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The Temptation of Savannah O'Neill Molly O Keefe 2022/8/3 13:52:36

The air was different back here, too. Thick and fragrant with mystery and magnolias.

Oh, please, she thought, realizing she was on the verge of getting maudlin and depressing. It’s a garden. You are a grown woman who should have more important things to do than get attached to kudzu and rosebushes.

Or maybe she should have more in her life than kudzu and rosebushes. The thought flickered to life briefly before Savannah extinguished it.

“I know,” Margot said, watching Savannah carefully. “We’ve been alone in this house for so long it seems strange to bring someone else in.”

“We don’t need anyone else!” Katie cried and Savannah tucked an arm around her daughter, realizing that maybe there was such a thing as too much family unity—considering her eight-year-old was showing signs of xenophobia.

“Margot’s right.” Savannah sighed and Margot’s perfect eyebrows arched slightly in surprise. Savannah ignored the slick twist of distaste in her belly as the words got clogged in her throat. What if someone tried to break into the house? She looked at her daughter, fear crawling over her like ants. “It’s time to bring someone else in to take care of this garden.”

MATT WOODS STARED at the two-story plantation-style house then down at the surveillance photos in his hand.

He was hunting for Vanessa O’Neill, last seen in New Orleans.

But it was the picture of Vanessa’s daughter, Savannah, he couldn’t look away from. Glittering and golden, she smiled up at him from her photo.

How much did she know? he wondered. How guilty was she?

He scoffed at his own question. Everyone was guilty. No one’s hands were clean.

Was she guilty of theft and betrayal like her mother? Or just guilty of bad blood?

Matt rubbed gritty eyes. He’d driven through the night from St. Louis to Bonne Terre, Louisiana, and in the clear light of morning he realized his plan pretty much sucked.

Vanessa had been last seen two weeks ago in New Orleans. Matt knew this because he’d hired an investigator to track down everyone related to the jewel theft that his father had been involved in seven years ago.

His investigator had taken her picture, followed her around to various poker games and bars, and heard her talking about Bonne Terre and the Manor. Then she’d vanished. Just vanished.

Matt connected the dots and decided to come here to find her. Or wait for her. Whatever it took to correct justice’s aim.

It’s not like he had anything else to do.

So, his plan, if you could call it that, was to see if Vanessa was here. And if she wasn’t, he was going to find a reason to wait until she showed up. Or better yet, find out where she was.

“Yeah,” he muttered to Savannah’s photo. “Not my best work.”

Six months ago his life was torn apart, and now he was talking to photos as if they might reply and stalking the O’Neill women to seek retribution for a seven-year-old crime.

“Justice,” he said to the photo, tasting the word, loving how it gave him a purpose. A fire.

“What am I supposed to do with you?” he asked the photo.

He could knock on the door and…what? He considered Savannah’s smile, the radiance that poured from her eyes. She was like sun off of glass, she just seemed to shimmer.

Was he going to threaten her? Interrogate her? Tie her up while he waited for her mother to arrive? And then hope that the mother just happened to be traveling with a fortune in stolen gems?

Had he come to that? Really?

“Great, Woods,” Matt said, rubbing his hands over his face. “Sherlock Holmes, you are not.”

Suddenly, he had a memory of sitting outside an Indian reservation casino. He must have been about eight or nine, and his father was going in for one quick game. One hand. Just one.

He told Matt that his job was to sit in the car and watch for three men. One man with a patch, another with a scar and the final man with a one of those Russian bearskin hats. When Matt saw those three men he needed to run inside the casino and find Joel.

Clever, Matt realized now, twenty-five years later. Because while men with scars and patches were a possibility in South Carolina, there would be no bearskin hats.

A goose chase. A fool’s errand, his father was brilliant with them. A master. And Matt had taken his job so seriously he’d sat in that beat-up Chevy with a notebook and pen, drawing pictures and taking notes, a young Sherlock Holmes. Always keen. Always on the lookout for a bearskin hat that would never come.