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The Temptation of Savannah O'Neill Molly O Keefe 2022/8/3 13:52:45

Matt released the brake on the tiller and picked up the chain saw before turning. Margot stood there, staring daggers at him as Savannah was stepping off the porch behind her.

“Don’t say a word about Katie’s father,” Margot said, her face stony. “It’s not something that gets talked about around here. Ever.”

“Yeah,” he said, wiping his neck with his shoulder, getting sick of the secrets. “There’s a lot of that here.”

Savannah came to stand next to Margot and lifted her hand to shield her eyes from the sun. “What’s going on?” she asked.

Looking for the safe had gotten him nowhere. It was time to throw some cards on the table and see what these two had.

“According to Doug and his mother, the gossip around town is that some kid named Garrett is behind the break-in.”

Savannah and Margot shared a loaded look. “That’s what we thought,” Savannah said. “Juliette is on it.”

“He also said that Garrett is looking for a wall safe. Rumor has it you guys are hiding gems.”

There was a long silent moment and Matt held his breath. Come on, he thought, just give me something. One thing.

“Yes, termite damage and loads of gems. Makes perfect sense. Did Doug have anything else to say?”

Disheartened, frustrated, he shook his head and pushed the tiller toward the side of the house. He took a few steps before stopping.

He didn’t want to be involved, but he couldn’t help it. Doug’s malice turned Matt’s stomach, and he had to wonder how far such anger had gone.

He turned, looked Savannah in the eye. “Did Doug ever hurt you?”

Savannah’s mouth fell open slightly before she pressed her lips into a white line. She shook her head, her eyes bleeding blue. “He’s harmless.”

Matt swallowed, clamped his teeth together and left before he did anything else.

THE NEXT MORNING, it was barely past dawn and he was sweaty and swarmed with bugs. Frustration ate at him, driving him to swing the scythe harder, faster.

Four days. Four. Days.

Most of the kudzu was gone. The wall was totally repaired, a work of art, actually. He’d unearthed the bench and the broken fountain, and the rosebushes were trimmed to within an inch of their lives—he was an architect after all, not a damn gardener.

He’d searched every room except for Savannah’s, Margot’s and the library, which were all locked. This was so highly suspicious, he couldn’t sleep at night thinking about all they might be hiding in those rooms.

But in the rest of the house, no safes.

Or, frankly, any sign of Vanessa.

Savannah was avoiding him like the plague and none of this brought him any closer to knowing where Vanessa or the gems were or why his father had been set up to rot in a jail cell alone.

As he attacked the vines, he became all too aware he had a pair of eyes on him from the cypress tree over his shoulder.

Not Savannah’s—she watched him from the window of her office. And Margot stood sentinel at the kitchen window.

Katie watched him from the tree.

“Hi, Katie,” he said, breaking the silence, his rhythm against the kudzu never slowing. “Whatcha doing?”

There was a long, slightly stunned silence and he grinned.

“I know you’re there,” he said. “No use pretending you’re not.”

An orange peel fell on his shoulder. He smiled and shrugged it off. It landed, a brilliant orange curl, in the pile of deep green weeds.

“I’m watching you,” she finally said.

“Seems you should have better things to do.”

Leaves rustled and there was a thunk as the girl dropped onto the cobblestones behind him.

“You want to help?” he asked, stopping long enough to glance over his shoulder.

She wore the top of her Asian red silk pajamas with cutoff shorts, tennis shoes and sweat socks pulled up to her knees.

“No,” she said and wrestled around in her back pocket only to pull out a deck of cards. “Want to play cards?”

He paused for a second then shook his head with a chuckle. Man, these O’Neills were never what he expected. “I’m working.”