CHAPTER FOUR

"Get a move on, woman! Those presents aren't going to wrap themselves!"

Della shook her head and chuckled at the rather large boy she worked for. She could only hope that the children got half as much joy in the unwrapping as Perry was taking in the wrapping.

"I wrapped three more while you were getting the food." Della took another sip of wine and continued to load dirty dishes onto a tray.

"So just three more to go," Perry nudged Della out of the way and, lifting the tray, walked the few feet into the kitchen. "Those will keep."

"I'm going to be out at the home all day tomorrow and I do NOT want to come back tomorrow night to a sink full of dirty dishes. Besides, there are only two presents left. I am not touching that hockey stick again!" Della wrinkled her nose in disgust, eliciting a chuckle from deep in Perry's chest.

"You just can't stand for something to be 'unorganized', can you, Miss Street?" Perry asked in his best cross examination voice. But then he stuck his tongue out at her.

"That's true," Della said, her voice full of laughter. She definitely liked the 'silly' side of Mr. Mason. "But you know, my boss prizes my organization skills."

"That's what he prizes? That boss of yours must not be too bright." Perry backed up to allow Della access to the sink.

"About some things, perhaps," Della agreed as she turned on the faucet and added dish soap to the flowing water.

"I'll dry," Perry offered. "Where do you keep the dish towels?"

Della stuck her thumb over her shoulder. "Under that cabinet."

"This one? Or this one?"

Exasperated, Della turned. Perry was standing behind her holding a clean dry dish towel. She raised her face, looking at him quizzically, unable to move as his face moved closer.

Once again their lips met… and locked… and held…

"Blame it on the mistletoe," Perry whispered as they parted, his finger pointing upward.

A beautiful smile lit Della's face. "The mistletoe…" she agreed softly. But the smile quickly left as Perry's eyes widened in horror. "Wha…"

"The water!"

~pd~ ~pd~ ~pd~ ~pd~ ~pd~

Once Perry had been banished from the small kitchen as too much of a distraction, after claiming yet another kiss, Della was able to quickly clean up the water that had overflowed onto the floor and get the dishes washed and dried. Perry kept her entertained by playing imaginary street hockey in her living room, brandishing Eddie's stick at her every so often. When she finally moved to join him, Perry had his back to her.

"What are you up to now, Mr. Mason?"

Perry turned and, with a flourish, presented the hockey stick to her, a bright red ribbon tied around its top. The triumphant grin on his face was priceless.

Della couldn't help but laugh as she lightly applauded him. "Perfect, Chief… simply perfect."

"Perfect," Perry echoed and the way his eyes were drinking her in, Della knew he wasn't talking about the gift. With difficulty, she tore herself loose from his gaze and swallowed.

"Two to go." She grabbed a gift and dropped to her knees by the gift wrapping paper, but not before Perry noted the faint blush on her cheeks. As he knelt by her side she paused to lift her glass to her lips, elegantly taking a sip of wine. Perry was hypnotized by the movement, the shape of her lips and the way they touched the side of the glass. Her blush deepened.

Not wanting to embarrass her further, Perry turned his attention to the items Della was arranging in the box.

"What are these for? Or rather who?" He asked as he held up a miniature bed.

"These are for Jenny… all the girls in a way. Marilee is very creative on a budget. She got some cardboard boxes and we put them together into a makeshift dollhouse for the girls to play with. I thought they might like some 'real' furniture to use. Jenny spends hours arranging and rearranging things. I think maybe she is imagining the days before her parents died…"

Perry heard the catch in Della's voice and squeezed her hand tightly. Was there no end to the compassion this wonderful woman felt for others? "I'm sure she will love it."

Working together in sync, the glue bottle safely store away out of sight, they were done with the last gifts in just a few minutes. Perry stretched as Della put the wrapped packages back into bags she would use to carry them onto the bus. "This is going to be fun getting on the bus," she remarked ruefully. "Wait… I don't recognize this one. Did we wrap this? Oh dear, what if the toy store got someone else's things mixed up with mine?"

Perry moved to her side to inspect the mystery package. "I think that is the car for my nephew. I must have grabbed it from the car when I got all the other bags out."

"Uncle Santa to the rescue," Della mused again, a pretty smile touching her lips.

Perry stared at her, completely besotted until he noticed she was beginning to be uncomfortable. "Mind if I use your phone? I just thought of something I need for Paul to check on."

"Of course, Chief. I need to… excuse myself for a moment anyway."

~pd~ ~pd~ ~pd~ ~pd~ ~pd~

Alone in her bedroom with the door closed, Della stared into the mirror over her dresser. She almost didn't recognize the woman staring back at her. That woman had pink cheeks and red lips that looked as if they were begging to be kissed. Her eyes sparkled with a gleam that Della recognized as desire.

Della's hand flew to her cheeks, her eyes closing tight. She was falling for Perry, her boss and her friend, and she was falling fast, hard and deep. After only a few kisses… but oh what kisses they'd been, she acknowledged ruefully. Boyfriends had never been in short supply and Della had been kissed many times… but nothing compared to what she had shared with Perry in the last few hours. And if his kisses were so spectacular what would it be like to…

'HE'S YOUR BOSS!' There was her mother's voice again, echoing through her head. 'Yes,' Della acknowledged silently, 'but he is so much more to me… even before the kisses. What is wrong with exploring that… if we are careful…'

Decision made she smiled at her reflection and walked away.

~pd~ ~pd~ ~pd~ ~pd~ ~pd~

When Della returned to the living room she found Perry kneeling in front of her small fireplace, coaxing the fire he had just lit into a comfortable blaze. Most of the lights had been turned off.

"That's nice."

He startled then turned at the sound of her honeyed voice. "I hope it's okay… I thought it was getting a little cool and…" he gestured at the two snifters half full of amber liquid warming on the hearth, "I needed something to warm the brandy."

Perry held out his hand to Della. She took his offering and allowed him to help her to her knees beside him.

"Chief… Perry…" She started to speak but then he offered her one of the glasses and held his out to her.

"A toast…to…mistletoe… and to… exploration?"

Della nodded. "Leisurely exploration?" She presented her glass to him hesitantly but to her relief he smiled and touched the snifters together. They drank.

"We'll just take our time and see where this goes… Baby." Perry carefully pronounced the last word, his voice soft, his eyes sincere and at ease. He felt comfortable here… by the fireplace… with her. Yes, they would take their time. There was plenty of that. He took her snifter and then sat both glasses back on the hearth. "But what fun we can have on the way."

It was then that Della saw the small sprig of mistletoe that Perry had attached to the mantle above them. She couldn't help but sigh in delight as he pulled her to him once again.

~pd~ ~pd~ ~pd~ ~pd~ ~pd~

The flames had long since died, leaving only the burning embers lighting the room, but their glow shed a lovely light on Della's features. Perry stared down at the woman sleeping in his arms in wonder, loving the play of shadows across her face.

They'd kissed… and kissed… sipped brandy… and kissed some more, desire growing all the while. Without really recalling how, Perry had realized they were lying together on the floor in front of the fireplace, Della's arms wrapped around his waist beneath his untucked shirt and one of his hands beneath her skirt and climbing up her silky bare thigh. It had taken every ounce of strength that he possessed to pull back from her at that point but he couldn't let go of her completely. Long arms stretched to a nearby chair and pulled down a pillow and light blanket. Turning Della to her side facing the fire, he'd spooned up behind her, one arm circling her waist and the other her shoulders. As she'd leaned her head back toward him he nuzzled her hair.

"Tell me about your favorite Christmas," he'd whispered. And she'd told him… shared her favorite Christmas memories… Sleigh rides… snowball fights… family dinners… and of the beautiful doll she'd received on her seventh Christmas. He had also shared when she turned the question around, and soon had her laughing with stories of the many ways he and his brother had tried to find and open their Christmas presents early.

And now here they were, wrapped up in each others arms like Christmas gifts. Snuggling closer into Della's back, Perry realized how much his life had changed in just a few hours. This afternoon he'd bumped into his attractive secretary in the toy store. Tonight he was embracing the woman he was suddenly sure that he would love the rest of his life.

He drifted off to sleep, dreaming of the surprises that he had surreptitiously planned for her the next day… and of the great adventure they were about to embark on together.

~fin~

(?)

So I'll leave Perry and Della to their dreams for now… but there is always next Christmas...

Thank you all so very much!

MERRY CHRISTMAS!