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The Temptation of Savannah O'Neill Molly O Keefe 2022/8/3 13:52:46

“What the hell,” he muttered and sat down, picking up his cards.

“YOU ARE A SHARK,” Margot cried an hour later, after he’d cleaned them out. Again.

“Yeah,” Katie agreed, throwing the last of her chips at Matt, who ducked, laughing.

“I never said I didn’t play cards,” he said, raking the chips across the table. He’d played a lot of cards. More, probably, than any one man should, thanks to his father.

“Who taught you?” Margot asked, squinting at him through the smoke of her small cigar.

“My father,” he answered honestly, stacking the chips without looking at the girls. The smell of cigar, the slick feel of the cards under his fingers, the stacks of blue chips in front of him, even the camaraderie of sitting with other players around a table, taking stock of each other all while pretending not to—it all coalesced into a bittersweet nostalgia. “He taught me how to play poker, tie a perfect Windsor and play Rachmaninoff.”

“Sounds like an interesting childhood,” Margot said, her voice quiet. He glanced at her and immediately regretted it. Card players and their all-too-knowing eyes.

“My father was an interesting man,” he said, then realized he was beginning to dip into areas he had no business dipping into with these women. “But I haven’t played since college. I worked for a civil engineer in the summer and the crew played almost every night. I made enough to pay for next year’s tuition.”

“You’re not really a handyman, are you?” Margot asked, apparently determined to stray into those dangerous areas of conversation.

“I’ve been a lot of things. Right now I’m a handyman. You know,” he said, changing the subject, glancing at Margot from under his lashes, “you’re not so bad yourself.”

An understatement—the woman was a player down to her toes.

“Thank you,” she murmured graciously.

“You could head out to any casino and make enough to fix this place up.”

She glared at him, all graciousness gone.

“What’s Rachmaninoff?” Katie asked, tucking her chin into her hand. “Is that another game?”

“He’s a music composer,” Matt answered quickly, thinking of those thunderous notes and the huge Russian drama of those concertos. “I used to play the piano.”

“Piano!” Katie cried, perking up. “We—”

“Have you been in the library?” Margot asked, still watching like a wary old cat.

“I don’t think so,” he lied, knowing full well he hadn’t been in the library. It was the other room with the light on under the door. Besides Savannah’s bedroom, it was the last blank space on his drawing of the house.

“Next door,” she said, easing away from the table.

“We’re done?” Katie asked, stifling a yawn. Margot smiled, pushing back some of the girl’s red hair.

“We are for tonight.”

“Tomorrow?” Katie asked and Margot nodded her head toward Matt.

“You gonna play with us again tomorrow night?”

This was the most comfortable he’d felt in six months, the most relaxed his mind had been. The ghosts were sleeping and he actually felt his bones, his muscles, everything was sinking back into him. His skin was his again.

Before he got too cozy with the aging and pint-size O’Neills, he reminded himself that it was about access. Margot was granting him more access.

“Sure,” he said and stood. “The library?”

Margot tilted her head toward the room next door, but said nothing and stayed behind in her bedroom.

The hallway was silver with moonlight and as he opened the door to the library, the soft scent of dust and books and a hundred years of cigar smoking wafted out around him. A smell somehow as comforting as freshly cut wood.

Quickly he scanned the walls, running his hands along the shadows and under paintings, but he didn’t find anything.

It took him a second to see what Margot wanted him to see. It was tucked back in the corner, hidden in darkness, but the corner of it caught moonlight and gleamed.

A Steinway baby grand. Black as night, slick as oil, and in his mood, totally irresistible.