Whew! That figurative red editing pencil is worn to a nothing but a nub, but here it is, the end of this particular story in my P&D universe. Thank you to everyone who has been reading and commenting, I can't tell you how much it means to me that what I write is actually being read. ~ D

Chapter 25

The washed-out road had finally been reopened the day before, for which Della was grateful. Arriving by boat would have required a significant change in her plan, and she liked the plan just as it was.

Just beyond the wash-out, at the curve that led to the point, she pulled the rented sedan to the side of the road, jumped out and dove into the back seat to lay the groundwork for her plan. Capris, twinset, and undergarments were stuffed into a tote bag and she struggled into a white summer weight trench coat, belting it tightly around her slim waist. She adjusted the crystal necklace, tucking it out of sight beneath the coat, raising the collar so that it brushed her finger-tousled curls, the way Perry liked her hair best. Flat shoes were kicked off and replaced with the beaded white satin open-toed sandals that matched her sundress. When she emerged from the back seat, she fervently hoped that none of the neighbors were anywhere near to see her transformation. She started the car, turned off the headlights, and drove slowly toward the lake house.

Perry had set the table an hour ago, lit the hurricane lamps, reduced the venison stew to a low simmer and sat down in one of the club chairs to wait. It was a perfect plan. If he knew her, and he did, her resiliency and practicality would win out over her anger at him. She would walk through the door any minute.

The throw pillows on the sofa didn't look quite right, so he got up to rearrange them in a burst of nervous energy, and as he stood back to assess his handiwork, he heard the car pull up to the house. He smiled to himself as her light footsteps hurried up the stairs and across the deck toward him.

She paused at the glass French doors, sucking in a deep happy breath to be back at this house, her house, their house. He was inside, leaning against the back of a club chair, arms crossed over his chest, expectantly waiting for her to open the door, his blue gaze burning through the glass of the door directly into her heart.

Of course he expected her. The fact didn't perturb her as it might have a few days ago. He loved her enough to let her go, confident that she loved him enough to find her way back to him. The necklace had hurried things along, which spoke to his impatience, but she was glad for it. To hell with ex-wives and rearranged perspectives. She needed him. And Lord knew he needed her.

"You're late," he said as she stepped through the door and closed it quietly behind her. "Dinner has been ready for almost an hour."

"I had to go to three stores to get the wine," she explained, holding up the bottles clutched in her hands.

He pushed away from the chair and walked slowly toward her, relieving her of the wine bottles and bending to kiss her ever so softly on the lips. "I can accept that excuse." He regarded her with smoldering eyes. "How's Mae?"

"Practical. Intuitive. She sends her love."

"I'm fairly certain I owe her a debt of gratitude."

"I'm fairly certain we both do." She couldn't stop staring at him, this big, handsome man she loved so much. "I will never run away from you again."

He bent and kissed her, less softly this time. "Beautiful girl," he said gently, his lips leaving her mouth and traveling across her exquisite cheekbone.

"Aren't you going to open the wine?"

He chuckled. "Since you went to all the trouble to buy it, I suppose we should drink it." He turned and walked toward the kitchen. "I also suppose you're hungry."

"Ravenous," she called after him.

He puttered in the kitchen, his back to her as he fiddled with the wine opener and wine glasses, stirred the stew. "The only food in the house was some of Harvey's frozen venison stew. I was understandably a bit distracted and forgot to stop at a store on my way up from Sacramento."

"We can go into town tomorrow." The direction of her voice was different.

He picked up both wine glasses in one hand and grabbed the bottle with the other, turning toward the table where it sounded like she had moved.

And she had.

She had also shed the trench coat and was sitting in a straight-backed chair at the table, long slender legs crossed, her bruised left arm propped on the table as she played with one loop of the colorful necklace.

Gloriously, unabashedly nude.

She slowly bounced one foot as he drank in the sight of her, voice strangled in his throat. Six years as lovers and at this moment it was as if he had never seen her before. He couldn't imagine a more beautiful woman, because there simply wasn't one. Wine sloshed in the glasses as his hands began to tremble. The smile she flashed was wicked and eminently satisfied.

With determined concentration he set the wine bottle down on the table and handed one of the glasses to her. She raised the glass to her full lips, wide eyes dark and lustful as she regarded him over the rim. He took a healthy swallow from his own glass and gathered every ounce of dignity available to him.

"Nice necklace," he said.

The End