Chapter no 84 – JAMESON

The Brothers Hawthorne

He hit the bell and held on with his entire body as it swung. “Thanks for that,” Zella called down.

As the bell steadied, Jameson edged around its side. Then he began scanning the closest keys. He knew what he was looking for. A key made of shining gold. A head like a maze.

“You asked me earlier if I read your secret,” Zella said, her tone conversational, as she made her own search above. “Why don’t you ask me again?”

She was trying to distract him, trying to get to him. Jameson didn’t let himself think about his secret—or anything else. He stayed focused on his task, but that didn’t keep him from turning the tables on his opponent.

“I’d rather ask about you,” he said, moving farther around the bell, checking another key and another. Two up there. One up farther. One hanging down low. “And Rohan.” Jameson didn’t hesitate, didn’t question whether he’d chosen the correct method of getting under the duchess’s skin. “There’s history there. You learned not to expect anything from him at some point. But what kind of history, I wonder? You’re, what, seven or eight years older? And married…”

Jameson was guessing the history between them wasn’t that kind of history. But he was also pretty sure the duchess didn’t want anyone to realize there was history there at all.

That’s seven more keys—and none of them the key.

Up above, Zella shifted, and the movement sent the bell swaying again. “Appreciate that,” Jameson told her.

“You so desperately wanted to prove yourself.” There was nothing cruel in Zella’s tone, but clearly, the gloves were off. “To Ian. To the old man.”

The old man. That was the way Jameson and his brothers had always referred to their grandfather. How had she known that? Had he used the phrase around her?

He wasn’t certain he had.

Zella slid down the side of the bell. She moved with incredible, gravity-defying grace, like there wasn’t a single muscle in her body over which she had anything less than perfect control.

“I told you before,” she murmured. “The benefit to choosing one’s competition is knowing one’s competition.”

Jameson forced himself to move faster. He’d ruled out maybe twenty keys, twenty-five at most. There were another two dozen up where Zella had been before. That left, what? Around twenty keys that neither of them had inspected yet?

“You’re playing to win, Duchess.” Jameson kept the conversation going because he’d scored at least one point off her already. Because he would find a way to score more.

“The world is kinder to winners.” Zella brought the bottoms of her feet up to rest on the bell. Jameson wasn’t sure why, until she pushed off, somehow managing to hold on, even as she sent the bell swinging.

Every muscle in Jameson’s body went tight. But he didn’t stop looking.

He couldn’t.

Do great things.

What are you without the Hawthorne name?

“The world is kindest, of course,” Zella continued, her voice steely now, “to rich white boys, regardless of whether or not they deserve to win.”

Jameson shouldn’t have been able to hear her over the ringing of the bell, but he did—and that wasn’t the only thing he heard. The jarring, rumbling clang of the bell that threatened to shake off his grip—that wasn’t the only sound the bell was making.

There was also a lighter, softer, unmistakable ting.

The sound of a key, Jameson thought, suspended inside the bell. He wondered if Rohan had lost his mind, wondered if the Devil’s Mercy’s infamous Game had cost any players their lives before—and, if so, how many.

But mostly, Jameson wondered how he was going to get to the key without Zella realizing what he was doing. They were on opposite sides of the bell now, and as it steadied, he slid his body down, letting his feet lodge at the bell’s rim. He bent sideways, latching his left hand around the rim as well.

Down below, on the ground, a white-clad form entered the bell tower. Katharine. Jameson wondered idly if Rohan was somewhere, watching. He moved his right hand down. He was crouching at the bottom of the bell now, holding on with gravity-defying force.

It really was a good thing he wasn’t afraid of heights.

What next? Jameson’s heart raced, beating faster and faster with familiar urgency and speed, the kind that made it impossible to forget that you were alive. The kind he lived for. Unencumbered by fear of pain or failure, Jameson saw the world as it really was.

Rohan wasn’t gone that long when he rigged all of this. He must have had a backup plan from the beginning. He must have had a way to get the key inside the bell. Crouching farther, Jameson slid one hand carefully from the outside of the bell to the inside.

He felt handles. More than one. And the next thing he knew, the bell was swinging again, and Zella had latched her hands on to two of them.

Two years earlier, Jameson wouldn’t have hesitated to do the same. He would have welcomed the danger, the thrill, used it to wash away everything else. But now? He could see Avery in his mind’s eye.

No matter what you win, he could hear Ian saying, you always need more.

Expelling a breath, Jameson locked one hand around a handle. He could hear Branford yelling at him, as if from a distance. His other hand locked around another handle. He lowered his body until it was dangling, then let go of one of the handles, just long enough to turn his hand around. Then the other hand.

He swung himself up and into the bell. This was a very bad idea, Jameson thought, and then he realized: The entire inside of the bell, except for the spots that the metal ball was meant to strike, was covered with handles and footholds.

Maybe Rohan wasn’t trying to kill them after all.

Jameson looked for the key. He saw it—closer to him than Zella. His

position was better. Despite his moment of hesitation, he was going to get there first.

Going to win.

His body knew exactly what to do. Jameson moved quickly, confidently. He got there first. He latched one hand around the key, his other holding himself aloft, and began working at the string that held the key.

And that was when Zella jumped. Or maybe leapt was the better word. Flew. She landed with one hand gripping the bell’s rim and the other over his on the key.

“Are you unhinged?” Jameson hissed. Her feet were dangling now—and the string that held the key was thin.

It’s going to snap.

“I’m going to fall.” Zella spoke in the calmest voice he’d ever heard. “If you don’t let go of the key, if you don’t let me have it, if you don’t grab my arm in the next three seconds, I’m going to fall.”

She was.

Jameson stared at her. That Duchess. The person who’d just told him that the world was kinder to winners—and kindest to boys like him.

She’d taken a risk, an insane but calculated risk. And she’d calculated correctly.

In less time than it took to blink, Jameson let go of the key, her hand latched around it, and his latched around her.

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