Chapter no 88 – GRAYSON

The Brothers Hawthorne

Walking through the front door of Vantage felt different this time. It felt right. Jameson moved slowly to the bottom of the grand staircase. He looked up. Mine. He’d grown up being handed every opportunity, every luxury, in a mansion easily larger than this place, but Jameson’s entire life, nothing had ever been just his.

“It suits you,” Zella called from somewhere behind him. Jameson didn’t turn. He barely heard her.

“You would think so.” That was Rohan, also behind him. Katharine had made her exit.

Branford strode past the others, making his way to Jameson and fixing him with a stare so pointed that it drew to mind a threat: If I’d had any hand in raising you, I would be doing a hell of a lot more than yelling.

“We need to talk.” Branford didn’t wait for Jameson to reply before nodding sharply toward the stairs. As Jameson took the first step, the viscount turned to shoot a warning look at anyone who might be tempted to follow. “I need a moment with my nephew. Alone.



At the top of the grand staircase, Jameson found a window, one that faced out over the stone garden, the view stretching all the way past the cliffs to the ocean and the hint of a storm brewing on the horizon.

“Do you have a death wish, nephew?” Branford’s tone walked the line between an accusation, an order, and a threat. “Answer me.”

Jameson recalled telling his uncle to yell at him later—which was, apparently, now.

“No.” Jameson tore his gaze away from the window and looked back toward the red-haired, sharp-featured, scowling viscount. “I don’t have a death wish.”

“But it doesn’t bother you,” Branford countered. “The idea of dying.” The viscount’s tone was almost too controlled now, a danger sign Jameson recognized all too well.

“I didn’t say that.” Jameson thought back to the moment before he’d leapt onto the bell. He’d hesitated, one thing—one person—on his mind. Avery. Jameson was fast cars and tantalizing risks, laughing in the face of danger and stepping right up to the edge of magnificent drops.

But he was also hers.

“I definitely wouldn’t say that I’m unbothered by the idea of dying,” Jameson continued. “It’s not true.” Anymore. He didn’t go out of his way to risk his life anymore.

Branford’s brows pulled together, his expression severe. “Then I can only conclude that you are completely without sense? That there was perhaps some sort of traumatic head injury when you were a child? Perhaps several? Because I can think of no other explanation for the reckless, ill-considered, impulsive display I witnessed back there.”

It was an odd feeling, being scolded like a child. Like he was someone’s child. Jameson took half a step forward, hands dangling loose by his side. “I don’t need a father,” he told the viscount.

Branford took his own step forward—no half measures. “You don’t have one.” His uncle didn’t pull that punch. “I bear some responsibility for your lack, for the kind of man that Ian is. This family has let him get away with far too much for far too long.” Branford’s mouth settled into a grim line. “That ends. Now.” The full weight of his focus settled on Jameson’s eyes. “With you.”

Jameson thought about the deal he’d struck with his father and the way Ian had tossed it away, tossed him away. “I don’t want anything from your brother,” he said, and he meant it.

He never needed to see or talk to or hear about Ian Johnstone-Jameson again.

“My brother,” Branford replied, “will want plenty from you.”

His meaning sank in like a rock in quicksand. If Ian expected Jameson to hand over Vantage after what he’d pulled, the youngest son of the Earl of Wycliffe was going to be sorely disappointed. But Branford?

Jameson couldn’t help looking at his uncle, studying him, thinking about the way the man had torn into him about unacceptable risks. There was care there—genuine care. “The offer I made you,” Jameson said abruptly. “Back before the game was done. Vantage—”

“—is yours.” Branford glared at Jameson. “I’ll brook no argument on that. Not from you, not from my brothers. You won it. Honestly. Fairly.”

Jameson cocked a brow. “Weren’t you just British-yelling at me about

how I won it?”

“We all felt invincible once.” Branford’s voice grew quieter. “We all had something to prove.”

“I don’t have anything to prove,” Jameson said. “I won.”

“You,” Branford countered, “gave up the game.” Those words hung in the air. “I could hear everything that you said, Jameson, everything that Zella said. When she was barely holding on, when you had to choose between winning and saving her—you didn’t call her bluff.”

Jameson could feel himself, right back in that moment. “I wasn’t sure that she was bluffing.”

“Ian would have taken that risk.” Branford’s tone was measured, no frills, no illusions. “He would have let her fall. Bowen, too, though he would have had a plan for deflecting blame. But you?” The viscount took another step forward, until he and Jameson were practically eye to eye. “You thought you were handing over the game, Jameson, and you chose to put the life of another person over winning. You can call that whatever you like. I call it honor.”

Jameson swallowed, unsure why he suddenly needed to. “I won anyway.”

“And I’ll see to it,” Branford replied, “that no one takes that away from you, takes this away from you.” The next thing Jameson knew, his uncle’s hands were on his shoulders, turning him back toward the window, toward that view. “Vantage is yours now. There’s a trust to see to its upkeep, which I administered for Ian and will continue to administer for you.” The viscount’s voice softened. “Come and go as you will. She’s yours now.”

She as in this place, this slice of history, a family legacy that Jameson

had been willing to fight for when he wasn’t even considered family.

“Why would you do that for me?” The question caught in Jameson’s throat. “Why would you do anything for me?”

“Had I known about you when you were born,” came the response, quiet and deep, like a river gone suddenly still, “I would have done something then.”

Jameson thought about Xander and Isaiah, about what it must have been like the moment his brother had realized that he had a father who wanted him.

My uncle would have come for me. Jameson swallowed again. “My grandfather wouldn’t have let you.” What had happened with Xander’s father was a testament to that.

“Bold of you,” his uncle replied, “to think I would have left him the choice.”

Jameson snorted. “You don’t know what my grandfather was like.” “And Tobias Hawthorne,” the viscount said, “did not know me.”

For a second, Jameson could almost believe that Branford could have faced the old man down. But believing that he would have? Jameson shook his head. “You don’t owe me anything,” he said.

“And if you’d chosen to let the duchess fall, perhaps I could believe that. But like recognizes like, Jameson. You are not your father. I fear you’re far more like me.”

That statement should have sounded ridiculous. It should have felt

ridiculous. It shouldn’t have meant anything—but it did.

“I’m not your responsibility,” Jameson tried again, his heart clenching in his chest.

“Everything is my responsibility.” Branford raised a brow at him. “As for your secret…”

It’s ashes now, Jameson thought. And safe. The proof will be returned to me. The Proprietor will say nothing.

“You will tell me what I need to know to protect you,” Branford ordered. Luckily, thanks to Grayson, Jameson had plenty of practice at ignoring orders. “As long as the Proprietor keeps to his word, my secret will remain a secret, and I should be fine.” He paused. “Unless the duchess is a


“She won’t be.” Branford sounded far too certain of that. “But you’re

still going to need to tell me—”

“Absolutely nothing?” Jameson suggested, offering the viscount a charming smile.

“I do not trust that smile,” his uncle said.

Jameson shrugged. “That’s only because you definitely shouldn’t.” He paused. “And about your secret…”

A change came over Branford. “It needs to stay a secret.” There was a single moment’s silence. “He does.”

Jameson was hit with the sense that Branford had rarely, if ever, referred to his own son. A million questions burned in his mind. “I’m supposed to believe that if you’d known about me, you would have been a part of my life, but I’m only your nephew. If you have a son—”

“He has a father.” The tightness in Branford’s tone when he said those words was palpable. “A good one. And a title.”

“A good one?” Jameson suggested.

Branford’s voice grew quiet as he looked out at the view, out at the ocean and the storm on the horizon. “If his true paternity became known, lives would be ruined, his and his mother’s among them. I cannot allow that to happen.” He turned from the window and brought the full force of his gaze back to Jameson. “Do you understand?”

“I do. Some secrets are best forgotten.” Jameson thought about the words he’d written on his scroll, about the way that night in Prague had gnawed at him for weeks, the way he’d fought and fought with himself, resisting the urge to tell—not because he didn’t trust Avery, but because he didn’t trust himself.

Jameson Hawthorne had been raised to solve puzzles and take unfathomable risks, to push boundaries and cross lines if that was what it took to win. But for once, the voice that Jameson heard in the back of his head wasn’t the old man’s.

It was Branford’s. I call it honor.

“I believe Vantage is in good hands,” Branford said beside him. “My mother… she would approve.”

“I’m not looking for anyone’s approval,” Jameson said, and somehow, for the first time ever, that felt true.

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