Chapter no 86 – GRAYSON

The Brothers Hawthorne

Gigi was gone. Savannah was gone. And Grayson was alone. That wasn’t a problem. It shouldn’t have been a problem.

Being alone had never been a problem.

“It’s done.” Grayson’s voice sounded steady to his own ears. Good. He bolted his hotel room door and began packing his bag.

He’d come to Phoenix to get Gigi out of jail, and she was out. He’d stayed to defuse the situation with the safe-deposit box, and it was well and truly defused. His sisters would never read their father’s actual journal. They had no idea why Grayson had betrayed them.

And they never would.

Avery was safe. The secret of Sheffield Grayson’s demise was safe.

And I’m alone. Picking up his phone, Grayson opened his work email and began assembling a mental to-do list.

It was better this way.

He managed to believe that, until, for some unknowable reason, his index finger navigated away from his email and to the photo roll on his phone. He’d made a critical error in leaving the original photograph of Trowbridge’s password accessible. Just like he’d made an error in giving Gigi his phone in the first place. He’d made far too many mistakes, and now he was paying the cost. Because when Grayson Davenport Hawthorne made mistakes, there was always a cost.

He’d taken Emily cliff-jumping, and she’d died.

He’d failed to go to Avery when his father’s bomb had nearly killed her, and he’d lost her to his brother.

He’d trusted Eve, and she’d betrayed him.

Some people can make mistakes, Grayson. But you are not one of those people. He knew that. He’d known it since he was a child, but he just kept making them anyway, and every time he fell short, every time he made an error in judgment, every little mistake cost him someone he cared about.

Every time he let himself care about someone, he lost them.

Grayson scrolled across the photo roll and saw himself with Gigi. Every picture she’d taken of the two of them was a little off-center or too close-up. She was beaming in every single one.

Minimizing the photos, Grayson focused on what had to be done. He arranged a flight back to Texas. Robotically, he finished packing his suitcase. That only left the puzzle box, the photographs, and the withdrawal slips.

I can’t leave them here. There was still the FBI to consider. If they ever obtained the box, if they realized the journal was a fake, if they found his fingerprints all over it…

Grayson was done making mistakes.

He put the withdrawal slips in the box, alongside the fake journal, then reassembled it. He called down to the concierge, requested that an additional piece of luggage be acquired on his behalf, and sent her the specifications he needed.

Then Grayson turned his attention to the photographs. He began stacking them facedown, avoiding looking at any of the pictures.

He didn’t think about his father.

He didn’t think about the boy in these photographs, the boy he’d been. He didn’t think about anything except what needed to be done now.

That worked until it didn’t. The photograph that pierced his protective shields had been taken during his gap year, halfway around the world. My whole life, my father watched me. Even when I was grown. Even when I was traveling.

How much money did he spend having these pictures taken? How much time did he spend looking at them?

Clamping his jaw, Grayson flipped the photo in his hand over and stacked it with the others. His gaze caught on the date on the back of the photograph. He got the date wrong. Grayson wasn’t certain about the day, and the year was correct, but the month was off.

What did it matter? What did any of this matter?

Grayson finished stacking the photographs and returned them to the briefcase the bank had provided. “Done.” As the word left his mouth, his phone rang—an unknown number. He answered. “Grayson Hawthorne.”

“Most people just go with hello.” The sound of the girl’s voice washed over him, a balm on open wounds, and the second Grayson recognized the effect it had on him, the muscles in his face tightened.

“What is it?” he asked, clipping the words.

“I guess you don’t have any answers for me.” Her tone was thorns now, not roses, rough and sharp.

Grayson swallowed. “I don’t have answers for anyone,” he said. “Stop calling.”

After another second or two, the line went dead. It didn’t matter. None of this mattered. He had a life to get back to, work to do.

On his way to the airport, his phone rang again. Eve. Grayson didn’t bother with hello this time, either. “I am done with this,” he said instead, the only greeting she deserved. “Done with you.”

She’d threatened him, threatened his sisters. The FBI’s sudden raid on the Grayson household was proof enough that Eve had already started making good on those threats.

“You don’t get to be done with me,” Eve said.

Grayson went to end the call, but she spoke again before he could.

“Blake’s still in surgery.” Her voice grew hoarse. “It’s taking too long.

The doctors won’t tell me anything. I don’t think he’s going to make it.”

The death of Vincent Blake would be no great tragedy. He was a bad man, a dangerous man. Grayson steeled himself against Eve’s tone and focused on the only thing he had to say to her. “I warned you to stay away from my sisters.”

“I haven’t done a damn thing to your sisters.” Eve was an easy person to believe. True liars always were.

“You sicced the FBI on their mother.” Grayson’s fingers tightened around the steering wheel. “You said it yourself: If Vincent Blake dies tonight, there won’t be anything holding you back.”

“I say a lot of things, Grayson.”

His chest tightened, but he didn’t give her the courtesy of a reply.

“Forget it,” Eve bit out. “Forget I called. Forget me. I’m used to it.”

“Don’t, Eve.”

“Don’t what?”

“Don’t bleed for me. Don’t show me your wounds and expect me to tend to them. I’m not playing that game with you again.”

“Is it so hard to believe that I’m not playing?” Eve asked. “Vincent Blake is my family, Grayson. And maybe you think I don’t deserve one. Maybe I never did. But can you at least believe me when I say that I don’t want to be alone right now?”

Grayson remembered calling her Evie. He remembered the girl he’d thought she was. “You have Toby. He’s your father.”

For the longest time, there was silence on the other end of the line. “He wishes I was her.”

For Eve, there was only one her. Eve was Toby’s daughter biologically, but Avery was the one that Toby had watched out for longer, the one whose mother he’d loved with that once-in-a-lifetime, undying, ruinous, Hawthorne kind of love.

“I’m not your person, Eve. You don’t get to call me. You don’t get to ask me for anything.”

“Message received. I don’t matter. Not to you.” Eve’s voice went dangerously low. “But believe me, Grayson, I will.”

She ended the call—or maybe he did. Either way, Grayson drove the rest of the way to the airport unable to shake the feeling that he’d just made another mistake.

Who would he lose this time?

Trying to banish that question, Grayson parked the Ferrari in long-term parking, left the key under the mat, and sent a text to the contact who’d provided him with it documenting its return. And then, staring down at his phone, he thought about everything that had happened, all of it, since he’d come to Phoenix. He thought about everything that had happened before that.

Look where repressing my emotions got me before. Grayson knew better now—or at least, he was supposed to. If he couldn’t stop making mistakes, he could at least stop making the same ones, again and again.

He could admit this time that, like Eve, he didn’t want to be alone.

Letting out a long, slow, painful breath, Grayson sent a text message to his brothers. No words, three numbers.


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