Chapter no 63 – GRAYSON

The Brothers Hawthorne

single call to Zabrowski was all it took to obtain Kimberly Wright’s address, two towns away.

“Xan and I will wait outside,” Nash told Grayson once they arrived. “I wager we can find a way of entertaining ourselves.”

This was something for Grayson and his sisters to do alone. Now that the truth was out there, the last remains of the barriers he’d erected against thinking of them that way crumbled. The twins were his sisters, regardless of whether or not he was anything to them.

“It’s been a while since we’ve heard from Jamie,” Xander added amiably. “He’s due for some yodeling. Take all the time you need, Gray.”

Grayson exited the SUV, waited for Savannah and Gigi to do the same, and then the three of them made their way up to Kimberly Wright’s front door. A three-foot-tall chain-link fence surrounded the front yard, which was all dirt and weeds, no grass. The house was painted a cheerful yellow that contrasted with the dark metal bars across the windows.

There was a No Solicitors sign on the front door.

Gigi knocked. Two seconds later, Grayson heard a dog barking, and two seconds after that, the door opened, revealing a woman in a ratty floral bathrobe. She used one foot to hold back a dachshund that looked remarkably rotund for the breed.

“That is a very fat dachshund,” Gigi said, her eyes round.

“It’s mostly hair,” the woman in the bathrobe said. “Isn’t that right, Cinnamon?” The dog growled at Grayson and attempted to get its front paws up on the foot that was holding her back.

It failed.

“I’d tell you I don’t want whatever you’re selling,” Kimberly Wright continued, “but you’ve got his eyes.” She was looking at Savannah when she said that, but then she shifted her gaze to Grayson. “You too.”

Gigi offered up a friendly smile. “I’m Gigi. That’s Savannah.”

“I know who you are,” Kim replied gruffly. “Down, Cinnamon.” Cinnamon, Grayson could not help but notice, was already down. “And that’s Grayson,” Gigi continued. “Our brother.”

Grayson waited for Savannah to correct her twin, but she didn’t. Our brother.

“Well, don’t just stand there,” Kim said, bending down to pick up Cinnamon—no easy task. “Come in.”



The house was compact: a den to the right of the front door, a kitchen straight ahead, and a short hall to the left, which presumably led to the bedrooms. Kim ushered them into the den.

“I like your recliners,” Gigi said earnestly. There were four of them in a room that wasn’t big enough for much else. On the back of each recliner, there was a crocheted blanket. The blankets matched; the recliners didn’t.

“You’re a smiley one, aren’t you?” Kim asked Gigi.

“I try,” Gigi replied, but the words didn’t come out quite as cheerful as Grayson would have expected. It occurred to him for the first time that maybe Gigi wasn’t just naturally sunny.

Maybe that was a choice.

Their aunt stared at Gigi for a moment. “You look like him, you know.

My boy.”

“I know,” Gigi said softly.

Grayson thought about Acacia telling him that the resemblance had endeared Gigi to their father when she was very young, and for reasons he could neither pinpoint nor understand, his heart ached.

This woman was his aunt. Their aunt, and she’d never met a single one of them.

“Are you here to tell me why your father won’t return my calls?” Kim

asked bluntly.

Savannah was the first one to summon up a reply to that question. “Dad’s gone.”

Kim’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean?”

“He left on a business trip a year and a half ago and never came back.” Savannah’s voice didn’t waver.

“Did you call the police?” Kim dumped her dachshund on one of the recliners. Cinnamon hopped to the floor with a thud.

“Mom did, back then. But he’s not missing,” Gigi told her aunt. “He left.”

Grayson could hear how saying those words hurt her. Now you believe he left. That should have made Grayson happy. That had been his goal, after all. To keep her—to keep both of them—from questioning that explanation, from getting at the truth.

All I have to do is make sure it stays that way.

“It appears your brother was having some difficulties,” Grayson told his aunt. “Financial and with the law.”

Kim walked to the far wall. She braced her hand against it for a moment, then pulled down a framed picture. “This is him.” She walked back, more slowly, then held out the frame. “Shep. He was twelve or thirteen here. That’s Colin beside him.”

Grayson made himself look at the photograph. A lanky young teen with silvery gray eyes held a basketball. A toddler reached up for it.

Kim let out a breath. “Shep came to live with me not long after Colin was born. Our mom died, and her husband decided he was done with kids who weren’t his. It was either take Shep in or let him go to foster care, so I took him in. Colin’s father was in and out of prison for years, so most of the time, it was just me, taking care of both boys.”

“You call him Shep,” Grayson said, because that observation felt like less of a landmine than looking at that picture and searching for any kind of resemblance between himself and the boys in the frame.

“That was his name. Not short for anything. Just Shep. He changed it the summer before he went to college. His last name, too.” She snorted. “Sheffield Grayson. He got a basketball scholarship. Met a pretty girl.” Kim settled down into one of the recliners and waited for each of them to do the same before she continued, “My brother was pretty much done with me

after that. Didn’t want anything to do with the rest of my kids, but he loved Colin.” There was a slight pause. “Shep took care of Colin a lot growing up. Too much, probably. Used to take him with him to basketball practice when I was…” Kim looked down. “Working.”

Kim was a recovered addict. Her brother hadn’t just watched her son while she was working.

As if she could hear his thoughts, the woman looked away from Grayson and to the girls. “After Shep married your mother, he told me that Colin was going to live with them.”

“And you let your brother take your son,” Grayson said softly.

“I had other mouths to feed. Shep agreed to help with that. But he wanted Colin with him.”

Grayson hadn’t realized, when Sheffield Grayson had said that his nephew was the closest thing he’d ever had to a son, that he’d raised the kid from the time he was a child himself.

Grayson wondered—just for a moment—if a man who’d loved his nephew like that, sacrificed for his nephew like that, could have been all bad.

He thought about the photos in the safe-deposit box, and breathing got just a little bit harder. We didn’t come here to talk about the past, he reminded himself. “Did your brother continue to help you financially after Colin passed?” Grayson asked, steering the conversation back toward the reason they’d come.

The withdrawal slips. Petty cash, with a notation on the back.

“Not the way he could have,” Kim said bitterly. “Not the way he would have if Colin was alive. Shep blamed me, you know. Said that Colin picked up my bad habits, but it’s not true. Colin never touched pills until he tore his ACL. It put him out a season, but do you think the great Sheffield Grayson ever let up?”

Grayson didn’t know much about Colin Anders Wright, other than the fact that he and a young Toby Hawthorne, Grayson’s uncle, had met at a high-priced residential rehab facility more than two decades before. Colin and Toby had then reunited for a drug-and-alcohol-fueled road trip that had ended on Hawthorne Island with three dead, Colin included.

“There was just so much pressure on my Colin,” Kim said. “Shep was determined he’d play college ball. I should have brought my baby back here

once they started fighting, but what did I have to offer? I told myself that it would be okay, that Acacia was there, too. And Colin worshipped her. He worshipped Shep, for that matter, when they weren’t fighting.”

“They were a family,” Savannah said softly.

Kim closed her eyes. “I always thought Shep married your mother for the money, but when he saw how she was with Colin—that’s when he fell in love.”

Grayson felt the way that statement hit his sisters, both of them.

“Do you still have the slips?” Savannah asked him, her voice curt, the change of subject intentional.

Grayson nodded and withdrew them from his suit jacket. “Before he left,” he told his aunt, “your brother made fairly regular withdrawals of relatively small amounts of cash. Two-hundred seventeen dollars. Five hundred six dollars… you get the point. Your name—or what we believe to be an abbreviation of your name—was written on the back of the slips.”

“He brought me money now and then,” Kim admitted, her tone defensive. “Never too much. He didn’t trust me with too much.” She narrowed her eyes at Grayson. “Only even amounts, though. Two hundred or five hundred or what-have-you. The rest must have been for himself.”

Grayson seriously doubted that Sheffield Grayson had withdrawn seventeen dollars—or six—for his own spending needs.

“He came here and brought you money,” Savannah summarized. “Did he bring anything else with him when he did?”

Grayson saw the logic of her question. If Sheffield Grayson had been hiding something—like, say, records of illegal transactions—his estranged sister’s house, a world away from his own, would be a good place to hide it.

“Besides the money? No.” Kim shook her head—and averted her eyes. Gigi leaned forward in her chair. “What aren’t you telling us, Aunt


Grayson instantly saw what it meant to the woman for Gigi to call her that.

“Shep would talk to me for a bit,” Kim said hoarsely, “then he’d leave the money on the kitchen counter and go shut himself in Colin’s room.”

“What did he do in there?” Savannah asked.

“I don’t know,” Kim replied. “Just… sit, I guess.” She paused. “One time, I tried to go in and talk to him. He yelled at me to get out. There was

something on the floor. A box.”

“What kind of box?” Grayson pressed.

“Wooden. Nice. Real nice. He left it here, in Colin’s closet, told me that if I ever touched it, if I ever even looked at it, he’d stop coming, and I’d never see another dime from him.”

Grayson exchanged a look with Savannah. We need that box. “Could we see Colin’s room?” he asked—but it wasn’t really a question.

Kim’s eyes narrowed. “The room,” she repeated harshly. “Or the box?”

Gigi was the one who replied. “Our dad is gone,” she said simply. “He left, and he never came back. And now we’re finding out that he wasn’t who we thought he was.” She swallowed. “Who thought he was,” she corrected.

Savannah met her twin’s eyes, just for a moment, before turning her attention to their aunt. “I found out about Dad cheating on Mom, about the fact that he had another kid out there, when I was fourteen,” Savannah said.

Grayson doubted she’d ever said those words out loud before.

“And my dad, he acted like it was nothing. But all I could think”— Savannah’s words slowed—“was that he had a son. Basketball was always our thing, but when I hit middle school, I noticed that he stopped saying that I played basketball and started saying that I played on the girls’ basketball team.” There wasn’t a hitch in Savannah’s voice, but Grayson felt the effort it took her to fight it. “He started asking me why I was such a tomboy.”

Kim frowned. “You don’t look like a tomboy to me.”

Savannah fingered the end of her long blonde hair. “Exactly.” She drew in another steady breath. “Our dad loved Colin. Maybe he loved us, too, but we weren’t Colin.”

“Why are you telling me this?” Kim asked.

“Because I want you to understand,” Savannah replied. “Our dad abandoned us, and we deserve to know why. Our mom’s in trouble. Whatever Dad was keeping in that box—what if it could help her?”

Cinnamon chose that moment to squat. Spurred to action, Kim leaped to grab her. “Outside, Cinnamon! Outside!” She rushed to the door. After putting the dog down on the lawn, she came back but didn’t come all the way into the den.

“Down the hall,” she said gruffly, “last door on your left. That was

Colin’s room. Do what you want with the damn box. Not like Shep’s coming back anyway.”

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