Chapter no 95 – GRAYSON

The Brothers Hawthorne

That night, after they’d made it back to Hawthorne House, Grayson lay in his bed staring up at the ceiling. Tonight was clearly going to be a night when sleep didn’t come easily, if at all. His mind wasn’t racing. He wasn’t tossing or turning. He was just… awake.

Trowbridge was taken care of, in a way that would divert the FBI’s investigation for the foreseeable future. Acacia’s financial woes had been remedied. She now had a very good lawyer. Grayson had checked every item off his Phoenix to-do list.

His Grayson family to-do list.

Do you ever play what-if, Grayson? The question Acacia had asked him came back to Grayson, and for just a moment, he let the answer be yes. If he’d had a more normal childhood, if he’d spent even a few weeks a year with his father, with Acacia and the girls, would it have changed anything?

Changed him?

Bullshit, he could hear Nash saying. You know how to love people just fine. Grayson thought about the ring tucked inside his suitcase. In his mind, he could see the magnificent stone as if he were looking straight at it.

Grappling for a distraction, for something—anything—else to hold on to, Grayson considered a riddle, one he could still hear said by a girl with a honey-rich voice.

What begins a bet? Not that.

As if summoned by some unholy magic, his phone rang on the nightstand where it was charging. Grayson sat up, the sheet falling away from his chest. In his gut and in his mind and in his aching body, he

somehow expected the caller to be that girl.

But it wasn’t.

It wasn’t Eve this time, either.

It was Gigi. Grayson stared at her name on the screen, unable to quite bring himself to pick up. Less than a minute later, he received a text. No cat picture this time, just words.

I’m at the gate.



Grayson had no idea what Gigi was doing at Hawthorne House—or how she’d even gotten there. But his sister didn’t give him a chance to ask a single question.

“Inside,” she told him. “We’ll talk inside. You look creepy in the dark.”

Grayson tried his best not to take that personally. Whatever she threw at him, whatever she’d come here to say or do—he wouldn’t take it personally.

The two of them rode from the gates to Hawthorne House in silence. Grayson was well aware of the fact that their progression was being tracked by security, but none of Oren’s men tried to stop them.

In the grand foyer, Gigi didn’t mince words. “Mom says her money’s back.” Bright blue eyes pinned his. “You did that, didn’t you?” She paused. “Or you convinced Dad to?”

Grayson’s heart twisted in his chest. After everything, she was still holding out hope. Because that was what Gigi did. She hoped. “Gigi…”

She stabbed her index finger in his general direction. “How dare you do something wonderful when I’m mad at you?” Mad at him? He’d thought she was done with him. “Do you know how hard it is for me to stay mad at people?” she continued, scowling. “How very dare you!”

Grayson couldn’t let himself smile, not even a little. He couldn’t risk it. “Your father didn’t return the money,” he told Gigi, “because he wasn’t the one who took it from your mother’s trust. Trowbridge did.”

Gigi glared at him. “Kent or Duncan?” “Kent.”

Gigi blew out a long breath. “Can I hate Duncan anyway?”

This time, Grayson couldn’t help the slight twitch of his lips. “Please do.”

“Good,” Gigi said. “Because as bad as I am staying mad at people, I truly excel at holding permanent and unholy grudges against anyone who hurts my sister. May his crotch forever itch in places that are very difficult to scratch and his fingers turn to sausages on his hands.”

It was probably a good thing that Gigi had been as yet unsuccessful at her attempts to develop magical powers.

“You were wrong earlier,” Gigi told Grayson, her change of subject swift and firm. “You said your father—but he isn’t just my father, Grayson, or Savannah’s. He’s yours, too. You must have had a reason for what you did—not the good stuff, not the money stuff, but the rest of it.”

Sabotaging their efforts. Betraying her.

“I warned you from the beginning not to trust me,” Grayson told her. He waited for anger that never came.

“Why?” Gigi said. “Even after everything, you helped us, Grayson. You got Mom a lawyer. You found the money somehow. You beat the bad guy.” She paused. “You did beat the bad guy, right?”

Grayson nodded. “Yeah,” he told Gigi. “I did.”

“Why?” his little sister demanded again. “Because it looks an awful lot to me like you care.” She stared at him. “You do. I know you do. So why would you—”

“I had to.” Grayson hadn’t meant to say that, and he hadn’t meant for the words to come out tortured and low. “I had to, Gigi.” Maybe he should have left it there. A week ago, he would have. “I know something about your father that you don’t know, something that you shouldn’t know.”

“Our father” came the stubborn correction. “He wasn’t a good guy, Gigi.”

“Because of the whole embezzlement-and-tax-evasion thing?”

I could say yes. I could leave it there. And I could lose her. Grayson thought back to his conversation with Avery—Avery, whom he wanted to protect more than just about anyone else in the world.

Just about.

“Before he disappeared, your father—” At his sister’s glare, Grayson corrected himself. “Our father… he tried to kill someone who matters to me. You might not have seen it in the news back then—”

Gigi stared at him. “There was a bomb, right? On a plane? Someone tried to kill the Hawthorne heiress.” Gigi frowned. “Wasn’t your mother arrested for that?”

Grayson swallowed. “They arrested the wrong parent.”

Gigi’s eyes were very round. “Dad?” she whispered. “That whole thing with Aunt Kim and the Hawthornes getting theirs…”

Grayson was walking a dangerous line now. He knew it, just like he knew that no matter what he said, Gigi might still choose to walk away. But he had to try. “He wanted revenge.” Grayson gave her as much of the truth as he could. “For Colin.”

Gigi drew in a long breath and looked up at the ceiling that soared overhead, doing everything she could not to blink. Not to cry.

“It’s always Colin.” Gigi kept right on staring at the ceiling. “I remember being three years old and knowing that my dad loved me… and that he especially loved the way I looked.” Gigi swallowed. “Because I looked like Colin. And as long as I was happy and bubbly and just a silly little girl who didn’t try to matter too much, that was a good thing.”

Grayson pulled her in, and the next thing he knew, his sister’s head was resting on his chest, his arms enveloping her.

“Grayson?” Gigi said softly. “You said wanted. Past tense. You said that Dad wanted revenge. But once he wants something… he doesn’t stop. Ever.”

He didn’t stop with the bomb. He had no intentions of stopping until Toby Hawthorne paid—with Avery’s life and with his own.

Gigi angled her head up toward Grayson. “I guess I’m a lot like Dad that way, with the not stopping.”

Grayson wondered if that was Gigi’s way of telling him that she was going to keep asking questions, keep pushing. He wondered if he’d made a mistake telling her as much as he had.

But all he said in reply was “You are nothing like our father.”

There was a long, painful silence. “He’s not coming back, is he, Grayson?”

No answer would have been an answer, so he gave her what he could. “No.”

“He can’t come back, can he?”

No answer was an answer, the only one he could give her this time.

For more than a minute, Gigi didn’t move. Grayson held her, bracing himself for the moment when she would pull back.

Finally, she did. “You’re going to have to give me the puzzle box back,” she told him. “For Savannah. We’re going to have to make sure there’s something in it, something that gives her an answer she can believe. One that doesn’t involve our dad being an evil mastermind of the non-white-collar variety.”

Grayson stared at her. “What are you saying?”

Gigi stepped back. “My whole life, Savannah has tried to protect me. I mean, she knew about you for years, about Dad’s affair, and she did everything she could to make sure I didn’t have to know. And all of this? With Dad? She doesn’t have to know.” Gigi said those words like an oath. “Savannah loves Dad. She was always closer to him than Mom. She pushed herself so hard for him. So we’re going to protect her this time. You and me. Because I remember something else about the Hawthorne heiress plane bombing. People died. Our father killed people, Grayson. And now he’s…” Gigi didn’t say the word dead. “In Tunisia,” she finished, her tone steely. “And that’s where he needs to stay.”

Grayson could feel her pushing down her pain, and the idea of it almost destroyed him. “I can’t ask you…” he started to say.

“You’re not asking me to do anything,” Gigi told him. “I’m telling you how it’s going to be. And in case you haven’t noticed, I’m very good at getting what I want. And I want a happy sister and a big brother who keeps a very open mind about any mysterious, nefarious types I might choose to pursue for brief romantic liaisons.”

Grayson narrowed his eyes at her. “Not funny.”

Gigi smiled, and something about the set of her lips felt like pins through his heart.

“I never meant to hurt you,” Grayson told her. “I know,” Gigi said simply.

She’s not leaving. I haven’t lost her. Grayson didn’t ignore the emotions twisting in his gut and rising up inside him. For once in his life, he just let them come. “I like my little sister,” he told her.

This time, there was nothing pained about Gigi’s smile. “I know.”

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