The phone rang a third time. Della's 'Hello!' was slightly breathless.
"Almost done?" Perry Mason asked.
"Almost. How about you?"
"The hearing is over. It ran a little longer than I expected, but I think we've made a good case. The judge promised to have a ruling by the end of next week."
"Uh-hmm." She sounded distracted.
"Judge Harkins asked me several questions on the brief we submitted. Evidently he studied it pretty carefully."
Perry chuckled into the phone. "It sounds like you're much more interested in him than me."
Della's silky voice dropped a notch. "That's because he's here with me, sweating and straining... And you're not."
"Give me ten minutes, baby. I'll be there."
She laughed, low and throaty - a sound that always made him think of something steamy and sweet. "It won't be closing time for a few more hours yet. And besides I've got a few things to finish before the movers get here. Why don't you answer some of that mail you've no doubt left on the desk and come see me when you're done?"
He groaned. "Slave driver!"
She laughed again and hung up the phone.
Mason frowned accusingly at the pile of letters that were indeed waiting at the corner of his desk. Rather than reaching for them, he took out his wallet and removed a business card. He dialed the number on the card, and after a brief conversation, finally directed his attention to his delinquent correspondence.
Perry Mason gave the elevator operator his destination, and rode in silence. It had been almost two months since the attack on Della. She spent the first few nights after the assault at his apartment, in his bed. He held her while she fought battles in her nightmares. Then she'd squared her shoulders, steeled her resolve and gone back home.
She tried to convince him everything was alright, but Perry, knowing her better than most, could tell she wasn't sleeping well. Eventually she admitted she just hated being in her apartment, but she wouldn't give up her life and her independence to the likes of Frank Livesey.
After a few weeks Della decided to move. New surroundings would do wonders for her sense of wellbeing, she decided. Perry tried again to convince her to marry him, or at least move in with him. He ached to protect her, to help her overcome the dark fear that still lurked around the edges of her mind.
Each time he brought it up, however, she refused, holding fast to her contention that she would lose him if she married him. Perry didn't agree, but even his best arguments proved ineffective.
After laughingly rejecting his suggestion that she at least move into an apartment in his building, they began a search in earnest and soon found her a new home. The building was relatively new, very secure and located roughly halfway between Perry's place and the office.
This week she'd taken vacation time and worked on decorating her new apartment before moving in. The last of the decor, the carpet, had been installed that afternoon. The carpet installer was the one "sweating and straining" over his job when Perry called her earlier.
The doors slid open and Mason exited the elevator, walked swiftly down the hallway and knocked on the door of Della's apartment. He didn't bother to try the knob, knowing it would be locked. When Della opened the door, he grinned. She was decked out in a cotton shirt and denim work pants, rolled up past her ankles. Her bare feet showed manicured toes digging into the pile of newly installed carpet.
"What do you think?" she asked. When she read the gleam in his eye, she added, "About the new carpet."
Reluctantly his gaze shifted to the floor. "Not bad. Not bad at all."
She moved aside to let him enter. He slipped an arm around her waist as he stepped inside.
"Well?" she asked after giving him a few moments to survey the space.
"Looks great. You've been busy."
"I tried to make good use of my time off. I'm sure I will have to pay for it when I go back to work."
The lawyer laughed. "I haven't been that bad, I hope. I even answered some of the mail while you've been gone!"
Della gave him a doubtful smile as she walked to the balcony doors. She began removing the last of the painter's tape that protected the door frame. "Got the painting finished just before the carpet guy got here. The movers should be here soon with the last of the furniture."
Mason reached up above her head to pull the pieces of tape from above the door. "I bought you a housewarming gift. It should be here any minute."
"Champagne? Or flowers? I have a vase here somewhere..." She looked dubiously at boxes stacked in the corner of the room.
"Neither! Guess again, Sherlock."
"Hmm...not champagne or flowers...that leaves some sort of object d'art," she said in an exaggerated French accent.
"I'm glad to know you speak French," he said, drawing her into his arms. "Because I'm taking you to Paris for our honeymoon."
"I don't think my high school French would stand up to the real thing. Besides, I think you are getting the cart before the cheval, don't you? I'm not going to marry you!" She smiled up at him, hands resting on his chest.
He leaned down and kissed her. "Maybe not today, but..." His voice trailed off as he kissed her again.
There was silence between them as Perry did his best to give her reason to change her mind. The sound of a knock at the door brought them back down to reality.
"That must be your present," he said.
"It knocks? How polite."
Mason chuckled as he crossed the room to the door. When he opened it, two delivery men were waiting with their cargo. A new couch. The lawyer waved them in and asked Della where she wanted it. For a moment she didn't answer, then gestured vaguely towards the wall opposite her fireplace. Mason tipped the men and within minutes they were gone. When he turned back to Della, she stood very still in the middle of the room, hands clasping her upper arms, eyes clouded.
"I, uh...bad idea?" he asked uncertainly.
"No," she murmured, then turned towards him, a sad smile lightening her features somewhat. "It's a perfect idea. And I even like the color."
"Good," he replied, relief written on his features. "I hate to admit it, but I snuck a decorator friend into your old apartment earlier this week while you were working over here. She got a sense of your style and helped me pick this out." He sat down in the middle of the couch, long legs stretched out on front of him, arms splayed across the back. "Are you going to just stand there, or are you going to help me try it out?"
Della joined him. "Nice and comfy," she said.
Perry dropped his arm to her shoulders and drew her closer. She didn't quite relax and silence fell between them. Finally, Mason asked, " What's wrong, Della? I messed up, didn't I?"
"Oh, Perry! No, you didn't - not at all. I can't believe you thought of this and went to the trouble of doing it. I really do like it."
She opened her mouth to speak, but just shook her head.
She leaned forward and put her face in her hands. His hand came to rest on her back, warm and supportive. When she finally lifted her head and spoke, her voice quivered with suppressed emotion. "I don't deserve you, Perry. You've done so much for me and I don't deserve any of it."
Protest battled with concern in his expression. "You know that's not true."
"It is true!" Her voice was taut. She shrugged off his hand and stood. Crossing the room as if to put as much space between the two of them as possible, she spoke again. "You talk about how brave I was or how strong I am. None of that is true. It's all lies. I was nothing but a scared little sheep. I gave up, Perry! I gave up! If you hadn't arrived when you did, he would have won. I quit fighting - I just stopped! I would have let that man rape me!" she finished in disgust, turning away from him.
Strong arms wrapped around her upper body. Perry had come to her and now held her tightly to his chest, his face buried in her hair. When he finally spoke, emotion made his voice rough. "You gave up? Della, darling, you did nothing of the sort." When she tried to speak, he tightened his grip. "No - listen to me, woman. A man, much bigger and much stronger than you, blindsided you and knocked you unconscious. Despite being bound and gagged, you managed to almost break the man's knee. He hit you, strangled you, and all but suffocated you. And still you held him off. It's a wonder the bastard didn't...didn't rape you while you were unconscious. But despite everything he did, you found the strength to hold him off until I got there. And even then, you managed to scream and let me know you needed help. You, Della - you did all of that."
He finally loosened his death grip so he could look down into her teary eyes. "Of course he would have raped you if I hadn't been there," he whispered, his voice cracking. "But that's not your fault. You gave him a hell of a fight. And I thank God every day that I managed to get there in time." Mason took hold of her shoulders and looked directly into her eyes, his gaze boring into her. "There was nothing you could have done. You are not to blame for what happened. You did everything humanly possible to prevent it. And it kills me to think of what you went through."
Tears spilled over her lower lashes. "I...I tried...to stop him...but I couldn't…"
Mason cupped her face in his hands, thumbs brushing away the tears. "I love you, Della Street. You are an amazing woman. You deserve everything I could ever give you and more."
"I love you, too." It was the first time she'd said those words. They seemed to slip so easily from her tongue; he doubted that she'd even noticed that she said them.
And then she surprised him.
Taking hold of his face in both hands, she kissed him long and hard. Then she looked into his eyes, her gaze bright and clear. "I love you," she repeated. "I do love you. And I want to be with you for the rest of my life, Perry Mason."
He opened his mouth to speak, but she silenced him with another kiss. "No," she said when she finally pulled away. "I'm not saying we should get married. But I want to be with you, loving you, forever. If you'll let me."
"Let you?!" He laughed. "I think that could be arranged."
She hugged him tightly, whispering those three words again and again. Perry reached up and removed her arms from around his neck. Holding her hands in his, he drew her back to the sofa. Slowly, carefully, he pulled her down on the couch with him. With exquisite tenderness and care he caressed her face, her neck, her body. She met him, touch for touch, giving herself over to the passion they shared.
Perry indulged his appetite for Della, delighting in the soft sighs and gentle moans he coaxed from her. Della luxuriated in the feel of his skin against hers and the magic his lips and hands could create for her.
Perry loved her with a gentleness that was born of deep and lasting devotion. She was not the first, but she would be the last woman he ever loved. That was certain. Della gave herself to him fully, melting into him, connecting body and soul. Together they crafted an ecstasy of new memories to sustain them.
Time passed, unbidden, and the lovers remained locked in each others arms. Finally, Della began to stir, reaching for whatever bits of clothing she could grasp without leaving Perry's arms.
"Whatcha doin'?" he mumbled drowsily. "Why do we have to get dressed?"
Della pressed a swift kiss to the bare skin of his chest. "Because the movers will be here any minute."
"Damn the movers," he mumbled, eyes still closed.
"You should be glad they're coming," she replied, sitting up and shrugging into her shirt.
Her eyes twinkled with promise. "Because they're bringing my bed!"