And frankly, he was dying to ask about Vanessa. The questions were beating against his teeth, but it was too soon. Savannah was so suspicious already, and there was no way he could bring the subject of her mother up and make it seem natural. He needed to bide his time, wait for his moment.
“What’s your plan out here?” she asked.
“Well, I’m going to start on the stone wall next.” He wiped his forehead and pointed over to the corner where the wall had crumbled.
He glanced down at his arms and found a hundred little cuts and slices that he hadn’t even felt until this moment. “It’s fine. Glass.”
Savannah looked as if she were going to argue, but then she nodded.
The silence was thick. Uncomfortable. The tension more dense than the humid air.
“There’s nothing to steal here, you know that, right?” she asked and he nearly dropped the shovel.
“If you’re thinking about robbing us, I’m just letting you know, in case you missed it, there’s nothing worth stealing. Hasn’t been for years.”
There was something very sad behind her eyes, behind her words and he tried to resist it. “You always this forthright?”
“Saves time,” she said, shrugging, and stepped over to the rock slide that made up the closest corner of the wall. She kicked at a small stone, sending it clattering across its larger brethren.
“I’m not here to rob you,” he assured her. Forthright, sure. And suspicious as all get-out.
“Then why are you here?” she asked, watching him through her thick fall of hair. Straight as glass that hair, like a curtain, and he got the distinct impression that she spent a lot of time watching people from behind it.
“I thought we already covered this,” he asked, not wanting to go back over his lies. Not wanting to talk to her at all, actually. It made him feel slimy, less righteous and more like a liar. He didn’t need that.
“Right.” She nodded and climbed up on another rock and turned to face him. Her daughter had done the exact same thing a few hours ago. This was a new side to Savannah, something he didn’t expect. Something playful. Young. “You’re a good Samaritan here to help Louisiana one crumbling courtyard at a time.”
Her wit matched her sharp beauty and he liked that. Liked that more and more about her, but wondered what softness, what sadness that sharp wit protected. “Something like that. You want to help me move some of those rocks?”
She shook her head, climbed up higher. “It’s what we’re paying you the big bucks for. You know, people leave their homes because they’re running from something.”
Matt’s sweat dried up and went cold. “I assume you’re talking about me?”
“A lot of the world—it’s basic human nature.”
“What if I’m looking for something?” he asked, looking her right in the eye, gauging her reaction.
Something electric filled the air between them. Something more dangerous than lies. More trouble than gems. Something hot and deep and compelling.
I want her, he thought, suddenly hungry for the taste of her pink lips. And he realized, looking at her, that she was out here because she wanted him, too.
SAVANNAH WAS A FLY IN AMBER. She couldn’t move. Couldn’t look away. Matt’s green eyes blazed and her flesh tingled, pulsed.
She jerked, reining herself in. It was stupid to come out here. Total O’Neill stupidity. She should have known better, she should have stayed in her room and kept working.
“Well,” she finally said, jumping down from the rocks on the other side of the pile, away from him. She turned her back, trying to get her bearings. Her breath. “Whatever you’re looking for, you won’t find it here.”
“Tell me something.” His voice was deep and rich, like coffee. She loved coffee. “This thing with the cops? Why aren’t they taking this seriously?”
“It’s an old grudge,” she said, turning around to give him the Cliff’s Notes. “O’Neills have run brothels, bootlegging operations and part of the underground railroad out of this house. Cops don’t like us and we’re not always fond of them.”