry at all,” she reaffirms, despite the tremor in her voice. “If I’m honest, being with you, kissing you has been the only thing that made this holiday bearable.”

Bernie inhales a sharp breath, staring at Serena intently, as if she holds all the secrets to the universe, but doesn’t speak. The silence filling the space between them is deafening, and Serena’s confidence flags. She tries to pull away, to put some more space between them, but Bernie’s hand tightens, holding her fast.

“I, uh, I thought it was all pretend.” There’s a question in Bernie’s voice, and it occurs to Serena that maybe she’s not the only one who’s frightened.

“It was supposed to be,” Serena admits, twining her fingers more securely with Bernie’s, a lifeline between them. “But I’m not sure it ever really was.”

“You’re not sure?”

“Well, I think some of that is rather up to you.” Serena carefully lifts Bernie’s hand to her lips, brushes a soft kiss against her knuckle. “But I know that I don’t want to pretend anymore.”

Her heart hammers wildly in her chest, a mix of elation and pure terror flooding her system with adrenaline. Thoughts careen through her head, screaming that she’s ruined everything, that she’s going to lose her best friend.

Then Bernie kisses her.

Serena’s surprised whimper is swallowed by Bernie’s mouth, fingers jerking slightly in Bernie’s grip. This is nothing like the kisses they’ve shared since this all started, Bernie’s restraint and uncertainty evaporating, leaving nothing but aching desire in their wake.

This kiss is focused and intense, and Serena moans as Bernie’s tongue teases between her lips, her hands finding a home in the silken curls of Bernie’s hair.

When they part they’re both breathing hard, lips only millimeters apart.

“Serena.” Bernie’s voice is a full octave lower, and the husk of it travels right between Serena’s legs. “Are you sure?”

“Very,” Serena whispers, brushing her lips against Bernie’s. “Extremely,” she says with another kiss. “Absolutely certain.”

Bernie crushes Serena against her with a groan, slanting her mouth hard across Serena’s.

They can’t seem to stop kissing now they’ve started, can’t get close enough. Serena’s hands eagerly map the length of Bernie’s back, clutching her close as she trails hot open mouthed kisses along Serena’s neck and jaw. She can’t resist slipping lower, cupping that glorious arse with a firm squeeze, delights at the way the action has Bernie surging upward, kissing her until she can’t breathe.

They move together across the bed, Serena ending up on her back with Bernie between her legs, every inch of them pressed flush. The feel of Bernie’s curves, the softness of her, the lean strength, is overwhelming.

Serena gasps as nimble fingers find the warm skin of her stomach, stroking along the waist of her pajama bottoms. Bernie pulls back, lips kiss swollen, and eyes questioning.

The last thing Serena wants is questions. She reaches between their bodies and flicks open the first button of her shirt, Bernie’s eyes immediately tracking the movement. The second opens quickly after, revealing more of the pale skin beneath.

Her fingers only manage to brush the third button before Bernie pushes them away, determined to finish the task herself. It impossible to feel anything but glorious when Bernie Wolfe is looming over you, looking at you like you’re one of the wonders of the world. Still Serena’s breath catches a bit as the last button slips free, a thread of nervousness slithering through her.

God,” Bernie whispers, looking like all her Christmases have come at once as her hands slide higher up Serena’s trembling abdomen, parting the polka dotted silk until it falls away from her chest. The naked awe in her gaze leaves no room for self-consciousness, spreads a delicious warm through Serena’s entire body.

Bernie gently cups her breasts, fingers circling her peaked nipples, and Serena gasps when the soft touch is replaced by the hot wetness of Bernie’s tongue.

She quickly finds that the single minded focus Bernie brings to theater is just as effective in other arenas, reduced to a babbling mess by the coordinated assault of Bernie’s hands and mouth.

Every nerve ending is hypersensitive, responding to Bernie’s barest touch, and before long Serena’s hips are rolling mindlessly against Bernie’s stomach, seeking friction. Leaving another in a series of rapidly reddening love bites across Serena’s torso, Bernie finally moves lower, dropping a line of kisses over the swell of her stomach as her fingers catch beneath the waistband of Serena’s pajamas.

It’s a bit awkward, but between the two of them they manage to discard the last pieces of Serena’s clothing.

Then Bernie gets comfortable, and the sight of that blonde mop of hair resting between her thighs, those dark eyes staring up at her, has Serena on the edge, hips squirming against the mattress.

Bernie chuckles softly, noses lightly against the thatch of dark curls, before detouring to nip lightly at Serena’s inner thigh, soothing the sting with a swipe of her tongue, repeating the action on the other thigh.

Long fingers part her carefully, the musky scent of her arousal filling the air, and Serena moans, all ready half desperate for anything, everything Bernie wants to do.

The first tentative touch of her tongue has Serena’s seeing stars, fingers threaded through Bernie’s hair, desperate for purchase. She bites down on her lip to stop herself from crying out, bucking up into Bernie’s mouth.

Gripping Serena’s hips to keep her still, Bernie explores at her leisure; finds every place that makes Serena twitch and gasp, every sensitive spot. Tastes and teases, again and again, until Serena is trembling, desperate for release.

Bernie’s lips gently surround her clit, tongue flickering and teasing, and Serena’s orgasm hits her with all the elegance of a freight train. Stars flash behind her eyes, a dull roar of blood in her ears.

She doesn’t know how long it takes to come back to herself, but when her senses finally unscramble, Serena realizes that Bernie is still there, mouth pressed lightly against her, a challenge sparkling in her eyes.

This time there’s no hope of being quiet. Bernie’s mouth is relentless, builds Serena up, has her cursing into the early morning dim of their room. All thought of the others in the house disappears, washed away by a tidal wave of pleasure as two fingers fill her, followed quickly by a third, curling and stretching, till Serena comes with a shout, back arching off the sheets, every muscle taut.

She collapses back, panting, eyes blurry. Pats vaguely at Bernie’s tousled hair, fingers slipping against her shoulder. Bernie chuckles, retraces her earlier path with her mouth until she settles atop Serena, elbows braced on either side of her head.

“Good lord,” Serena manages, voice hoarse. Bernie grins smugly, nuzzles against Serena’s sweat damp hairline.

“I’ll say. I could do that all day.”

Serena clenches at the thought, whimpers.

“Careful. I may make you prove that.”

“Name the time and place, Ms. Campbell,” Bernie replies. “I’m happy to serve.”

They’re both laughing a bit as they kiss, teeth bumping before they settle into it. Serena thrills at the taste of herself on Bernie’s lips, the memory of what she’d just done.

Serena maps the line of Bernie’s spine with her hands, rucks her vest up enough to find the warm skin underneath, and she feels the vibration of Bernie’s moan against her lips, the twitch of stomach muscles beneath her fingers. Between Bernie’s warm weight and the tight fabric, Serena’s blocked from exploring further, and she tugs a bit at the offending garment.

“Take this off,” she mutters against Bernie’s mouth.

Bernie catches Serena’s bottom lip between her teeth, releases it with a pop as she sits back on her heels, straddling Serena’s thighs. With a careless flourish, she tugs the vest over her head and tosses it across the room, the static turning her hair into a floating halo of gold.

“Better?” she asks with a teasing quirk of an eyebrow, and Serena thinks that smug shouldn’t be nearly as sexy as it is on a half naked Bernie Wolfe.

“Much.” Bernie makes to duck down for another kiss, but Serena stops her. “Wait, I just-, I’d like to look at you. If that’s all right.”

Bernie nods and settles back again, still and calm. But Serena can see the tension in Bernie’s body, the fluttering pulse point at the base of her neck and the faint pink staining her cheekbones. The thought that Bernie has ever been made to feel anything less than incredible pangs in Serena’s chest.

“You are so beautiful,” Serena whispers, thumbs scribing soft circles against the sharp bones of Bernie’s hips. Slowly she lets her touch drift higher, learning the landscape of Bernie’s body, marking the landmarks as she passes. From the faded cesarean scar just above the waist of her scrub bottoms, to the still pink welt bisecting her sternum, the marks are like a timeline of Bernie’s life, one Serena wants to know as well as her own history.

But those are questions for another day. For now, Serena’s sole focus is learning how to give Bernie all the pleasure that she can manage.

Bernie’s breasts are a warm weight in Serena’s hands, her skin intoxicatingly soft. Her head falls back as Serena’s fingers circle her nipples, a slow breath hissed between her teeth, holding her body still as Serena explores.

It's one thing to have Bernie driving her insane, stoking this new fire between them, but it's quite another to be the catalyst, to push things forward. Not that she doesn't want to, not that she's not brave enough. Just that she wants to be as good as Bernie deserves.

Pushing up to sit, Serena replaces her fingers with her mouth, flicking and swirling her tongue against the hard nub, hears Bernie gasp a curse above her.

It’s all so different from what she’s used to; silky skin and curves where she’s used to coarse hair and hard angles. For a moment she hesitates, overwhelmed but the newness of it all, feels like she has no idea what she’s doing. But Serena has never been ashamed to admit she loves sex. Prides herself on being quite good at it, thank you very much. And while there is so much that’s different, she quickly finds the things that are the same.

For all her usual reticence, Bernie is incredibly responsive, and Serena seeks out each gasp, each hitch of breath with the same rigor she applies to diagnosing an illness. Before long, Bernie is practically panting, hips grinding against Serena’s belly, nails scratching softly at her scalp.

A gentle application of teeth makes her yelp, and Serena can’t help but do it again, glancing up with a grin, the sight of Bernie’s flushed face and blown pupils making her throb.

The fingers in her hair tighten, and Bernie pulls her up into a bruising kiss.

Serena drags her blunt nails lightly down Bernie’s back, tugs the tie of the scrubs loose and slides her hands beneath, cupping her backside, and tugging Bernie that much closer.

Bernie pushes her back against the pillow with an honest to god growl, and they both fumble with the thin fabric, working it down her long legs.

The last barrier between them discarded, a renewed nervousness flutters in Serena’s chest. She covers by kissing Bernie slow and deep, rolling them until she plastered along Bernie’s side, a leg slung over her thighs.

Or she thinks she covers.

Bernie’s hands stroke soothingly against Serena’s back, the kiss trailing off to a series of gentle pecks.

“You don’t have to do anything you’re not comfortable with,” she says softly. With anyone else, the suggestion would prick at Serena’s pride. But there’s no judgement in Bernie’s eyes, just caring and acceptance, and a depth of feeling that makes her breath catch.

“I do know that.” Serena bumps her nose against Bernie’s, tilting her head just so to kiss her, sweet and lingering. “All I want is to make you feel good, darling.” Slowly, she takes Bernie’s hand, drags their tangled fingers over the soft swell of Bernie’s abdomen, until wiry hairs tickles their fingertips. “Show me how?”

Bernie’s eyelids flutter, and she swallows hard. Nods.

Serena keeps her eyes on Bernie’s as her hand is guided lower, into slick heat, and it takes everything in her to stop from grinding against Bernie’s thigh.

“You’re so wet,” she whispers, marveling at the feel against her fingers, so alike to touching herself, yet utterly foreign.

Bernie laughs, nods, the sound trailing off into a moan that awakes something almost feral in Serena, the overwhelming need to take Bernie over the edge, to make her fall apart and put her back together again.

She’s always been a fast study, and she quickly learns the pace that Bernie prefers, the places she likes to be touched. They find a rhythm together, and Bernie’s hand falls away, her back arching helplessly as Serena works her ever higher.

Shifting her wrist, Serena sinks a finger into her, then another, the sensation setting off fireworks in her brain. Keeping gentle pressure against Bernie’s clit with her thumb, she curls her fingers experimentally, the way Bernie had, the way she’s done to herself countless times before.

It may not be elegant, and it’s certainly not comfortable, but Serena knows she never wants to do anything but this for the rest of her life. Each of Bernie’s whimpers, pleas, movements, are etched into Serena’s mind, every sensation utterly unforgettable.

Bernie goes still when she comes: body taut, mouth open in a silent gasp, muscles fluttering and gripping around Serena’s fingers. And then she relaxes with a sigh, sinks back against the sheets, boneless and sated.

Serena eases her fingers free, wiggling some of the sensation back into them. Can’t resist bringing them to her mouth for a taste, smiles at Bernie’s pained groan.

“How, uh, how was it? Was I?” Serena fumbles a bit, rolling her eyes at her own ridiculousness.

“You were amazing.” Bernie brings Serena’s hand to her lips, presses a kiss to her palm, a teasing glint in her eye. “Are you sure there wasn’t some sapphic dalliance in your past?”

Serena’s eyes narrow. “Cheeky,” she grouses, playfully resisting as Bernie tries to pull her down, before finally relenting, sinking into the kiss.

When they part, Bernie is looking up at her intently, something that Serena doesn’t know how to define in her gaze. She smoothes her thumb across Bernie’s brow.

“What is it?”

Bernie’s mouth opens, closes, as if she’s trying to hold back whatever it is. “I just never thought that this-, that we would...” She gestures a bit helplessly, huffing out a sigh. “Just promise me this isn’t a dream.”

The words are light, but Serena reads the seriousness behind them. Neither of them are children, and Serena knows in her bones that this is so much more than a shag between friends. It’s terrifying and exhilarating, and all Serena wants is to show Bernie that she’s not going anywhere. That they’ll figure it out together.

She kisses Bernie, slow and sweet, tries to pour everything she doesn’t know how to say into it.

“It’s not a dream,” she whispers. “This is very real. And I would be more than happy to prove that to you again.” She catches Bernie’s moan with her mouth. “But first, I need coffee.”

Bernie barks a laugh, one of those full-throated honks that fills Serena with joy. She slips from the bed and grabs her robe, knotting it tight against the winter chill, and makes toward the door.

“Serena?”

In years to come, this is the moment that Serena remembers most, an indelible image seared into her mind; long pale limbs among tangled sheets, a bird’s nest of hair, and a blinding smile.

“Yes?”

“Hurry back,” Bernie says, her teeth catching her bottom lip.

It takes all of Serena’s willpower to turn away from the sight.

It’s early, the sun not quite up, and the house is still and quiet as Serena pads down the hall toward the kitchen, already itching to climb back into the warm bed she just left and learn Bernie’s body all over again.

The persistent thrum of desire heating her blood is probably why she doesn’t notice the kitchen’s other occupant until it’s too late.

“Well, well, what have we here?”

Serena freezes, knows she must look like a deer in headlights, pinned in place by Sian’s shrewd glare.

“Uh, good morning,” Serena manages, hoping against hope she doesn’t look as shagged to tatters as she feels. “You’re up early.”

“I’m surprised anyone was able to sleep through that racket.” She looks at Serena pointedly over the rim of her coffee cup. “Seems like you had a very merry Christmas indeed.”

Heat climbs the back of Serena’s neck at Sian’s implication, the realization that what she and Bernie just shared wasn’t as private as they might have hoped. She pulls herself straighter, and glares right back; far too many years have passed between them for her to allow herself to be caught out by Sian Kors.

“You’re just jealous,” she says as she brushes past Sian, pulling two mugs down from the cabinet. “Last I checked, it is a fairly normal thing for couples to do.”

“Oh, Serena!” Sian sighs dramatically. “You can’t possibly think that I believe that nonsense.”

Serena’s heart hammers unevenly in her chest. Too little sleep and a surplus of endorphins are making her head a little fuzzy. She stammers, trying to grasp anything plausible, anything to throw Sian off the scent, but the lies that have come so easily to her all weekend disappear into the ether.

A firm hand on her arm pulls her from her racing thoughts.

“Rena, it’s fine. More than fine! I saw the way you looked at her, the way you looked at each other. That’s why I didn’t call you on all this dating palaver.” There’s no teasing in Sian’s words, only the kind of support that their friendship was founded on; all of a sudden Serena feels a bit silly about it all. “Darling, it’s just nice to see you so happy.”

Serena has to swallow a bit against the sudden lump in her throat.

“It’s nice to be this happy.” She covers Sian’s hand with her own, gives it a soft squeeze of thanks, before turning to fill their cups. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a rather gorgeous blonde in my bed.”

“Lucky,” Sian grumbles good-naturedly, as Serena walks toward the doorway. “Can you at least try to keep it down this time?”

Serena looks back over her shoulder with a grin and a wink. “I’m not promising anything.”

Sian’s delighted laugh follows her upstairs as she takes the two steaming mugs of coffee back to the cozy bedroom. She knows Bernie will be waiting.