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The Temptation of Savannah O'Neill Molly O Keefe 2022/8/3 13:53:07

“Vanessa couldn’t breast-feed,” Margot said. “You wouldn’t latch, stubborn little thing. She tried, but you wanted nothing to do with her.”

Savannah’s face crumpled slightly as if bending under the weight she was trying to hold up.

“So I fed you,” Margot said. “So little in my arms—nothing but eyelashes and temper—that was you. I held you in my arms and you blinked open those big blurry eyes and shook your little fists at me. And then you focused. On me. You grabbed my finger. Mine.” Margot’s voice broke and her trembling hands pressed against her chest. “I loved you so much I could barely stand it, and I promised you that first night, walking the hallways of that hospital with you in my arms, I promised I would do what I had to do to keep you safe.”

Matt held his breath, hoping against hope that Savannah could forgive Margot for making the choices she’d made.

“Why didn’t you tell me about the money?” Savannah asked.

“I didn’t know how,” Margot said. “No, that’s not true. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to explain what I knew about your mother. That this was the only way I could think of to keep you all safe.”

“When did you stop?” Savannah asked.

“What?” Savannah cried. “You’re still paying her?”

Margot’s hand twitched. “Katie.”

“What’s happening?” Katie whispered.

Matt put his hand on the girl’s head. “Give them a second.”

Savannah blew out a heavy breath. “I can’t believe this.”

“I figured someday you’d ask.” Margot’s laugh was coated in tears. “The house is falling apart and I never seem to have any money. I’ve sold the paintings, the china, almost everything of value. I almost wish I had those gems so I could keep the roof from falling down on our heads.”

“I just thought…” Savannah dug her hands into her hair. “I thought you were gambling everything away. I’ve been saving money thinking I would buy the house if it came to that.”

“I had no idea you were paying my mother to stay away.” Savannah flung out her arms. “God, it sounds so ridiculous.”

“It is. It’s absolutely ridiculous,” Margot said. “But it was the best I could do. You’re a mother, Savannah. You understand.”

Savannah nodded, her smile watery as she stared at the fountain. “I understand. I do. It’s just going to take me a while to get my head around it.”

Margot’s eyes closed in what appeared to be sublime relief. “Well,” she said, her voice lighter, “don’t take too long. I’m an old woman.”

“Not that old.” Savannah touched Margot’s hand then squeezed it hard.

Finally, Margot turned her attention to Matt—the high beams of her charm and affection nearly blinding him. “As for you,” she said, “you are a miracle. A—” The tears she’d kept controlled until now streamed down her cheeks. “A blessing. I didn’t realize how badly we needed you until you showed up on my door.”

“It’s only a garden,” he whispered, touched by her sentiment.

“No, it is not,” she said, suddenly a dragon. “It is so much more and you are so much more.” Margot wrapped her arms around him, hugged him hard. “Don’t give up on her,” she whispered. “She needs you now more than ever.”

Margot stepped back and took Katie’s hand. “Let’s go make some celebration lemonade,” she said, giving Katie’s arm a shake. “And maybe a sugar pie.”

Katie leaped away, jumping toward the kitchen and the promise of sugar pie.

Now it was only Matt and Savannah standing in the sun-drenched courtyard, the fountain’s whirr and splash joining the mad pounding of his heart.

Matt couldn’t look away from Savannah, couldn’t stop wishing that she would look at him. He was beginning to get angry with himself, acting like a homeless dog searching for scraps.

He used to be better than this, but Savannah had changed the rules. She’d changed the whole game.