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The Temptation of Savannah O'Neill Molly O Keefe 2022/8/3 13:52:58

The back door opened and Matt, sweaty and dark with dirt, stepped in. Savannah’s belly twisted and her body burned at the sight of him. She went back to making sandwiches, praying Carter wouldn’t notice.

“Sorry to interrupt,” Matt said, lifting his thermos. “I just wanted—”

“Matt Woods?” Carter asked, pushing away from the counter. He glanced wide-eyed at Savannah. “Your handyman is Matt Woods?”

Savannah nodded and Carter turned back to Matt, his mouth open, a thousand questions poised.

“I’ll come back later,” Matt said and ducked out the door.

“What is the Savior of the Inner City doing in your back courtyard?”

Savannah sighed. “Okay. But don’t freak out.”

THE CLOUDS WERE PINK in the west, dark in the east as Carter was leaving. Matt watched Savannah’s brother hug Katie hard, swinging her slightly so the girl shrieked with laughter.

Savannah watched, her heart—wounded and bleeding—in her eyes.

Matt stood under the willow in the front yard, wishing he could put his arm around Savannah. Stand at her side and shore her up.

Carter was a good guy, even if he had trouble taking no for an answer. He’d come barreling out to the courtyard with lots of talk about the inner city of Baton Rouge and how it needed someone like Matt. Someone with vision.

Carter had talked about the old buildings, historical details falling to ruin and waste. Matt had actually salivated, his imagination shooting sparks.

Sparks he ruthlessly smothered.

“I’m not in the business of saving cities anymore,” he’d said, keeping his head down, his hands busy.

“I understand. What happened in St. Louis must have been hard on you,” Carter had said, digging in his wallet for a card. “But, if you change your mind.”

They’d shaken hands, and before he’d returned to the house Carter had apologized for his mother. “I’m sorry,” he’d said. “For whatever role my mother might have had in your father’s incarceration.”

“My father knew the risks when he took those gems,” Matt had said, slightly stunned that Carter felt the need to apologize for something so removed from him. “And really, outside of your mother, it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with you or your family.”

Carter had nodded then smiled, brilliant public figure once more. “I’ll be hoping to hear from you. At least let me give you a tour of the city at some point.”

“We’ll see,” Matt had said, when what he’d really wanted to say was don’t hold your breath.

But now, Carter’s business card vibrated in Matt’s back pocket, making him wonder what he was going to do with himself once this courtyard was done. It would be soon—he’d finish planting the trees by tomorrow, the fountain would arrive on Wednesday, and he’d have to pick up some flowers and plants to fill in any leftover gaps.

Things were coming to an end here.

He couldn’t return to St. Louis, to Steel and Wood Architecture, he knew that. He’d tie up some loose ends, make sure his existing contracts were dealt with, but there were too many memories there, not enough of them good.

Frankly, he wasn’t sure he could ever design buildings again, and he didn’t know where that left him. What would he love as much as he’d loved his work?

A hot breeze toyed with the fine hairs around Savannah’s face as she leaned in to hug her brother.

“Christmas,” she said.

“I can’t promise,” her brother agreed. “But I’ll see what I can do about Tyler.”

Katie cheered and Matt watched, his chest burning.

Matt’s cell phone buzzed, startling him. He’d forgotten he’d turned it on. Or even had it on him. Some kind of passive-aggressive flirtation with the life he’d left behind.

Nothing good would come of it, he was sure.

He opened it, braced for Erica, but got a surprise.

“You have a collect call from Martinsville Prison, do you accept the charges?”

Dad? He hadn’t expected that. It wasn’t even Wednesday.

“I do,” he said and stepped deeper into the shadows.

His father’s tone, all bon amie and good times, made him smile. Good old Dad. It was nice to have something in his life that never changed.