Chapter no 70 – GRAYSON

The Brothers Hawthorne

can open this box. I just have to get it back to my hotel room.

Beside Grayson, Gigi pounced. “What is it? You have something face.” Grayson liked to think he was a bit harder to read than that. “Pardon?”

He fell back on formal speech, one extra layer safeguarding everything he thought or felt.

“What do you mean, pardon? I saw that light bulb go off, mister. The gears in your mind are turning. The hamster is officially on the wheel!” From her spot beside him on the threadbare twin bed, Gigi rose to her knees, putting her hands on either side of the puzzle box and leaning forward. “Six hamsters!” she amended dramatically. “Six wheels! They’re all spinning.”

Time to do damage control. “I think we need to go back over the box,” Grayson told Gigi. “Look for something that fits this opening.”

Savannah snorted. “It took six hamsters to come up with that?”

No. Grayson let the thought roll over him but kept all hint of it off his face. We won’t find what we need by examining the box. I already have it.

He could picture Sheffield Grayson retrieving the safe-deposit box key from inside his computer, removing the faux USB drive from the picture frame, driving to the bank, withdrawing money, adding the slip to the box, and driving out here.

Clearly, their father had had a system. A routine.

“Stop.” A shrill voice hit Grayson’s ears like fingernails on a chalkboard. “Put the box down!” Kimberly Wright hovered in the doorway, her entire body wound tight. “You shouldn’t be here.”

Grayson knew somehow that she was talking to him—and just to him.

“In my son’s room,” she continued, her voice high-pitched but rough. “Sitting on his bed.”

This isn’t about the bed. Or the room. Grayson wasn’t certain what this was about—or what had changed. He stood but made no move to hand over the box.

Gigi’s forehead wrinkled. “Aunt Kim, we—”

“I wasn’t good enough to be your aunt. Your father took my boy. My Colin. And once he was dead and gone, I wasn’t even allowed to meet you girls. Shep didn’t want me anywhere near you.” Kim’s eyes closed tight, and when she opened them again, they found Grayson’s, like darts thrown with an unsteady hand that hit their target nonetheless. “Do you two know who he is?” Her tone turned accusatory. “I saw those other boys outside. Cinnamon got away from me, and the taller one went after her. Introduced himself.”

Xander, Grayson thought. Alexander Blackwood Hawthorne had never met a stranger or baked good he didn’t want to immediately introduce himself to.

“They’re Hawthornes.” Kim spit out the name, then whirled on Grayson. “You’re a Hawthorne,” she said, the way a person might have said the words you’re a murderer. “My brother, sometimes he’d bring bourbon with him when he came here. And the second it hit his lips, he’d start talking— about Hawthornes.”

Grayson assessed his options for shutting this conversation down. Fast. “We should go,” he told Gigi and Savannah.

Kim scowled. “Shep—he always said that Toby Hawthorne was the reason Colin was dead, that Toby set the fire that killed my baby. Arson. And Toby’s father, that billionaire bastard—he covered it up.”

To Grayson’s surprise, Gigi stepped in front of him, shielding him from their aunt. “Even if that’s true,” she said, “it’s not Grayson’s fault.”

Gigi wasn’t tall enough to block Kim’s desperate, angry stare.

“My brother hated you,” the woman told Grayson. “All you Hawthornes. But he said—he said he was going to make sure you’d all get yours. My brother was going to—”

That was not a sentence that Grayson could allow her to finish. “Going to what?” There was no threat in Grayson’s tone, just a warning: Think

carefully before you answer. I am not a person you want to cross.

Kim clamped her mouth closed. Unlike her nieces, she wasn’t immune to Grayson’s ability to command a room and every person in it. “Get out,” she whispered, her voice hoarse. “And leave the box.”

“We can’t do that.” Savannah came to stand in front of Grayson, right next to her twin, and for a split second, his heart clenched.

“Did I give you a choice, girl?” Kim’s voice shook. “Get out.”

Grayson gave a slight nod toward his sisters, then calmly began reassembling the puzzle box.

“Put it down!”

“Aunt Kim—” Gigi tried.

“I said—”

“Put it down,” Grayson finished calmly. He reached inside his suit jacket and removed his wallet. Opening it, he began to slip out bills. Not tens or twenties—hundreds. Staying in the black-card suite came with the expectation that one would be an excellent tipper. “Your brother isn’t coming back.” Grayson did not enjoy being cruel, but bribethreatenbuy out—that was the Hawthorne way. “And even if he did come back, there’s no money left for him to give you.”

There were eight bills sticking out of the wallet now. In a single move, Grayson withdrew all of them and folded the bills in half over his thumb. His target stared at the money. Good. Kim brought her gaze to his. Better.

“I know,” Grayson said softly, “that your brother hated my family. He didn’t want me. We met only once, and he made that quite clear.”

Sometimes, after you backed a person into a corner, the best way to ensure they took the out you offered was to show just a flash of humanity— enough to make them think that maybe the two of you didn’t have to be enemies, but not enough that they forgot who was in change.

Grayson held the money out to his aunt. Kim skittered forward and snatched it from his hands. “Take the damn box,” she said, her voice gravelly, “and get out.”

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