This story was co-authored with my dear friend Michelle Weiner, who sadly and unexpectedly passed away in June. I am honored to be in possession of her last story, and in the editing process tried very hard, as in Free Form, to make sure the reader could tell what Michelle wrote and what I wrote, but for our writing styles to flow as seamlessly as possible. Editing the chapters that Michelle wrote was difficult at first, but as I dove further into the story, reading her words comforted me and reminded me what a beautiful person she was, and what a truly wonderful friend she had become from our very first phone call. We lived in different time zones and I stayed up far too late some nights laughing and talking and I fear her family felt neglected at times, but I have to tell you that writing with Michelle was the BEST experience. She was funny and smart and confident in who she was, and she absolutely loved to read and write fanfiction.

I'm a far better person for having known Michelle, and I sincerely wish everyone could have known her. As it is, in addition to the two stories we wrote together, she left us with 15 of her own unapologetically romantic PM/DS stories (filled with a lot of 'gaggy' stuff, I promise you!), and I encourage you to read them.

I'd like to thank the fabulous startwriting for agreeing to beta our story. Michelle admired this author's stories very much, as do I, and I am so grateful for her input.

~D

Ties That Bind Chapter 1 – What Truly Matters

Perry Mason slipped the key into the lock of his private office door and smiled to himself as he walked into the room. Even at nine o'clock in the morning his office had the daily homey touches he had become so happily accustomed to. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee, the newspaper already placed on his desk along with the files and other documents he would need for the day, the drapes opened and pulled back from the sliding glass door which allowed the sun to shine through the window on this bright summer day. The attorney's grin widened. Della. His Della. The way he felt, the way his office looked, the genuine camaraderie between Gertie, Jackson and the rest of his staff – it was all because of Della. Competent, highly efficient, organized and calm, cool and collected even under pressure she made everything easier and better. Every time he looked at her, he was transported back in time to a summer's night on the terrace of a downtown jazz club. His breath had been stolen from his lungs; his world turned upside down, his life changed. He had fallen in love with a complete stranger that night, a clever, beautiful, amazing woman who was there and gone in a fleeting moment. Then, by some miraculous quirk of fate, she had re-entered his life and now, six wonderful, glorious years later he was more in love with her than ever.

Perry moved behind the desk and eased his large frame into his chair. Della's favorite summer fragrance still lingered in the air and for a moment Mason closed his eyes and remembered the previous night's activities: dinner and dancing and the accustomed return to her apartment. He also remembered something else. They were leaving that afternoon for their house in Carmel. The house he had bought as a surprise for Della the summer before; the house he had refurbished to bring back a childhood memory. The house Della had loved from the minute she saw it, albeit somewhat shocked and emotional. The house that had mended not one family but two, repaired broken friendships, and fostered new friendships. The house where old ghosts, nightmares, and guilt were finally put to rest and, where, after the horrific ordeal of her illness and hospitalization, the house that had brought them closer together than ever and reinforced what truly mattered.

Perry opened his eyes and breathed deeply. It was time to get to work. He knew Della had scheduled a light day in anticipation of heading for Carmel, but unless he got started, they would be delayed in leaving. As he was about to hit the buzzer on his desk to ask Della to come in, the door that separated their offices opened and his very efficient secretary glided effortlessly into the room. Perry watched her and as always was struck by her beauty and grace. Her gorgeous hazel eyes held a sparkle as bright as the morning sun and that smile – that dazzling smile – made Perry want to send everyone home, lock the door and leave for Carmel right then and there. And there was her voice; warm and low and as comforting as brandy on a cold night. Between those eyes, that smile and that voice, Perry was a goner. She had captivated him from the beginning. This big man was wrapped around this sweet, beautiful woman's little finger and he could care less.

"Good morning Counselor," Della said softly. She reached Perry's desk, and unceremoniously ensconced herself on the corner, crossing her long legs for great visual effect.

Perry eyed the stunning brunette before him, appreciative of her ease of manner. "Good morning Miss Street. Are you ready to start the day? We're going to be very busy you know."

Della tried to maintain a serious expression. "Oh yes sir, I know. Let's see, we have to go over the mail, which I suggest doing now so we get that out of the way. Then you have to meet with Paul at 10:30. The staff meeting is at 11:30, and then we have a reservation at noon at the Brigantine. After lunch you have some phone messages to return, including the one to Alex Newman to go over last minute instructions should anyone need legal counsel while we're away, and your signature is required on those documents that are in front of you. I'll give them to Gertie to drop in the mail and we can stop by the court on our way with the two that have to be filed. After that..."

Della couldn't finish. Her handsome attorney stood, put one hand around her waist, one hand on her hip and pulled her close. Bending down, his lips met hers, softly brushing against them and teasing them open. After gaining entry into her delicious mouth, he lost himself in a long, sensuous kiss. When they broke apart, it took Della a moment to come back down to earth. Her head was spinning and she was weak in the knees. Perry's voice seemed to be coming from far away. "After that, we'll be on our way. If we're lucky we won't hit too much traffic. Of course, we'll stop at Ray's and Wagman's and we should be at the house between seven or eight. Does that meet with Milady's approval?"

No answer

"Della, baby, is that all right?"

The answer was almost a whisper. "uh…uh huh."

Perry laughed and pulled Della to him again, gently moving an errant curl from her forehead. "You, my darling girl are absolutely adorable. And I'm very pleased I still have such an effect on you. Now, what do you say if we have some coffee and get started?"

Having regained her senses, Della placed her delicate hands on her employer's massive chest. She looked up at him with a radiant smile. "I'm all for that. Anything that will get us out of here is fine with me." She extricated herself from Perry's arms, slid to the ground, and turned to go bring in the pot of coffee. After taking only a few steps, she turned back and looked at the man she loved with every fiber of her being. He had returned to his chair and was already engrossed in the documents on his desk.

"Perry…"

"Hmmmm...?"

"Thank you."

He looked up and his piercing blue eyes met her warm hazel ones. "For what, baby?"

Della sighed. "For Carmel, for the house, for taking such wonderful care of me, for…for everything. I love you."

Perry smiled and gave Della a wink. "You nut. You're very welcome. And I love you too. Now..."

"I know, I know, I'm getting that coffee." She turned once again and walked out of the room, leaving Perry feeling rather warm. And it had nothing to do with the temperature of the sunny summer day.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

By three in the afternoon, Perry and Della were on their way to Carmel. Being a Thursday afternoon, traffic was light, and Perry hardly had to swear at any other drivers. Once out of the city, there was a definite drop in temperature so Perry lowered his window to capture the cooler, cleaner air. Della, who was sitting mere inches from him, snuggled up closer, and as the attorney put his arm around his secretary he noticed her trying to keep her eyes open.

"Tired are we, Miss Street?"

"Noooo, Counselor, what makes you ask that?" She stifled a yawn daintily behind her hand.

"It's the art of deduction – at which I am brilliant, by the way. Between leaving the office late last night because we were trying to finish up everything, then stopping at my place to load my suitcase into the trunk and to take care of the few things I needed to do, we headed to your place so you could do the same. Then we went to dinner and, if you remember correctly, we didn't get much sleep last night. We were, shall we say, occupied with other things."

"I remember," Della smiled slyly. "You said it was better than sleeping."

"That's not exactly what I said, darling. What I said was, it was more pleasurable than sleeping."

"Mmmm…know what Mr. Mason?"

"What, baby?"

"You sir, were one hundred and ten percent right. It was."

Perry laughed and brought his hand up to Della's face in a soft caress. "If you're tired, honey, why don't you just close your eyes and doze a little? I'll wake you when we get to Ray's."

"I don't want to sleep because that will mean you won't have anyone to talk to."

"I admit I will miss your scintillating conversation but I want you to be all rested by the time we get to the house. I think a little nap will do you a world of good and we'll be at Ray's soon enough. By the way, did you call Kathy and tell her we were leaving and we would see them later?"

Della suddenly sat up and turned her body sideways to face Perry. A concerned look appeared on her face and she seemed to get momentarily lost in thought. Perry waited for her to say something and when she didn't speak, gently squeezed her hand, his quiet signal to her.

Della blinked. "Yes Counselor, I did call Kathy and tell her we'd be there tonight."

"Want to tell me?"

"Tell you what?"

"Whatever it is that's bothering you. You're troubled by something, I can tell."

Della shook her head. "How do you do it?"

"Do what?"

"How do you know when something is bothering me?"

"You have to ask me that after all this time? All right, let me reiterate." Perry cleared his throat and, in his best lawyerly manner, began to list his reasons.

"First: I know you better than I know myself. And I love you."

Della's lips trembled with mirth but she said nothing.

"Second: you get this look on your face that's somewhere between concern and deep thought. And I love you."

"Third: you always worry about your friends and me, rarely about yourself. Since there's nothing wrong with me, that means you're worried about your friends. And since we will be seeing Kathy and David, I'm guessing it has to do with them. And by the way, I love you."

Della was laughing out loud now, which Perry had hoped would happen.

Perry grinned at her. "Does that answer your question, Miss Street?"

"Yes, Mr. Mason, it does."

"Good. So now that I've answered your question, you owe me an answer. What is bothering you about Kathy and David?"

Della started to tell him but was stopped by another yawn. Perry chuckled and tugged her against his side. He could wait to find out what was bothering her a while longer. "I have an idea, Della. Why don't you take that nap and you can tell me..."

Perry felt Della go limp against him as she finished his sentence in a low, soft voice… "At the house."