Chapter no 12 – JAMESON

The Brothers Hawthorne

This time, Jameson was the one who set the place for the meeting. Beside him, Avery took in the location he’d chosen: a medieval crypt the size of a ballroom, an eerie, elegant underground chamber hidden away from the world.

“You rented it for Nash’s bachelor party?” Avery guessed—correctly.

Before Jameson could reply, Ian stepped through the doorway and made a show of raking his gaze across the cavernous space: dark stone columns stretching up into an arcing stone ceiling, stained glass letting in the only hints of natural light from the world above.

“Interesting meeting place.”

Jameson gave a little shrug. “I’ve always been just a little bit much.”

“Hmmm.” Ian made a noncommittal sound, then allowed his gaze to land on Avery. “And I see you brought company.”

Avery fixed Ian with a look. “Jameson told me everything.” “Did he now?” Ian’s lips curved.

Jameson mirrored that smile. “Two minds are better than one. Tell us about Vantage.”

“What would you like to know? It’s not a castle, exactly.” The word exactly did the heavy lifting in that sentence. “It sits high on an isthmus in Scotland overlooking the water. It’s been in my mother’s family a very long time.”

In America, a very long time could mean forty years. But on this side of the pond? They were probably talking centuries, plural.

“We spent summers there when I was child,” Ian continued. “Far more

than my father’s properties, Vantage is home.” “Who’s we?” Avery pressed.

“I have two brothers,” Ian said. “Both older, both horribly irrelevant to this story.”

“What story?” Jameson retorted.

“The one,” Ian replied, “that you and I are writing right now.” There was intensity buried in those words. “And Avery, of course,” the man added.

I never introduced her by name. Jameson wasn’t surprised that Ian knew who Avery was. The whole world knew the Hawthorne heiress. “Returning to our story,” Jameson said, “you bet your mother’s not-a-castle-exactly on a hand of cards?”

“In my defense, I was very drunk, and it was a very good hand.” There was a flash of something dark in Ian’s eyes. “The deed to Vantage is, as we speak, in the hands of the Proprietor.”

“The man who runs the Devil’s Mercy,” Jameson inferred. Anticipation began building inside him. This was something. “Does this Proprietor have a name?”

“Several, I’m sure,” Ian replied. “None that he has given me. Control of the Mercy passes every fifty or so years, once the Proprietor has chosen an heir. When that heir ascends to Proprietor himself, he leaves everything else behind, including the name he was born with. The Proprietor of the Devil’s Mercy may never marry, may never have children, may not maintain familial ties of any kind.”

Jameson let that information work its way through his mind. “The Proprietor is the one we’ll need to approach for membership?”

Ian let out a bone-dry laugh. “That would be impossible. You must get one of the Proprietor’s many emissaries to approach you.”

“And how do we do that?” Avery beat Jameson to the question.

“I have some ideas.” Ian turned to look at one of the stained-glass windows. “But first, ask me what you will need to do after you’re invited into the hallowed halls of the Mercy.”

“Ask you about step two,” Jameson replied skeptically, “before we’ve figured out step one?”

Ian flashed him a grin. “Once you’ve obtained membership and won access to the Mercy, you will need to get the Proprietor’s attention. Not his employees’. Not his right-hand man’s. His. Once a year, there is a special

game of highest stakes, played by invitation only.” Ian’s tone took on the same energy and depth with which he’d first spoken to Jameson about the Mercy. “The Game may take any form. Some years it’s a race. Sometimes it’s a physical challenge, sometimes a mental one. There are years when it has been a hunt.”

Something about the way that Ian said the word hunt was unsettling.

“If the Mercy is exclusive,” Ian continued, his voice low and as rich as chocolate, “the Game… well, it’s really something else, and clearly, I won’t be getting an invitation this year.”

Because whatever you did when you lost Vantage got you banned from the club. “You won’t be getting that coveted invitation,” Jameson replied, “but you expect me to?”

He was nineteen, an outsider. Seems like a damn tall order to me.

“An existing member would be the more obvious choice,” Jameson noted. “But that would require a chip you could call in—or a friend to ask.” Sometime, needling a person made them show their hand. “Short on friends, Ian?”

“I’m asking you.” Ian came to stand toe-to-toe with him, making it impossible for Jameson to look away. “Impress the Proprietor. Tempt him. Make yourself impossible to refuse.”

For a split second, Jameson felt like he was back in Tobias Hawthorne’s study. “And if I gain entrance to this game,” he said, “if I play and win it…” “The winner may claim any prize won by the house in the prior year.”

Ian’s mouth settled into a grim line. “I doubt that you will be the only one after Vantage.”

Jameson rolled that around in his mind. “So, by my count, all I need to do is get invited to join the world’s most exclusive secret gambling club.…” He lifted one finger with those words, then a second as he continued. “Then somehow persuade its leader to invite me to an even more exclusive private game, which”—a third finger—“I’ll then need to win.”

“Give the boy a prize,” Ian said.

Jameson’s eyes narrowed. “That leads us back to the start. How exactly am I supposed to get invited to join the Devil’s Mercy?”

“Do they even let Americans in?” Avery asked. “Or teenagers?”

“Historically,” Ian said, “no. Membership is only extended to those in the highest echelons of British society, based on a combination of power,

status, and wealth.”

“So why,” Jameson said shrewdly, “would the Devil’s Mercy be interested in me?” He was an American teenager who used to be rich, but the power, the connections, the knowledge, the influence, the institutional backing—those had never been his.

Unlike Grayson, he hadn’t been raised to assume they ever would be.

Maybe that was what let Jameson answer his own question. “They wouldn’t.”

Ian had said that Jameson was more useful to him as his son than as a Hawthorne, but Jameson saw now that wasn’t the whole truth. He knows who Avery is. Maybe it hadn’t mattered that Jameson was a Hawthorne, but the fact that he was in a relationship with the Hawthorne heiress?

He suspected that mattered very much.

“You wanted me to bring her in on this,” Jameson accused. “She’s the one you were after.” He refused to let that hurt.

“You’re my player, Jameson,” Ian replied. “But she’s your way in. Draw the Proprietor’s attention. Make yourself a package deal.”

“No.” Jameson’s muscles turned to stone. He could feel the explosion coming.

“Jameson.” Avery laid a hand on his shoulder. “I’m not using you, Heiress.”

“You said it yourself on the roof: You’re not doing this. We are.” Avery looked past him to Ian. “If we start asking around about the Mercy, will that draw the Proprietor’s attention?”

“One way or another,” Ian replied.

Jameson didn’t like the sound of that.

“Think about it, Hawthorne.” Avery stepped closer toward him. “I’m one of the most famous and infamous people in the world.”

“Powerful,” Jameson said, looking at her and only her. “And rich. Through your multi-billion-dollar foundation, very connected. And you and I—we can make a lot of noise.”

“Which,” Ian added, “the Devil’s Mercy does not want.”

Jameson turned back toward Ian and channeled the formidable Tobias Hawthorne at his most terrifying. “You played me. It won’t happen again.”

Ian placed a fatherly hand on Jameson’s shoulder. “I’d be disappointed if it did.”

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