Chapter no 75 – JAMESON

The Brothers Hawthorne

Well done, my boy. Jameson didn’t just hear Ian say that; he felt the words. Physically. Like he’d been holding a breath too long, finally gasped in air, and discovered that breathing hurt.

He just asked me to hand over the keys. To hand over the entire damn game.

Avery shifted closer to Jameson, the back of her hip brushing his leg. Without a word, Jameson pressed the key he’d just discovered—with its shining, maze-like head—into her hand.

Almost like he didn’t trust himself with it.

“What are you doing here, Ian?” Jameson asked. He’d meant for the question to sound sharper.

Ian Johnstone-Jameson strolled casually forward, like his appearance in the middle of the Game was only natural, like Jameson shouldn’t have been surprised to see him in the least.

“Is that your way of asking if the Factotum knows I’m treading on these hallowed grounds, interfering in his little game?” Ian asked with an expression that danced the line between a smile and a smirk. “If so, the answer, I’m afraid, is no.”

He’s not supposed to be here. Jameson managed to pry his gaze away from Ian and glance at Katharine. She must have tipped him off about the location of the Game. Did she have a phone hidden somewhere? Does it matter?

“You have two keys,” Ian murmured, his gaze lingering on the key in Avery’s hands. “Two out of three—and only one for my holier-than-thou

brother. I’m liking our odds.”

Our as in yours and mine? Jameson thought bitterly. Or yours and Katharine’s? “What’s she doing here?” he demanded.

Katharine looked slightly amused at the question, like nothing Jameson could say or do would amount to more than childish antics in her mind.

“The formidable Katharine and I have come to an agreement of sorts.” Ian’s lips curled again, more smile than smirk this time and wholly self-satisfied. “You’ll give her those keys,” Ian continued grandly, “and everyone will leave here happy—except my oldest brother, of course, which I have to admit has its appeal.”

“What about Vantage?” Jameson asked. He had enough self-awareness to know that what he was really asking was what about me?

Ian gave a little shrug. “I really don’t see how that’s any concern of yours.”

And that was the thing, Jameson realized. Ian really didn’t. The offer to leave Jameson Vantage had been impulsive, spur-of-the-moment. Forgotten.

“You sold me out.” Jameson’s could feel the intensity in his voice. “You asked me to play this game. You aimed me like an arrow at an almost impossible target.”

And now, when Jameson was on the verge of hitting the bull’s-eye— after working his way into the Devil’s Mercy, after everything he’d done to win entrance to the Game, after putting that secret on the line, coming here and solving puzzle after puzzle—Ian expected him to pull back?

“What did Katharine offer you?” Avery’s tone was flat as she assessed Ian like a speck beneath a microscope. “She’s working for your other brother, right? What did he offer you?”

“I’m afraid the terms of our deal are confidential.” Katharine wasn’t the smiling type, but there was a certain amount of satisfaction in her tone. “The keys, if you please, children?”

“No.” Jameson didn’t think, didn’t consider his options—because there weren’t any. He hadn’t come here, hadn’t put everything on the line, to back down now.

“No?” Katharine arched a brow, then turned her head toward Ian, a silent

fix this.

“No,” Jameson repeated. “As in the opposite of yes, to decline, deny, or

negate. No.

“Jameson.” Ian walked to stand directly in front of him and laid a hand on his shoulder. “You did what I needed you to do, son.”

I have his eyes. Jameson let himself think that, just this once. Grayson has his father’s eyes, and I have mine. I have his laugh.

“You said you needed a player,” Jameson replied, ignoring the hand on his shoulder. Nothing could hurt you unless you let it. “Someone smart and cunning, merciless—”

“But never dull,” Ian cut in. “Yes, yes, I know. And you played. Well done, you. But now, the plan has changed.”

Your plan, Jameson thought, emotions twisting in his gut like brambles full of thorns. He’d known from the beginning that Ian was using him. He’d known that. But at least he’d been indispensable to the plan before. But now?

I’m disposable. “You wanted a player who could calculate odds,” Jameson said, and he could hear the wild fury building in his own voice. “Someone who could defy those odds.”

And I did that.

“I needed a player, and you played,” Ian said, sounding annoyed now. “It’s over. Now give me the keys.”

You love a challenge, Jameson could hear the man in front of him saying. You love to play. You love to win. And no matter what you win, you always need more.

For a brief time, Jameson had almost felt seen. “I’m not giving you anything,” he said fiercely. “Would the deal you’ve struck even give you Vantage back?” Jameson let the question hang in the air, but he knew the answer, had known it the first time he’d uttered the words What about Vantage?

Katharine—and his other uncle—weren’t playing for Vantage. They were playing for the damning secret of a powerful man, which meant that Katharine must have offered Ian something else, something he wanted more than the estate his mother had left him. The place where he grew up. A property that had been in his mother’s family for generations.

He doesn’t care. Not about family. Not about this place. Jameson breathed in. Not about me.

“Time is wasting,” Katharine declared, her tone brisk. “And I’ll still

need to locate the boxes that those keys unlock.”

Ian’s eyes narrowed at Jameson. “I know that you aren’t wired to lose, Jameson,” he said, his voice silky. “But you need to do what I say, because neither am I.”

That was a warning. A threat.

“Do I look like a person who’s easy to threaten?” Jameson smiled, even though it hurt his bruised and battered face.

“Not particularly.” Rohan appeared as if by magic, stepping out from behind a statue. “Some people,” the Factotum continued, “just don’t know when to stay down.”

Jameson wasn’t sure if that was a reference to Ian or himself. Either way, it didn’t matter. Jameson was done talking. What happens to Ian now

—what Rohan does to him for interfering—is none of my concern.

“Let’s go,” he told Avery, a lump rising in his throat. He’d gone a lifetime without a father. He didn’t need one now.

All Jameson Winchester Hawthorne needed was to win.

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