“You asked me about Katie’s father.” Her voice was a whisper, thick and ragged.
He nodded, speechless.
“Years ago, he hired me to do some research. He was working on a documentary about Creole music and culture. I did the work and as a side note told him he should come to Bonne Terre, to see Remy’s. It’s a club out in the bayou about ten miles south of here.” She took a deep breath and it shuddered at the top. “He came. Fell in love with the place and decided to change the focus of the documentary to Remy, fourth-generation Remy, who still runs the place.”
Matt squeezed her shoulder, seeing how this might pan out.
“He was married. He had two children in Chicago.”
He closed his eyes and swore.
She laughed, a brittle, slightly hysterical sound. “I’ve blamed myself for nine years. Every whisper behind my back. Every slur painted on our walls, I’ve accepted them as payment for my sins.”
“But you didn’t know,” Matt said.
“I’m a researcher, Matt. Finding out is what I do. I let myself get taken. Not like you.”
She reached up and touched his fingers, lacing hers between his, strong and fragile at the same time. Their palms touched, her heartbeat pulsed against his skin. The urge to pull her close, bend that strong body against his was like a riptide, pulling him places he had no business going.
“If he didn’t tell you, you couldn’t know, Matt. It wasn’t your job. You can stop blaming yourself for something you had no control over.”
“It’s not the same thing,” he said, shaking his hands free.
“Lives are ruined!” he yelled. “Peter is dead. His girlfriend is alone. Jack is bankrupt.”
“Not your fault,” she said. “It’s a tragedy, no doubt about it, but you didn’t cause it. This guilt you’re carrying—” she shook her head “—it’s not yours.”
“Someone should be punished.”
“The world doesn’t work that way, Matt.”
“Well, the world doesn’t always get it right.” Matt ducked into the shed, pulling out two pairs of gloves. He tugged on the ones with the hole and gave her the new pair. “You can work,” he said, “but I’m done talking.”
SAVANNAH HEARD Katie up in the tree, getting ready with her water balloon arsenal. Funny, Savannah thought, wiping the sweaty hair off her forehead, three days ago she wanted to hurl the water balloons herself.
She glanced over at Matt where he knelt on the ground, measuring trenches like graves.
Now, she didn’t know what she wanted. But it was time to stop Katie’s attacks on the poor guy. Lord knows he suffered enough at his own hands without Katie’s help.
“Katie!” she cried, just in time to halt the yellow balloon lifted in her little hand. “I need to talk to you inside.”
She put down the shovel and stepped over to the tree, peering up into the branches at her daughter’s red round face.
“Inside,” she said. “Now.”
Matt’s attention, his gaze, his presence ten feet behind her was as tangible as a hand at her back. She didn’t turn around, wasn’t ready to meet those green eyes. She was still too raw and vulnerable, her world still unsure without the guilt she’d carried for so long.
She felt slightly newer, somehow. Her skin fragile in the sunlight without the heavy protection of her hair shirt.
Katie scrambled down from the tree, grumbling the whole time, and Savannah followed her into the house.
“This stuff with Matt has to stop,” she said, once they got into the kitchen.