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The Temptation of Savannah O'Neill Molly O Keefe 2022/8/3 13:52:59

SAVANNAH STARED BLANKLY at Katie, her head trying to catch up with what just happened.

“Your dad?” she asked. “Why in the world would you think that?”

Katie’s little chin came up. “That day outside the library you and Margot were talking about my dad and then Matt said you guys were talking about him. And then he made you cry and you wouldn’t answer me when I asked if you had sex with him.”

All of that was true, Savannah thought, but it was like adding apples and oranges and getting elephants.

“Honey,” she breathed. “I had no idea you were thinking this.”

“You never tell me anything,” Katie said.

“I thought I was protecting you,” she said. The same way Carter always tried to protect her from the uglier aspects of Tyler or their mother.

She felt awful that she’d never seen the pain not talking about Eric was causing Katie. Other single mothers probably didn’t have this problem. They probably told their kids the truth from the beginning and—rubbing salt in her guilt—she imagined they were able to do it without calling the absent father a bastard.

“Marybeth, at school,” Katie said, “she doesn’t have a dad but her mom told her he lives in New Orleans with a hooker.”

Savannah swallowed her laughter—clearly there was a spectrum of bad single parenting.

“But she gets to go visit him,” Katie continued, getting worked up. “They eat beignets for dinner and I don’t even know where my dad is. And then when you came—” she looked at Matt then shrugged “—everybody got so weird.”

Matt stepped past Savannah and collapsed on the bed as though his knees had just been broken. “I’m not your father, Katie,” he whispered, his green eyes sincere and earnest in a million different ways.

“You’re not?” she asked, and he shook his head. “You’re sure?”

“Very sure. If I was your father, I would have been here your whole life,” he said. Katie’s chin dropped a notch, and Savannah’s whole body started to shake. “I never would have left you.”

Savannah could not look Matt in the eyes. Actually, she really could barely stand to be in the same room as him, the embodiment of everything she refused to want but wanted anyway.

Katie’s blue eyes pierced her, lanced her right through the throat, and every decision she’d made over the years to run from this conversation came home to roost.

Savannah took a deep breath and stepped right over the dark, bottomless, treacherous cavern that was the who is your father conversation. The conversation that she’d feared and dreaded and run away from. The conversation that she’d put off time and time again, thinking she’d get to it when Katie was older or when she asked.

That time was now. Actually the time was probably years ago.

“I’m going to let you guys talk,” Matt said. His gaze brushed Savannah’s then clung as time froze to a halt.

Funny how she’d thought she could fall in love with Matt Howe, but it was nothing compared to what she was capable of feeling for Matt Woods.

Matt cleared his throat and broke eye contact, crouching in front of Katie, his gaze serious. “Wherever your dad is,” he said, “he’s missing out on a great girl.”

He stood, his fingers brushing Savannah’s shoulder, sending flashes of heat and pulses of light through her entire body, as he left.

Savannah took a second to pull in all the ragged edges and loose ends and compose herself.

“Your father,” Savannah finally said, hugging her daughter close, “is a man named Eric Carlyse.”

THE TREES WERE PLANTED, the saplings’ tender branches and bright new green leaves swayed in the late afternoon breeze. Without much growth the pattern of the maze was pretty clear, but in a few years when the trees were mature…Matt smiled. Well, then it would perfect. Nooks and crannies. Dead ends. Hidey-holes. The maze, though small, had it all.

Matt couldn’t even begin to imagine all the trouble a girl like Katie could get into with this in her backyard.

It would be something to see. Something he’d like to see.