Perhaps it was a trick of the sun, but Matt seemed to go white.
A PLAN WOULD HAVE BEEN good. Something concrete. Something that wasn’t going to get him arrested, because Savannah was staring at him as though she would like nothing better than to send his sorry butt right to the nearest jail cell.
Prison warden wasn’t even the half of it. Savannah O’Neill was judge, jury and executioner.
“Steel and Wood Architecture,” he managed to say and then, because all she did was arch an eyebrow, he gave her the number. The direct number to his office.
This is never, ever going to work.
Erica, his assistant, was a wizard, but this might prove to be too much. What were the odds that she would remember Howe was his mother’s maiden name?
He watched Savannah from the corner of his eye while pretending to assess the broken cobblestones of the steps they stood on.
“Hi. Erica, is it?” she said into her cell phone and Matt stooped to inspect the ivy overtaking the stones. He touched a gray-green leaf with shaking fingers. “My name is Savannah O’Neill. I’m considering hiring a Matt Howe to do some gardening and repair work around my home and he gave me Steel and Wood Architecture as a reference…Matt Howe. Howe.” She tilted the phone away from her mouth and Matt felt like his head might pop off from the blood pressure building in his neck. “Is that with an e at the end?” she asked.
Seriously, Woods. You’re a self-made millionaire, you were on the cover of—
“He did?” Savannah asked, sounding skeptical. “He was?” That didn’t sound much better. Matt wondered what kind of explanation was going to be needed when she called the cops. A cash explanation? “Best employee the firm ever had?”
He swiveled to face Savannah who stared at him, revealing nothing. He shrugged, as if being the model employee was something that came naturally.
She smiled slightly, almost bashfully, the sunshine cutting through her hair and illuminating her skin, making it shimmer.
Matt felt like he’d been sucker punched. This was the woman from the surveillance photo, the woman he’d been talking to. She did live somewhere inside that cold shell.
Something pulled and tightened in his chest. A recognition where there hadn’t been one before.
Her sharp edges seemed softened, blurred somehow as she stood there, sunshine glittering around her. She was Ingrid Bergman, vulnerable and stoic and so beautiful it hurt to look at her.
The fact that he wanted to drown himself in her, the way he had in scotch immediately after the accident, was a bad omen.
It was better that he not recognize her. Better that he not like her. Not care about her. He’d committed himself to this ruse, and liking her would only cloud the waters.
“Yes,” she finally said, still on the phone with Erica, who would be getting a huge raise. “Thank you, Erica. Here he is.” Savannah handed her cell to Matt. “She wants to talk to you.”
He took the phone as if it were a snake, coiled to strike, and stepped down the broken stone steps for some privacy.
“Thank you, Erica,” he murmured.
“Oh, you’d better thank me, Matt!” Erica cried and he winced at the daggers in her tone. “Where the hell have you been?”
“You know, a better question is what the hell are you doing? Applying for some job as a gardener, are you nuts?” Yes. Slightly.
“No, Erica, I’m just…” What? Doing some reconnaissance? A little private investigative work? “Getting some R and R. That’s all.”
Six months, two weeks, and three days. “Who’s counting,” he said.
“I am!” she nearly screamed. “Your clients are. While you’re getting some R and R,” she spat the words as if they were sour, “I’m trying to keep the bills paid and the money coming in. Your clients, you remember them, don’t you? The people who pay you huge amounts of money to build stuff? Well, most of them are getting antsy and Joe Collins is about to sue for breach of—”
It was so simple. He hit the red button with his thumb and his life, that kid, his best friend and partner, his job, the buildings he could no longer build, they went away.