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The Temptation of Savannah O'Neill Molly O Keefe 2022/8/3 13:52:38

Her eyes bored right through him. “That doesn’t have anything to do with our garden,” she said. “Yes, but—”

She pushed open the old oak doors to the bright sunlight and overgrown majesty of her secret garden.

“Holy—” he breathed, stepping up beside her.

“The greenhouse needs to be repaired, and the trees, bushes, flowers and weeds all need to be dealt with.” She pointed to the worst of them, along the west wall. “There—” she indicated the center cluster of kudzu under the cypress “—is a bird feeder and bench under that mess that we’d like to see again. The back wall—” she swept her arm over to where the graffiti had been cleaned “—needs to be fixed and we think we need some security cameras—”

“High school students like to break in, cause some trouble.” She shrugged, trying to be nonchalant. But she could tell he was reading the words they couldn’t quite get off the back wall.

Her whole body burned with embarrassment.

“High school students did that?” he asked, pointing to the wrecked greenhouse, and she nodded. “Seems like a matter for the police.”

“We’ve tried that,” she said. And that was all she said. She wasn’t giving this man more than what he absolutely needed.

His eyes scanned the property as if he were putting price tags on everything.

And she didn’t like that one bit.

He was probably wondering what could be stolen, despite the tour he’d had through the shabby manor, stripped of its antique furniture and silver. Those diamonds Margot sported and Savannah’s own small fortune in computer equipment were the only things of value left. But Matt didn’t know that.

“Looks like a reasonable job,” Matt said, staring at the mess. “I’ll take it.”

Incredulous, she swiveled on her heel to gape at him. “Really?” she asked, crossing her arms over her chest. “Don’t you want to know more about the money? The living situation?”

His cheeks turned red and he nodded. “Of course.”

“First,” she said. “I have a few questions of my own.”

“Fire away.” He held his arms out the sides, his gray T-shirt hugging the lean muscles in his stomach.

“Where are you from?”

“St. Louis. I’ve been…working with an architecture firm there for the last few years.”

“What are you doing here?” she asked, trying to ignore a bead of sweat trickling down the side of Matt’s strong, bronzed neck.

“I heard there was a lot of work in Louisiana.”

She couldn’t argue with that—it seemed the state needed to be rebuilt top to bottom.

“You’re, what? Thirtysomething?”

“And you can just up and leave St. Louis? You have no responsibilities?”

“None that won’t keep for a while.”

“Are you on the run?”

“From the law?” His lip curled as if he was laughing at her and her head snapped back at the insult. The man had no reason to laugh. Not here, not now. He quickly shook his head, his smile gone. “I’m not running from the law.”

“My best friend is police chief in town, she can find out if you’re lying.”

“She’s welcome to,” he said, his dark eyes guileless. “I haven’t broken any laws.”

“A woman? A family? Have you left behind some kids?” She nearly spat the words.

“No,” he said quickly, sounding horrified. “No, of course not. I know you don’t know me, but I wouldn’t do that.”

She had no reason to trust him, but in this area she did. For some reason the earnest horror in his eyes seemed sincere.

He wouldn’t leave behind kids.

She had to give him some points for that.

“Do you have some references?”

“Yes,” she said. “I believe it’s standard to offer some proof of your reliability before I give you carte blanche with my garden.”

He laughed. “It’s hardly a garden—”

“References,” she said, not about to listen to him disparage her refuge. She pulled her cell phone free from her shirt pocket. “Let’s start with that architecture firm in St. Louis.”