Perry Mason tugged his coat collar up over his neck at the blast of unseasonably cool air racing toward him when he crossed the street at the corner of the Brent building. Yes, it was December 23rd but it was also southern California. Who would have expected the weather to turn so cool so quickly?
He muttered unkind things about his brother as he trudged against the wind towards the small toy store in the next block, but even as he did so Perry knew he was being unfair. Children often changed their minds or came up with new things to add to their Santa list. At least Perry lived in a large metropolis where toy stores were plentiful. The small store in the small town near where Perry grew up and most of his family still lived had long been sold out of the particular racing car about which his nephew had suddenly decided he would 'die', if he didn't get.
So, it was Uncle Perry to the rescue. Not that Perry minded. He was crazy about his brother's kids, all three of them. David and Robert, ages six and four, were great fun and the new baby, Emma, was a little doll.
"But boy do you owe me, James." He growled as a particularly sharp gust of icy wind cut through his coat easily. He dashed for the door of the store just a few yards away. Reaching for the handle he wrenched it open and found his forward momentum stopped by a blur of red running smack into him.
By virtue of the mass of his tall frame, Perry won that battle. Stunned, he looked down to see what he had hit, or rather who. A slender woman in a bright red coat and hat had quickly rolled from her backside, which she had landed on, to her knees and was gathering up the abundance of toys which had spilled from her bags. Perry quickly knelt to help her.
"I'm so sorry, Miss. I was trying to get out of the wind and I just wasn't look…" His voice trailed up as the face beneath the jaunty red knit cap looked up at him.
"No problem, chief. I'm used to it." Della Street smiled in surprise at her boss. "I thought you had finished your last minute shopping?"
"My nephew came up with one more toy that Santa just HAS to bring him." Perry grimaced.
"And Uncle Perry is just the person to help Santa out?" Della's eyes twinkled merrily.
"Ho Ho Ho!" Perry laughed. "And speaking of Santa…" He stared pointedly at the toys scattered all around them. "Are you applying for a new position?"
At that moment the owner of the store ran up to the couple. "Mr. Mason, is everything all right?"
"Just fine, Mr. Stein," Perry reassured the man he had done some legal work for a few years previously. "The wind ripped the door from my hand and I stumbled into this lovely young lady here who just happens to be my secretary." As he was speaking Perry stood up and held his hand out to Della.
"Please come upstairs… we have a small coffee bar. You can sit and relax while we repack the lady's purchases."
"No, no… that's okay…" Della started to protest but Perry nodded. "That sounds great."
Della sighed in resignation as Perry continued speaking with Mr. Stein, charming the man into finding the item that his nephew had requested and leaving it at the register for Mason to pay for on the way out.
"Very smooth, Chief" Della murmured out of the side of her mouth as she bent back over to pick up her handbag and the items that had spilled out of it.
Perry simply smiled and winked as he placed his hand on her lower back and guided her toward the salesgirl Mr. Stein had called to escort them upstairs. Della moved ahead of him and Perry paused briefly to take a covert but appreciative glance at her shapely bottom.
'One day you are going to have to tell the girl you are crazy about her, Mason,' his inner voice whispered.
"Coming, Counselor?" Della had stopped and was looking back over her shoulder, that maddening twinkle back in her eye at having caught her boss looking yet again. She found it amusing that he thought she didn't know that he was watching her. Della, on the other hand, was much more surreptitious in her appreciation of her employer.
Perry almost missed the slip of paper underneath a shelf edge, only catching sight of it out of the corner of his eye. He smoothly bent and snagged it without breaking stride.
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"So, what about this last minute shopping?" Perry asked once he and Della were settled at a quiet table with steaming mugs of hot chocolate in their hands. "I thought you were going down to BoleroBeach for a quiet Christmas with your aunt."
"That was my plan but then influenza reared its ugly head."
"Yes. I offered to go anyway to take care of Aunt Mae but she wouldn't hear of it. She said that she had friends who could drop off anything she needed and she didn't want me exposed."
"You decided to play Santa instead?"
Della laughed softly… a smooth melodious low note that washed over Perry's body and sank into every pore.
"I was already… My friend, Marilee, works out at the Riverdale Home for Children. I try to help out when I can and I just thought it would be nice for the kids to have something to open from Santa… at least a little…"
Perry was amazed at himself again that he never realized until this moment what a tender heart his young secretary had. "Only a little?" He noted the touch of regret in her voice.
"Well, there are seventeen children there…"
With sudden insight, Perry realized why Della had left her shopping so late. He had hosted a Christmas lunch for his small office staff before closing the office for the holidays and proud of the success he had recently been enjoying, gifted each of them with a small Christmas bonus. Now he realized how Della had used hers.
"You go there often?"
"As often as time allows." Della's face shone with delight as she began telling him about the children, the ten boys and seven girls, she had gotten to know while visiting her friend. Perry couldn't believe the details that she remembered about each and every child, in spite of the fact that she remembered similar facts about all of his clients and even his family. In many ways he felt like he was seeing a side of his secretary that had heretofore been secret to him.
Being a normal red-blooded man, Perry recognized beauty when he saw it and Della Street was blessed with a great deal of physical loveliness. He knew she was quick witted and sassy, fearless and tough. But this tenderness… the light of her inner goodness shining through her… Suddenly she was a thousand times more attractive. He didn't even know it was possible, and started to melt slowly. Not from the hot chocolate in his hands, this glow started from the inside out, and it would seriously drive him off his chair towards her if given too much room.
'Stop it, Mason. She's your secretary.' Perry chastised himself. But the more she spoke, the more captivated he became… by her voice… her eyes… the way the red knit hat and soft chestnut curls framed her face…
"Eddie is fourteen, the oldest at the home. He's… all boy and I think Marilee is worried about him. A boy that age needs a male influence. Jack, her fiancé, is going to move in once they get married but he has another year in the army and is stationed in Japan. In the mean time Eddie is testing his boundaries. The younger boys look up to Eddie so they are acting out some too."
Perry forced his attention back to Della's words and finally found himself caught up in her stories about the children.
"…and Joey is the baby, only two. She has the biggest blue eyes and thick dark curls. Every time you ask her what she wants for Christmas she says a 'dowwy'. I found a nice little one that is just her size…"
"Oh, Ma'am!" The waitress exclaimed as she came back to check on her customers. "Your leg!"
They both looked down to see blood streaming down the back of Della's calf and onto the floor. Being a man of the world, Perry had noticed before how very feminine and shapely her calves were, from dancing and running around on her heels for him. He had watched her legs more than once, but this was the very first time he had a hard time tearing his eyes off of them. Even scratched, wounded like this, they were alluringly attractive and he watched them as if he had never realized before that they were a part of her.
"It's nothing, just a scratch. I don't even feel it. I must have hit one of the metal toys." Della quickly cut off Perry. "I'll go tend to it right now."
After a hard stare from Perry, that was meant more for himselft than for the poor waitress he directed it to, she hastily followed Miss Street, reporting back in a few moments that the cut was superficial and only needed a plaster.
Relieved, Perry sat and waited for Della, thinking about her generous spirit and wondering what he could do. He absently pulled the scrap of paper he'd picked up earlier from his pocket and glanced at it, then did a double take. He recognized all of the names as the children Della had been speaking of. A few moments for quick thoughts and a split second decision later, he was up and moving.
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