I didn't intend for this to be part of a series. But... Here is the second installment to go along with TCOT Elevator Enticement. I'm thinking there will probably be a third story, eventually.
Once again, thanks to Michelle for being my second pair of eyes. You've been a great help!
And, of course, I don't own these characters. Sad, but true.
She'd promised him a week.
It had been almost six months.
Even though she'd never officially accepted his employment offer, she stayed. It really didn't matter because as far as he was concerned, she was going to be there permanently. Perry Mason grinned at the thought. He had no intention of letting her slip away after only a week. Or ever.
It was almost 11:00 a.m. and he was in the elevator on his way up to his office for the first time that morning. He'd started the day with a brief court hearing. Now he was headed to his private sanctuary and the belated start of his daily routine.
He hated routine. Always had, always would. But now that Della Street was directing that routine, it was far more palatable than before. Della's calm, cool efficiency made everything easier. As the weeks passed since she came to work for him, he'd handed over more and more of the daily operations of the office to her. She flourished under the added responsibility.
For instance, his mail pile was significantly smaller now than ever before. He still despised it, but Della handled all the billing correspondence on her own, as well as letters of initial inquiry and communiques from the various courts he served. He had only to deal with the more pressing, important correspondence or those that required a legal opinion. That change alone made Della Street completely indispensable.
His accountant had mentioned a couple of months ago that his collection rate had increased by a noticeable percent and he congratulated the attorney on his new-found sense of business savvy. Mason knew full well that the only person in the office with any business savvy was the same person who was now handling his collections. He promptly raised her salary by the same percentage that his collections had increased.
Mason's smile widened as he recalled her reaction to the news of the raise.
Della Street looked at the check he'd just given her. She didn't say a word, simply contemplated the oblong of blue-green paper with the name of his bank on one side and the firm, steady signature "P. Mason" on the other.
"I'm giving you a raise," he said at last.
She met his eyes then, her expression completely guarded. "It isn't customary to grant a raise to an employee who's been on the job less than six months."
A flicker of frustration crossed his features. He was getting tired of her constant wariness around him. If she'd just get past the her mistrust, she'd be the most valuable asset he'd ever had. He knew this wasn't who she really was. There had been moments; brief flashes of camaraderie and companionship that left him longing for more. But as soon as her personality broke through a crack in her walls, she'd catch herself and fortify the barriers between them once more.
"It isn't customary for a single employee to make a such a noticeable difference in the firm's profitability in such a short time either. You've earned this." He leaned forward, palms flat on the surface of her desk. She backed away slightly, but managed to meet his gaze. He held her eyes for a brief moment, then said simply, "thank you" before turning to go back into his office.
He could feel her following him with his eyes. Once inside he'd busied himself at one of the bookshelves in a corner of the office where he could see her desk. Watching surreptitiously over the top of a law book, he was rewarded by seeing her brilliant smile as she contemplated the check again briefly before putting it away inside her handbag. He quickly shelved the book and moved back to his desk before she could catch him watching her.
Over the next week, he'd felt her scrutiny even more than usual. It was as if she were testing and waiting - anxious for the other shoe to drop. Eventually she seemed to come to the decision that he had no hidden agenda. The fiery side of her personality was ever present, but she after that seemed more relaxed around him. It was the strength and the sense of challenge about her that first attracted his professional notice. It was her wit and charm that attracted his personal notice and now she seemed more willing to let that side of her character show.
Perry exited the elevator and headed down the hallway towards his office. His thoughts lingered on how he and Della had grown closer, personally and professionally, in recent weeks. The change was all but imperceptible to the outsider, but Perry reveled in the spark of trust and kinship that ignited between them.
When they met, he'd assured her he wanted to hire her because of her mind and only her mind. He realized instinctively that statement had been an important factor in her consent to come to work for him, if only for a week. Respecting that implicit agreement was what kept her from bolting out of his office and his life. The lines had been drawn with indelible ink. He would honor those lines. He needed her too badly to do otherwise.
That sense of propriety did nothing for his growing sensibility of her more feminine attractions.
As he passed the frosted glass entry to the Drake Detective Agency, Perry felt, not for the first time, a twinge of jealousy. Since the first time they'd met, down in Clay's Grille, Paul had been able to relate to Della in ways that Perry probably never would. Paul wasn't her employer. He was a colleague, even a friend.
Paul was always able to joke and laugh with her. Perry knew there were times that Paul made unnecessary trips to the office on errands that could have been handled just as well over the phone. He watched Paul's eyes follow Della whenever he was in the office. Paul never even called her by name. It was always "Beautiful".
Perry shook his head. He had no idea how the guy got away with it. Maybe it was the completely guileless way he used it. Whatever the reason, Paul Drake had built a familiarity with his secretary that Perry Mason feared he would never achieve.
Reaching the hallway door to his private office, Perry inserted his key and turned the knob. As he entered, he noted the mail piled neatly on his desk - his share of the morning's correspondence.
He deposited his hat and briefcase, headed for the outer office to let his secretary know he'd arrived. He could've just tapped the intercom and given her the news, but that would have deprived him of the chance to see her and hopefully engage her in conversation.
As he opened the door, he glanced back over his shoulder towards his desk, checking to see if Della had placed anything other than the mail on the surface. He pushed through the entrance before bringing his eyes back to the front and just as he did, he barrelled right into Della Street.
"Oh!" she exclaimed as she crashed into him. The file she'd been carrying spilled its contents from her loosened grasp onto the floor.
"Miss Street!" was his exclamation. His weight and momentum pushed her backward slightly and he grabbed hold of her, one hand on her upper arm, the other around her waist. Instantly aware of the unintended intimacy, he dropped his hands and released her, unfortunately while she was still off balance. She lurched backwards and grabbed for him. He managed to take hold of both of her arms and held her in place for a moment until she regained her equilibrium.
"Are you alright?" he asked, before withdrawing his hands from her arms.
She smiled, seemingly embarrassed. "Other than terminal clumsiness, I'm fine."
He returned her smile. "It wasn't your fault. I should have watched where I was going." He paused for a beat. "I'm, uh, back from court." He grinned.
"So I noticed," she said, bending down to retrieve the documents from the floor. Perry knelt next to her and began gathering papers as well. He handed her the pieces he'd collected.
"Someone has to say it," he said, getting back to his feet. He held out a hand and helped her to stand.
He cleared his throat. "We really do have to stop meeting like this."
She appeared confused, then smiled, remembering the incident in the elevator the day they met. "I hardly think colliding with you twice constitutes a habit."
Perry started to say more, but stopped. He didn't want to ruin the moment by taking the banter another step forward. Instead he reached for the door and turned back to his office. "I'm glad you're not hurt. I'll be more careful in the future," he said with a smile, then closed the door behind him, not waiting on a reply.
Before he'd crossed the office to his desk, Della had opened the door and entered the room. "I was actually bringing you this file," she said.
Instead of sitting in his chair, he perched a hip on the corner of his desk and reached for a cigarette. "What is it?" he asked. Della crossed the room to hand him the paperwork. Hands busy with the cigarette and lighter, instead of taking the documents from her, he leaned forward to read what she held out to him.
Della was forced to stand next to him so he could see what she was holding. The lawyer's eyes skimmed the forms until he set the lighter down and finally reached for the paperwork. His attention was captured by the words on the page and he all but ignored the woman standing at his elbow.
She also seemed oblivious to their proximity as she stood next to him, one hand on the surface of the desk, the other on her hip, awaiting his instructions.
"This is good," Perry said, his voice slightly distracted. "I can't see anything that needs to be changed." He straightened and handed the file back to Della. "We need to get this to the plaintiff for their approval as soon as possible and I don't want to trust it to a messenger service. Could you possibly drive it over to their office and get the approval letter signed?"
"To - take this to Matthews and Stockton?" Her voice faltered slightly.
Perry glanced up at her from where he now sat in his desk chair. "Yes. It's not hard to find. I can give you directions to their office. Is there a problem?" he asked, noting the hesitancy in her manner.
She seemed to stand a little straighter. "Not a problem. I'll handle it right away, Mr. Mason." She took the file and started to leave the office.
"You don't need directions?" he called after her.
"No," was her terse reply as she closed the door behind her.
Mason stared at the door for a long moment, wondering if he was just imagining things. Miss Street had seemed uncharacteristically reluctant about his instructions. Or maybe not. He shrugged and turned his thoughts to conquering the mail she'd left for him.
A few minutes before noon, he stepped into the outer office once again, planning on telling Della that he was headed out for lunch. Her desk was deserted. He went into the reception area where Gertie manned the switchboard and the front desk.
"Has Miss Street gone to lunch?" he asked.
"No sir," the blonde replied, snapping her gum. "She left about half an hour ago. Said she was delivering some paperwork for you."
Mason smiled. "Alright. That's fine. I'm heading out to lunch. I'll be back soon."
Leaving Gertie to her switchboard and nail file, he returned to his office, grabbed his hat and headed out for a bite to eat.
Upon his return, less than an hour later, he checked in with Della Street. He opened the door to her office slowly and waved a hand holding a white handkerchief through the opening. "Is it safe to proceed?" He opened the door wider, and found the room deserted. He assumed she was taking a late lunch hour, due to the length of her errand for him, and returned to his own office, somewhat deflated.
A short time later there was a tap on the door and Della Street entered, large envelope in hand.
"The paperwork you requested, Mr. Mason," she said, laying the envelope on his desk. "It took a little longer than expected."
"Thank you very much, Miss Street," he said, gently mocking her formality. He'd asked her more than once to call him Perry. Most of the time she didn't call him anything. Occasionally it was Mr. Mason. She didn't seem to notice his tone or even to really notice him at all. She simply nodded and went back into her office, closing the door behind her.
Mason sighed. Maybe she was just tired. Or, more likely, hungry. He knew if she'd just returned from Matthews and Stockton, she hadn't eaten lunch. He reached forward and flipped the intercom switch. "Della? Could you come in please? And bring a notebook?"
Within seconds she appeared in the doorway, steno-book and pencil in hand. Mason indicated the chair at the corner of his desk. She seated herself, crossed her legs, and looked at him expectantly.
The lawyer leaned forward, elbows on the desk, long fingers steepled in front of him. "Take a letter please." He paused for a breath. "To Miss Della Street - you can fill in the address later, I'm sure you won't have to look it up." She glanced at him in surprised exasperation. He ignored her.
"Dear Miss Street," he continued. "The firm of Perry Mason, Attorney at Law has been thrilled with the quality of your work to date." He gestured towards her notebook. "Underline thrilled - for emphasis," he said, unable to keep from smiling.
She gave him a sardonic smile and made a show of underlining one of the pothooks on the page several times. "Thank you," Perry told her, then began his dictation again. "However, it has been observed that you have perhaps skipped your noonday sustenance today. Please refrain from doing this in the future, as it puts your health and well-being in jeopardy. The firm takes a keen interest in the health and happiness of it's employees, as a health, happy employee makes for a healthy, happy workplace. Please see to it that you are properly fed in the future. Skipping meals in favor of meeting the demands of your employer is strongly discouraged." He looked over at her, noting that she'd stopped writing, and said, "Just insert the normal signature lines and such."
She hadn't bothered to write his last few lines in her notebook, but instead sat staring at him, arms crossed and eyebrows raised.
"What?" he asked feigning schoolboy innocence.
He could tell she was trying not to smile. She wasn't entirely successful. "I wasn't hungry," she said at length.
Mason sat back in his chair, and glowered at her from beneath lowered brows. "Don't make me call your mother and report you for not taking care of yourself, Miss Street. What would your mother say if she knew you were out here in the big city, not eating like you should?"
"My mother would be proud to hear that I'm watching my figure," Della said dryly. Then she smiled. "My Aunt Mae on the other hand..."
"Ah, yes. The aunt. And she would not approve of your nutritional lapses?"
"She would not approve." Della smiled again. "But I really wasn't hungry."
Perry held up a hand, as if to still further debate. "Immaterial, Miss Street. I shall take this problem under advisement and have a solution for you later today."
Della laughed as she stood. "I'm sure you'll let me know what you come up with," she said as she walked to the door. Mason merely smiled as he watched her leave the office.
As the afternoon wore on, the lawyer busied himself with client appointments and study related to a brief he was preparing. Late in the afternoon, he called Della in to his office and began to dictate the outline of the brief. Della was seated at the large table next to the balcony, while Mason paced the office floor. They had been working for about half an hour when the intercom buzzed.
The lawyer took two strides to the desk and pressed the answering button. "Yes, Gertie?"
"There's a Mr. Stockton here," she said.
Mason spoke quickly. "I don't have time, Gertie. I'm right in the middle of something. Have him make an appointment and come back later." He was just about to break the connection, then said "Wait a moment. Stockton? Of Matthews and Stockton?"
"Yes sir," the receptionist said, her voice somewhat hesitant. "He, uh, he's asking to see Miss Street, actually, sir."
Mason heard a noise and glanced over at his secretary who was picking up the pencil she'd just dropped on the floor. "Just a moment, Gertie." He switched off the intercom.
Della retrieved her pencil and began to flip through the pages of her notebook, not making eye contact. "I don't know why he'd want to see me. Probably to make an appointment with you or something." She finally looked up. "I guess I'll have to go get rid of him. Then we can finish what we're working on." It was the eyes that betrayed her. If she'd not looked at him right then, he'd have thought her reluctance perfectly plausible. But when she looked at him, he saw a flicker of some darker emotion in her eyes.
Mason's expression was concerned as he studied her face. "What's wrong, Della?"
"What? Nothing. Nothing's wrong," she protested. "We just have work to do, that's all."
"That's not it, Della."
She shook her head. "Nothing is wrong."
Mason sighed audibly and pulled one of the other chairs away from the table. He turned it around backwards and straddled it, elbows balanced on the backrest. "If this were just a case of a man needing an appointment, Gertie would have handled that on her own. This man wants to see you personally and for some reason that bothers you."
"It doesn't bother me, it was just an unusual request, that's all." She picked up her notebook and started to stand. "I'll just go see what he wants, then be right back and we can get this finished." With that she sidestepped his chair and exited the room.
Mason remained seated, contemplating the door, his posture changing only when he lit a cigarette. He'd almost finished it by the time the door opened and Della slipped back into the room. Neither said a word as she reclaimed her seat and opened her notebook. Mason watched her every move from his half-closed eyes.
"Well?" he asked.
"I got rid of him. Are you ready to continue?" She took a breath before meeting his gaze. This time her eyes revealed nothing.
"When is his appointment?"
"He...didn't want one. It was all just a misunderstanding." She fidgeted slightly in her chair.
"He had a misunderstanding? About our lawsuit?" Mason's voice was calm, even.
"No. He was just confused. It's not important, really." Now Della was the one looking at a watch. "We'll have to hurry to finish this. Shouldn't we get started?" Her voice betrayed her nervousness and Perry noted the slight tremor of her pencil as she held it poised over the notebook.
Mason didn't speak, but continued to watch her with heavily lidded eyes. Finally he sighed. "Della." He waited for her to look at him. "Earlier today it was obvious that you didn't want to go over to their office," he said. "I shouldn't have asked you to do it. Now one of the partners shows up here, and this upsets you. Why?" When she didn't answer right away, he leaned closer, stubbing out the remains of his cigarette in the table's ashtray. "Don't make me cross-examine you," he said, allowing a touch of humor into his voice.
One corner of her mouth turned up, for a brief second, before she became serious again. Mason waited patiently for her to speak. His patience was rewarded.
Della sighed and laid the pencil down. Sitting back in her chair, she crossed her arms over her chest in a defensive posture. "You know I had some serious reservations about coming to work for you." Mason merely nodded. "I had good reason for them," she said.
"When I first came to Los Angeles, I worked for Matthews and Stockton in their secretarial pool. Things were fine at first, but the younger partner, Mr. Stockton, started searching me out specifically whenever he wanted anything done. At first I was flattered, thinking he was impressed with my work. Before long I learned that it wasn't my work he was interested in." She paused, her pencil now making aimless doodles on her notebook. Mason sat silently. "At first that flattered me a bit, too. I wasn't completely naive. I'd had boyfriends and I thought I'd been around the block enough times to know how to handle men." The pencil lead snapped under the pressure of her hand. She jumped slightly, cleared her throat, then continued. "It turned out the blocks I'd been around back home were nothing compared with those a big city wolf was used to." Another pause.
Still Mason sat unmoving and silent. Only the narrowing of his eyes and the hardening of his jaw gave any indication of his reaction. "I knew I had to get out. So I quit. No two weeks notice, no forwarding address. I called over the weekend and left a message for the head of the secretarial pool and never even picked up my final paycheck." She looked at Mason now, nervously trying to gage his reaction. "That's why I was applying for the job in the CPA firm the day we met. I was having trouble finding employment without a reference and I had checked out this firm with some friends and knew it would be a safe place to work, if I could convince them to hire me. I was almost to the point of having to pack up and go back home, but even crawling back was better than...than prostitution." Defiance flared in her eyes.
"So why did Stockton come here this afternoon?" he asked, his eyes glittering dangerously.
"Now that he knows where I work, he evidently wanted to see if I was any more amenable to his advances."
"And were you?"
"Hardly. He won't be back," she said with firm determination.
Mason met her defiant gaze and a slow, lazy smile spread across his features. "You took quite a chance, coming to work for me. As a confidential secretary. Not even the vague anonymity of a secretarial pool to protect you."
"Don't I know it," she muttered.
Mason's smile widened. "Why did you do it? What made you trust me?"
She cocked an eyebrow at him. "Who ever said I trusted you?"
Mason laughed out loud. "Point taken. Are you ever going to be able to trust me?"
Her expression softened. "I'll work on it," she promised.
"Good." Perry nodded, then got to his feet. "I don't know about you, but I've no idea where I was on that brief and I don't feel like sorting it out now. If you don't mind typing up what we've got so far, I'm going downstairs for a haircut. I'll be back before five, and pick up what you have typed. I'll read it at home tonight and be ready to go again in the morning."
"Yes, Mr. Mason," she said, rising from her chair.
"Della, if you are going to work on trusting me, can't you work on calling me something other than Mister Mason? It makes me feel old!" He walked towards the exit door as he spoke.
"I suppose so...Chief." She grinned.
"Chief? I do have a first name, you know." He had a hand on the doorknob of one door, his secretary had paused with her hand on the knob of the opposite door. Their eyes met across the office.
"I know," she said quietly. "I'll work on it." With a smile she left the room and closed the door behind her.
Just before closing time, Perry Mason returned to his office. The brief, what he'd done of it, was typed and stacked neatly in a folder on his desk. The door to Della's office was open.
"You still here, Della?" he called.
"Yes, Chief," was the answer.
Mason chuckled and gathered the file, put into his briefcase, then stuck his head into his secretary's office. "I'm going to have to get used to that, aren't I?" he asked.
"Unless you want me to go back to 'Mr. Mason'?" she asked, favoring him with a sardonic grin.
"I can live with it. Are you free for a while or do you have plans?" he asked. She paused in the act of covering her typewriter.
"No plans. I can stay. Did you figure out how you wanted to end the argument in that brief?"
"No and I don't intend to think about it right now. Actually, in the interests of securing your continued health and well-being, I am buying you dinner at Armand's this evening." He gestured towards her desk. "Grab your purse. Let's go!"
The smile faded from her features. "I really don't think..."
He cut her off. "You promised to work on trusting me, remember? And if you don't let me supervise your dinner, I'm going to have to contact your aunt and let her know that you aren't eating."
The dinner was superb. The restaurant wasn't busy at that early hour. The waiter knew Perry Mason well and made sure that their every need was anticipated and fulfilled. Perry asked if Della would mind if he ordered for them both. She agreed and experienced one of the best steak dinners she'd ever had.
The conversation was minimal, but not uncomfortably so. They discussed likes and dislikes, music, food, entertainment.
As the waiter cleared their dinner plates and brought out coffee and dessert, Della studied her companion carefully. Aware of the scrutiny, Perry waited until the waiter was out of earshot, then said, "What is it? Do I look better in this light?" He grinned at her.
"You didn't get a haircut," she said seriously.
Mason raised his eyebrows and sat back against the back of the booth. He looked down into his coffee cup for a moment before looking back at his companion. "You're very observant, Miss Street."
She started to speak, then evidently thought better of it. Instead she picked up her fork and lifted a bite of decadent chocolate cake to her mouth. Perry found his eyes drawn to her lips. They parted to accept the treat, then curved into a smile of pure bliss as she swallowed the desert. He had a sudden, almost overpowering urge to know what those lips would taste like when kissed, with that tiny bit of chocolate frosting that lingered in one corner of her mouth.
She reached for her napkin and wiped the frosting away, freeing him from the spell. He reached for his coffee. Silence drug out between them. "Do you want to know why I didn't get a hair cut?" he asked.
"I'm not sure," she said quietly.
He hesitated, seemingly unsure of how to proceed. At length he said, "You are very, very good at your job. I have needed someone like you in my office for a very long time."
Della made a dismissive gesture and was about to speak, but Perry didn't give her the chance. "No, I mean it. You have already made a tremendous difference for me in just a few short months. I want you to know how much I appreciate it. I also want you to be sure that I would never do anything to endanger our working relationship. You are a professional and as long as you are with me, you will be generously compensated for the quality of work that you do." His eyes were dark with intensity as he stared at her from across the table. "I will ask a lot of you. But I will give a lot in return. And I will make for damn sure that nothing jeopardizes the working relationship that we have. If you aren't comfortable working in my office, then you won't be able to reach the level of performance that I will expect from you."
Intensity seemed to pour off of him in waves. Della eyed him with undisguised amazement.
Picking up his fork and attacking his own piece of chocolate cake, he made one more statement. "And no one, I don't care who they are, is going to come into my office and try to take advantage of a member of my staff and get away with it. Not now. Not ever."
Della's jaw dropped. She couldn't say a word. Feeling her gaze on him, Perry looked up at her. He gestured towards her plate with his fork. "Eat up, woman. As soon as we're done, I'm taking you home so you can relax and get a good night's sleep. We've got a lot of work to do tomorrow and I'm going to need you to be at your best."
Della stared at him for a moment longer, then picked up her fork. "You're the boss, Chief," she said with a smile.
Perry grinned. "I think I'm going to like that name."
Ten years later:
"Very good, ma'am. And for dessert?" The waiter regarded Della Street, pencil poised over pad.
Della glanced down at the dessert menu. Perry Mason spoke up. "Cake. She'll have chocolate cake, with extra icing."
Della looked at him over the top of her menu, an eyebrow raised and a sultry smile playing at the corner of her mouth. The waiter verified the order with a glance. Della nodded her agreement and the waiter withdrew.
"Extra icing? Care to explain?" she asked, her voice as deliciously enticing as the confection she was discussing.
Perry Mason grinned at her. "Hope springs eternal."
Her expression was confused. He chuckled quietly and took hold of her hand, bringing it to his lips.
"It's just a memory, my dear," he explained. He held on to her hand, caressing her fingers. "Watching you eat chocolate has always been..." he paused a beat, dropping his voice to deeper timber, "a sensual experience."
"Absolutely," Perry spoke quietly. "I love to watch you savor the flavor, the texture, and then, when you swallow, you close your eyes and you have an expression of complete contentment on your face." He raised her hand, turned it over and pressed his lips to her palm, then the inside of her wrist. "I can only think of one other activity that puts such a beautiful expression on your face."
"Perry!" She pulled her hand away, coloring deeply.
"What?" he asked, feigning innocence.
Della shook her head, trying not to smile. She picked up her napkin and shook it out, placing it in her lap. Just then the waiter appeared with their salads. Della picked up her fork and speared greens. She stopped with the fork halfway to her mouth and looked at her dining companion. He was busy with his own salad, but glanced at her from the corner of his eye.
"Nah. Just chocolate. Salad doesn't have quite the same effect."
Della laughed and took a bite. Dinner was a relaxing affair as they enjoyed the food and the quiet conversation. Then the waiter appear with dessert. He smiled almost knowingly as he deposited the generous slice of chocolate cake in front of Della.
A sly smile played across her features. Taking the dessert fork in her hand she twirled it around the edges of the plate, coating only the very tips of the tines with the chocolate frosting. She did not look at her companion, but instead kept her eyes on the plate. As she drug the fork further into the chocolate, she moistened her lips with the tip of her tongue.
Perry Mason made no move to touch his own dessert. His eyes were riveted on the scene playing out before him.
Holding the fork with only the tips of her fingers, Della made circles and patterns on the plate, playing with soft folds of the dark frosting. She had one elbow on the table and rested her chin in her hand, watching the progress of her silver plaything. Finally she grasped the flatware more securely and sliced through a corner of the cake.
Scooping it up, she slowly lifted it from the plate, her expression one of blissful anticipation. Ever so slowly the forkful of cake made its way to her moistened lips. She smiled and opened her mouth slightly, as if anticipating the the first flood of flavor when she finally took it onto her tongue. A soft, sighing moan escaped her throat.
Then she stopped and dropped the fork onto the plate with a clatter, the cake falling off the tines and back onto the dish. She looked over at Perry, ginning mischievously.
"Del-la!" His voice had an almost strangled quality. "You are killing me, woman!"
Della didn't reply, but her throaty laughter floated out over the table. She picked up the fork once more, loaded it with cake and took a bite. Her teasing expression immediately changed. "Oh, my! This is," she swallowed, "really good!"
She was lifting the napkin to wipe away a small bit of dark brown frosting clinging to the corner of her mouth when Perry grabbed hold of her hand and pushed it away. Slightly startled, she looked at him, making eye contact just before his hand circled the back of her neck, pulling her to him.
The kiss was as long and as thorough as could be accomplished in such a public space.
Perry eventually released her and pulled away. Della stayed motionless for a moment, eyes closed, lips slightly parted. When she at last opened her eyes, Perry could see the desire smoldering there. He inhaled sharply, barely holding himself in check.
"We're leaving," he managed to say. He tore his eyes from hers, gaze sweeping the room in search of the waiter. Della didn't reply, but laid her hand on his thigh, squeezing gently. The waiter appeared almost instantly.
Perry handed the young man a credit card. "Please have the car brought around front."
"Very good sir," the waiter replied. He looked down at the virtually untouched dessert plates. "I'll have the cake boxed up for you as well."
When he'd withdrawn, Della reached for her water glass. Perry's eyes scanned the room again while his fingertips drummed impatiently on the table cloth. Della's expression betrayed her amusement as she watched him. Eventually the waiter returned and Perry signed the receipt.
As the waiter boxed up the cake, Perry was at Della's back, helping her with her chair as she pushed away from the table. He slipped an arm around her waist and held her close as they weaved their way through the other tables to the exit.
Mason nodded to the maitre d' as they passed by him on their way out.
"Always a pleasure, Mr. Mason," he said as he held the door for the couple.
"It is indeed, Tom," the lawyer said, eyes scanning the curb for his car.
The sleek black convertible was parked right in front of the door. Perry reached the vehicle in quick strides. He all but yanked the passenger door open and Della slid past him, then paused in the opening and looked up at her escort.
Perry smiled down at her. She reached up and cupped his face with her hands. "I love you, Perry."
He leaned in close. "I know you do," he whispered.
"Perry!" she exclaimed. Her throaty laughter was stifled when Perry covered her mouth with his in another searing kiss.
Turning back towards the dining room from his vantage point in the doorway, the maitre d' smiled a little wistfully. He almost collided with the waiter.
"Woah! What's the hurry?" he asked, somewhat startled.
"The forgot their dessert!" the waiter exclaimed, gesturing towards the door with the small cake box he carried.
Tom looked back out to the curb in time to see a flash of silk clad leg just before Perry Mason closed the car door. Mason glanced up and waved a quick good-bye, a huge smile on his face. Tom waved back and turned towards the waiter, taking the box from his hands.
"Dessert? I think those two have that covered." He put a hand on the younger man's shoulder and directed him back towards the floor.