At the house, Savannah dropped her purse on the couch and jabbed her thumb back over her shoulder. “Is Ms. Myrna getting a new driveway? Didn’t she just get one?”
Helen came around the corner from the kitchen. “Hello, hon, yes. You know Myrna—she wants to support the troops as much as possible, even if that means getting her driveway redone every year.” Helen turned back, and Savannah heard the telltale sounds of mixing emanating from the kitchen: clanks and scrapes of a metal spoon against a glass bowl.
Savannah went to the front windows to inspect the crew working at Myrna’s. Up the block, two houses down and across the street, were the white work trucks of Miner’s Concrete. The crew—made up mostly of military veterans—was currently jackhammering the so-called old driveway and hauling large slabs of it in wheelbarrows to a construction Dumpster. Savannah let her mind wander away from the demands of her design projects and over the sweaty, muscular physiques. No machines were required with that work crew. It was the company that the loathsome Cason worked for, but luckily his team only worked the big jobs.
“Mama,” Savannah called, her mind succumbing to her day’s tasks anyway, “do you know anything about the Nigels?”
“Hmmm,” her mother responded from the other side of the kitchen/dining pass-through as she scooped tuna from cans and into a mixing bowl, “they’re Myrna’s favorite topic of gossip. They hire a lot of people but don’t keep folks around. I think it’s only the son now, though. I heard that early on, when they first moved here, the son ran out all the nurses who were watching his sick mother. She died of bone cancer, I hear, but some folks will tell you the son poisoned her. Not sure how much value I’d put on those opinions, but the bottom line is that they aren’t nice folks. Boastful.”
The way her mother said boastful, especially after talking about more serious issues like poor working conditions and murder, showed that if there was anything in Helen’s community that you didn’t want to get known as, it was boastful. It was ungentlemanly and unladylike. The Nigels could consider themselves out of favor.
Her mother tapped the spoon clean on the edge of the mixing bowl. “Why do you ask?”
“He’s a client of ours, and I’m having difficulty working with him. I thought if I knew some unconfirmed information about him, then I’d be able to work another angle. He is boastful, but there’s something else that I can’t put my finger on.”
“I’d be careful with that one. I’m not inclined to believe the rumors, but Myrna tells several.”
Savannah looked over her shoulder back toward her mother. “More than poisoning?”
“Her housekeeper’s sister used to work for the Nigels when they first moved to town, and she said that the son threatened to beat her with the mop handle if the floors didn’t shine.”
Savannah shook her head. “That’s terrible. Did she quit?”
“Yes, a week later. Myrna’s housekeeper swore she saw bruises on her sister, but she never said anything.”
Savannah’s gut twisted, remembering his seemingly innocent hand waving and Charlot’s statement. Savannah had thought he was an old grouch who came off as threatening but was actually a big chicken. She worried now that he might not be all that innocent.
She refocused on the workmen down the street. By this time of day, most of the men had taken off their shirts; the midday Louisiana sun was working its magic to slicken their bodies. Savannah’s gaze caught on one of the men, the lifter. Wheelbarrows came to him, and he hefted massive concrete chunks out of the driveway rubble with gloved hands and dropped them systematically into the wheelbarrows. The chunks were then hauled off and unloaded into the Dumpster as another wheelbarrow rolled in to take its place. All the men moved at their own jobs, jackhammering, tossing concrete, and disposing, like one giant, well-oiled machine.
“You would think,” Savannah murmured at the windowpane, “that hauling concrete chunks shirtless would tear up your skin.”
“Mmmm,” her mother said confirming her eagle-like hearing, “I guess they don’t care.”
“Yeah, I’m gathering as much.”
Savannah watched the flex and bow of the lifter’s back; his was a well-made example of sinewy muscle forming ropey ridges down his spine and over his shoulders. He stood again and, with an aggressive pitch of the broken slab of concrete, made his target, the waiting wheelbarrow. The wheelbarrow’s minder, though, left to assist the man who was jackhammering. Savannah watched as her concrete tosser moved to take the wheelbarrow pusher’s place. He turned in her direction and maneuvered over and around broken pieces. Her eyes hadn’t left his torso; she drank in his private power play, enjoying the way he pulled and pressed the wheelbarrow across the torn-up ground.
“Exquisite,” Savannah whispered as her eyes trailed from the sand-colored work boots and cargo pants to the black nylon belt to the man’s taught abdomen. It was only when he was on the smooth, level road in front of the Dumpster that she realized he had a hitch in his step. Her eyes flew to his face in recognition.
“Son of a bit—”
“Savannah Rae Sparling!” her mother admonished.
Savannah turned from the window in disgust. “I just realized the man I was admiring is Cason.”
Helen’s admonishment slid into a low laugh from the kitchen.
“Mama, that’s not funny.”
“You’re right, dear, it’s not funny. It’s very funny. I’ve told you time and time again that he’s a good man. Mind, I think you could learn more about him from that old adage that it’s not what you say but what you do that’s important.”
“Mama, I’m not even sure what that means regarding him—”
“Then perhaps you just needed to appreciate certain particular qualities before seeing his other ones.”
“You mean I need to admire his half-naked body doing hard labor so that I can find it in me somewhere to forgive him for his sins? I think you’ve misplaced your lady’s sensibilities.” Savannah joined her in the kitchen and opened the refrigerator.
“I’ve already got the pickles,” her mother said.
“Oh.” Closing the fridge, Savannah noticed the third plate on the counter. Then realized the trap. “Mama, why is there a third plate? Cason isn’t joining us, is he?”
“I’m not sure if he’s joining us; I set it out just in case, since he’s working so close,” Helen said, avoiding eye contact with her daughter. “Please bring the bowl of potato chips to the table.”
Savannah sighed and sent up a small prayer that her day wasn’t going to get worse. She put the old turquoise glass bowl down on the dining room table as her mother opened the refrigerator and pulled out a pitcher of iced tea.
“Would you like a glass?”
“Yes,” Savannah said as the front door opened and a shirtless Cason walked in. She felt her grip on the back of the dining chair tighten.
Cason had just crossed the threshold when he started to put his shirt on, but he paused when he sensed someone looking at him. He met Savannah’s glare. Her high-waisted, knee-length tight black skirt, white long-sleeve shirt, and heels made her look like something out of the movies. A horror movie, since her eyes were like chilly black pools.
She made a point to rake her eyes slowly over his upper body. He grew even warmer and finished pulling on his shirt.
“What a pity.” Savannah turned and walked into the kitchen, returning with a plate. She dropped the third plate with a loud thud on the oval oak dining table.
“Savannah…” Helen said as a warning to her daughter and then said to Cason, “What a great treat having you both with me for lunch!” It was as if she couldn’t feel the blizzard brewing between them.
Cason undid his boots and toed them off. “Mrs. Sparling, I’ve got work dust on me. I’ll take my lunch in the kitchen, if you don’t mind.” He moved to the table and reached past Savannah—inches from her body—to pick up the plate she dropped.
Savannah’s head tilted to the side; his body heat and sweat were clearly not going unnoticed. Instead of stepping back, she whispered, “That’s a great idea, Cason.”
He could feel her chastising breath on his jaw, cooling the sweat that still lingered there. Starving and not enjoying the increasingly sharp pain his shrapnel hip was giving him, he turned his head to look her dead in the eye, close enough to see the gold flecks around her pupils. “I’m glad you think so, Savannah, but now that you mention it, it’d be rude to leave your mother alone at the table. I’ll take my lunch here.”
“I had no designs on helping you eat your sandwich in the kitchen.”
“Neither did I. But about halfway through lunch, your phone will ring, and you’ll leave. So, how about you save Mrs. S. the heartache and you eat in the kitchen.”
Savannah’s face flushed, and her wide mouth compressed into a thin line.
Helen spoke up. “Now, you two, nobody is eating in the kitchen. Let’s sit down and enjoy the sandwiches before they get soggy.”
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