Matt rocked to a stop in the doorway.
How had he missed that in his investigation? Why hadn’t Savannah told him when he asked?
It shouldn’t change anything, but it did.
Seeing Savannah with a little girl clinging to her neck as if any moment she might be torn away opened up a giant hole in his chest.
He remembered holding on to his father’s neck the same way, as if the cancer might pounce and take his dad from him.
And suddenly he didn’t want to witness Savannah being led away in chains, not if it meant the girl had to witness it, as well.
“I don’t think it was high-schoolers,” Savannah said, staring daggers at the two cops with poor eating habits. “They’ve never tried to break into the house before.”
“Well,” one of the cops said, brushing his hands together and readjusting his girth in the small chair. “It was only a matter of time before some kid got bold enough to try it.”
“I’m sure it’s another prank,” the thin cop said.
“A prank!” Savannah nearly yelled. “You guys have looked the other way for years, and we’ve accepted that as part of the price of living here and being an O’Neill. But someone tried to break into my daughter’s room. It’s the hardest room to get to from the outside and it’s not even accessible from the back courtyard.”
The rage and fear in Savannah’s eyes were real and hot enough to bend steel.
“We’ve dusted for prints and we’ll see what it turns up,” Thin Cop said.
“And then?” Savannah asked, practically spitting fire. Matt could understand her ire. These men were not taking her seriously; their disdain was practically written on the walls. Suddenly, Margot’s comment about the O’Neills being a target around here took on painful ramifications.
“And then, if possible, we’ll make some arrests,” Thin Cop said.
“And what will you be doing in the meantime? To help protect us as citizens of Bonne Terre? Which, I can’t believe I need to remind you, is your job.”
“Look, if you want a man out front, you’re going to have to take that up with Chief Tremblant—”
“Which I will,” Savannah said, standing with the little girl clinging to her like a monkey. “Now, I’d—”
“We’d like to thank you gentlemen for your hard work.” Margot stepped in, like a gracious host or a bomb expert.
“You know,” Fat Cop said, his beady eyes glued to Savannah as if she were the one guilty of breaking into her daughter’s room, “word in town is you’ve hired some stranger to do work around here.”
Matt opened his mouth, but Savannah was there before him. “What are you getting at, Officer Jones?”
“If you don’t want trouble, don’t ask for it.” His tone oozed a sexual patronization that made Matt want to put his fist in the big man’s face. “Seems to me you O’Neills have had a hard time learning that lesson. Maybe that’s why we’re not bending over to make sure y’all are safe and sound. You could take better care your damn selves.”
Enough was enough, and Matt stepped out of the shadowed doorway.
“I’m not here to hurt these women,” he said and all eyes swung to him. He met the cops head-on and could feel Savannah staring at him with his whole body.
What he said, of course, wasn’t totally true, but Matt was living in the dark edges between truth and perception. But he wasn’t here to hurt them like this—scaring children and mothers in the middle of the night.
“Then you’ll have no problem telling me your whereabouts last night,” Fat Cop said.
“Room 3 at the Bonne Terre Inn. All night.”
“Any witnesses to that fact?”
“I ordered a pizza at midnight.”
“Break-in was at two.”
“I took my box out to the garbage around that time. I waved to Mrs. Adams at the front desk.” He put his fists on his hips to keep them from going to work on the guy’s nose and smug grin. “I’m not here to hurt anyone,” he reiterated, glancing sideways at Savannah to see if she got the message.
She stared at him, her eyes thick blue wells of anger and worry. For a moment, a millisecond, he saw the girlfriend of the man—boy, really—who’d died, whose blood was all over Matt’s hands.