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The Temptation of Savannah O'Neill Molly O Keefe 2022/8/3 13:53:06

Worry crowded his throat.

“Are you okay?” he asked, hating the stupidity of that question but not knowing where else to start.

She blinked and licked her lips. “Sure,” she lied.

“Savannah. You don’t have to pretend—”

“I’m tired,” she whispered and glanced behind her. “And I don’t want to wake up Katie.”

“Okay.” He wondered how he could even see her, she was so far away.

He waited until she shut the door in his face before hanging his head and retreating to the sleeping porch.

“IT’S STUNNING,” Margot said the next afternoon, her face radiant with a bright smile. Matt felt an insane amount of pride. He was overwhelmed with it, actually. Humbled by it. “It’s so…”

“Totally perfect!” Katie cried, spinning around in a circle, taking in what, Matt had to admit, was a totally perfect courtyard.

The flowers were planted, small hills and valleys of pinks and greens. Roses and hostas. Forget-me-nots, bougainvillaea and birds of paradise. Wisteria, lilac, honeysuckle. It was fragrant to the extreme, and he would never smell another flower without thinking of these women.

The cypress was trimmed and magnificent, the cobblestones replaced by a stunning carpet of green. The wall, barely visible in the back, was strong and would stay that way for a hundred years. The new greenhouse, a kit he’d ordered and modified, gleamed in the late afternoon sunlight.

This was his gift, his offering, his heart, beating and red with blood—for Savannah.

Savannah, who was silent. She stood to the side, her arms across her chest. She looked so thin, so small. Lost in the icy distance between her and everyone else.

How do I get to her, he wondered, panicked. How do I reach her?

“What do you think?” he asked Savannah.

“It’s so beautiful, Matt,” Savannah whispered. “It’s…” She smiled slightly and his heart chugged. “I’m speechless.”

“What about the fountain?” Katie asked, pointing to the burlap-covered structure in the seedling maze.

“Let’s check it out,” he said, leading the way, his troop of women fanning out behind him. When they were all standing around the fountain he’d had a friend ship to him—a piece he’d long admired for a long time but had no place for—he untied the twine and pulled off the rough brown cover.

Three delicate copper-and-steel women danced in a circle, long hair streaming, arms raised in jubilation, their mouths open wide as if singing or laughing. Red and pink enamel flowers laced their hair and filled their hands. Blue birds and yellow butterflies darted amongst them.

When he turned on the valve, the fountain spun and the women danced in a light rain.

The girls were silent. Matt could hear them breathing.

“Is that us?” Katie asked.

He nodded. “Those are my wild and unpredictable O’Neill women.” He palmed Katie’s head, giving it a shake.

In the silence the fountain spun and Matt’s heart pounded.

“I remember when you were born, Savannah, honey,” Margot said, her voice choked with tears, her gaze on Savannah like a spotlight. “Carter and Tyler were born up north, but Vanessa came home when she was pregnant with you. She was so big, I thought you were going to weigh ten pounds.” Margot laughed and sniffed, digging in her pocket for a tissue. “There was something going on with her. She said that she and Richard were having a fight, but I knew it was something more. Something bad she was running from. Carter—” she blew out a big breath “—Carter was like a guard dog over Tyler, it made me so scared something had happened to one of them. With the company Vanessa kept, it only seemed a matter of time before someone got it in their head to hurt one of the little boys.” She shook her head, her lips pressed tight as if keeping the worst of her fears locked inside. “Anyway, Vanessa went into labor in the middle of the night. Real fast. Asleep one minute, screaming her head off the next. We got her into the hospital in the nick of time—I swear I thought you were going to be born into my arms on the front lawn.”

Katie laughed and even Savannah had to smile. Matt’s heart was breaking.