A/N Thanks to Jett and Laura for reading this and giving me some really helpful advice. One of the most important lessons I've learned from fan fiction is the value of a good editor. This section should really be two chapters, but there is no good place to split it in two, so you're getting the rest of the story all at once.
Perry Mason, bent at the waist and holding both his stomach and his foot, glared up at his secretary. He started to say something, but evidently thought better of it and clamped his lips together. Laughter battled with concern on Della's face. She managed to stifle the laugh and took his arm, pulling him under the umbrella with her. "Let's go inside. You're getting drenched!" she said. He simply nodded and limped along side her, still bent awkwardly, trying to stay underneath the limited protection of her umbrella.
Once inside the building, Della shook the rain from her coat, then preceded Mason across the lobby to the elevator. The lawyer pushed the button for Della's floor and the couple rode in silence. A smile still played at the corners of Della's mouth as she regarded the lawyer out of the corner of her eye. He was wearing a raincoat, but water was running in rivulets from his hair down his neck and into his collar. He still glowered in her general direction.
Mason followed her down the hallway, seeming to loom over her as she fumbled for her key. Finally she got the door open and waved him inside. He favored her with one more sulky scowl as he passed in front of her and through the doorway. Della couldn't keep from grinning at his back as he entered her living room. She cleared her throat as she closed the door behind them.
"Take your coat, Chief?" she managed to say almost without laughing.
"Oh, so you think this is funny?" he asked, fixing her with his best courtroom stare.
"Foot hurt much?" she giggled, completely unfazed by his scowl.
Frustration was evident in his expression as he ran his hands through his dripping hair, trying to sluice the water out of his face. "What the hell were you thinking, Della? You can't just wander around the streets at night like that!"
Della didn't answer, but headed for the bathroom, returning with a towel. Mason shrugged out of his coat. She took it from him and gave him the towel. Della watched him scrub his hair dry, leaving it sticking out in all directions. "Let me have your suit jacket, too. It's soaked in the front. How is your shirt?" she asked.
"Fine. It's fine," he grumbled. "Would you like my pants while you're at it?"
"Temper, temper, Chief!" she said saucily. "Why don't you go comb your hair and I'll fix you some hot coffee."
When she returned from the kitchen, carrying two steaming cups of coffee, he was seated somewhat stiffly on the edge of her sofa. "So what brings you out on a night like this?" she asked, handing him a cup.
He gulped appreciatively once he'd smelled the brandy she'd flavored the drink with. Della kicked off her shoes. "Your pants are wet," Mason observed laconically.
"I suppose I could take them off," she said mischievously. "Don't let me stop you," was his quick rejoinder. Della chuckled, but made no move from her chair.
"You still haven't answered my question," she said.
"I was looking for you. Obviously," he replied. He tried to sound angry. "Damn it, what were you doing out there at this time of night? The girl at the desk told me you'd gone out, but I saw that your car was still here. It was raining cats and dogs. I waited on you until I was worried sick. Then you came strolling up the sidewalk like it was nothing! You can't do that, Della!" His voice rose slightly. "A beautiful woman, out wandering the streets alone at night - are you crazy? Don't you know what you're risking?"
His words irked her just enough that Della almost missed the fact that he'd said she was beautiful. Almost.
She leveled her gaze at him. "I was playing," she said quietly.
"You asked what I was doing. I was playing. I was bored, it started to rain and I suddenly wanted to go out and play in the rain. So I did. And I'm not entirely helpless. I can take care of myself. As you might have noticed."
"Touché," he said ruefully.
She smiled. "How's your foot?"
Della glanced down at his feet. "Well, take your shoes off. You can put them over by the radiator to dry."
As Mason leaned over to untie the laces, he asked, "Where did you learn that move?"
She chuckled. "Paul Drake."
"Paul? I might have known." He got up and deposited his shoes by the radiator.
"More coffee?" Della asked, watching him return to his seat on the sofa. He shook his head and sat down, sighing deeply as he did so. He leaned back on the cushions and closed his eyes. "What's wrong, Perry?" Della asked, not realizing she'd used his first name. Mason noticed. She almost never used his name.
"I'm just tired, I guess," he replied. "I went out to see Virginia Mitchell after she called and said she wanted to discuss some points in that contract we've been working on. Turns out she didn't really need anything other than a companion for the evening. Probably trying to make sure I was there when her husband came home. I got the distinct impression she wanted to make him jealous. Once I figured out what was going on, I didn't feel the need to stick around." He glanced up and met Della's eyes. "I don't think we can count on her business in the future." He grinned. Della laughed. "When I left, I was all keyed up. Didn't know what to do. I drove around for a while, then decided to come see you." He let some of the glower return. "And I find you out traipsing around in the rain!"
Della shrugged. "I got tired of reading." She indicated the book on the table in front of Mason. He picked it up. "Mike Hammer? You like this stuff?"
"Not especially. Paul loaned it to me. He loves it. I find some of the characters are a bit...shallow."
Mason laughed. "What was the secretary's name? Velma?" "Velda," Della interjected. "She was an...interesting character," he finished cautiously.
Now Della laughed, low and throaty. "Do you think so?"
Mason shrugged and stood up. He sat his coffee cup down next to the book and started to pace the room. Della turned sideways in her chair, unconsciously mirroring the posture Paul Drake so often used when visiting with her or Mason in the law office. She watched Mason silently for a few moments. Her eyes were thoughtful when she finally spoke. "I don't mind you wearing holes in my carpet, Chief, but I am still curious about what's going on. If you're not going to keep the Mitchell case, what do you need from me?"
Mason made a noise that was not quite a sigh, not quite a moan. Della raised her eyebrows in surprise.
"I don't know, Della." He stopped pacing and faced her, hands pushed deep in his pockets. Barefooted and in his shirtsleeves, the posture carried none of its usual belligerence. "I know you have other things to do besides keeping me entertained, but when I left that Mitchell woman I guess I needed to talk to an intelligent human being."
"Thanks, I think." She smiled up at him. "So what do you want to talk about?"
"Hell if I know." He glared at her. "My foot still hurts."
"It's good to know Paul's tactics actually work. I'll have to tell him about how you were such a suitable guinea pig."
Mason's expression changed, becoming less sure. He stared at her for a long moment. "You spend a lot of time with Paul?" he asked somewhat tentatively.
A slow smile started in the corner of Della's mouth and worked its way across her expression. Just as slowly, she uncurled herself from the chair and moved to stand in front of him, arms crossed. His eyes studied her warily.
"Are you and Paul...?" he asked, unable to finish the question.
"Are Paul and I what?" she shot back at him. "Friends? Colleagues? Lovers?"
He seemed to loom over her and his eyes darkened with emotion she was unable to interpret. He raised an eyebrow and answered her challenge. "Lovers."
"What if we are?" she queried.
Mason took an involuntary step back, deflating as if she'd punched him in the gut. Again. "Then I will make my apologies for this probably unwelcome intrusion and wish you good night." He smiled but it didn't quite reach his eyes. He started to step around her, but she reached out and held his arm, just above the elbow. Surprise showed in his face as he looked down at her.
"And if we aren't?" she asked, her voice softer than before.
Mason took a deep breath, processing this new information. Della looked up at him, noting once more how much bigger he seemed up close. Normally she wore heels when they were together and now that she was barefoot, she realized how much of a height advantage he had over her.
Mason's voice took on the official timber he used in the courtroom. "Just to be clear, Miss Street, are you telling me that you and the esteemed Mr. Drake are not seeing each other socially?"
"Let's be precise, Counselor. I am not now, nor have I ever been, sleeping with Mr. Drake." The formality in her tone stopped just short of coldness.
"I see," he said, matching her formal tone. She released her hold on his arm and he clasped his hands behind his back. "Is there anyone else that, as you so colloquially put it, you are sleeping with?"
"No. I don't even have a cat to sleep with."
"I do have an extra pillow that I can cuddle with, I suppose." She grinned up at him.
He moved closer and took her chin in his hand. "That's hardly sufficient," he said seriously.
She shrugged and turned away. The newspaper was still on the coffee table. Della reached down and picked it up, then turned back towards Mason. "Such is the plight of the working girl. I suppose I ought to find a different job. I hear the dry cleaners down the street is hiring. Boring work, but my nights would be free. I could spend my evenings at nightclubs, scoping out the marriage material. We might even run into each other again. You'd probably be out with your new secretary."
"My new secretary? I suppose I'd have to renew my account with the temp agency." Humor twinkled in his eyes. "It shouldn't be all that difficult to find a replacement."
"Is that so?" she countered, slapping the newspaper against his chest. He took it from her and looked down at the photo.
"Nice picture," he said. "You look great." He started to hand it back to her, then did a double take. When he looked up again, she was grinning at him. He cleared his throat somewhat sheepishly. "I really don't want a new secretary," he said. "As you might have noticed."
Della laughed softly. "So I'll ask you once again. What do you want?"
Mason tossed the newspaper to the side and drew her into his arms. His face was close enough for her to count his eyelashes, if she'd been so inclined. "I'm afraid to tell you what I want. I don't want to scare you away," he said seriously.
"I'm not exactly putting up a fight, am I?" she said dryly.
"Well, no, but..."
"But?" she echoed, reaching up to take his necktie in her hands. She ran the length of silk through her fingers and raised questioning eyes to his.
Mason's expression suddenly mirrored the tenderness evident in the newspaper photograph. "I hate to remember what life was like without you, Della. You make my life run smoother than it ever has before. My practice is more successful than I ever dreamed it could be, thanks in large part to your efforts. I can't thank you enough for that. But I don't want our jobs to be everything there is between us." He took a deep breath and released his hold a bit, making some space between them. "I don't want to be just another busy executive who enjoys kissing his secretary now and again. As enjoyable as that may be," he grinned at her, "I want more. You'll never be just an employee to me, Della. I love you. I want to marry you."
Della dropped her eyes and swallowed a breath. She considered his words in silence for a long moment.
"Della?" he asked, his voice betraying his uncertainty. He pulled back further, his hands now resting on her elbows. When she didn't respond, he dropped his hands completely "I'm sorry, Della. I'm not trying to push you into anything. Maybe I should go --."
Della reached up and took hold of his necktie again, pulling him down towards her until their lips met. The heat of the union stirred Mason to movement and gathered her in his arms once again. His kiss was tender, almost tentative, but Della wasn't satisfied with that. She moved against him, molding her body to his. One arm circled his neck, fingers twined in his wet hair. She used the kiss to drive any doubts about her feelings out of his mind.
Finally, she broke the connection and pulled away, still holding his tie, almost like a leash. Mason's arm circled her slim waist and his hand rested gently at the top of her hip. With his other hand he reached up and smoothed her hair away from her face. Della smiled up at him.
"I love you too, Perry. But I can't marry you." He started to protest, but she continued before he could speak. "I love you and I love working with you. I don't want that to change. If we got married, things would change. You know that."
"Change is good," he murmured, running his hand around the back of her neck and pulling her into another kiss. "I like change," he whispered, moving his lips from hers and kissing a trail down her jaw to her neck. Della laughed softly.
"Some changes are good," she said. "But in our case, marriage just wouldn't work." She pulled away a bit and took his face in her hands. "You are an amazing man, Perry Mason, and I want to spend my life with you. But you know how it would be if we got married." She looked steadily into his eyes and saw understanding in his gaze. "We would lose this fantastic working relationship that means so much to both of us."
"I need you, Della," he said. "You may be afraid of marrying me, but I'm afraid this platonic relationship is going to kill me. I don't think I can do it any more."
"You don't have to do it any more," was her sultry reply.
Mason's hands tightened on her body. His eyes darkened dangerously. "You're certain?"
"Yes," she whispered. She pulled his hand from her hip and kissed his fingers, then she looked up at his face, smiled at him and stepped away, pulling him along with her. As she walked ahead of him into her bedroom, she unfastened her pants, then allowed them to slide down her hips and stepped out of them, revealing her long shapely legs to the lawyer's hungry eyes. She turned to face him. Mason was pulling the tie from his neck. Della crossed her arms and watched in fascination as he removed his cuff links and carefully unbuttoned his shirt.
"Your turn," he said as his shirt hit the floor.
Della raised her eyebrows, humor shining in her eyes. She slowly opened the buttons of her blouse, teasing him with short glimpses of the creamy skin beneath it. She unfastened the last button but let the shirt lay closed for just a moment before she took a deep breath and pulled it free of her body. It joined the grown pile of clothing on the floor. A faint blush colored her skin as she stood in front of him. Her momentary self-consciousness fled at the sound of the growl in his throat. He stepped towards her, intent on marrying his body to hers. She held up a hand to stop him.
"Your turn," she echoed his earlier statement.
Grinning devilishly Mason whipped his undershirt over his head with one swift movement and took another step towards her. Della placed her palm flat against his chest, delighting at the feel of the muscle that rippled under her touch. "Spirit of the law, not just letter of the law," she said mischievously.
Mason cocked an eyebrow at her and took his belt buckle in his hand. "I think it's stuck. Might need some help."
Della sighed dramatically and stepped closer to him, taking the belt in her hands and pulling it free of his trousers. As she worked his zipper down its track, his hands roamed up and down her back, and across her hips. Finally his trousers fell away as well. Della surveyed her handiwork with a smile. Mason looked over the top of her head at the bed behind them, then down at the woman in front of him.
Moving swiftly, he leaned down and took hold of Della, sweeping her into his arms. He lifted her off her feet, ignoring her gasp of surprise, then twirled her around and tossed her onto the bed. She dissolved into laughter as Mason collapsed next to her, lengthening his body out next to hers. He reached up and brushed hair tenderly out of her face, then kissed her soundly.
"I love you, Della Street."
"Show me," she replied.
No further encouragement was necessary.
Hours later, the lawyer slept peacefully in her arms, his head resting on her breast, arms wrapped around her waist. Della ran a hand through his silky hair. She marveled at the feeling of complete and utter fulfillment that still spiraled through her body.
Outside her bedroom window, rain continued to fall. The inside of the apartment had taken on a bit of the chill of the air outside. Winter had arrived in Los Angeles, but Della Street no longer cared. She stretched out her arm, fingers catching the edge of the light blanket they had pushed to the side of the bed in the frenzy of their love-making. She pulled it up over the two of them, even as she burrowed deeper into her lover's embrace.
This was where she wanted to spend the rest of her life, wrapped in the warmth of the greatest love she'd ever found. With one final whispered endearment, Della closed her eyes,