Chapter 1

Harvey Sayers had known Perry Mason since grade school, and considered him his best friend. They had attended the same grade and high schools, the same college, the same law school, and after Perry's brief stopover in Sacramento after passing the bar, both now practiced law in Los Angeles.

Harvey specialized in divorce, which had come in handy considering he had three failed marriages under his belt at a relatively young age. He was newly engaged for the second time following his third divorce, his first fiancée having returned his ring a mere three months prior after being presented with a pre-nuptial agreement penned by the ninety-three year old patriarch of the family. Harvey believed in the institution of marriage despite his specialty, and liked being married. Unfortunately, because he liked to be married, he tended to jump into relationships with a singleness of mind. And because he came from great family wealth and maintained a thriving practice, it was not difficult to find women willing to marry him.

Before he took up marriage as a pastime, Harvey was a man's man – hunting, fishing, and sports events filled his days, and clubs rife with pliable and pliant women filled his nights. When Perry first arrived in Los Angeles after leaving Sacramento, Harvey took him around all the best spots and neither of them ever wanted for female companionship. However, when he hired a new secretary, his night club crawling ceased instantly as he plunged headlong into the first serious affair of his life. The relationship ultimately failed on both professional and personal fronts, and it was only months later that he married for the first time. His wife turned out not to be as much like his former secretary as he'd thought, and the marriage collapsed after four volatile years. Two more short marriages and seven engagements of even shorter duration followed. Through all of his divorces and broken engagements, the men he had met in college and law school had stood by him, consoling him, blaming the women and not him for each failure in a great show of male bonding.

In an effort to remain connected with the friends who meant so much to him, Harvey began hosting a holiday 'kick-off' party the first Saturday of December. Held at his family's obscenely large and ornate estate, it was a reunion of sorts, a chance for everyone to be together again and catch up on each other's lives. Harvey insisted upon formality in dress and decor, men in dinner jackets or full-out tuxedoes, women in sparkly cocktail dresses and jewels, attended by waiters garbed in white gloves, black ties and tails, food and drink abundant and perfectly presented.

This year his hostess was Pamela, the second fiancée in four months to be introduced to his supportive, put-upon friends. It was trial by fire for Pamela, new to her role as Harvey's future bride and thrust into planning his annual soiree as well as a New Year's Eve wedding, and she had not fared well. Harvey had been forced to call on the one person who could straighten out the mess Pamela had made of the party plans, someone who could quietly and efficiently repair botched preparations. That person was Della Street, his good friend Perry's exceptionally capable secretary, and Harvey was deeply in her debt for guaranteeing the party would not be a flop this year.

"What time are you picking me up for Harvey's party?" Della Street efficiently closed her notebook and slid her pencil behind her ear. She had made the last confirming phone call to the caterers and small orchestra for Harvey's party earlier in the day so she could devote her entire attention to catching up on correspondence and supervising Mary on two briefs in varying stages of completion.

Perry Mason leaned back in his chair and lit a cigarette, relieved and relaxed that another pile of important correspondence had been dispatched. His exploits in the courtroom were becoming rather well-known not just in Los Angeles, but in the entire state of California, and every day letters arrived requesting his services, his time, a speech, an article for some publication or another. Della weeded out as much as she could, but when Senators, Congressmen, philanthropists, and wealthy denizens of society with highly recognizable names wrote letters, she insisted that he answer them personally.

"I was thinking six-thirty. The party officially starts at seven, and that should put us there around seven-fifteen. Fashionably late, I believe the term is. One doesn't want to be the first or last to arrive at a party, does one?"

She regarded him with an amused look. "No, one doesn't."

"And I will come up to your apartment to collect you. No standing at the curb or in the lobby, young lady."

Her amused look became a smile. "Yes, sir. I'll be ready."

"I must admit that I look forward to Harvey's party every year," he mused. He stared at the wisp of smoke curling from the end of the cigarette. "It's nice to have everyone in the same place at the same time."

"Why Chief, I do believe you are getting sentimental on me."

He laughed. "When you get to be my age, you'll understand. Most of us have known each other since college, and I've known Harvey most of my life. I look at them and remember a carefree time before crime and murder befouled my youthful exuberance."

Della laughed. "I've heard stories, Chief. Your youthful exuberance is famously intact."

Perry frowned. "Who's been telling you stories?"

She stood, shook out her skirt and smiled enigmatically. "I could never betray a confidence."

"If it was Harvey, I can tell you a thing or three about him. Or four or five."

She pushed the chair she used when taking dictation close to the side of his desk. "I will not bargain with you." She held up her hand as he opened his mouth to speak. "And, I will not tell you what stories I was told."

"That's condemning a man without a defense, Della. We fight against that every day."

"There was much corroborating testimony."

"Ah, but did you weigh the veracity of the witnesses against that testimony?"

"Are you repudiating your friends?"

"Not at all. I'm a realist. I know those jokers would say anything to impress a pretty woman."

She smiled. "Did you say that to impress me?"

"Not at all. You are a very pretty woman. I was merely stating a fact."

She stuck her tongue out at him.

"Weren't you ever told that pretty is as pretty does?"

An odd expression crossed her face and she shifted her eyes from his to the floor. "Only every waking moment."

"What's that?"

She looked up at him, a forced smile on her lips. "Nothing."

"Della, if what I said upset you –"

"It didn't upset me, Chief," she said hastily, wanting to recapture their easy banter. "It just brought back a childhood memory. It's nothing."

He leaned forward and stubbed out his cigarette. "Why don't you think you're pretty, Della? Because you are. Actually, you are quite beautiful."

The same odd expression appeared on her face. "This is hardly a proper topic of conversation for the office, Chief."

"I wish you would stop deflecting. Tell me." He could tell she was uncomfortable with the shift in their conversation. She had imparted very little about her childhood. He sensed it had been far from idyllic, but aside from hints such as this, she wouldn't tell him anything.

She shrugged. "My grandmother used to say that to me. She was overly concerned with looks."

"Then she must have been very pleased with yours."

She smiled at him wistfully for a few seconds. "You are awfully nice."

He smiled at her wistfully for a few seconds. "And you're not going to tell me a thing, are you?"

She abruptly turned on her heel and headed toward her office. "Nope," she confirmed.

He chuckled. "All right, mysterious lady. How about we knock off right at five, have cocktails, and then pay a visit to Luigi for some eggplant parmigiana?"

She stopped at the connecting door, her hand on the knob. "That sounds wonderful, but I'm afraid I have an appointment tonight." Estelle had begged her to help with a last-minute show scheduled for another function hosted by the Beverly Hills Ladies Society. The promise of another dress as payment for her services had been too tempting and Della had agreed.

"Della, are you all right?"

"I'm perfectly fine. Why do you ask?"

"All these 'appointments'…are you sick?" Perversely he hoped she would say yes, because the alternative pained him too much to think about.

"I'm not sick," she said softly. "I told you I have a life outside the office, Chief. Right now that life is a bit hectic. And I made it even more hectic by deciding to take a vacation."

He hoped his glum attitude wasn't apparent on his face. He knew rationally she had a right to her privacy, but he'd thought that after Thanksgiving, after she'd allowed him to remove her stockings while they lay in front of the fire at his apartment, she would open up a bit more. She was so honest in the moment, but when it came to her personal life, she was still guarded and closed off. "I'm glad you're not sick," he said lamely, not wanting to think about her being away from him.

"Chief, don't pout. Some day I'll tell you all about these appointments. Right now, I don't want to discuss them."

He watched as she slipped through the door to her office. He imagined her clearing the clutter off her desk, covering her typewriter, opening the bottom drawer of the desk and removing her handbag, graceful and efficient, no wasted movements. Since Thanksgiving she had been more accepting of his affections, and a bit bolder in her own, seeking his touch, her smile shy yet natural. It had been a wonderful week, busy but not stressful, which allowed for long lunches together, a night of dancing, and even a movie. He wouldn't say they were dating, because they knew each other too well to use that conventional word. A more concise definition of their current state would be they were sharing their lives outside the office, expanding their friendship, exploring feelings that went beyond employer/employee. Both were anxious about upsetting their professional relationship by introducing a personal relationship, each advancing then retreating to gauge how that advancement would fit in their daily life. There was so much to consider – they were a team, they worked exceptionally well together, and clients benefitted greatly from their loyalty and dedication to one another.

Perry knew without a doubt he loved her. He had very possibly fallen in love with her during her interview, while he was still involved with Laura Cavanaugh. Her calmness soothed him, her wit and intelligence pleased him. Within weeks it had become clear he would not follow Laura to Denver, but would remain in Los Angeles to ply his trade as only he could, with Della at his side. He would be lost without her. She recognized in him things he didn't know he possessed, didn't even know he was capable of. What he felt for her went far beyond anything he'd ever experienced with a woman. He wanted to please her, to make her happy, to take care of her. He'd never thought about marriage, having a home or a family. But he thought about those things now when he thought about Della.

His reverie was interrupted by the opening of the connecting door. "Everyone has gone home, Chief. The office is all buttoned up for the weekend." She moved toward the round conference table near the sliding terrace doors and removed her coat from the back of a chair, where it had been since their return from lunch.

Perry jumped up and hurried to her side, taking the coat and assisting her into the lightweight swing coat. His hands gripped her shoulders gently, and he leaned down to nuzzle her neck, below her left ear. "You'll need a heavier coat than this where you're going," he said. "And boots."

"I'll just have to shiver a bit," she replied, tilting her head to the side to allow his lips better access to the slender column of her neck, touched by his concern for her. "A new coat is most certainly not in my budget."

He turned her swiftly in his arms and kissed her quickly. "Then maybe you should just stay here where it's warm."

"It gets cold here, too Chief. At night sometimes I think I'm back home, except without all the snow and ice. By the way, weak argument, Counselor. I'm still going."

"It was only a half-hearted argument. I know you need to see your family. But I'm going to miss you horribly. I'm going to give everyone an extra vacation bonus and close the office. Work isn't any fun without you."

She pulled back in his embrace slightly to look up into his eyes. "I'll only be gone a few days. You'll be fine. I'll organize everything on a chart, and if you'd let Sally – "

He abruptly released her. "No, I don't want a temporary secretary coming in here. I'm closing the office."

"Don't be stubborn about this, Chief. You have appointments set already." She glanced at her watch. "Oh shoot, I'm late. We'll discuss this more later. See you tomorrow at six-thirty sharp so we can be on time to be fashionably late."

He rolled his eyes in response. "I was going to offer to drive you to your appointment, but I don't think I will now."

She reached for his arm and squeezed it. "Thank you anyway, Chief, but no. You can escort me to the taxi stand, however. Get your coat and turn out the lights."

They rode down the elevator in companionable silence, Della's arm linked through his as she leaned against him slightly, camouflaged by passengers who embarked from lower floors. He escorted her through the exiting office crowd to the crowded taxi stand, his hand firm and possessive at the small of her back.

"You need a car," he said abruptly.

She laughed. "If a coat isn't in my budget, Chief, a car certainly isn't. I manage quite nicely with public transportation and taxis."

"Then I'll raise your salary. I don't like the idea of you out on 'appointments' and having to take taxis or busses everywhere. I'd feel better if you had your own car."

Her gloved finger dug into his arm. "You pay me plenty, Chief," she said quietly, "more than a legal secretary of my experience should make. I wasn't fishing for a raise."

"I know you weren't. I just worry about you being out at night, taking a bus or spending money on a taxi."

A taxi slid into position at the curb and Perry reached out to open the door. Della climbed in and flashed him a smile. "It's nice that you worry about me, Chief, but I'm fine. See you tomorrow." She blew him a saucy kiss.

He remained standing at the curb as the taxi merged with the steady stream of Friday evening traffic, a thoughtful look on his face.