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A Christmas Haunting

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25th December

The thing about snow was it reflected light. Bernie hadn’t considered that the previous night when she made the romantic gesture of leaving the curtains open so they could watch the fluffy white flakes fall from the cosy comfort of their bed by firelight. Daylight filled the room and she cursed her lack of forethought. A puff of air being blown between slightly parted lips drew Bernie’s attention to her bed companion.

Turning her head to the right Bernie grinned at the sight of Serena laid on her front, head resting on Bernie’s shoulder, her short grey hair tousled from sleep and looking gorgeous. Suddenly grateful to be awake in order to indulge in watching her wife sleep and noting the wrinkles of age and professional stress smoothed out and almost gone. Bernie decided she was allowed to take credit for this because Serena had told her on numerous occasions how good she was for her.

Serena snuggled into Bernie’s side wrapping her right arm further around Bernie’s waist. Nuzzling her nose against her neck Serena mumbled something incoherent obviously dreaming. Finding her sleeping partner adorable and not wanting to wake her Bernie stifled a chuckle. Kissing Serena's forehead seemed to calm her and she let out a series of small puffs of breath followed by a snore. Bernie covered her mouth and nose with her left hand trying to stifle the laugh threatening to break free which she knew would wake Serena. Between the warmth of her wife's body and the sinfully comfortable bed, Bernie was lulled back to sleep with her lips pressed against Serena's forehead.

An hour or so later Bernie woke feeling rested but somewhat frisky. The light breaths coming from Serena caressed her neck and the press of Serena’s breast against her own felt more than lovely. Their limbs were entwined and Bernie was acutely aware of the position of her wife’s right hand which was resting on her pubic bone. An acute throb began in her clit and travelled up through her body. Rolling to her right Bernie pushed Serena onto her back and slid her left leg between her wife’s kissing Serena’s neck up to her jaw then across to her mouth. Bringing her left hand up to Serena’s right breast she squeezed and massaged it then kissed her way down to between Serena’s breasts nuzzling her nose against her wife’s soft skin. Mounted on Serena’s left thigh Bernie slowly rubbed herself against the supple muscle enjoying the gentle friction the movement caused and the slow build-up of her arousal.

Slowly like fog clearing under the warmth of the sun Serena woke from her restful slumber. Kisses and soft touches bestowed with love and gentleness drew her to her senses and she was aware of what or rather who had woken her. Serena's body woke before her mind and reacted to the sensual touches her wife was giving her. A very aroused Bernie coated her wife’s thigh with her juices and spread her legs a little further pushing herself against Serena.

Feeling Bernie’s engorged firm clit rubbing against her thigh Serena revelled in the fact she was the cause of the reaction and enjoyed being on the receiving end of it. Bringing her arms around Bernie’s body Serena bent her head forward and rubbed her nose against her wife’s messy blonde hair and in a husky tone purred, “Someone’s awake.”

Continuing to kiss Serena's cleavage Bernie raised her eyes locking her gaze with the dark smouldering eyes looking back at her. Lifting her left thigh to push against Bernie’s sex Serena teased her wife with a saucy comment she knew full well would garner a response, “Good morning major, nice of you to stand to attention for me!” She emphasised her point with a cheeky wink and watched Bernie’s eyes fully dilated with arousal and knew they wouldn’t be getting up any time soon.

With a chuckle that vibrated through Serena’s right nipple Bernie got down to business. Sucking hard on the pert sensitive nipple and rolling her tongue around it Bernie bit down tugging hard. Serena hissed at the sharp pleasurable pain arching her back and pushing her breast firmly against her wife’s mouth. Her nipple tingled and the hiss turned into a deep moan. Bernie’s tongue lavished pleasure on the hard sensitive nipple. Not wanting to ignore the left nipple Bernie brought her right hand up and pinched the nipple between her finger and thumb and pulled on it.

Rolling her hips and pushing her thigh hard up against Bernie’s sex Serena moaned against her wife’s breast and the blonde began to rub herself faster against the supple thigh pressed firmly between her legs. Bernie enjoyed the friction she was generating against her engorged tingling clit.

Not wanting to cum just yet, because her intention in initiating this lovemaking session was to pleasure Serena, Bernie fought against her own intense need to achieve an orgasm and lifted her hips bringing her sex off her wife's thigh. Continuing to kiss, nip and lick the soft skin beneath her lips Bernie drew her mouth down Serena's body until she reached the dark damp curls at the apex of her wife's legs. Instinctively Serena knew the destination Bernie was heading for and opened her legs further for the blonde to nestle comfortably between them.

After a moment spent kissing her way around the damp curls and wet swollen lips Bernie took a gentle slow swipe with her tongue of Serena’s sex from her clit down to her vaginal entrance and took her time swiping her tongue back and forth along the cleft of her wife’s sex. Pushing her tongue into the wellspring of Serena’s juices Bernie lapped at the area for several minutes, her tongue gliding back and forth across her wife’s vaginal entrance and sucked on her lips one side at a time.

Alternating between soft and slow to firm and fast sucking and licking Bernie stoked Serena’s arousal and pushed her towards her orgasm. Wriggling Serena groaned enjoying everything Bernie was doing to her but desperately needing more. Bernie hummed in absolute pleasure at the scent and taste of her wife. The former army medic was sure the only sustenance she ever needed was right here between her wife’s legs.

The hum from Bernie against Serena’s sex caused a delightful vibration. Serena whimpered and trembled begging in a breathless cry, “More!… Please, Bernie!”

Never wanting to deny her wife anything, especially an orgasm, Bernie focused her mouth on the pulsing swollen clit. Sucking the small organ into her warm wet mouth she began a steady soft and slow sucking motion. Bringing her left hand down between Serena’s legs Bernie rubbed her fingers against her wife’s vaginal entrance coating them in her juices to act as a lubricant.

The anticipation was building in Serena. With care, Bernie pushed two long strong dexterous fingers into the tight warm and wet channel and moved them back and forth in a steady motion in order to build up Serena’s pleasure. After a few moments, Serena bucked her hips a couple of times and Bernie added a third finger understanding her wife’s desire for relief. Serena shuddered when the third finger entered her spreading her further.

Forcing her hips upwards and driving her head into the pillow Serena trembled, groaned and moaned letting Bernie hear and feel how much she was enjoying the attention. Serena’s left hand reached for the headboard to brace herself from what she knew would be a powerful orgasm. Her right hand went to Bernie’s head and her fingers tangled in the messy blonde locks. Needing even more contact from Bernie’s mouth Serena pushed her wife’s head down against her sex and Bernie understood the silent instruction.

Bernie could read Serena’s body like a book. She knew all the physical and verbal responses to her touch. She knew the messages she was receiving were to give Serena her much-needed climax. Continuing to suck on the highly sensitive clit in a soft and slow manner Bernie counteracted the attention she gave Serena’s vagina with firm fast thrusts and after a moment curled her middle finger to catch and rub against her wife’s G spot.

Serena grunted and rolled her hips faster, “OH… Yes, that’s it... That’s it, don’t stop. Please don’t stop!”

Bernie had no intention of stopping. The difference in touch and pace between the blonde’s mouth and her fingers sent Serena careening to the edge of her precipice and she clung to it for as long as she possibly could in order to enjoy the pleasurable sensations her wife was showering her with. But when Bernie began humming against her clit and pinched and twisted her left nipple tugging on it Serena couldn’t hold out any longer and fell over her precipice crashing into her much needed orgasm. Her hips bucked quickly and she tugged and pulled on Bernie’s hair crying out, “OH, OH, OH GOD BERNIE YESS! YESSS... BERNIE!”

Serena collapsed back against the mattress limp and sated. Bernie stopped sucking her clit and stilled her fingers inside her. But kept her wife’s clit in her mouth and her fingers deep inside the warm slick throbbing core enjoying the intense throbbing and twitching from the aftershocks of Serena’s orgasm. Serena's fingers played gently with Bernie’s soft locks enjoying the afterglow of her climax. Not wanting Serena to feel uncomfortable Bernie released her clit placing a loving kiss on the small sensitive organ.

Raising her head Bernie carefully pulled her fingers out of her wife and sucked the juices coating them humming at the delectable taste and scent. Serena continued to stroke her wife’s hair with one hand and held onto the headboard with her other hand. Her eyes locked with Bernie watching her enjoying the taste of her own sexual juices.

Having licked her fingers clean of Serena’s juices Bernie kissed her way back up her wife’s body. Straddling Serena’s right thigh again Bernie pushed her sex against the soft skin and supple muscle and began to firmly rub herself against Serena building up welcome friction. Bernie had had a small orgasm when she felt her wife cum under her loving administrations. But she just needed a little more to extinguish the burning need throbbing between her legs right now.

Pressing her lips against Serena’s they enjoyed a long slow loving kiss. Bernie’s right hand cupped Serena’s left breast and she moaned into her wife’s mouth deepening their kiss. Serena’s right hand continued to play with Bernie’s blonde locks and she brought her left hand down to scratch her nails up and down the plane of Bernie’s back rolling her hips so her thigh pressed firmly up against Bernie’s thrusting sex.

With a deep moan Bernie broke their kiss and grunted pushing harder and faster up against Serena’s thigh and her body shook a couple of times when she hit the sweet spot needed and her orgasm hit. Serena felt the fluttering pulse of Bernie’s sex against her thigh along with the extra sexual juices Bernie’s orgasm had caused and was now delightfully coating her upper leg.

Feeling the strong aftershocks rush through her and intensify the throbbing in her clit Bernie whimpered and fell limp on top of her wife. Bring both arms around her partner Serena held her close kissing her wife’s temple. Applying soft stroking motions up and down Bernie's back Serena eased her back from the intense pleasure of her orgasm and waited for her breaths to even out and the tremble to end.

With her senses back intact Bernie rolled onto her back letting out a long slow breath. Serena rolled to her left side and drew her right index finger up and down Bernie’s chest with a light slow touch, “That darling is exactly how I love to be woken up.”

With a much too smug grin on her face Bernie scratched the nails of her left hand back and forth across Serena’s hip, “I aim to please…”

“Well then please me some more darling…” Serena requested in a gravelly tone full of lust.

Bernie leaned in pressing her lips to Serena’s and they enjoyed a passionate kiss. Tongues slid against one another swiping around each other’s mouths. Enjoying the lingering taste of herself on Bernie’s lips and tongue served to ignite Serena’s passion. Deepening their kiss Serena moaned into her spouse's mouth scratching her nails against skin flushed and sticky from their previous lovemaking session. Bernie responded to the deepening kiss with equal passion letting her wife know how much she needed her by whimpering into Serena's mouth.

They spent another hour making love before getting up and venturing into the shower where they took their time lovingly enjoying soft kisses and caresses and washed each other’s bodies and hair. Serena was stood by the window enjoying the view of the garden in its winter wonderland state. There seemed to be a welcome break in snowfall. Which she was grateful for given that they had decided to walk to the village pub for their Christmas lunch. Standing with her arms folded her eyes scanned the large formal garden and the tree line of the woods beyond.

A figure appeared to be walking across the garden moving away from the house and towards the woods. It looked like a woman by their height and slim build. The dark hat and long dark coat looked feminine suggesting Serena’s assumption of the sex of the person seemed accurate based on the physical features and clothing of the figure hurrying through the snow. Bernie was behind her pulling on a pair of skinny jeans. Serena turned to her with a puzzled expression, “I thought you said we had this place to ourselves?”

Tucking her white shirt into wine coloured skinny jeans Bernie zipped and buttoned them up and pulled down the bottom of her navy blue jumper before tidying her shirt collar, “We do. It’s exclusively for our use.”

Pointing over her shoulder Serena stated in a none too pleased tone, “Well someone needs to tell the woman cutting through the garden this isn't a public park!”

Tilting her head to the side in thought Bernie offered, “Probably a local using a short cut who doesn’t know the house is occupied for Christmas… If we come across her on the way to the pub we’ll let her know we're staying in the house till the 29th.” That seemed to appease Serena and the two women made their way downstairs to have a coffee before leaving for their Christmas lunch at the village pub, The Luggar.

Donned in warm winter coats, scarves, gloves and waterproof boots the two women stepped out the back door putting their hats on. Serena was wearing her favourite big black fluff hat, which as far as Bernie was concerned made her look like a character straight out of the film Doctor Zhivago, and Bernie had her favourite black Berghaus beanie over her messy unruly locks. Holding hands they made their way across the terrace and up the stone steps to the lawned upper level of the garden. Snow crunched under their feet and their breaths formed white wispy trails on the frigid air snaking away and dissipating.

Auderly House sits on twelve and a half acres of grounds consisting of a large area of lawn interspersed with mature shrubs and trees. The grounds include a west-facing terrace, with three wide stone steps leading up onto the lawn where a pond was also located. Its own wood has three distinct paths. One led eastwards ending in a clearing planted with bluebells, foxgloves and primroses and was a lovely spot to have a picnic when the weather permitted. The second path leads through the centre of the woods onto a coastal path that ends on a small private cove included in the twelve and a half acres of parkland. The third path leads off to the west of the property only brushing through the edge of the woods and crossed two fields ending at the village church from there the pub was only two hundred yards from the church.

Climbing the steps from the terrace onto the upper level of the garden the two women headed across to the path that would lead to the village. Bernie paused and turned back to look at the garden, “You definitely saw someone heading for the woods?” She enquired.

Serena turned back to her wife wondering why they had stopped walking, “Yes. A woman. She was walking towards that central path and disappeared into the woods.”

Bernie turned back to Serena and nodded her head in the direction she had been looking, “Then where are the footprints? You only saw her forty minutes ago and the temperatures are keeping the snow frozen. There should be footprints.”

Leaning forward Serena looked around Bernie at the virgin snow and there were no footprints from the woman she had seen heading into the woods. The snow was pristine with no marks in it at all. Serena had to agree it was very strange, but she couldn’t offer an explanation, “I haven’t got the foggiest idea why there aren’t any footprints.”

Bernie was deep in thought pondering the mystery of the missing footprints. Tugging on her wife's hand to gain her attention Serena nodded in the direction they were heading before Bernie came to a stop, “Come on darling, I’m really hungry and we’ve got a lovely Christmas dinner waiting for us.”

Bernie squeezed Serena’s hand and they headed off towards the path that would take them to the village pub. They could have taken the country lane outside the house but decided taking the footpath across the fields would be safer in the winter weather with no cars to worry about and it would take approximately twenty minutes to walk via the lane while the footpath would only take fifteen minutes.

Due to the heavy snow, they were leaving thirty minutes before their reservation just in case it took them longer than fifteen minutes to get to the pub. Reaching the start of the footpath they came to an abrupt stop realising walking to the pub had been a naïve idea given the amount of snow that had fallen. The snow was up to Bernie’s shins and almost at Serena’s knees.

“Well, that’s buggered that route up!” Bernie huffed with her hands on her hips.

Serena pointed to the path not wanting to give up as it was technically a short walk and what was a bit of snow, “Come on where’s your sense of adventure major?”

With a snort Bernie looked at her wife with a raised eyebrow, “Darling it’s Christmas lunch at the pub! Not Shackleton’s expedition to the Antarctic! Come on I’ll get the car keys and we’ll drive around.” Bernie turned walking back to the house.

“You won’t be able to have a drink though,” Serena reminded her.

Turning around and with a warm smile, Bernie reassured Serena that wasn’t a problem, “I’ll survive. I can have a drink when we get back. We do have two cases of Shiraz to get through…” Noticing Serena about to protest Bernie added in a reassuring tone, “I really don’t mind so long as I’m with you and we have an enjoyable Christmas lunch.”

There really wasn’t any other option. Calling a taxi to such a remote location just to do a five-minute car journey in this weather wasn’t going to happen and with no other option other than to drive themselves Serena had to agree Bernie was right.

Fifteen minutes later the two women drove carefully to The Luggar, a 17th-century traditional Cornish pub sitting next to the harbour in the small coastal village. Under licencing laws for Christmas Day, the pub would only be open from 11.30 a.m. to 3.30 p.m. to serve Christmas dinner to pre-booked customers. The pub was full of locals and their guests visiting them for the festive season. Being a small pub the table timings were approximate and somewhat loose with no one being rushed through their meal. The landlady had allowed two hours for each table knowing people would want to enjoy the special meal and drinks with family and friends. But then things rarely ran to time when running a pub restaurant anyway.

The landlady, a typically bubbly and forthright woman in her mid-sixties with a short plumb red pixie haircut wearing gold Christmas tree earrings and a fetching red Christmas jumper with gold Christmas trees dotted around the front, approached apologizing for the delay in seating them. She asked Bernie and Serena to get a drink at the bar while their table was made ready for them once the current occupants had finished their coffees so it wouldn't be too long a wait.

Every available space had been commandeered for people to sit and eat. The dining area was small, only able to accommodate twelve tables, mostly tables for four, two of which had been pushed together to accommodate a party of eight, and there are two tables to seat two people. Tables had been set up in the bar area and snug to accommodate the bookings for Christmas dinner.

With everyone sat at tables the bar stools were vacant. Bernie pulled one out for Serena and in her typical soft butch style swung her right leg over her own stool like she was mounting it rather than sitting on it. Just one of many Bernie mannerisms which Serena found endearing and amusing. Ordering Serena a large Shiraz Bernie decided to have a Shandy but informed the bartender she was driving so as to make sure there was only a trace of larger in her drink.

It was around fifteen minutes or so later when a young woman showed them to a table nestled in a cosy spot to the right of an inglenook fireplace situated at the gable end of the building across from the bar. Divested of hats, gloves, scarfs and coats the two women settled in for their Christmas dinner. The scent of roast turkey, roast beef and goose fat basted roast potatoes filled the pub making their empty stomachs grumble in anticipation. They had both been really looking forward to the traditional meal and having had no breakfast they were more than ready to eat.

They took a leisurely time eating their meal enjoying the food and light conversation. Needing both hands to use their cutlery Serena rubbed the side of her foot against Bernie’s right calf and offered a wink when Bernie looked over the top of her glass smirking back at her wife. The meal was a delicious traditional Christmas dinner, a classic prawn cocktail starter followed by roast turkey with cranberry sauce, roast potatoes basted in goose fat, carrots, roasted parsnips, Brussel sprouts, sage and onion stuffing, pigs in blankets, a Yorkshire pudding all covered in a drizzle of turkey gravy. Afters was a homemade Christmas pudding complete with brandy poured over it. Once the two puddings were placed in front of the two women their waitress lit a small lighter and put the flame to the top of the puddings setting them alight. She returned with their brandy butter sauce in two miniature white serving jugs.

Over their pudding, they kept the conversation light and full of teasing with attempts to find out what they had each bought the other for Christmas. However, neither woman gave ground to the other simply both stating all would be revealed on their return to Auderly House. With a full stomach and having consumed a bottle of Shiraz all to herself, Serena had become increasingly flirtatious as the afternoon progressed. Bernie gave as good as she got but this only fuelled Serena’s libido much to the blonde’s amusement.

So wrapped up in their own little bubble they hadn’t been aware they were the last patrons in the pub. When the landlady returned to take away the coffee cups they were both startled back to the present. The older woman paused when she went to pick up Serena’s coffee cup and chuckled, “I’d suggest getting a room but you’re staying at the big house and have more rooms to choose from than I have hot dinners to serve!” The older woman laughed loud at the beetroot blush covering Bernie’s face, “You’re not the first gays in this village you know.”

Noting a surprised expression on Serena’s face and the continuing embarrassment on Bernie’s the landlady put the coffee cup down and folded her arms across her chest. Looking at both her customers in the eye, one at a time, she reassured them, “Don’t worry. You haven’t got a sign on your backs saying, lesbians… Ellen told me you’re on your honeymoon…”

Bernie shook her head a little thinking they were now the talk of the village and hating being in the spotlight, “Whose Ellen? And why is she talking about us?”

With a raised hand the landlady halted any further comment from Bernie, “Calm down dear. Ellen Beaumont, the lady you’re renting Audley House from. When she placed your booking for Christmas dinner she mentioned you were two ladies on their honeymoon…” Pointing to the table Bernie and Serena were sat at she informed them, “I made sure you had the most romantic table our pub could offer.”

Bernie felt guilty at jumping to conclusions and assuming the worst, “Sorry… I thought-”

With a smirk the landlady let Bernie know she wasn’t offended and leaned forward patting the back of the blonde’s hand, “Yes I know what you thought. A small rural community with nothing exciting going on and a lot of loose tongues all-round… As I said you’re not this village's first gays and dare say you’ll be it's last.”

“Thank you for a wonderful Christmas lunch… And the best table is appreciated.” Serena interjected to take the focus off her embarrassed wife.

Turning to Serena with her smile never dropping and the laugh returning the landlady informed her, “Oh don’t be thanking me dear I can’t cook. I burn water. It’s my husband, Mr Bligh, you want to thank for Christmas dinner. But I did make sure you had this table.”

Bernie had been thinking about the name the landlady had given and it puzzled her, “You said we’re renting the house from Ellen Beaumont… Surely you mean Elizabeth Grant?”

There was silence and Mrs Bligh turned her gaze on Bernie with a curious expression, “No, Ellen Beaumont. She owns Audley House...” In a teasing tone, she added, “Surely you know who you’re renting from?”

“I booked through an online holiday lettings agent,” Bernie wasn’t taking the blame for this.

Serena suggested, “Well there you go then, Elizabeth must work for the letting agent?”

“I suppose…” Bernie pondered the suggestion, “I sent all our requirements to the letting agent.” Bernie had an unsettling feeling that something was amiss but Serena’s suggestion did make perfect sense.

With a slow shake of her head Mrs Bligh put paid to Serena’s suggestion, “Elizabeth Grant wouldn’t have been able to meet you and show you around… that would be impossible.”

“You know Elizabeth Grant?” Serena asked.

“Not personally, no.” Mrs Bligh had taken on a serious expression.

“Then how would you-” Bernie began to question.

Mrs Bligh cut Bernie off, “Born and bred in this village. Not much I don’t know dear.” The landlady took a moment before she said anything else. “My granny was a schoolgirl when Elizabeth was alive.”

“It has to be a different woman. The one I met was very much alive… I know I’m a surgeon…” Bernie was not going to be told she hadn’t met the woman when she knew fine and well she had.

“Elizabeth Grant died a long time ago. I remember granny talking about a scandal that was the talk of the district for years… Elizabeth was involved.”

Never one to miss out on a bit of gossip and with her interest piqued Serena couldn’t resist asking for more information, “Scandal? What happened?”

Bernie rolled her eyes and hissed at her wife under her breath, “S’rena!”

A soft chuckle left Mrs Bligh and she waved off Bernie’s caution, “Oh it's fine. There’s no one alive now who remembers so no harm telling you. It was before my time so I only know what granny told me and that wasn’t much…” Mrs Bligh seemed to ponder her next words, “Elizabeth was the daughter of the postmaster, that’s when the village had a post office. We have to go to Fowey or Bodmin these days. Granny wasn’t a tattletale. Probably because of the scandal. She was very fond of Miss Grant and Miss Hardy…”

“Oh! The scandal was two women!” Bernie exclaimed not expecting that revelation.

“It was. All granny told me was Elizabeth, or Beth as she was known, and Christina Hardy who lived at Audley House with her parents and two older brothers, were accused of conducting unnatural acts together… I’ll let you draw a conclusion as to what those unnatural acts might be,” Mrs Bligh emphasised what she meant with a quirk of her right eyebrow.

Serena wanted to know everything, “When was this?... What happened?”

Mrs Bligh held her hand up and chortled, “Sometime during the Great War. Not entirely sure… Other than they were separated and Beth died a few years later. Granny hated talking about it…”

“How sad. It’s frustrating not knowing what happened.” Serena pouted annoyed at being given crumbs when she wanted a feast.

Pointing at her wife Bernie huffed, “See what you’ve unleashed now!”

“Well if you run out of things to do on your honeymoon there is a library in the house. You might find out more in there?” Mrs Bligh winked at Serena.

Bernie turned to the landlady shaking her head, “You’re not helping!”

Chuckling Mrs Bligh collected up their cups, “We'll you'll just have to make sure she doesn't run out of things to do and I'm sure you're more than capable of that...” With another chuckle the older woman walked away, “I’ll leave you ladies to enjoy your honeymoon and Christmas.”

Standing Bernie put her scarf, coat and gloves on, “Come on Cinderella your coach awaits.”

Serena grinned getting to her feet and putting her scarf, coat and hat on as well, “Don’t we have to pay?”

Pulling her beanie on Bernie shook her head and held out her hand, “Prepaid the holiday lettings agent. They took care of the booking and payment.” Taking Bernie’s hand Serena allowed her wife to lead her to the door.

Reaching the door they said their goodbyes. Mrs Bligh looked up from wiping down the bar, “Thank you…” Then as an afterthought, she added pointing to her right with the cloth in her hand, “Oh, if you’re interested, Elizabeth Grant, is buried in the churchyard.”

Serena smiled, “Thank you…”

Grinning back Mrs Bligh added, “And merry Christmas.”

Opening the door Bernie and Serena turned back to the landlady and returned the sentiment in unison, “Merry Christmas!”

Daylight was waning as night drew in fast. Driving out of the village Bernie smirked at Serena whose eyes were glued to the church when they passed it. Knowing Serena would be like a dog with a bone until she had acquired all the information she could on what became of Beth and her lover Christina, Bernie informed her, “We’ll come back in daylight when we won’t break our necks tripping over headstones...”

Serena put her hand on Bernie’s knee and squeezed it, “Would you mind if we had a look through the library in the house too?”

Placing her left hand on top of Serena’s hand that rested on her knee Bernie gave it a squeeze, “Course not… Just don’t expect too much.”

Serena nodded understanding Bernie was only managing her expectations, “I won’t.”

***

Once divested of their outdoor apparel Serena suggested they call their children before doing anything else. Sitting in the large living room Serena called Jason on Skype first. The two women spent thirty minutes talking to the young man his wife Greta and their daughter, Serena’s great-niece come, surrogate granddaughter, Guinevere. The two and a half-year-old babbled away to them bringing all her presents to the screen to show her gran and Aunty Bunny.

Bernie loved the little girl and let loose her goose honking laugh when Guinevere tried to feed her some carrot but ended up smearing the screen of her father’s phone instead. The laugh startled the youngster for a moment until she started to laugh hysterically much to Serena and Bernie’s delight. After merry Christmas’s were wished by everyone to everyone Guinevere ran back to the phone grabbing it from her startled father and shouted, “Uve oou Gan. Uve oou nanty Bunny,” And kissed the screen. She must have hit the end call button because the screen suddenly went black.

Knowing how the declaration from the toddler would have affected Serena, Bernie took the phone from her wife’s hand and placed it on the large coffee table and drew her into a tight hug allowing her to cry. Not sad tears but happy tears which happened to be tinged with a little sadness. When Elinor her only child died Serena knew she would never be a grandmother, but through her nephew Jason she had a beautiful great-niece who was very much a surrogate granddaughter to her. After five minutes Serena sat up brushing tears away from her cheeks feeling a little silly but knowing she would never be judged by Bernie. “That’s the first time she’s, she's said she loves me, loves us.”

Bernie grinned, “When we get home why not ask Jason if we can have her stay for the weekend.”

Serena looked at Bernie with a huge grin on her face, “That would be wonderful. I will, thank you.”

Bernie leaned in and kissed the tip of Serena’s nose, “No thanks needed. I love her too.”

Serena gave Bernie’s lips a quick peck then leaned forward to grab her phone and handed it to her partner, “Time for you to call Cameron and Charlotte.”

Bernie knew both her children were with their father for Christmas day, as they had done so for many years. The conversation with Cameron was short because he was working the night shift and had to leave for work soon, but it was friendly. He thanked his mum and stepmum for his gift. Serena advised him to take no prisoners tonight and Bernie told him to shine and be the brilliant doctor she knew he was.

Charlotte spoke to her mother and stepmother for twenty minutes asking them all about the honeymoon venue. Bernie rolled her eyes at her daughter’s enthusiasm for the possibility of a ghost. After thanking them both for her gift she told her mother and stepmother they were on their honeymoon and she would be disappointed if they were good and didn't enjoy themselves. Which made Bernie blush much to Charlotte and Serena’s amusement.

When the conversation was over Bernie’s sat in reflection. Serena could read her wife like a book and suggested, “How about next Christmas we have the children with us for a change?”

Turning to look at Serena with moist eyes Bernie leaned in and kissed her wife slowly and lovingly. Bernie Wolfe was a woman of few words but what she lacked in words she made up for in action. The kiss was her grateful response.

With phone calls dealt with Serena suggested they should open their gifts. Bernie offered to get them from their room. Serena looked around the big room they were sat in. It was beautifully decorated and had all its original period features. But it was enormous with just the two of them. It wasn’t cosy enough, far too formal for what Serena wanted this evening and she let Bernie know, “Don't you think it’s too large a room just for the two of us?”

Bernie glanced around seeing what Serena meant, “There’s the snug. We can settle in there for the evening… TV is in there too.” The blonde offered helpfully.

Standing Serena headed for the kitchen, “Excellent. I’ll get snacks and drinks. Can you get the gifts from the bedroom?”

In the kitchen, Serena gathered together various snacks for the evening. Finding a big enough tray she placed plates, napkins and two large wine glasses on it. Putting together a cheese board with white and red grapes and a packet of Ritz Crackers Serena placed a cheese knife on the board. She added a large bowl of plain crisps and a large pot of cheese and chive dip to the tray.

Happy with her choices Serena took the tray to the snug and found Bernie kneeling before the fire lighting the logs. Their presents sat in the large gift bag on the three-seater sofa. Before leaving to retrieve their drinks Serena leaned down and kissed the top of her wife’s head.

With two bottles of Shiraz and a corkscrew in her hands, Serena returned to the snug to find Bernie dipping a large crisp into the cheese and chive dip. Putting one bottle on the coffee table she de-corked the other and poured out two generous measures. Bernie moved the large gift bag with their presents from the sofa placing it on the floor at her feet and Serena took the space next to her wife.

Bernie munched on crisps dipping them into the cheese and chive dip. Serena shook her head chuckling, “I swear you’ve got hollow legs!”

Bernie turned to Serena with an expression that said “What?” and around a crisp pleaded innocence, “It’s Christmas!… Besides my wife prepared this and it wouldn’t be conducive to a happy marriage if I didn’t enjoy it.”

Serena held the back of her hand to her mouth attempting not to gag on the wine she was swallowing, “Oh very good darling. You’ve been reading the 101 manual on how to keep your wife happy haven't you?”

Bernie leaned in and pressed her lips against her wife’s and they enjoyed a long slow loving kiss. When Bernie pulled back she rubbed her nose against Serena’s and muttered staring at Serena’s lips, “I didn’t think I need a manual to keep you happy my love.”

With an agreeable moan, Serena capture Bernie’s lips and they enjoyed another kiss only this time it was deeper and full of promises for later. When they parted from the kiss Serena picked up her glass of wine taking a sip she pointed with her left hand at the bag of gifts on the floor, “Let’s open our presents shall we?”

Putting her glass down Serena took the gift Bernie was passing her and noted it was from Jason and Greta. Ever particle the young couple had bought her matching caramel coloured cashmere hat, scarf and gloves. Along with a knitting book and some yarn in various colours. Guinevere’s present was a photo book of her first two years dotted with pictures of Serena and her surrogate granddaughter. The final picture was Serena and Bernie walking in the park holding Guinevere’s hands and the little girl in bright yellow boots splashing excitedly in a puddle. Serena loved the gifts and encouraged Bernie to open her gift from Jason and Greta next.

Opening the neatly wrapped box Bernie’s grin widened when she saw what they had bought her. Honking out her trademark laugh Bernie showed Serena her gift, “Oh this is great…” Pulling out a pair of white Rebook running shoes with a small woven Union Jack tab on the outside of each shoe. Inside the box was a pack of Reebok sports socks and a black Reebok beanie. Her gift from Guinevere was a framed photo of herself and Serena sat on a picnic blanket with the toddler between them all smiling at the camera.

The next two gifts were for both of them. One from Cameron and the other Charlotte. They opened a gift each and were thrilled with the presents. Both women suspected Charlotte had chosen the gifts because they were perfectly coordinated. Charlotte had bought them a voucher for a night at the theatre with dinner included and Cameron had given them a voucher for a night in a hotel with breakfast included. It was quickly decided they would make a weekend of it in London and book two nights paying for one themselves. Which West End show they would see would be decided nearer the time.

After some wine and a few grapes, Serena handed Bernie a box and asked her to open it. The ruby-red satin wrapping was done to perfection and the gold ribbon curled expertly. The card attached read; Happy Christmas to the love, light and joy of my life, Serena xxx. Carefully unwrapping the gift Bernie discovered a thin navy blue box under the wrapping paper and opening the box her smile lit up the room. Inside the box was jewellery set comprising of a platinum pendant with two diamonds on either side of a rich dark red garnet on a delicate platinum chain with matching diamond and garnet earrings. “This is too much, S’rena… These are beautiful, just beautiful.” Bernie gushed sincerely to her wife.

Serena was over the moon that Bernie loved her gift, “Nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, is too much for you my love.” She sealed her declaration with a tender kiss and sitting back added, “In case you’re not aware the diamonds are my birthstone and the garnet is yours.”

Bernie couldn’t keep the smile off her face and nodded, “I did know… Thank you so much. This is simply beautiful.”

“Diamonds are the symbol of love and garnets symbolise friendship and trust… They’re a perfect match.” Serena added pointing to the gemstones, “Just like us.”

With a smug grin Bernie handed Serena her gift and watched her wife chuckle at the state of the wrapping. It was a complete mess. Give Bernie a scalpel and she was a highly skilled surgeon but give the woman a pair of scissors, sellotape and wrapping paper and she was incapable of covering the gift in a neat tidy manner. At least Serena knew her wife had wrapped this and she found Bernie’s lack of skill in this endeavour endearing and so very much Bernie. Inside the gift box were two smaller boxes.

The first box held a small oval gold locket. Engraved on the front were the entwined letters B and S. Set inside the bottom of the B was a small garnet and set inside the lower curve of the S was a small diamond. On the back an inscription read; My love My life My Everything 24/22/2020 BW xxx. When Serena looked up her eyes were damp with unshed tears. Bernie encouraged her to open the locket. The locket opened into three delicate photo frames which all had photos in them. The first was Elinor, the second picture was Bernie and Serena and the third was Jason, Greta and Guinevere. It was an incredibly touching gift and Serena let her tears fall but assured Bernie they were happy tears. Throwing her arms around Bernie she hugged her tight and thanked her for her gift.

Bernie told her she still had another box to open. Whatever Serena had been expecting it certainly wasn’t this. She sat looking at the beautiful platinum diamond and garnet encrusted eternity ring. The gemstones were set in diamond then garnet combination which continued across the top of the ring. Bernie spoke softly explaining her reason for the ring, “It’s an eternity ring.”

“I can see that... It’s beautiful darling. Truly beautiful.” Serena’s emotions were teetering on the edge again as she slipped the ring on against her wedding ring turning her hand this way and that letting the firelight and sidelights in the room catch the gemstones making them sparkle.

“I-I umm, know eternity rings are usually given on the first or tenth anniversary… Or even at the birth of a first child…” Bernie wasn’t so sure she had done the right thing buying an eternity ring twenty-four hours after they had said I do. But deciding the gift had been given and received she wanted to explain her reasoning for choosing this gift, “I told you once I would wait an eternity to be with you.” Giving Serena a soft broad smile Bernie ploughed on and mumbled out the rest of her explanation, “I’m grateful I didn’t have to wait that long… But I ah, I-I wanted to show you my love is eternal.”

Bernie Wolfe was a dark horse where romance was concerned. She came across as disinterested and unknowledgeable but that was because she didn’t go in for over the top excessive gestures which amounted to just words for the sake of it. No, the blonde was a romantic in the truest sense and in Serena’s opinion the best kind. And her Christmas gifts from her wife proved this beyond a shadow of a doubt because when Bernie applied her focus on romance she made her gestures count. And being on the receiving end of a romantic Berenice Wolfe was absolute bliss as far as Serena was concerned.

Serena couldn’t love her wife anymore even if she tried. Pushing Bernie back against the armrest of the sofa she climbed on top and growled, “Shut up and kiss me!” As orders went Bernie knew this was the easiest one she would ever have to follow.

With lips locked together and hands in each other’s hair, they enjoyed a long passionate kiss in the warmth of the wood-burning open fire. The remainder of their evening was spent laying on the sofa cuddling and feeding each other nibbles, snacks and enjoying the wine. They choose to watch Christmassy films and started off with “Love Actually” and then watched the classic “A Christmas Carol.”

They dozed off in each other’s arms and only woke and moved when Bernie needed the toilet. Much to her displeasure, there was no downstairs toilet and she would have to go upstairs to the en suite in their room. Serena decided to clear up the tray of food and took it along with the empty wine bottles and glasses to the kitchen. Making her way upstairs Bernie shivered but assumed the house outside the snug felt cooler because she'd been sat in the small room all evening with a roaring wood fire making her toasty warm.

It was late and they’d be going to bed soon so once Bernie had finished in the bathroom she lit the fire so the room would be warm for when they turned in for the night. Leaving the bedroom became a problem though when the door, she was certain she hadn’t closed, wouldn’t open. It was as if it was locked from the outside. Turning the round door handle back and forth and pulling on it had no effect and the door remained closed. Believing Serena was playing a practical joke on her Bernie banged the palm of her right hand hard on the door yelling out with a chuckle, “Campbell, if you think this is funny you’ll wish you never bothered by the time I'm finished with you!”

There was no reply and no matter how hard Bernie tried she couldn’t get the door open. It was beginning to grate on her and she was losing her sense of humour with the situation. Putting her ear to the door she thought she could hear someone walking on the landing, “S’rena, come on you’ve had your fun. Unlock the door!” The door remained closed. Bernie decided Serena would eventually have to open the door soon when she came to bed. With a huff she took a seat sat on the side of the bed and waited and waited.

Serena meanwhile was nowhere near the bedroom. She was in the kitchen putting the remainder of the uneaten snacks in the fridge and rinsing dishes stacking them in the dishwasher. Opening the pantry door she entered to put the box of Riz crackers on a shelf. The door slammed shut behind her making her jump and squeal in surprise. Assuming it was a draft that had closed the door Serena tried to open it but it wouldn’t budge. After a couple of attempts, she believed Bernie was playing tricks on her and banged on the door calling out, “Not funny Bernie. Open the door!”

But the door remained closed and she couldn’t hear anyone on the other side of the door. That wasn’t proof it wasn’t Bernie trapping her in the pantry. Bernie had a knack for sneaking up on her all the time. When the light in the pantry flickered on and off and then remained off Serena had a sinking feeling this wasn’t Bernie after all. Her wife would never go this far for a joke. She wouldn’t frighten Serena just for a laugh that would be cruel and Bernie wasn't cruel. Backing up against the back of the small pantry Serena sank to her bottom and drew her knees up wrapping her arms around her legs wondering where Bernie was and hoping she’d come looking for her soon.

When the lights went out in the bedroom Bernie just assumed the bulb had blown but when neither bedside light worked it was more puzzling. The moonlight reflected off the snow illuminating the room and the wood burning in the fire added a cosy feel. Bernie wasn’t feeling cosy though and got up from the bed. Glancing out the window she saw a dark figure stood in the garden. Dressed in feminine clothes the figure turned and walked to the woods where Bernie lost sight of it. Just as she lost sight of the figure outside she heard the door unclick. Going to the door Bernie thought Serena had finally opened it.

Yanking the door open Bernie huffed, “Well about time fraulein-” She was brought up straight when there was no one there and the house was in complete darkness. Something was definitely amiss and suddenly Bernie was filled with worry. Where was Serena? Was she ok? Making her way downstairs a quickly and safely as she could in the dark Bernie first went into the snug which was lit by the firelight. Serena wasn't there. Picking up her phone she used the torch on it to find her way through the ground floor to the kitchen calling out to her wife.

It had seemed like an eternity being locked in the small dark pantry alone. But hearing Bernie’s voice calling out to her Serena stood and banged on the door shouting back, “Bernie, Bernie! I’m in here!” Seconds later the door opened and Bernie was stood in front of her. Serena launched herself forward out of the pantry and into Bernie’s arms. Burying her face into her wife’s neck, “Where were you? I couldn’t get out. I was locked in there in the dark!”

Bernie kissed the side of Serena’s head and squeezed her tight in her arms reassuring her wife she was safe, “I was locked in the bedroom. I couldn’t get out... It’s ok I’m here now.”

Serena leaned back looking at Bernie with a very worried look on her face, “How could we both be locked in rooms with no locks and all the lights go out?” Suddenly an idea occurred to her which frightened her, “Someone else is in this house!”

Hearing the panic in her wife’s voice and seeing the worried expression on her face Bernie reassured her, “No one is in the house darling. It’s an old house and the doors probably just got stuck with the temperature change and the house settling at night… The lights going out will be a fuse.” Bernie hoped that a simple explanation would be enough to allay Serena’s worry.

However, Serena wasn’t completely convinced, “You believe that?”

Bernie nodded emphatically, “Yes. As a scientist, I naturally adhere to Occam’s razor. The principle that the simplest answer is usually the correct one.”

“Umm, I’m aware of Occam’s razor darling, scientist here to remember... I just can’t see the pantry and bedroom doors suddenly getting stuck and the fuses blowing all at the same time.” Serena wanted to believe Bernie because it would take the uneasy feeling that had settled over her away. There was only one way to find out if Bernie was right, “Let’s put your theory to the test and check the fuses… just please tell me they're not in the cellar?”

Bernie chuckled releasing Serena, “This house doesn’t have a cellar.” Pointing with the torch on her phone to a door she advised, “I’d say the fuse box is probably through there in the utility room.”

The utility room door was on the opposite wall to the door entering the kitchen. The room was a decent size and contained a double Belfast sink, washing machine and tumble dryer. There was also the original clothes drying rack with four thin ropes running along the wall from the door to the window.

Bernie used the torch on her phone to find the fuse box which turned out to be above the door housed in a wooden cabinet that was painted white. Handing the phone to Serena and having her wife point the torch at the fuse box Bernie checked the master switch flicking it off then on a couple of times and leaned across turning the utility room light on. Closing the fuse box and cabinet door she turned a smug smile on her wife.

Serena turned the torch on the phone off and handed the phone back to Bernie, “Yes alright, you were right. No need to look so bloody smug!”

Before leaving the kitchen they made two mugs of tea and collected two bottles of mineral water from the fridge. Bernie checked all the windows and doors downstairs including the back door, terrace doors and the front door. They enjoyed their tea in the snug watching the fire wain and die. Tea finished and fire out they left their mugs on the coffee table to deal with in the morning and collected their gifts, phones and water and headed upstairs to their room to prepare for bed.

Just like the previous night when they entered the bedroom the window was open and the fire was out. Serena just looked at Bernie and held one hand out with a mineral bottle in it and pointed at the window and then the fire, “How does Occam's razor explain this?”

Bernie stood open-mouthed not able to explain, other than to give the explanation she had given the previous night, but decided that it was probably best not to offer that given the earlier events of the evening. Serena put her water and phone on her bedside table and set her gifts down on the dressing table. Bernie did the same and nothing more was said about the strange events of the past hour. Serena closed the window locking it and pulled the curtains closed. Bernie lit the wood fire stoking it into a healthy flame knowing the temperature would drop overnight.

Around half an hour later they were tucked up in bed. Both secretly unsettled by being locked in rooms in the dark and then finding their bedroom window open and the fire out for a second night. But they kept their concerns to themselves. Bernie spooned around Serena letting her wife nestle against her and making sure she was between Serena and the door. Feeling loved and safe in the cocoon of Bernie’s arms Serena drifted off to sleep well before Bernie did.

Feeling her wife’s body relax and her breaths even out Bernie smiled content that Serena was asleep. Yawning and feeling her eyes becoming heavy as sleep began to claim her too Bernie thought she was imagining the woman stood by the window. Needing to ward off sleep for a moment Bernie blinked a couple of times and focused on the woman in the room who looked familiar and realised it was Elizabeth Grant. She took two steps towards the bed holding her hand out in a gesture that indicated she wanted Bernie to take it, “Christina… My Christina…”

Bernie closed her eyes hoping she was imagining the woman was there and scooted backwards across the big bed pulling Serena with her just in case they weren't alone. Holding her wife tighter she kept her eyes squeezed shut. Feeling the sudden movement Serena stirred wriggling in the tight hold Bernie had her in and moved around to face her wife. Never completely waking up Serena nestled into Bernie and buried her face against the blonde’s neck mumbling something incoherent.

When Serena moved and mumbled the apparition disappeared. Needing to check if the woman was still there Bernie slowly opened her right eye to take a cursory look. She let out a breath relieved to see the woman was gone and told herself, “It’s been a busy couple of days... I’m more tired than I thought!” Pushing her nose into Serena’s hair Bernie inhaled the familiar scent allowing it to settle her and a minute or two later sleep took hold and she drifted off into the land of nod.