All of which was irrelevant. Every moment of the past, every bad decision and terrible accident that led him to this point, was moot.
The only thing that mattered now was making one thing right, in a life gone horribly wrong. He had to make one damn thing right. Who betrayed Dad? Joel’s partner, Richard Bonavie, or the blonde at the drop-off—Vanessa O’Neill?
The legal system might have gotten it wrong with Matt, whose hands were bloody right down to the bone, but it wasn’t too late to get justice for his father. That’s why he was here, and the women inside that house were the key to it all.
He angled the rearview mirror and checked his reflection—a little closer to potential ax murderer than was entirely necessary, but there wasn’t much he could do. He forgot a razor.
The scruff of his beard rasped under his hands and he thought about all his clients, hiring the cool and slick Matt Woods to design their summer homes, their art galleries and condos.
That guy doesn’t live here anymore, he thought, unable to recognize himself in the green eyes that stared back.
Matt threw open the door of his rented car and slammed it behind him. What he lacked in plans he was going to make up for in bravado. Some righteous “where the hell is your mother?”
Smooth. Oh, so smooth.
The bayou around him seemed to pulse and breathe. It was warmer than St. Louis, denser, the air thick and somehow both sweet and spicy. Like flowers dipped in cayenne.
He liked it. It made him hungry for food and a woman at the same time.
The house, he assessed with an knowledgeable eye, was an aging stunner. It sat alone on the road, about a mile and a half from town, surrounded by a few acres of wilderness. She was a grand dame falling on hard times—the black trim was peeling and a few of the white hurricane shutters were missing slats. But the bones of the house were solid. Elegant. Built to withstand the Southern weather, and to look good doing it.
He imagined the windows lit with candles and the sound of music and ice in crystal tumblers spilling from the open front door.
The front door was freshly, brazenly painted scarlet.
Matt believed doors could be sexy. He believed windows and wood and concrete could be erotic. But nothing he’d ever seen quite matched the sexual statement of that red door.
It looked like the house of an aging mistress, an expensive woman of slightly ill repute, which would be Margot’s influence. But he didn’t know how Savannah the librarian fit in.
He stepped up the river-stone path, the rocks sliding under his old work boots. He’d packed work clothes, denim and rawhide, because the expensive suits, silk ties and Italian leather in his closet were beginning to mock him.
He got one foot onto the wide steps of the sweeping veranda and the scarlet door creaked open.
Margot O’Neill, he knew from the surveillance photo in the car. She stood in the doorway, the black of the hall behind her making her fair beauty more pronounced. More breathtaking, despite her years.
She was medium height and trim, with posture like a steel beam. She wore bright blue and the fabric looked rich and thin—like liquid had been poured over her.
It was no wonder men paid to have her. She was that beautiful. That rare.
And then she smiled, like she knew it.
“You’re coming about the ad?” she asked, her voice rich with years of the South.
Ad? Damn not having a plan. She tilted her head, her blue eyes losing some of their hospitality, and he knew he was moments from being kicked off the property.
“Yes,” he finally said, taking yet another leap into the unknown. “I am. I’m here about the ad.”
Good God, he hoped he wasn’t about to be Margot’s boy toy. Though there could be worse things, he speculated, catching the gleam in her eye.
“Margot, are you—” The door opened farther and a blonde goddess stood in the dark hallway. Matt’s heart stopped dead in his chest.
It was Savannah, from the photograph.
The beauty was there, the perfect skin, bright blue eyes and shiny sweep of hair. But that was where the similarities ended. The real-life Savannah was somehow sharper, her radiance hard and refined to an edge. Her cheekbones alone could cut through tin.
She was razor wire next to Margot’s magnolia.