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The Temptation of Savannah O'Neill Molly O Keefe 2022/8/3 13:52:49

Something cold, something awful slid into Savannah’s joy.

She resisted it as hard as she could, threw up all kinds of walls and doors and locks. Please, she thought, trying to hug the memory of the night to herself. Just let me have this.

“Look at you,” Juliette said, flinging a hand out at her. “Singing Van Morrison, looking like a cat that’s found the cream and…Christ, that’s sugar pie, isn’t it?”

Savannah dropped the dish on the counter. “What’s your point?” she asked, tugging the neckline of her robe higher.

“You slept with him, didn’t you?”

“No, I did not.” Savannah blinked, though somehow what had happened last night felt more intimate than sex. “And even if I did, I’m a grown woman, Juliette. I appreciate your concern, but I don’t need it. It’s okay.” She smiled, trying hard to hold on to her morning-after glow. It had been eight years—couldn’t a woman kiss a handsome man without causing an uproar?

“It’s okay?” Juliette asked, her hazel eyes wide. She shook her head. “Savannah, I hate to tell you this, but I got an e-mail from the FBI office in Baton Rouge, and that man—the man you clearly did something with, the man living here—is lying to you.”

An icy shower of dread ran over her and the joy couldn’t hold out. This was all too familiar. Why, she wondered distantly, the sugar pie turning sour in her stomach, did she have to make the same mistake twice?

“What are you saying?” she asked, as the cold seeped past her muscles and into her bones.

“Whoever that man is, he isn’t Matt Howe. There is no Matt Howe.”

“WHAT?” SHE ASKED, pushing herself down onto her feet, stumbling slightly because everything was suddenly numb. Cold.

Juliette reached out to grab her elbow but Savannah jerked away. She didn’t want to be touched. Not now.

“There are no Matt Howes who look like him who live in St. Louis. No birth certificates. No driver’s licenses. No school records, hospital records. Nothing. That man is not Matt Howe.”

But he was. She’d kissed him last night. She’d laughed with him. She put her head in her hands, reaching deep for a little strength. She’d told him her secrets.

“You’re sure?” she asked.

“As sure as the FBI can be, and that’s pretty damn sure.”

Right. Okay. She licked her lips, struggling to figure out what to do right now. Offer Juliette coffee? Pretend like nothing happened? Pretend like her stomach hadn’t been ripped right out of her?

“You okay?” Juliette asked, more friend now than police chief. Savannah shook her head, not wanting pity or friendship or, frankly, anyone to witness this moment. This second brush with the bottom. “Did he hurt you?”

“Hurt me?” She laughed. No. The man had laughed with her. He’d touched her, woken her up after the ice age she’d been sleeping in. “I told you, we didn’t sleep together. We—” She couldn’t admit they’d just kissed. Not when she couldn’t explain how it had seemed like more…like an understanding, a beginning.

“Still, you’re freaking me out a little,” Juliette said, ducking her face to try and see into Savannah’s eyes.

“Well, join the club.” She took a deep breath and tried to think through the cloud that surrounded her. “Maybe this isn’t a big deal,” she said, hopefully, but Juliette’s face was pitying. “Why does it have to be a big deal?”

“Men don’t lie for no reason. He gave you a false name.” She shrugged. “He’s hiding something.”

Which, of course, had been her suspicion from the very beginning. Then the bastard went and put on glasses and played the piano and put his hands on her weak and willing flesh and she forgot all those suspicions.

Finally, anger swept down like a flash flood and flushed away her numbness, the last lingering traces of her joy. A righteous rage that she would be taken for a fool—again—put steel in her legs and back and she stood straight, flinging her hair over her shoulder.