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Chapter no 27

The Final Gambit (The Inheritance Games, 3)

told Grayson that he could take Eve to Toby’s wing, and he informed me that that wasn’t the deal. I’d said that would show Eve Toby’s wing. I deeply suspected he was headed for the pool.

Packing up the satchel and taking it with me, I held up my end of the bargain.

Eve’s pace slowed as Toby’s wing came into view. There was still rubble visible from the brick wall that the old man had erected decades ago.

“Tobias Hawthorne closed off this wing the summer that Toby disappeared,” I told Eve. “When we found out that Toby was still alive, we came here looking for clues.”

“What did you find?” Eve asked, something like awe in her tone as we stepped through the remains of bricks and into Toby’s foyer.

“Several things.” I couldn’t blame Eve for wanting to know. “For starters, this.” I knelt to trigger the release on one of the marble tiles. Beneath, there was a metal compartment, empty but for a poem engraved on the metal. “‘A Poison Tree,’” I said. “An eighteenth-century poem

written by a poet named William Blake.”

Eve dropped to her knees. She trailed her hand over the poem, reading it silently without so much as taking or expelling a breath.

“Long story short,” I said, “teenaged Toby seemed to identify with the feeling of wrath—and what it cost to hide it.”

Eve didn’t respond. She just stayed there, her fingers on

the poem, her eyes unblinking. It was like I’d ceased to exist for her, like the entire world had.

It was at least a minute before she looked up. “I’m sorry,” she said, her voice wavering. “It’s just, what you just said about Toby identifying with this poem—you could have been describing me. I didn’t even know he liked poetry.” She stood and turned three-sixty, taking in the rest of the wing. “What else?”

“The title of the poem led us to a legal text on Toby’s bookshelf,” I said, the air thick with memories. “In a section on the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine, we found a coded message that Toby left behind before he ran away— another poem, one he wrote himself.”

“What did it say?” Eve asked, her tone almost urgent. “Toby’s poem?”

I’d been over the words often enough that I knew them by heart. “Secrets, lies, all I despise. The tree is poison, don’t you see? It poisoned S and Z and me. The evidence I stole is in the darkest hole. Light shall reveal all, I writ upon the…”

I trailed off, the way the poem had. I expected Eve to finish it for me, to fill in the word that both Jameson and I had known went at the end. Wall.

But she didn’t. “What does he mean, the evidence he stole?” Eve’s voice rang through Toby’s empty suite. “Evidence of what?”

“His adoption, I’m guessing,” I said. “He kept a journal on his walls, written in invisible ink. There are still some black lights in this room from when we read them. I’ll turn them on and kill the lights.”

Eve reached out to stop me before I could. “Could I do this part alone?”

I hadn’t been expecting that, and my knee-jerk reaction was no.

“I know you have just as much right to be here as I do, Avery—or more. It’s your house, right? But I just…” Eve

shook her head, then looked down. “I don’t look like my mom.” She fingered the ends of her hair. “When I was a kid, she kept my hair short—these ugly, uneven bowl cuts she’d do herself. She said it was because she didn’t want to have to mess with it, but when I got older, when I started taking care of my hair myself and grew it out, she let it slip that she’d kept it short because no one else in our family had hair like mine.” Eve took a breath. “No one had eyes like mine. Or a single one of my features. No one thought the way I did or liked the things I liked or felt things the same way.” She swallowed. “I moved out the day I hit eighteen. They probably would have kicked me out if I hadn’t. A few months later, I convinced myself that maybe I had family out there. I did one of those mail-in DNA tests. But… no matches.”

No one even remotely Hawthorne-adjacent would have handed over their DNA to one of those databases. “Toby found you,” I reminded Eve gently.

She nodded. “He doesn’t really look like me, either. And he’s a hard person to get to know. But that poem…”

I didn’t make her say anything else. “I get it,” I told her. “It’s fine.”

On my way out the door, I thought about my mom and all the ways we were alike. She’d given me my resilience. My smile. The color of my hair. The tendency to guard my heart

—and the ability, once those guards were down, to love fiercely, deeply, unapologetically.

Unafraid.

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