Disclaimer: I don't own the characters created by Erle Stanley Gardner, but I've known and loved them for more years than I care to admit.
Backstory: This is what results when you are unemployed, desperate for something to fill time after you've re-watched all 5 seasons of PM as well as all the TV movies, re-read the books, watched over 400 episodes of Gunsmoke, and listened to over 200 radio Gunsmoke epispdes. You become desperate for something stimulating, so you smush together facets of the novels and the TV show and type late into the night, not caring that there isn't much of a plot, but pleased that your grammar skills are still sharp after 6 months of talking to hardly anyone but the cats.
The dying man's confession sickened her.
She desperately wanted to flee, but by sheer force of will kept her hand steady and concentrated on the dying man's halting speech so as not to miss a single word. After nearly twenty minutes of confessions and recriminations, the man expelled his last breath and the twenty-odd officers assembled began to disperse. She dated and signed her notes then silently handed the entire notebook to the ranking officer, a bespectacled captain she knew only by reputation. He flipped through the notebook, looked at her over the tops of horn-rimmed glasses, and in a gruff voice thanked her. He then said he'd like her to think about becoming a police stenographer. She managed a wan smile and politely declined. It was the third time a ranking officer had offered her a position with the force, which made it abundantly clear to her that she spent entirely too much time at crime scenes. The captain invited her to call him if she changed her mind, told her she didn't have to remain in the bungalow, but to please not leave the scene until it was determined if she was needed for anything else.
She walked quickly through the bullet-riddled, blood-splattered kitchen, out the back door and down rickety wooden steps, past a group of three uniformed officers smoking cigarettes and jovially congratulating one another on the outcome of the shootout, across the unkempt rear lawn of the dead man's bungalow toward the outline of an automobile in the hazy warmth of the summer night. When her feet crunched on a strip of gravel between the grass and the alley pavement, Perry Mason turned quickly at the sound, tossed away a cigarette, and strode toward her with long-legged quickness.
For a moment they stood facing each other, mere inches apart, and then Perry reached out and gathered Della Street to him. "You okay?" he asked gently.
She nodded against his chest. "He knew he was dying and gave a full confession. But he wasn't in the least remorseful about anything, Chief, not even for what Dinah Manning has gone through because of him."
Perry hugged her closer. "Men like that rarely are. Let's get you out of here."
Della shook her head. "The captain said to stick around."
He gave her one last squeeze, took her hand in his and led her back to the car.
Della tried to surreptitiously stifle a yawn behind her hand, but Perry caught the motion out of the corner of his eye and gently linked his arm through hers to pull her closer to his side. She sighed, leaned her head against his shoulder, and let out an impressively vocal yawn that caused Perry to grin broadly in the semi-darkness.
"They should let us go any minute, Della. Then I'll take you straight home to bed."
"Promises, promises," she mumbled.
Perry shot her a look, but her upturned face was devoid of expression.
"It's getting to be quite a habit of the police department to take advantage of your stenographic skills." Perry tried to keep the hint of annoyance out of his voice at the opportunistic way the police had recruited Della to take the dying man's statement. She had taken many confessions while working on cases, several at the request of the police, but never the final words of a man facing the end of his life. She had followed Holcomb without hesitation when apprised of the man's imminent death, but it still irked him the police had involved her in the resultant violence of the situation. A situation he was all too aware he had played a major role in setting up.
"That new captain with the thick glasses offered me a job." She announced nonchalantly, stifling another yawn.
Perry was stunned. Rotten cops. "Will I find your resignation on my desk in the morning?"
Her hands closed around his arm as she lifted her head, half-parted lips tilted toward him invitingly. She waited a few seconds for him to accept the invitation, then snaked her right hand up his chest and around the back of his neck, pulling his head down to hers. The kiss was long and deep, simultaneously teasing and surrendering, her lips taking from him, asking for more, accepting and allowing his ardent exploration. Long moments later she gently pushed him away with a soft sigh.
"Don't be silly," she admonished, then added, "They can't pay me nearly the salary you do."
Perry chuckled as she settled into the crook of his arm, her head once again resting on his shoulder. "You do realize you wasted a perfect opportunity to leverage that job offer into a raise," he pointed out.
"I didn't waste any opportunity," she replied with calm assuredness. "Stop grinning so smugly."
His grin grew wider. "Smugness doesn't make me grin. Pure delight makes me grin."
"It's not the first job offer I've received, you know."
"No," he managed to sound casual, "I don't know."
"Some were serious, some were flirtatious." Her right hand once again began to slide across his chest, coming to rest in the hollow where his neck met his shoulder.
Following her lead, his left arm circled her, pulling her closer. His heart began to beat faster, due to the combination of her fragrant closeness and indignation that attempts had been made to lure her from him. "Are you going to tell me who made either type of offer?" He began mentally rounding up suspects and plotting retribution.
"Nope." She yawned again, replete with a vocalization she called "singing". Singing yawns occurred only when she was most definitely tired. It was another of her habits that charmed him. Most definitely.
What was keeping Holcomb? Perry stared out the foggy windshield across the alley toward the dead man Kent Fornier's dilapidated bungalow. They should have been released from the scene by now. Della needed sleep. He needed a cold shower. And a drink. Maybe two drinks. Maybe two cold showers.
"Am I to conclude that after these unsubstantiated offers you took advantage of me in some manner, as you did just now?" He wanted her engaged and alert, not to fall asleep in the car, only to be awakened when Holcomb finally plodded up to either ask more questions or tell them their presence was no longer required.
"Did I take advantage of you, Mr. Mason? I got the impression you were a willing participant." The fingers of her right hand began to play with the hair at the back of his neck, while her left hand found its way beneath his suit coat. She was fully in his arms now, and he in hers. In the dim light he could just make out the features of her extraordinary face. His left hand fell from her waist to her hip and pulled her leg over his thigh. She moaned, a quiet, throaty sound that crept into his heart and spread warmth throughout his body with every beat. His hand continued down her hip to her thigh, to the hem of the conveniently full skirt of her dress. He hesitated. She arched her back, pressing her softness against him, and he boldly slid his hand beneath the skirt to rest on her slender thigh. The moan he heard this time was his.
The kiss began with tentative little nibbles at each other's bottom lips, interspersed with Perry's gentle grazing of her cheeks, eyelids, and jawline. When he brought his attention back to her lips and felt them yield beneath his, Perry tightened his hold, pulled her up so that she was straddling his thigh, and took full possession of her mouth. She wrapped both arms around his neck and met his advance head-on with enthusiasm.
He had never desired a woman as he desired Della, had never waited so long to manifest his desire physically with a woman. He loved her, had probably loved her at first sight when she entered his office for her interview. She possessed everything he found lacking in other women, and he had realized rather quickly after hiring her that she was the woman he was destined to be with, the woman who comfortably filled his empty spaces and endlessly fascinated him.
Somehow the pearl buttons of her dress were undone and his hands were beneath her skirt, cupped over her bottom, holding her against the fervent proof of his desire. The languid pace of their kisses had given way to inflamed urgency as the walls of employer/employee civility crumbled, to be replaced by a new and thrillingly natural intimacy.
However, when she would have willingly taken an irrevocable leap, his hand closed about hers at his belt buckle and held it between their bodies. Lips still clinging to hers, he mastered the driving force of his passion and uttered the most difficult words ever. "Not here, baby. Holcomb could sneak up at any moment."
She let out a loud sigh as she collapsed against his chest, her hand still trapped by his. "Who would have thought you'd be the sensible one."
Perry chuckled softly and hugged her fiercely with his free arm. "You have no idea how difficult that was."
"I think I have a fairly accurate idea." She pushed herself up from his chest to fix a level gaze at him in the darkened, steamy atmosphere of the car.
He kissed her quickly, and matched her level gaze. "Holcomb aside, I'm not going to rush into anything, Della."
"Rush!" She exclaimed incredulously. "Two years is rushing?"
He grinned lopsidedly. "Actually, it won't be two years until next week Thursday."
She stared at him in surprise. "You remember what day I came to work for you?"
"No, I remember the day I met you. Two years ago next week Thursday. I remembered it last year, too, if you recall."
She silently regarded him as she absorbed his words. "Men always remember the first year. Do you have something you want to say to me?"
He blinked. Sometimes her intuitiveness frightened him. "All I'm prepared to say is that the instant you walked in for your interview, I knew you would change my life."
She extricated her hand from his and wrapped both arms around his neck again, resting her forehead against his. "I'm flattered," she admitted. "It took me until the next day to realize that."
Della barely had time to button and reposition her dress before Sergeant Holcomb emerged from the mist and tapped on the steamed up driver's side window. She should have been mortified by the rivulets of moisture trailing down the inside of the windows, not to mention her disheveled clothing, but Perry's discomfort amused her too much. Holcomb walked away after announcing that the police had no further questions for either of them and thanking Della for her stenographic services, seemingly oblivious to the heated atmosphere within Perry's automobile. As Perry rolled up the window with a grimace, she broke into peals of delighted laughter.
Perry started the car and let out a mirthless "ha, ha," as he shifted in another futile effort to get comfortable.
"Are we going to continue discussing why almost two years is rushing things? How much more of an invitation do you require than me sitting in your lap with my skirt up around my waist?"
He took his hand off the steering wheel and reached out toward her. After hesitating for effect, she slid next to him and nestled her hand in his. He raised it to his lips and held it there.
"I'm going to tell you a story," he announced.
She rolled her eyes. "Please don't start it with 'there once was a lawyer from L.A.'"
"Well, there was, but he doesn't have anything to do with this particular story." He grinned, that infectious, boyish grin she had no defense against. She laughed. "Once upon a time, there was a lawyer who had a secretary. She was a good secretary, the best the lawyer had ever had. She was beautiful, brainy, adventurous, and humorous."
"I think I'm going to like this story," Della interjected.
Perry flashed a mock-serious look at her. "Tut, tut, don't interrupt. The lawyer and his secretary got along famously from the moment she started working for him, and very quickly the lawyer realized his feelings for the secretary were not very business-like."
Della's eyes were wide with feigned innocence. "I most definitely like this story."
"Warning number two, Miss Street," Perry said sternly, a smile twitching at the corners of his lips, "If you can't be a good girl and listen quietly, there will be harsh consequences. Now, the secretary also had not very business-like feelings for the lawyer, and one night, just a few weeks after they began working together, those mutual not very business-like feelings escalated into a rather intimate event." Perry paused for effect and took his eyes from the road to gauge Della's reaction to the story thus far.
Her expression was still one of enthralled innocence. "Was said event repeated, or did the secretary become persona non grata to the lawyer?"
"Three," Perry's voice was edged with an ominous growl in response to her question. "The event was indeed repeated. With regularity. However, due to that regularity, the practice began to suffer, and the lawyer bungled several cases that should have been decided in favor of his clients."
Della's forehead suddenly puckered in a frown, and she opened her mouth to say something, but closed it when Perry again took his eyes off the road and glared her into silence.
"After the bungled cases, the not very business-like feelings between the lawyer and the secretary became strained and uncomfortable. The event that had so drastically altered their working relationship began to dwindle in repetition, until it was no longer on the calendar."
"You could have warned me the story was a tragedy." Della offered a dramatic sniffle.
"Miss Street," Perry intoned gravely, "as punishment for egregiously disruptive commentary, tomorrow I expect you to be in the office no later than 8:30, despite the late hour at which you will be deposited at your apartment."
"Are you going to eventually reveal the point of this epic tragedy, or must I draw my own conclusions?"
Perry's forced sternness relaxed into a lopsided smile. "The point of the story, my dear, is that the lawyer rushed into the event without any thought how to maintain the spectacular working relationship he already had with the secretary."
Silence stretched between them as Perry navigated the big car through the quiet side streets, deliberately taking a wrong turn that would deposit them blocks from her building.
Finally, Della spoke. "Spectacular, huh?"
"Spectacular," he repeated firmly. "You're the best thing that's ever happened to me, Della. I never tire of being with you. You know me better than I know myself, and I believe I know you better than a man has ever known any woman." He made yet another turn that took them in the opposite direction of her apartment house.
"We can dispense with barbs about the mysteriousness of women," she commented drily. "But please continue telling me about how I'm the best thing that's ever happened to you."
"I'm doing this badly, huh?"
"Not badly at all. Just wordy."
"Marry me," he said abruptly.
Following his unexpected pseudo proposal in the car, she directed him to stop taking wrong turns and drive them immediately to her apartment. As the elevator doors slid shut, Della flung herself at Perry and instigated a breathtakingly intense necking session. As he fumbled with the keys at the door of her apartment, she pressed herself against his side and captured his earlobe between her teeth, chuckling as he sucked in his breath and fought to lock his knees. Finally inside the door, Della made a beeline for the bathroom, leaving Perry to gather his wits and scrounge in the kitchen for ice, glasses, and a bottle of scotch. By the time she emerged from the bathroom, sans stockings, barefoot, face freshly scrubbed, the curls surrounding her face slightly damp, he had already imbibed in two generous shots straight from the bottle. He silently handed her a drink, and watched as she took a healthy gulp. Without make-up, she did not look old enough to toss back twelve-year old scotch with such gusto.
"Well?" he asked.
"Well what? Oh, I suppose you expect a response to what you said in the car." She coyly turned her back on him and circled the couch, where she seated herself facing away from him and patted the cushion next to her. "Come sit down."
Perry remained in the doorway of the kitchen, leaning against the jamb. "I believe I'll stay right here and not be a pawn in your stall tactics." He did not like how she was reacting to his proposal. Except for in the elevator. Oh, and most definitely except for in the hallway.
She shifted on the couch so that the overstuffed arm supported her back, and gave him a look of exasperated annoyance. "I'm not stalling," she said evenly. "I really would prefer to say what I have to say with you in less of a defensive position." She drew her feet up under her rumpled skirt and wrapped her arms around her legs.
Pushing himself away from the jamb, he joined her on the couch, tossing several decorative pillows at her, which she batted to the floor with amused annoyance. He raised his glass of scotch and took a swallow. "All right, I'm sitting. Feel free to crush my hopes and dreams any time."
She scowled. "You are a perfect stinker."
"And you, my dear, are evading the issue. Will you or will you not marry me?"
She held out for another beat before answering. "No, I will not marry you."
Perry slowly set his drink on the coffee table and heaved himself to his feet with a tired sigh. "I suspected as much. Then I shall say goodnight, Miss Street."
Quick as a cat Della was on her knees, her hands reaching for Perry, grasping his arm. "No! Don't walk out on me, Perry Mason. I listened to your story, the least you can do is listen to me."
He looked down into pleading hazel eyes. Her skin was luminous in the pale light thrown by the table lamp he had switched on while she was hiding in the bathroom. His legs suddenly sagged as he sat back down on the couch and gathered her to him in a gentle hug. "I'm sorry, Della. I'm being unfair."
She pulled away from him and sat back in her previous position of feet drawn up and arms around her legs. "If we were married, could I still be your secretary?"
Perry didn't hesitate in answering with a quick shake of his head. "It wouldn't sit well with clients for a husband to boss around his wife."
"Then if we were married, you would definitely hire a new secretary?"
"Certainly I would. I need a secretary. You know that better than anyone."
She nodded a swift confirmation of his words. "I suppose you would buy me a nice house in an exclusive neighborhood and I could decorate it however I wanted?"
"From top to bottom," he affirmed. "And we'd buy you a new car so you could go wherever you wanted –"
"What if I wanted to be with you," she interrupted.
"You would be with me," he replied. "I'd be home every night – "
"No, you wouldn't," she interrupted again, vigorously shaking her head. "You wouldn't be home at all. You would be out working on cases with your new secretary, while I would be in that finely decorated house all by myself, waiting for you to come home, worrying about what kind of trouble you were stirring up. And wanting to be a party to that trouble, just like tonight."
She paused and gulped her drink. She needed to feel the burn of the amber liquid as it slid down her throat, to concentrate momentarily on something other than Perry's closeness and her overwhelming desire to melt into his arms and never come up for air.
"I've been having a swell time, Chief. In the beginning you scared me and I worried about you, but then I realized that it was your unorthodox methods and penchant for excitement that made you so effective. I know I'm contributing to a great purpose and I'm not prepared to give that up just yet."
"We could always be unconventional and continue to work together after we're married," he suggested.
She smiled at him with fond indulgence. Men could be so simple sometimes. "No, you were correct when you said it wouldn't sit well with clients. You have a habit of barking at me."
He looked stricken. "Della, I – honestly, I don't mean to bark at you."
Her laughter dispelled his consternation somewhat. "I know it's just your way of keeping things moving quickly in tense situations, but I must admit you've raised more than one set of eyebrows."
Feeling chastened and ashamed, Perry looked down to study the pattern in the carpet. "I never realized I treated you with anything but the utmost respect and professionalism."
Della laughed again. "Professionalism in our relationship flew out the window a long time ago, Chief." She took another healthy swallow from her drink. "But I'm counting on respect to get us through tonight."
"I have nothing but respect for you, Della. Surely you know that."
She leaned her chin on her drawn up knees and regarded him wistfully. "I know you do. I also know you trust me and that you like me."
What an understatement. "You are my favorite person in the world."
She smiled briefly. "Ditto, Chief."
"Then why the heck not, Della?"
She drained the last of her drink and set the empty glass on the coffee table. "I just told you why."
"No you didn't. You agreed that clients wouldn't take to a husband bossing his wife around, and some conjecture about being an abandoned housewife, but you didn't give me a specific reason."
"All right then, the reason is you aren't the marrying kind."
"I'm the one who asked you, remember?"
""Then I'm not the marrying kind."
Perry studied her with exasperated intensity. "I've never known a more stubborn woman."
She leaned back against the overstuffed arm of the sofa with a smile. "My feet are cold."
Perry shifted his position on the couch so that her feet were under his leg, pulled the crocheted throw from the back of the couch and spread it across her drawn-up legs. "Better?"
She wriggled her toes, burrowing her feet further beneath his hip and nestled herself more comfortably against the arm of the couch. "Much better. They got wet at Fornier's." She didn't tell him that her shoes and stockings were spattered with blood and she had stuffed everything into the bathroom wastebasket.
Perry's hand closed over her ankle beneath the throw. "Are you sure you're okay about taking the confession?" He asked solicitously.
She nodded and let out a singing yawn. "I'm fine. It wasn't too bad. A couple of burly officers blocked my view, and they had him covered with a blanket. He knew it was over."
"Poor kid," he said, rubbing his thumb over her delicate ankle bone in a gentle caress.
"Really, Chief, I'm okay."
The hand that had been caressing her ankle so gently slowly moved up behind her knee as he leaned forward and brushed errant curls away from her forehead with the other hand. "Della, beautiful girl, I don't ever want you to be anything but who you are. If you want to keep working you could accept the job offer – "
"No," she cut him off. "You don't get it. I wouldn't be happy working with anyone but you. Please understand and don't be annoyed."
She closed her eyes again. Any moment she would lose her battle with exhaustion.
Perry tenderly stroked her cheek. "Go to sleep, baby. I'm not annoyed. My proposal is hereby rescinded until some future date when we can both think more clearly." He leaned forward to kiss her.
She returned his kiss with an emotional pureness that nearly stopped his heart. "Thank you for understanding," she whispered against his mouth. "And for not getting mushy."
"I won't say I understand, Della, but I respect that you have some definite notions regarding marriage, as well as about me. As for being mushy, I think you should give me more credit as a man who cares about you."
He couldn't be certain, but he suspected she fell asleep before he finished speaking.
He remained on the couch, sitting on her cold feet, listening to her gentle breathing, dreaming of the day he could tell her how much he loved her.
Della awoke gradually with a smile, despite the slight disappointment of discovering herself alone on the couch. She sat up and swung her legs to the floor. The sun was rising, pushing weak rays of yellow through the sheer curtains at the windows. She shook her head and looked at the clock across the room. Plenty of time to make it to the office by 8:30.
She lifted long slender arms above her head and executed a graceful stretch, scrunching bare toes in the thick pile of the area rug, her smile broadening as the events of the previous evening clarified in her sleepy mind. She stood, shook down the hopelessly wrinkled skirt of her dress, and headed toward the bathroom. Preoccupied with unbuttoning the small pearl buttons at the bodice, remembering the dexterity with which Perry had dispatched with them, she didn't notice that the door was closed before running smack into it. Hopping around on one foot cursing, she noticed a note in Perry's masculine script tacked to the door.
Due to the fact you fell asleep literally mid-kiss, and didn't wake up when I sneezed loudly enough to frighten small children and wild animals, I've decided to commute the consequence of your insubordination to arrival at the office no later than 10:00. I've already called the service and left a message for Gertie to clear the decks until 10:30. Go back to sleep.
P.S.: I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't mention my story in front of Harvey.
P.P.S: Don't worry. You didn't snore or drool.
She laughed and pulled the tack from the door, freeing the note, which she carefully folded in half. She should have known right away his story was about Harvey. In the two years she had worked for Perry, she had come to learn a great deal about his much-married law school buddy Harvey Sayers. The anti-Paul Drake, she called him.
She turned away from the bathroom and headed into the bedroom, where she placed the folded note in the top drawer of her dresser, tucked safely beneath lacey what-nots. She let her stale, wrinkled dress drop to the floor and was stepping out of her slip when she noticed that the bed had been neatly turned down and a wrapped peppermint was sitting squarely in the middle of her pillow, on top of another note in Perry's handwriting. A slow smile crept across her face as she popped the peppermint in her mouth and reached for the note.
Wish I was there to feed you the mint personally.
See you at 10:00. It's going to be a heck of a swell day.
She couldn't stop smiling as she crawled between the cool sheets, and placed the note beneath her pillow. She lay curled on her side, eyes closed, savoring the peppermint, careful not to crunch it.
Gertie, the well-padded receptionist, regarded Della with barely contained excitement. "Good morning, Miss Street," she said as Della pulled the door closed behind her.
Della flashed Gertie a bright smile. "A bit formal this morning, aren't we, Gertie? Is someone waiting in my office?"
"Not someone." Her eyes literally sparkled with mischief.
Della stood at Gertie's elbow and waited expectantly for her to expound on her comment. Gertie merely maintained the look of the cat that ate the canary, and Della finally surrendered the stand-off. "Is the rearranged schedule on my desk? And the mail?"
Gertie nodded as two calls simultaneously lit the switchboard. She efficiently snapped a couple of keys and adopted her best operator voice to answer the incoming calls. Della regarded her with a slight frown for another moment before turning and slowly making her way to the door of her interior office.
Upon entering her office, Della understood immediately why Gertie was nearly jumping out of her skin. On her desk, beside the red leather daybook in which Perry's appointments and court dates were logged, was a cut crystal jar containing at least a pound of macadamia nuts, her favorite treat. Several lengths of white ribbon were wound around the jar lid and tied into an elaborate bow, each trailing tail threaded through crystal beads of deep emerald. An expensive creamy linen envelope was propped against the jar, her name written across it in perfect masculine printing.
She blinked several times to hold back tears that threatened to ruin her mascara and reached for the envelope. Inside was a folded sheet of the same extravagant linen, covered with more of the perfect lettering.
TO: Miss Della Street
FROM: Mr. Perry Mason
SUBJECT: Anniversary Date
WHEN: Thursday Next, 8:00 p.m.
AGENDA: Cocktails, Dinner, Dancing
With all that had transpired in the last thirty six hours, how on earth did he manage to arrange for the exquisitely presented nuts, not to mention penning the invitation himself? She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, not caring that her mascara would be smeared. The vision of tough, gruff Perry Mason sitting down with a bottle of India ink and a calligraphy pen to hand-write an invitation to his secretary…well, it was the most thoughtful, flattering thing he had ever done.
It did not escape her attention that the subject of the invitation included the word "date". Good Lord, what did he mean by that? Was he referring to the occasion or the calendar? She really needed him to clarify that, given the events of the previous evening.
She always prided herself on not being one of those women who obsessed about every little thing men did or said. Up until this very moment she had taken her time with Perry in stride, enjoying the excitement of his profession, of the man himself, looking forward to each day she spent with him as it came. Last night – the steamy groping in the car, his story, his proposal, her declining of his proposal, her story – had last night changed everything?
Of course it had.
It was clear to her that she must steer that change in a direction acceptable to both her and Perry. She had feelings for him like no other man in her life, and she knew without a doubt he found her desirable and an enjoyable companion. Although he had blurted that proposal last night, Perry Mason was not the marrying kind. He lived life on the fly, in the moment, his attention to direction unwavering when it came to securing acquittal for his clients. He thought he wanted to marry her because she understood him, supported him, challenged him, and guarded him as much as possible from the mundane in his life. Her contribution to the practice was to free him to be the brilliant, often reckless, legal tightrope-walker he was. She was proud of his accomplishments, and proud of her contribution to his success.
She tucked her purse into the bottom drawer of her desk, gathered the mail Gertie had placed on the credenza, and stacked it on top of the day book along with Perry's invitation. She was smiling and humming as she skirted her desk and headed through the door marked PRIVATE.
Sleeping on the couch had left her with a slightly stiff back, and bending over the desk sorting mail was uncomfortable, so she seated herself in Perry's enormous executive chair and quickly sorted correspondence into what Perry referred to as the "trifecta of torture" - three neat piles of letters arranged in order of importance. When the last letter was opened and assigned to a pile, she reached her arms up over her head and arched her back in an attempt to soothe the nagging ache, losing herself in the luxury of the stretch, hoping she could manage to sit through the marathon dictation session looming before her without squirming.
Dinah Manning's case had developed directly on the heels of another physically draining and time consuming trial, and correspondence had taken a back seat for far too long. As his notoriety increased, Perry was becoming much in demand socially and on the guest speaker circuit, and the mail recently was laden with invitations from law schools as far away as Michigan, as well as from just about every woman's club ever chartered in the state of California. The latter invitations amused her to no end, and she teasingly cajoled him to accept these invitations occasionally so he wouldn't get a reputation as being standoffish. Invariably he returned with calling cards and scraps of paper with names and phone numbers stuffed into his suit coat pockets that she collected and kept in a file labeled "CONQUESTS".
"So this is what you do when I'm not around," Perry's voice boomed. "Sit in my chair and stretch like a lazy cat."
His voice originated behind her from the outer doorway to his private office. She remained seated, still reaching her arms toward the ceiling, facing away from him. "Only when my boss keeps me out all hours of the night without so much as a candy bar for dinner."
He advanced toward her, bent over the back of the chair, and whispered into her ear. "I left you a peppermint."
She brought her arms down from their stretch. "I'd forgotten that. I was too preoccupied by how nicely you warmed my feet."
"Had I known how much I could please you by simply sitting on your feet, I would have attempted it a long time ago. Did you know you curl your toes?"
"Yes. I've always curled my toes, ever since I was a baby."
"It's quite alluring," he told her. "Right up there with tight sweaters and short skirts." He circled the chair to lean casually against his desk. He had to put space between them or he couldn't be held responsible for the noises Gertie might overhear.
Her laugh was husky with a flirty abandon. "Here I thought it was my efficiency and willingness to go to jail that you found alluring."
"Those are certainly commendable attributes," he readily agreed. "But they don't hold a candle to that little blue sweater with the wooden buttons."
"Is this any kind of conversation for a professional office?" She asked tartly, raising an eyebrow at him reprovingly.
"If the opportunity presents itself," he began, and then broke off with a grin.
"You do realize you mixed categorical attributes."
"I beg your pardon?"
"There are physical attributes and then there are personal attributes...And you really couldn't care less, could you?" She stood and faced him, eyes sparkling with amusement.
He reached out, hooked a finger around the belt of her dress and tugged her to him. "At this moment all I care about is the attribute of being an expert kisser," he said.
"And which of us possesses that attribute?" She inquired, palms pressed against his chest, holding him slightly away from her.
"I see that last night did nothing to cure your ingrown brattiness. Did you find anything unusual on your desk?"
"As a matter of fact, I did." She reached behind him and picked up the handwritten invitation. "I've been invited to dinner at Luigi's, Thursday next." Luigi's was a small Italian restaurant with a miniscule dance floor, a jukebox, and the best food in the city.
He whistled. "That's a pretty swanky joint."
"The swankiest," she agreed with sparkling eyes. "It's my favorite supper club."
"Is it now. Don't people go on dates to places like that?" He slid past her to seat himself in his chair.
"I suppose they do. The invitation does contain the word "date"."
"Have you accepted the invitation?"
"Not yet. I really feel I must, since there was a beautiful gift attached to the invitation."
"Are you sure the invitation wasn't attached to the gift?"
"I hadn't thought of that," she admitted with an elaborate puckering of her forehead. "No, I'm certain the gift was attached to the invitation."
Perry was trying mightily not to grab her in a ferocious hug. "Does it matter which is which in regard to your answer?"
She bent and briefly pressed soft lips to his. "Not in the least," she whispered. "I am more than happy to accept the invitation." She kissed him again, longer, deeper. "And that is your thank you note for the macadamia nuts."
Before she could straighten he reached up and placed his hands on either side of her head. "You do realize the invitation is for an actual pick-you-up-at-your-apartment date. We aren't changing in the office and heading out from here."
She placed her right hand on his wrist, turned her head and kissed the palm of his hand gently. "I understand, Mr. Mason. The answer is still yes."