“Your grandmother seems pretty law abiding,” he said.
She laughed, lulled into a conversation she usually hated. “She’s the worst of them all. Well, not the worst, I suppose. My brother Tyler might be.”
“What about your mother?”
She supposed it was natural, that he would wonder about her mother, a bunch of women in a house together with one generation missing. But it didn’t mean she had to answer him.
She picked up a rock and tossed it over the fence, ignoring him.
“And your dad?” he asked. “Or are men not allowed?”
He nodded, smiled slightly. “I guess I should be glad.”
The silence buzzed as if carrying the weight of all his unasked questions, and she could actually feel him thinking. Wondering.
“What was it that Tyler did to make things so bad?” he finally asked.
“He dated the police chief’s daughter,” she said. “Broke her heart. For years, anything went wrong in town, anything at all and the first person they’d talk to was an O’Neill.”
“That’s not fair,” he said, stiff and stern as though he knew what was fair in this world.
“Whatever is?” she asked, facing him. After a moment he nodded, as if he understood that nothing was fair. Nothing at all. And once again she had that niggling feeling in her head that this man was not all that he seemed.
Were they fools? she wondered. Trusting this man? This stranger?
What would it cost them, in the end, to trust him now?
“What about you?” he asked, his voice light, as though he was teasing her. “Did you get into trouble?”
Her breath clogged in her throat, turned into a rock she had to try to swallow.
“I’m an O’Neill,” she said, with a stiff shrug. “It’s what we do.”
Savannah tried to step over the rocks and head toward the house and the safety of her room, but distracted and skittish, she tilted off balance.
“Watch it,” Matt murmured, his hand a brand at her waist. She sucked in a quick breath and twisted away, stumbling slightly across the rocks, but she made it to solid ground.
Her waist still burned, the flesh scorched and tingling.
He was close, too close. She could see the black and brown in his eyes, flecks of gold.
“I’m trusting you,” she said. “In my home. The home where my daughter sleeps. My grandmother. And it’s not an easy thing to do.”
“I understand,” he said, as if he really did and wouldn’t that be something.
“My family—” She started but didn’t know how to put it all into words—their past, her fears. She smiled but it felt broken at the corners, as if the weight of happiness, of hope, was simply too much to hold.
The sunlight hit his face, turned his hair to sable and his eyes to polished glass.
She was sucker punched by his beauty and his strength.
“Don’t hurt us,” she finally whispered. “Don’t hurt us more than we’ve been hurt.”
AFTER DINNER, Savannah sat on the front porch drinking iced tea and waited for Juliette, who had called to say she was coming over with word about fingerprints.
She was also trying to avoid Matt. A little too late, she knew, after this afternoon. She should never have given in to her curiosity and gone down to talk to him.
Her waist still felt his touch, like a shadow or a burn.
It was so strange having a man around. In this house of estrogen and silk, the deep timbre of a man’s voice hadn’t been heard after dinner for eight years.
It made her miss her brothers. She should contact them, tell them to come home for Christmas. It was time. This distance between them, growing and growing over the years, was too much. Tyler avoiding this town like the plague and Carter being too busy to spend some time with family, it had to end, or this distance would grow into something worse. Something they wouldn’t be able to get over at a Christmas dinner.
They’d be strangers to each other and she couldn’t bear that.
Matt walked past, his arms filled with scrap metal and wood from the back courtyard that he dumped by the side of the road.
So much for avoiding him. He lifted his hand in a wave and she nodded, feeling stiff and foolish like a sixteen-year-old girl with a crush.