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The Temptation of Savannah O'Neill Molly O Keefe 2022/8/3 13:52:35

“It’d never been this bad before,” Margot said. “Come look at this.”

Katie and Savannah headed around the tree and through the kudzu to the greenhouse and back wall. Now that Savannah was closer she saw that Margot was actually very upset. Her fine elegant hands were shaking.

“Look,” Margot whispered, pointing to the greenhouse.

Every pane of glass had been shattered and all of Margot’s orchids were destroyed. The unearthed roots like veins, strewn across tabletops and the floor. Dirt like blood, everywhere.

“Oh, my lord, Margot.” She raised astonished eyes to her grandmother. Occasionally the woman went to New Orleans and played poker, or took a cruise with an “admirer” and gambled across the seven seas, and she used to keep her winnings back here buried in pots because she didn’t trust banks. She’d done it for years before Savannah found out and made her stop. “Are you hiding money back here again?”

“No.” Margot pulled a face. “I lost on this last one, I told you that.”

“Then why would anyone do this?”

“Because it was here. I don’t know.” She looked around the wreckage, her face drawn. “I understand you hate the idea. But I think it’s time.”

“No.” God, no. Anything but what Margot was suggesting. “Margot, we can do something.” Savannah leaned down and started cleaning up, picking up shattered pottery, knowing she was too late—the courtyard was out of control. The boldest of the high school students were drinking back here, and Katie was almost always getting cuts and bruises from the roses and broken cobblestones.

These plants, the trees, the bushes—nothing had been touched in years. Nearly twenty. She knew something should be done, but it was hers. The idea of someone else, some stranger back here, was unthinkable.

Because if they were in her courtyard then they’d be in her home. In her life. And no good ever came of that—pain was an excellent teacher.

“I’ll clean it up,” Savannah said, feeling a bubble of frantic energy rising in her throat. “I start vacation on Tuesday. I can work on it then.”

“I’ll help,” Katie chimed in, crouching next to her to help and Savannah winked at her, grateful.

“Honey,” Margot said, shaking her head. “We both know you’re taking the time off to work on that research for the Discovery Channel. There aren’t enough hours in the day.”

“I’ll work at night. Anything, Margot—”

“You’ve been saying that for years, and it’s not just cleaning up the plants anymore. We need the greenhouse rebuilt, the wall needs to be fixed and I think we need an alarm system.”

Margot flung out a hand to the shattered remains of her greenhouse, the orchids like dead animals. All the evidence she needed, really, to prove that things were getting dangerous.

“Now the greenhouse, next the house?”

Savannah couldn’t stand the thought. She looked down at Katie, the messy rumpled perfection of her. Strangers in her garden? Bent on helping? Or, worse, strangers in her house? Bent on mischief? Where her daughter slept?

When put that way, it was an easy call.

“Margot,” Savannah sighed. “I’m so sorry.”

“They’re all gone,” Margot said, stepping over glass and flower carnage. “They’ve ruined everything.”

“I’ll call Juliette—”

“I already did,” Margot said. “She’s the one who told me to get someone in here to set up a security system. The police force is too small to have someone watching this house all the time.”

Savannah looked around, chagrined and regretful that she’d let things get this bad. She should have done the basic maintenance that would have at least kept things safe. She had, after all, managed to keep the middle courtyard groomed and lovely. A pastoral paradise.

But the back courtyard was hers—it had been from the moment her mother had dropped Savannah and her brothers off with Margot and left without a word. And the truth was, she liked the wilderness of it, the overgrown vines and crumbling statues. The stone walls covered in hens and chicks, the roses pink and red like hidden gems, small beating hearts in a giant breathing body of green.