Chapter no 16 – JAMESON

The Brothers Hawthorne

The drive back to the Hawthorne flat seemed to take an eternity, and the foyer was dark and quiet when they arrived. Jameson flipped on a light and was greeted by four sticky notes affixed in a straight line to the closest wall. There was a single word written on each one in Xander’s haphazard scrawl.

Neck,” Avery read out loud. “Gotcha. Ringy. Goo.”

This was either Xander’s way of warning them that there was a prank involving bells and slime in their future… or a code. Fueled by the lingering buzz of adrenaline from the night’s endeavors, Jameson’s mind sorted rapidly through the letters, switching up their order. ING was a common combination, so he started there.

Going,” he guessed. “Probably followed by to…”

“Sub in the c-h from gotcha for the in neck?” Avery murmured beside him.

Jameson’s pulse ticked upward. This was practically their version of dirty talk. “Going to check…,” he murmured back, his body listing toward hers. “On… 

Four letters left. AGRY. Jameson’s phone rang just as the meaning of Xander’s message clicked into place. “Leaving London so soon?” he answered.

Nash spoke on the other end of the line. “We’re trusting you, Jamie.” “To take care of myself?”

“To remember that you don’t have to.”

The muscles in Jameson’s throat unexpectedly tightened. “You have absolutely nothing to worry about,” he said. I have Avery. I have the Devil’s

Mercy. I’m going to be just fine.

“Make good choices!” Xander yelled in the background.

Jameson ended the call, and the next moment, Oren spoke. “We have company on the terrace.”

Company. Jameson was suddenly keenly aware of his surroundings. Every sound. Every shadow. Every element of security that Oren had put in place.

“My men will take care of it,” Oren said, but Avery shook her head.

“No,” she said. Jameson took that as his cue to move toward the terrace, his steps silent, his stride long, Avery right behind him.

The door was open. Jameson stepped out onto the terrace before Oren could stop him.

The messenger lazed in one chair, his feet propped up on another. “Your neighbor has excellent taste in wine,” he declared, swirling a bit of it in a wineglass and nodding toward the bottle on the table. “Horrible taste in cats, though,” he added. “Hairless, two of them.” He gave Avery a little wink. “I’ve always been more of a dog person myself.”

The waiter persona. The fighter cloaked in darkness. And now this. Jameson felt like he’d met three different people. But the dark brown eyes, the artful mess of barely curling black hair, the sharp features—they were all the same.

“You broke into the neighboring flat.” Avery stated the obvious.

“I break nothing.” Holding his wineglass between his thumb and his middle finger, the messenger tapped his other three fingers lightly along the stem. “Except hearts.”

Breaking into the flat next door was child’s play for you. Jameson was suddenly sure of that. You’re a chameleon. A conman. A thief. With that thought came a disturbing possibility. “How do we even know that you work for the Mercy?”

What if they were being conned?

“Because”—the chameleon swung his feet off the chair, turning slightly and leaning forward, his elbows on his knees—“your message was received.” He let those words hang in the air, then leaned back again. “Or at least,” he told Avery, “yours was.” He set down his glass of wine and reached into his trench coat.

In a flash, Oren was standing in front of Avery. Their visitor slowly

withdrew his hand, brandishing a black-and-silver envelope and dropping it onto the table, the motion graceful and smooth.

Jameson was at the table in an instant. The envelope was square and large. The paper was black matte, embossed with an elaborate design: a silver triangle embedded in a silver circle in a silver square. Within the triangle, there was another square, inside it, another circle. The pattern repeated over and over.

That’s not silver, Jameson realized up close. It’s platinum.

“Satisfied?” the messenger asked with an arch of a thick and angled brow. He didn’t wait for an answer; instead, he returned his gaze to Avery. “One week, all access.” He picked up his wineglass and swirled the red liquid inside it again. “And all it will cost you is two hundred thousand pounds.”

Avery still couldn’t hear a number like that without blanching. But she set her jaw. “It has to be both of us.”

“It doesn’t have to be anything, love.” There was a note of warning in the response Avery received. “Do you know how rare what you’re being offered is? How many men would kill for it?”

“That begs a question, doesn’t it?” Jameson tossed out.

“Not the correct usage of that phrase” came the arch reply, “but do go on.”

Jameson’s eyes narrowed. “I’m guessing the Proprietor of the Devil’s Mercy isn’t hard up for cash. So why offer Avery anything for a measly two hundred thousand?”

“You misunderstand.” The messenger’s voice went low and silky. “It’s not a fee. The levy to join the Devil’s Mercy is much steeper. But you”—he swung his gaze back around to Avery—“won’t be joining or paying the levy. You’ll be a visitor, and the Factotum wants you playing at the tables.” There was a calculated pause. “He wants you to lose.”

“The Factotum.” Jameson latched on to the title. “Not the Proprietor.”

“I’m afraid neither one of you rises to the level of meriting the attention of the Proprietor. The Factotum is his second-in-command. He runs much of the Mercy, day to day.”

“He’s the one you report to?” Avery said.

“The one,” Jameson added, “who wants us to lose.”

“Wants her to,” the messenger corrected. “However, the Factotum

anticipated your request regarding Mr. Hawthorne, Ms. Grambs. If you want your very temporary visiting membership status extended to a second party, it’s going to cost you. Five hundred thousand pounds lost on the tables at the Mercy over the course of three nights.”

That was the kind of number that even Jameson couldn’t shrug off. “Why would she agree to that?”

The chameleon smiled. “Why indeed?” I know, that tone said, that you want more than you’ve asked for. I know that you have ulterior motives. I know you aren’t showing your hand.

“You said I have to lose the money in three days,” Avery noted. She spoke slowly, but Jameson could see her mind moving fast. “But we’d have access to the Devil’s Mercy for a week.”

Jameson heard what she was really saying, what she’d realized. “We can win it back.” That statement received no pushback, no correction, and Jameson ran the scenario out in his head. Get in. Lose money. Win it back. Gain the Proprietor’s attention—and an invitation to the game.

“What’s in it for the Factotum?” Jameson had been raised to ask the right questions.

“I wouldn’t know.”

Jameson looked for a tell of some kind on his quarry’s face and saw nothing.

“But if I were speculating,” the messenger continued lightly, “I’d say that the Factotum is on the hunt.”

“The hunt for what?” Avery asked.

“A new member,” Jameson guessed, daring their visitor to tell him that he was wrong. “You’re the lure, Heiress.” The conclusion wasn’t much of a leap. “Lots of money. Young.”

“A brash, overconfident little girl.” Avery’s eyes narrowed. “What happens if we need more than a week?”

Need is an interesting choice of word.” The messenger let that observation hang in the air, then he nodded to the platinum-marked envelope. “Inside, you’ll find a nondisclosure agreement. You’ll want to sign it.” He reached into his trench coat again and withdrew a pen. Like the envelope, it appeared to be made of platinum. Its surface was ornately engraved, the design as incomprehensible to Jameson as hieroglyphics.

Avery opened the envelope. She read the document inside—a single

page. “This just covers the nondisclosure. What about the rest of the terms?”

“Five hundred thousand pounds lost on the tables over the course of three nights, in exchange for one week’s access. Those are the terms, on your honor—and his.”

His. There was emphasis on that word, like the Factotum was as much larger-in-life to his errand boy as Tobias Hawthorne had been to his grandsons. If the Factotum demands that kind of respect… exactly how powerful is the Proprietor?

Jameson opted to shelve that question and ask a different one. “Do you have a name?”

“Rohan.” There was something sharp and knowing on his face as he spoke. “Not that it matters.”

“Well, Rohan,” Avery said, “you can tell your boss he has a deal.” She picked up the pen and signed.

Rohan shifted his gaze to Jameson. “You’ll be signing, too, if you want to play.”

Avery slipped the pen into Jameson’s hand. He turned it in his fingers, taking in every element of the design, committing it to memory.

And then he signed.

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