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The Temptation of Savannah O'Neill Molly O Keefe 2022/8/3 13:52:40

Stupidly, she found herself eager to get another look at Matt Howe, too.

MATT DIDN’T SLEEP MUCH anymore. The lure of the soft pillows and thick mattress of Bonne Terre Inn’s room 3 no longer had much appeal for him. Instead he sat in the upright chair, watching the empty highway through the curtains.

In front of him was his sketch pad.

While waiting for Vanessa to show up, he was actually supposed to do some work.

He rotated the empty pad in quarter turns.

A blank page used to be a call to work, a spark to his imagination.

He remembered the kudzu. The destruction of the greenhouse. The tool shed in the back nearly obliterated by vines. The endless possibility of the space.

And he felt nothing. Just that cold breeze blowing through him that was growing increasingly familiar.

Thinking he could force it, the way he used to in college when he was so tired from exams his eyes felt like sandpaper, he framed out the perimeter, sketched in the existing buildings.

Sitting back he stared at his sketch, his work somehow familiar and foreign at the same time. How many of these had he done in his life? Rough sketches on napkins, on the backs of menus. He’d roughed out the working plan for the downtown warehouse renovations on the back of a pizza box. Then he’d taken that pizza box over to Jack’s house in the middle of the night, so damn fired up about this plan. So damn blind with his own ambition.

He’d convinced his best friend to go in on the project with him, to be the civil engineer and contractor. He’d thought at the time it would be the professional adventure of a lifetime. For both of them.

Matt tried again to remember if Jack had said anything specific about that southwest corner. About choosing not to reinforce the floor, but he could not remember. Matt remembered Jack, dirty and stressed, saying that he couldn’t take another loss, that the money was tight and his wife, Charlotte, was panicking, that the building was in worse shape than any of them had thought.

The lawyers had so easily absolved Matt of guilt, clapping their hands together and washing him clean of the tragedy all because he couldn’t remember.

“But what if I’m lying?” he’d asked.

He’d shaken his head, sick to his stomach, which was good enough for the lawyers.

But his sickness had stayed.

Disgusted with himself he stood, but felt shaky, as if he might vomit. When had he last eaten? A day ago? He ordered pizza and spent the rest of the night focused on Savannah and her secrets until finally the sky was turned gray, pink at the edges, and a new day had come to save him from the night.

After grabbing a coffee at the bakery next door he drove toward the O’Neill house, but as he turned left onto the country road to the Manor, he slid on his glasses, because, in the distance, it appeared a police cruiser was parked out front.

Were Savannah and Margot guilty of crimes like Vanessa?

A wicked anticipation and something painful bit into Matt’s stomach. Was this it? Was he going to arrive only to see Savannah and Margot being led away in chains?

The statute of limitations for the theft of the jewels was past, so they couldn’t be arrested for that.

Were they being arrested for something else?

Was this how Justice corrected her aim?

His foot pressed on the accelerator, dust flying up behind him in his rearview mirror.

The duality of it was perfect, though he had to admit there was something in him that balked at the idea of Savannah’s cool beauty in a hot desperate cell like his father’s.

But if it was what she deserved, then so be it.

Do the crime, do the time, as his father always said.

He braked to a hard stop just behind the cruiser and threw himself out the door. No press. No throngs of cops. Just one cruiser with its lights going and the old house, looking sadder in the bright morning sunlight.

Matt found everyone in the living room where it was still cool and dark, the windows shadowed by the veranda out front. The cops he expected to see leading the women away sat in spindly Queen Anne chairs, dropping sugar from their beignets onto the faded upholstery.

Margot stood beside a frayed velveteen couch, her hand gripping Savannah’s shoulder.

Savannah sat holding a little girl as if her whole life depended on it, the child’s red head buried in Savannah’s neck.