There was no sunny warmth. No shimmer. This woman was a stranger to him. He knew this was ridiculous—picture or no, she was still a stranger to him. But the loss was there nonetheless. He didn’t realize how much he was looking forward to basking in that warm glow—until that glow was buried under ice.
She was, however, painfully sexy in a long straight gray skirt and a white shirt that couldn’t quite diminish the curves she clearly was trying to hide. The whole look gave her the appearance of a prison warden on lockdown.
And, he realized, aside from sexy she was also a dead ringer for the surveillance picture he had of Vanessa in New Orleans. Right down to the eyes, which were guarded. Wary. Hiding something.
He lost his companion, that fantasy woman, but he gained something else. Something better. Something righteous.
In a stunning moment of clarity, he knew that coming here, believing these women somehow had the answers he needed, had not been wrong.
It occurred to him that the missing gems, the Pacific Diamond and Ruby—the million-dollar reasons his father sat alone in a jail cell while his accomplices and turncoats lived in freedom—could be right here.
Hidden and guarded by Savannah O’Neill.
Out of the corner of his eye he took in the crumbling house, the faded paint, the sagging porch. That the gems were here now, or ever had been, seemed like a long shot.
“Oh, sorry,” she said, looking at Matt with plain distaste. “Who are you?”
“He’s here about the ad,” Margot said, standing aside and smiling at Matt. “Please come in.”
His lip curled, satisfaction rippling through him. Savannah must have sensed it, because her own lips tightened, her eyes narrowed.
He hitched the loose waist of his worn khakis and climbed the steps, feeling the heat of the South mesh with the sudden warmth in his flesh. His eyes stayed glued to Savannah’s as something primal swept through him.
You, he thought, have a secret. And I will find out what it is.
“MARGOT,” SAVANNAH MUTTERED as the strange man climbed the stairs, like some kind of predatory cat, all muscle and intention. His shaggy brown hair gleamed like polished wood and his green eyes radiated something hot and awful that she felt in the core of her body—a trembling where there hadn’t been one in years. Hot sweat ran between her breasts under her white cotton shirt. “This is not a good idea.”
“Please, Savannah,” Margot all but purred, her eyes hovering over the man like a honeybee. “Look at him. It’s a fabulous idea.”
Savannah’s hand tightened on the door as if her muscles were about to override her system and slam the door in his handsome, chiseled face.
But then he was there, big and masculine on the tattered welcome mat. C.J., the little tart, stepped out of the sleeping porch to curl around his dusty boots.
Seriously, that cat gave all of them a bad name.
“My name is Matt Howe,” he said, holding out his hand.
Margot shook it, clasping Matt’s big paw in her lily-white one. “I’m Margot O’Neill,” she said. “Welcome to my home.”
Then it was Savannah’s turn.
Her turn to touch his flesh to hers. Her turn to stand under his neon gaze.
Just a man, she told herself. Tell yourself he’s a client. He wants research on minor battles in the Pacific during World War Two or about the migratory patterns of long-tailed swallows.
Her hand slid into his and receptors, long buried, long ignored, shook themselves awake, sighing with a sudden pleasure.
“Savannah O’Neill,” she said, her voice a brusque rattle.
“A pleasure, Savannah,” Matt said, bowing slightly over her hand.
Pretend, she told herself, yanking her hand free from his callused, strong grip, that he’s gay.
But the way his eyes climbed quickly over her body belied that particular fantasy.
Pretend you are gay, she told herself. But the heat in her belly ruined her pretense.
“Your ad was a little vague,” he said, stammering slightly on the words. “I was hoping for some more information about what you’re looking for?”
Savannah cast a quick, dubious look at Margot. What about Handyman/gardener needed was vague? Despite the sharpness in his eyes, the guy clearly wasn’t all that bright.