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The Temptation of Savannah O'Neill Molly O Keefe 2022/8/3 13:52:57

“I stopped waiting for Mom ten years ago. This is my life, Carter. My home. It’s yours, too.”

“No, Savannah, it’s not. It never was. It’s where I was left.”

Savannah sucked in a terrible breath, her vision swimming with sudden anger. A lifetime of it. “You think you’ve been left? Every single—” She stopped and went back to sandwich building.

“Forget it,” she said and shook her head. She was not going to talk about this. Not going to enumerate every time that front door had shut behind someone she loved. Her mother, her brothers. Eric. And Matt, when he got around to going. Just thinking about it made her whole body hurt.

“The world is not going to hurt you, Savvy.”

Savannah laughed, bitter sadness making her feel twice her age. “There’s plenty going on here that could hurt me,” she said and Matt’s face was forefront in her mind. The sweat and the smiles, the way he made her feel, as though she’d been dipped in something sweet. That would all turn to pain when he left.

“What’s this about break-ins?” Carter asked.

She told him the story, leaving out the part about Matt on the summer porch. Her brother was sort of an old-world Southern gentleman, charming at a distance, but a hassle under the same roof.

“And the police think it’s teenagers?” he asked, pulling his red silk tie free from his collar.

“Is that what you think?” Carter asked.

“Yes…” She sighed. “Maybe. There’s also this situation with some stolen gems. I don’t think it’s—”

“How do you know about that?” Carter asked, his focus sharp as a knife. “How do you know about that?” she countered, stunned that Carter, who seemed so distanced from the family, would be aware of the gems.

“I know it was something Mom was messed up in a while back,” Carter answered.

“Did she steal them from the original thief?”

“Maybe.” Carter shrugged. “Who knows.”

“Well, shouldn’t we find out?”

“Why?” Carter asked, incredulous. He grabbed a jamjar glass from the cupboard and filled it with sweet tea from the pitcher at Savannah’s elbow. “It’s got nothing to do with us.”

“What if someone is breaking into this house thinking we have the gems? And—” she put her hands on her hips, feeling suddenly as though he was treating her like the kid she’d stopped being years ago “—how do you know about the gems?”

Carter watched her for a long time then put down the glass. “Okay. But don’t freak out.”

“I was in touch with Mom ten years ago.”

It was awful, the shock like ice. The pain like razors.

“Since then, I’ve had a private investigator checking up on her once a year. He did some digging in the past and came up with the Pacific Gems thing.”

“Why didn’t—” She swallowed. Why didn’t she come back? Where is she? Why did she leave? A thousand questions Savannah couldn’t ask. “Why didn’t you tell us?”

He blinked and looked away, hiding something. Carter had a secret. Another one. Another mile in the distance between her and her brothers. “Stop trying to protect me,” she cried. “I’m not a kid.”

“Our mother is not a nice woman,” Carter said, his face tight and hard.

“No, you don’t. You don’t remember the way she was. You don’t remember how she’d turn us on each other. How she forgot about us.”

“Okay, Carter,” Savannah whispered, stunned to see this sudden wrath. “I’m sorry.”

He sighed, his shoulders so wide, so strong sagged slightly. “No, I’m sorry. But whatever Mom is involved in, she won’t bring here. She knows better.”

“But someone has already thought we know about those gems, because of Mom’s role in all this.”

“Please, Savannah, don’t worry about it. She’s gone. She’s not coming back. Not now, not ever.”

The way he said it sent chills across Savannah’s skin, little prickles that made the hair lift off her arms. “Why do you sound so sure? She was in New Orleans, for crying out loud. She was just a few hours away!”