The drawers to her desk were open and filled with receipts and pens and about a hundred little Halloween packages of M&M’s.
She has a sweet tooth, he thought, finding the idea utterly intimate as he stared down at the drawer as though it was stuffed with lingerie rather than months-old chocolates.
More than a little disgusted with himself, he left the office, shutting the door quietly behind him. At the end of the hallway were two closed doors, Margot’s room and what he thought was the library. Both rooms had slices of light shining out under the doors.
The floor creaked behind him and he turned only to come face-to-face with a steely-eyed Savannah.
His stomach fell into his shoes.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“I thought I heard something,” he lied. The lie he’d planned and rehearsed. Some of the steel leached from her eyes and she licked her lips. He forced himself to be cold, to be numb to her. It was much harder than he expected.
“What?” she asked. “What did you hear?”
“Just some creaking. Old houses,” he said with a shrug, trying hard not to look lower than her eyes—she was wearing that purple robe and its gleam in the moonlight was magnetic.
“Okay,” she whispered, clearly torn, hesitant to leave him where he stood.
“You wanted me here,” he reminded her. “To check things out at night, right?”
“Right,” she agreed, and then repeated it. Stronger. “Of course. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” he said and left first, feeling her eyes on his back as he walked away. She was suspicious, and he had to hope he found what he was looking for before she discovered the truth about him.
THE NEXT MORNING, Doug from the hardware store delivered the tiller and chain saw.
Matt met him by the curb and helped him unload.
“I’ll take them around back for you,” Doug said, his bland face alight with morbid curiosity.
“I got it,” Matt said. His righteousness from last night had faded into a general unease, and bringing this guy into the Manor would only make him feel worse. “Thanks, though.”
Doug peered over Matt’s shoulder. “God, look at her,” he said and Matt spun to see all the O’Neill women standing on the porch, glaring at him.
The only thing missing was a shotgun in Katie’s hands.
“How did someone so beautiful get to be so mean?” Doug asked.
Something inside of him leaped, snarled, wanted to tear this guy apart for even looking at Savannah with that hate and ownership in his eyes, as though he knew everything there was to know about the woman.
Not your business, Matt. Stay out of it.
But the urge to protect the women behind him wouldn’t go away.
“I swear she’s the biggest bitch I’ve ever met.”
“Well, women tend to get mean when people call them names,” he said through clenched teeth.
Doug blinked at him, as if he didn’t get it, and Matt waited for the words to sink in.
“Give it time, man, her true colors will come through.”
That was the thing—Matt feared they already had. In those soft moments. The quiet ones. As she smoothed her daughter’s hair away from her face. As she jumped over rocks. He thought of the M&M’s, of her defiant eyes last night that didn’t quite hide the worry she felt around him.
“You know, in my experience, men hate a beautiful woman for only one reason,” Matt said. “What’s that?”
“The woman is too good for them and they know it.”
Doug’s eyes narrowed. “They’re trash. Whores. Every one of them, from the grandma on down. Why don’t you ask Savannah who Katie’s father is, huh?”
Matt reached out to curl his hand in the neck of Doug’s shirt.
“There a problem here?” Margot’s voice rang out like steel on steel behind him and he dropped his hand.
“Nope,” Matt said, looking Doug square in the eye. “Doug was just leaving. Don’t worry about delivering that sod,” he said. “Give me a call and I’ll come get it.”
Doug grumbled, cast one more dark look over Matt’s shoulder, and finally got back in his truck and drove away, a plume of dust behind him.