Note: Goodness, editing is SUCH a chore! I apologize it took so long to tag on this little "epilogue", but it sets up a very important point in my personal PM universe from which a few stories have sprung, and is a better bookend to the beginning of the story than Part Two. Deeply felt and sincere thanks to all for your readership and words of encouragement. I have loved Perry and Della for more years than most people have been alive, and I hope my take on their relationship does them and ESG justice. ~ D

Part Three

He missed her.

It was nearly eleven o'clock p.m. Sunday night and Perry hadn't seen Della since after brunch, when she'd insisted upon being driven home so she could attend to personal chores, as well as to get some much needed rest. He'd protested, not wanting to let go of their new intimacy even for a few hours, but the more he protested, the more coy her responses became. He felt her withdrawing from his embrace, her naturally graceful movements unable to disguise an increasing tenseness. Bewildered by the change and unable to pull any answer from her but "nothing's wrong", he'd bundled her into his car along with all the bags and boxes from Estelle's, and driven slowly to her apartment. She cuddled against him the entire time, kissed him wantonly in the elevator, and at the door of her apartment whispered "I love you". Then she pushed him gently away and firmly closed the door.

He'd driven quickly back to his apartment and stood in the middle of his bedroom, staring at the neatly made bed where he had spent the better part of three days. Della had wanted to strip the bed and put on clean sheets, but he wouldn't allow it. The cleaning woman would do it Monday, he told her. What he really wanted was to crawl back under the covers and once again be enveloped in her familiar scent, reliving their exuberant lovemaking. He could still feel her in his arms, quivering and incoherent in release, the pleasure his body gave her driving him to his own shattering climax. His need was equaled only by hers, his desire reflected in eyes dark with an emotion so pure he could have wept with joy. He loved Della at a depth no woman had ever touched before, with a completeness he thought he was incapable of.

Desire was new to him. Sex had always been a pleasurable pastime spent with lovely women who were obvious in their attraction to him, and he'd prided himself at being an attentive lover. But truth be told, he'd taken more than he'd given, feeding off of the amorous thirst of his partner while maintaining control of his sensibilities. Oh, he had said "I love you" a few times, but love to Perry Mason had been an expansive concept. His love for a woman could be lumped in with his love of baseball, fishing, and good bourbon. His love for Della was singular, raw and vulnerable. He had no sensibilities in regard to Della, and wanted her to know him at his very core, where his overwhelming love for her had taken root.

About a thousand times he had reached for the phone, had her number partially dialed a hundred times, but each time decided against completing the call. She needed time, he'd decided, and so did he. She had known that instinctively, which is why she was now alone in her apartment and he was alone in his. They each needed to absorb the intimacy, needed to prepare for the coming week during which they would begin to balance their working relationship against their romantic relationship.

He was hugging the pillow to which her perfume clung, staring at the telephone, willing his hand not to reach for the receiver again, when it rang at ten past eleven With a grin, he picked up the receiver.

"If I was a betting man, I would have lost," he said by way of greeting.

She laughed. "What exactly what was your bet?"

"That I would break down first and call," he admitted. "I miss you."

"I miss you, too," she said softy. "I've been picking up and putting down the receiver all day."

His grin was wide and silly in the darkness of his bedroom.

"I can hear you grinning," she charged. "You did the same thing, didn't you?"

"I plead the fifth," he said with forced seriousness. Then in a low voice, "Only about a thousand times."

"We are a couple of silly people," she declared. "Especially me."

"Now why do you say that?"

"Because of the way I ran away from you today after brunch. I should have told you what was going on in my head."

He heard a tremor of regret in her voice, wanted so badly to be holding her, to be having this conversation face-to-face after making slow, soul-searing love to her. "We've always been honest with each other about what was on our minds. Nothing has changed that, Della. You can still tell me anything."

"I know I can. I got a little scared today, and – and I needed to be alone. I'm sorry."

"Oh baby," he said with a gentleness only she could bring out in him, "I've wanted you for so long I can understand how you might have felt a bit smothered the past few days."

"That's not it at all," she denied. "You didn't smother me. But half-way through brunch it struck me that you are my entire world, and I had a moment of panic. Perry, you are my boss, my best friend, and now my…" her voice trailed off into silence momentarily. "My lover," she continued in a quavering whisper. "I began to wonder who I could go to when my boss made me angry, or my best friend slighted me, or my lover hurt me."

Perry sat up in bed, holding the telephone receiver to his ear with white-knuckled apprehension. "Della, I'll be there in twenty minutes. We can't have a conversation like this over the telephone."

"But then I realized," she continued as if he hadn't spoken, "that I was being silly, because you've never been anything but honest and trusting and respectful with me. You get mad at me when I deserve it, encourage me when I need it, and always allow me to be myself. I couldn't help but fall in love with you, and there is no reason for me to be anything but blissfully happy that you love me too."

He sighed audibly. "Good grief, Della. We have to make a pact that late-night telephone conversations never get any heavier than "good night" and "I love you"."

"If we can't make "good night" and "I love you" heavy," she replied ruefully, "then we've both been uninvolved romantically for far too long."

He grinned into the phone at her. "Why Miss Street, would you actually consider being improper with me on the phone?"

Her answering yawn was loud and elaborate. "Not a chance tonight, Mr. Mason. But I wouldn't rule it out for future late-night conversations."

"I have something to tell you," he said, lowering his voice conspiratorially.

"Will I like it?"

"I think so. It's something I've known for a long time."

"Ooooh, a secret! Does anyone else know?"

"There are suspicions, but I don't think anyone knows for certain. Are you ready?"

"Aren't you going to swear me to secrecy?"

"No. You'll have to decide whether it remains a secret or not after I tell you."

"That's a lot of responsibility. Are you sure you want to tell me? What if I blab it all over town? You do remember I know people in the tabloid business."

He chuckled softly. "What you do with this bit of information is entirely up to you. I won't protest no matter what you decide."

"I'll hold you to that. Go ahead, I'm all ears."

He pressed his mouth close to the receiver. "I love you," he said quietly. "And you are the last woman I will say that to."