Chapter no 13

The Final Gambit (The Inheritance Games, 3)

texted Grayson and Xander. When they met us in the circular library, Eve was with them. Wordlessly, I held up the disk. Hesitantly, Eve took it from me, and the room went silent.

“How much did you say it was worth?” she asked, her voice a jagged whisper.

I shook my head. “We don’t know, not exactly—but a lot.” It was another four or five seconds before Eve reluctantly handed the disk back to me.

“There was a message?” Grayson asked, and I passed the paper over. “They didn’t demand a ransom,” he noted, his voice almost too calm.

My chest burned like I’d been holding a breath for far too long, even though I hadn’t. “No,” I said. “They didn’t.” The day before, I’d come up with three motives for kidnapping. The kidnapper wanted something from Toby. The kidnapper wanted to use Toby as leverage.

Or the kidnapper wanted to hurt him.

One of those options seemed much more likely now.

Xander craned his neck over Grayson’s shoulder to get a closer look at the note. He decoded the message as quickly as Jameson had. “Revenge themed. Cheery.”

“Revenge for what?” Eve asked desperately.

The obvious answer had occurred to me the moment I’d decoded the message, and it hit me again now with the force of a shovel swung at my gut. “Hawthorne Island,” I said. “The fire.”

More than two decades earlier, Toby had been a

reckless, out-of-control teenager. The fire that the world presumed had taken his life had also taken the lives of three other young people. David Golding. Colin Anders Wright. Kaylie Rooney.

“Three victims.” Jameson began circling the room like a panther on the prowl. “Three families. How many suspects does that give us in total?”

Eve moved, too, toward Grayson. “What fire?”

Xander popped between them. “The one that Toby accidentally-but-kind-of-on-purpose set. It’s a long, tragic story involving daddy issues, inebriated teenagers, premeditated arson, and a freak lightning strike.”

“Three victims.” I repeated what Jameson had said, but my eyes went to Grayson’s. “Three families.”

“One yours,” Grayson replied. “And one mine.”

My mom’s sister had died in the fire on Hawthorne Island. Billionaire Tobias Hawthorne had saved his own family’s reputation by pinning the blame for the fire on her. Kaylie Rooney’s family—my mom’s family—was full of criminals. The violent kind.

The kind who hated Hawthornes.

I turned and walked toward the door, my stomach heavy. “I have to make a call.”

Out in one of Hawthorne House’s massive, winding corridors, I dialed a number that I had only called once before and tried to ignore the memory that threatened to overwhelm me.

If my worthless daughter had taught you the first damn

thing about this family, you wouldn’t dare have dialed my number. The woman who’d birthed and raised my mother wasn’t exactly the maternal type. If that little bitch hadn’t run, I would have put a bullet in her myself. The last time I’d called, I’d been told to forget my grandmother’s name and that, if I was lucky, she and the rest of the Rooney family would forget mine.

Yet there I was, calling again.

She picked up. “You think you’re untouchable?”

I took the greeting as evidence that she’d recognized my number, which meant that I didn’t need to say anything but “Do you have him?”

“Who the hell do you think you are?” Her rough, throaty voice lashed at me like a whip. “You really think I can’t get to you, Miss High and Mighty? You think you’re safe in that castle of yours?”

I’d been told that the Rooney family was small-time, that their power paled compared to that of the Hawthorne family—and the Hawthorne heiress. “I think that it would be a mistake to underestimate you.” I balled my left hand into a fist as my right hand’s grip on the phone went viselike. “Do. You. Have. Him.”

There was a long, calculating pause. “One of those pretty little Hawthorne grandsons?” she said. “Maybe I do—and maybe he won’t be quite so pretty when you get him back.”

Unless she was playing me, she’d just tipped her hand. I knew where the Hawthorne grandsons were. But if the Rooneys didn’t know that Toby was missing—if they didn’t know or believe that he was alive—I couldn’t afford to let on that she’d guessed wrong.

So I played along. “If you have Jameson, if you lay a finger on him—”

“Tell me, girl, what do they say happens if you lie down with dogs?”

I kept my voice flat. “You wake up with fleas.”

“Around here, we have a different saying.” Without warning, the other end of the line exploded into vicious barks and growls, five or six dogs at least. “They’re hungry, and they’re mean, and they have a taste for blood. You think about that before you call this number again.”

I hung up, or maybe she did. The Rooneys don’t have

Toby. I tried to concentrate on that.

“You okay there, kid?” Nash Hawthorne had a gentle manner and remarkable timing.

“I’m fine,” I said, the words a whisper.

Nash pulled me into his chest, his worn white T-shirt soft against my cheek.

“I’ve got a knife in my boot,” I mumbled into his shirt. “I’m an excellent shot. I know how to fight dirty.”

“You sure do, kid.” Nash stroked a hand over my hair. “You want to tell me what this is about?”

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