Chapter no 48 – GRAYSON

The Brothers Hawthorne

Back at the Grayson house, Gigi went in search of her mother while Savannah kept an eye on Grayson in the foyer.

“Mom’s in the library,” Gigi reported when she came back, her tone morose.

Savannah reached out and squeezed her twin’s shoulder. “Mom’s fine, Gigi. We’re fine.”

We as in the three of them. Their family.

Gigi turned toward Grayson, her brow furrowed. “We don’t interrupt Mom when she’s reading. It’s been a rule for pretty much forever.”

“You’re welcome to wait out back,” Savannah told him icily.

Not an offer. An order. Grayson watched as Savannah stalked out of the room.

“Mom has her library,” Gigi said quietly. “Savannah has her court.”

In his mind’s eyes, Grayson could see Savannah standing on the free-throw line, shooting baskets the way he swam. “And what about you?” he asked Gigi.

Getting close to them was a mistake. Feeling this way was a mistake. Gigi shrugged. “I like eating candy on the roof.”

“But not chocolate.” The inference escaped Grayson’s mouth before he could stop it.

“Not chocolate,” Gigi confirmed, and then she grinned. “I told you I’m growing on you! Now…” Her expression grew serious again. “What do you think my dad kept in that box? It can’t be good, right? I mean, as a general rule, people don’t commit identity fraud to rent safe-deposit boxes under

fake names for funsies.”

“I don’t know.” Grayson lied to her, and it felt like lying to his brothers. “Why don’t you go eat some candy on the roof,” he suggested gently. “I’ll wait here for your mom.”



Grayson didn’t wait in the foyer for Acacia Grayson. He went looking for the library instead. The girls’ key wouldn’t open the safe-deposit box, but if Sheffield Grayson’s wife was an authorized user, there was a chance she could have another one issued.

Grayson had not been raised to leave anything to chance.

“It shouldn’t be this hard to cancel a membership.” Acacia’s voice was audible through the cracked-open door. Grayson came to a standstill just outside, listening. “I know there are fees!” She paused, and Grayson could practically see the woman gathering herself. When she spoke again, it was with every ounce of poise a woman who had grown up with Engstrom wealth could summon. “The club needs an event planner. It’s been more than a month since Carrie left, and I think you’ll agree, based on my charity work—not to mention the events my family has hosted in your ballroom— that I am more than qualified.”

This was Acacia Grayson asking for a job. Grayson pictured the expression on her face when she’d told him that she wasn’t weak.

Whatever response the person on the other end of the line gave her, Acacia wasn’t impressed with it. “Well, I imagine they’ll say I’m bored and lost without my husband. Let them.” There was another silence, longer this time, and then: “I understand.”

Grayson waited until he was sure she’d hung up before gently pushing in the door. “Problems?”

Acacia looked up from the chaise longue on which she was sitting, her legs curled beneath her body, and gave Grayson a firm look. “None that you need to concern yourself with.”

Grayson strode to take a seat several feet away from her. “Your husband had a safe-deposit box under a fake name.” The subject change was intentional. He’d circle back to her financial problems when she was less

prepared to circumvent his questions. “The girls are going to ask you to open it. You’re an authorized user.”

Acacia pressed her lips together. Her blonde hair was pulled back in an elegant twist, not a hair out of place. “I don’t know why I would be authorized to do anything,” she said quietly. “He never talked to me about financial matters—or business ones.” She looked away from Grayson, then back again, like she couldn’t let herself have a reprieve from this conversation or everything he represented. “I have a degree in finance, you know. That’s where Sheff and I met. I was quiet and awkward, and he was…” Her voice broke slightly. “Well, it doesn’t matter now, does it?”

He married you for your money. That’s what you’re thinking. What you’re trying not to think.

“Do you ever play what-if, Grayson?” Acacia asked softly. “What if you changed one decision, one moment in your life?”

Grayson wasn’t in the habit of daydreaming, but he’d relived his biggest mistakes often enough to know what those moments were, to know exactly what he would undo if he could.

“Or what if one thing had been different from the start?” There was something wistful in Acacia’s expression. “I used to play all the time when I was a kid. What if I’d had an older brother? What if I’d been born with a different last name? What if I’d looked just a little less like my mother?”

What if you’d left your husband when you found out about me?

Acacia let out a long, slow breath. “But what-if is different once you have kids, because all of a sudden, everything leading up to their births, those choices, those realities are set in stone. Because if things had been even a little bit different, they might not exist, and that is the one possibility you cannot bear.”

Acacia looked down at her hands, and Grayson noted that she still wore her wedding band.

“I remember about a week after Savannah and Gigi came home from the hospital, I had a dream that I was still pregnant and that my babies—the ones I’d held and fed and loved—they were just a dream. And I panicked, because I didn’t want any other babies. I wanted my girls. And when I woke up, I stood over their cribs, and I just cried, because they were real.” She looked back up at Grayson. “So there is no what if I’d chosen a different life or fallen in love with someone truly capable of loving me back. There is

no what if I knew then what I know now. No regret. There can’t be. Because as much as I want a different life right now, I want to be their mom more.”

Breathing shouldn’t be so difficult, Grayson thought, but it was, because he had never in his life been that for anyone, least of all Skye. And suddenly, he wanted to play what-if himself, because having that—it would have changed everything.

It would have meant everything.

Regrets are a waste of your time and mine, the old man whispered from somewhere in his memory. Do I strike you as a person who has time to waste?

Grayson focused, because that was what he did—who he was. “I know about the FBI and IRS investigations, Acacia.” He softened that conversational pivot as much as he could. “I know that he was stealing from your parents. I know he drained your accounts.”

Acacia Grayson breathed through the pain.

“But Savannah and Gigi don’t need to know any of that,” Grayson said softly.

Acacia swallowed. “You think I should just turn the safe-deposit box over to the feds?”

There was no time for Grayson to second-guess his approach here. “No,” he said evenly. “I don’t.”

Acacia stared at him for the longest time. “I hadn’t pegged you for wanting to protect my husband.”

“It’s not him,” Grayson said, his voice low, “that I am trying to protect.”

That was the truth, and really, it wasn’t just Avery he was trying to protect now, either. The bombing of Avery’s jet had killed two of Oren’s men. Sheffield Grayson was a murderer—and none of the members of this family needed to have to live with that. Not Acacia. Not Savannah. Not Gigi.

“Give me a day.” Grayson did not phrase that as a request. “You won’t ever have to know what’s in that box, and you won’t be the one who kept the contents from the feds.” Grayson could have stopped there. Maybe he should have. But he’d been taught from a very young age how to get a yes. “Your name is on the box, too, Acacia. He used fake identification for himself but your real name—and likely forged your signature. Beyond that,

he’s not the only one that the IRS could charge with tax evasion.”

Acacia closed her eyes. When she opened them again, they were watery, but not a single tear fell. She gave Grayson an almost compassionate look. “You’re just a kid.”

Grayson’s heart twisted in his chest. The only person who’d ever said that to him before was Nash. “My mother likes to say that Hawthornes are never really children.” Grayson hadn’t meant to bring up Skye—not to this woman. Not after all that talk of what-if. He course-corrected. “Did the country club take you up on your offer?”

“No.” Acacia shook her head. “I don’t understand why they wouldn’t, but—” She cut herself off. “Like the contents of that safe-deposit box, my financial situation is not your problem.”

Grayson had the Hawthorne ability to flat-out ignore assertions that weren’t to his liking. “My grandfather had his faults,” he told Acacia quietly, “and then some. But he taught me to put family first. I am not without means…”

“No,” Acacia said firmly. “Absolutely not.”

“You grew up with Kent Trowbridge.” Grayson pivoted again. “His son doesn’t deserve Savannah.”

If he’d gone straight for discussing her relationship with the lawyer, Acacia might have refused to discuss it, so Grayson went for another tactic. “Duncan and Savannah have known each other forever,” Acacia said.

“I’ve never pushed the relationship on her.” She paused. “But my mother might have.”

“The way she pushed you and Kent?” That was a leap, but a strategic one. “I saw him touch you the other night.”

“It was nothing,” Acacia said, looking away. “He’s a friend of the family. He’s trying to help.”

Grayson leaned forward. “Is he?” No response, so Grayson made another leap. “He’s the one who told you about me. Isn’t he?”

“I had a right to know.”

The day of your mother’s funeral? Grayson thought.

“Have you told the girls anything?” Acacia asked, her voice going hoarse. “About the money?” Before Grayson could reply, she began issuing assurances. “The house is safe. Their school fees, cars, wardrobes, cost of living—all taken care of by their trusts. They’ll be fine.” She stood and

walked toward the library door. “The rest of it, I’ll just have to figure out for myself, starting with that safe-deposit box.”

The door opened before Acacia reached it. Savannah. “He told you.” She’d obviously overheard her mother’s last statement. Grayson could see Acacia wondering if she’d overheard any of the rest.

“I need you to let me handle this, Savannah,” Acacia said firmly.

Savannah’s eyes flashed. “You don’t handle anything, Mom. You just sit back and take it.”

Acacia looked down. Grayson’s eyes narrowed. “I didn’t mean that.” Savannah looked down.

Acacia walked and put an arm around her.

“So…” Gigi popped up behind them. “Who’s in an opening-a-safe-deposit-box kind of mood?”

Grayson in no way expected that to work. But after a long moment, Acacia nodded. “We’ll do this together.” She looked from the twins to Grayson. “All of us.”

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