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

Savannah turned toward her daughter, who stood in the doorway in bright red rain boots, the silver chopsticks Margot brought back from her cruise pushed willy-nilly through her hair.

“I brought you something to eat,” she said, stepping into the room and heading right for the bed with a plate of food.

The plate had all of Katie’s favorites—Margot’s pralines, barbecue potato chips and an apple next to a pile of peanut butter.

“Thank you, sweetie,” Savannah said, making room for her daughter. “How are we going to get that peanut butter on the apple?”

Katie picked up the bright red fruit and rolled it in the peanut butter.

Savannah laughed so hard tears burned her eyes.

“Thank you,” she whispered when Katie handed her the messy apple. She wasn’t hungry, but she didn’t have the heart to tell Katie that.

“Hey, Mom? Who is Matt?”

Savannah’s numb fingers couldn’t hold the fruit and it fell to the floor with a thunk, peanut butter everywhere.

“I honestly don’t know,” she said. “He lied to us.”

“Did you know him before?”

“Before?” she asked, looking down at her daughter. “Before what?”

“You told me about sex, Mom.”

“I know,” she said. She’d told her daughter about death, drugs, Republicans, homosexuality and where babies come from. Just not where she’d come from. “But I don’t think I want to talk about my sex life with you.”

“But you had sex with that Matt guy?”

“Why are you asking me this?” she barked, and immediately regretted it. Katie stared down at her fingers, put back a praline and sighed.

“I’m sorry,” Savannah said. “It’s been a weird morning.”

“Is Matt leaving?” Katie asked, and Savannah was grateful for an eight-year-old’s attention span.

She’d never claimed to be a very good single mother.

“Yes,” she said, feeling a door slam shut. No more sweat-soaked shirts in her back courtyard. No more green eyes watching her. No more thundering, soul-pounding music making its way up the stairs to her room. No more kisses in the moonlight. No fun. No recklessness. No more O’Neill inclinations running amuck.

No more Matt Howe. Or Woods. Whatever.

She lifted her neck, swallowing against the phantom sensation of a collar around her throat. Tears burned behind her eyes for no good reason.

“Are you going to cry?” Katie asked.

“Good.” Katie grabbed a praline. “We don’t need him here.”

“You’re absolutely right,” Savannah said, willing herself to believe it. She pulled her daughter close, tired from a night of weaving fantasies around a man who did not exist. A nap was what she needed, she decided, closing her eyes against the world. Maybe she’d sleep the day away and not have to watch him leave.

“We don’t need anyone else,” Katie whispered and Savannah gave her a squeeze in agreement.

A FEW HOURS LATER, Savannah woke to sunshine on her face and the snick and slash of Matt’s scythe through the vines of the back courtyard.

She pushed her face deeper into her pillow, her heart finding a quiet rhythm alongside Matt’s work.

It was a nice way to wake up. Calm. Comforting. Totally—

She sat up, flipping her hair out of her face. Pillows slid to the floor as bright white fury filled her heart.

Unless it was Margot herself out there doing manual labor, she was dead. Dead.

Flying down the stairs, her feet barely touched the treads. She swung her hair into a knot on her head, ready to do battle. This morning had been emotional, no doubt about it, but it had been settled.

Matt was supposed to be gone.

Sunshine blinded her when she threw open the doors to the courtyard and she nearly tripped over her daughter, who sat on the step.

“Hey, Mom. I thought he was leaving.”

“Hi, Katie,” she said, pressing a quick hard kiss to the top of her head. “He is, don’t worry. Where is he?”

“Back there,” she said, pointing to the wild area past the cypress.