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Chapter no 73 – GRAYSON

The Brothers Hawthorne

Nash and Xander were waiting in the black-card suite. The puzzle box was on the floor. One glance told Grayson that his brothers had gotten as far on it as he, Gigi, and Savannah had.

“It’s obvious what we need.” Xander eyed the opening in the box’s surface.

“Just haven’t found it yet,” Nash put in.

Grayson got the distinct feeling his brothers were avoiding asking about the FBI situation on purpose. Their version of giving me space.

“And you won’t find it,” Grayson replied. He walked over to the hotel desk and retrieved the small not-a-USB-drive from the drawer. “What you’re looking for wasn’t built into the box. He brought it with him each time he visited his sister.”

He, as in… your father.” Xander was treading carefully now. Given that he was the second-least-cautious Hawthorne, that really said something.

“Isaiah is a father, Xan.” Grayson fought every ounce of emotion that wanted to creep its way into those words. “Sheffield Grayson was something else.”

Nash looked at Grayson for a long moment. “Things okay back at the house?”

Grayson studied the exact expression on his oldest brother’s face. “Alisa called you,” he surmised.

“She did,” Nash confirmed. “She’ll do whatever you need.” His lips twitched up on the ends. “And knowing Lee-Lee, she’ll enjoy it.”

“Only if it gets nasty,” Xander interjected.

“It’s already nasty.” Grayson kept his explanation brief and to the point: “Sheffield Grayson was allegedly siphoning money from his company, thereby cheating the majority owner out of significant profits. That owner was his mother-in-law. She’s dead now, and her stake in the company passed to Acacia and the twins. The company was sold. My so-called father emptied Acacia’s trust shortly thereafter but wasn’t able to touch the trusts belonging to the girls.”

“And as a bonus, the guy’s gone missing.” Nash let out a long, low whistle.

Nash knew that Sheffield Grayson wasn’t missing. Grayson knew that he knew. “Now Eve’s sniffing around,” Grayson continued, the muscles in his jaw going stone hard. “She knows what happened. Today’s search? Probably courtesy of her.”

Someone had been pulling strings, and Eve had made it clear she wasn’t above playing power games.

“Eve?” Nash repeated. “Your head on straight, Gray?” There wasn’t an ounce of judgment in that question.

There didn’t need to be for Grayson to judge himself. “Isn’t it always?” he replied, his tone a match for his expression—like it had been carved from ice.

Betrayed by the Girl with the Face of Your Dead Girlfriend: The Grayson Hawthorne Story.” Xander jumped down off the desk.

Grayson felt his eyes turn to slits. “Not now, Alexander.”

“Too fresh?” Xander asked. “Sorry, double sorry, triple, up to and including octuple sorry. You needed someone to get you out of your own head, and Nash keeps telling me that there are times when tackling people is inappropriate.”

“Most times,” Nash said.

Xander was not so convinced. “Personally, I think tackling is a valid love language, but let’s not debate semantics here.” He brought his eyes to rest on Grayson’s. “What do you need?”

Being a Hawthorne meant many things, and the best of those was this.

Them. Us. “Got any cookies?” Grayson asked quietly.

“I always have cookies!” Xander disappeared into the suite’s kitchen and came back with a half-empty package of double-stuffed Oreos and the

single tallest Oreo that Grayson had ever seen. “Octuple-stuffed Oreo?” Xander offered.

Grayson took it.

“It was made with love,” Xander told him. “Just like I tackle with love.” “No tackling,” Nash said.

Grayson ate the cookie in silence, and then—and only then—did he speak. “I’m slipping.” His brothers were the only people in the world he could have admitted that to. “Getting too emotionally involved.”

“With Eve?” Xander asked.

Grayson set his jaw. “With Gigi and Savannah—and even with their mother.”

“That’s not slipping, Gray.” Nash had a way of going quiet just when the things he was saying mattered most. “That’s living.”

Inexplicably, Grayson thought—again—about that damn ring. “I need to focus.”

“On opening the puzzle box?” Xander guessed.

“Opening it. Going through its contents.” Grayson came to stand directly over the puzzle box. “Removing anything that could tie Sheffield Grayson to the attacks on Avery and anything that suggests he didn’t just disappear. Then I’ll reassemble a harmless version of the box and its contents to give back to the girls.”

“Are you okay with that?” Xander asked.

Grayson thought of the way his sisters had come to stand between him and their aunt. Protecting him. He thought about Acacia, squeezing his hand.

Are you okay with that?

Grayson knelt and fit the not-a-USB into the box. “I have to be.”

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