Chapter no 6

The Final Gambit (The Inheritance Games, 3)

For months, I’d kept the existence of Toby’s daughter a secret from everyone but Jameson. Because Toby had asked me to—but not just because Toby had asked me to.

“I need to take care of this,” I said with a calm that I in no way felt.

“I assume my assistance is not required?” Grayson’s tone was cool, but I knew him. I knew he would take my declining help as evidence that I was treating him with kid gloves.

Hawthornes aren’t supposed to break, his voice whispered in my memory. Especially me.

I didn’t have the luxury right now of trying to convince Grayson Hawthorne that he wasn’t weak or broken or damaged to me. “I appreciate the offer,” I told him, “but I’ll be fine.”

The last thing Grayson needed was to see the girl at the gates.

As Oren drove me out there, my mind raced. What is she doing here? What does she want? I tried to prepare myself, but the moment I saw Toby’s daughter outside the gates, a wall of emotion crashed into me. Her amber hair blew in a gentle breeze. Even from behind, even wearing a threadbare white dress smudged with stains, this girl was luminescent.

She’s not supposed to be here. Toby had been clear: He couldn’t save me from the legacy Tobias Hawthorne had left behind, but he could save Eve. From the press. From the threats. From the poisoned tree, I thought, stepping out

of the SUV.

Eve turned. She moved like a dancer, with equal parts grace and abandon, and the moment her eyes met mine, I stopped breathing.

I’d known that Eve was a dead ringer for Emily Laughlin. I’d known that.

But seeing her was like looking up to see a tsunami bearing down. She had Emily’s strawberry-blond hair, Emily’s emerald eyes. The same heart-shaped face, the same lips and delicate dusting of freckles.

Seeing her would kill Grayson. It might hurt Jameson, but it would kill Grayson.

I have to get her out of here. That thought pounded through my head, but as I reached the gates, my instincts sent up another warning. I scanned the road.

“Let her in,” I told Oren. I didn’t see any paparazzi, but experience had taught me the dangers of telescopic lenses, and the last thing Jameson or Grayson needed was to see this girl’s face plastered all over every gossip site on the internet.

The gates opened. Eve took a step toward me. “You’re Avery.” She took a jagged breath. “I’m—”

“I know who you are.” The words came out harsher than I’d meant them to—and that was the exact moment I saw blood crusted on her temple. “Oh, hell.” I stepped closer. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” Eve’s fingers wound tightly around the strap of her beat-up messenger bag. “Toby isn’t.”

No. My mind rebelled. My mom had loved Toby. He’d watched out for me once she was gone. He has to be okay. A breath trapped in my chest, I let Oren escort the two of us behind the SUV—away from prying eyes and ears.

“What happened to Toby?” I demanded urgently.

Eve pressed her lips together. “He told me that if anything happened to him, I should come to you. And, look, I’m not naive, okay? I know you probably don’t want me

here.” She said those words like a person used to not being wanted. “But I didn’t have anywhere else to go.”

When I’d found out about Eve, I’d offered to bring her to Hawthorne House. Toby had vetoed that idea. He hadn’t wanted anyone to know about her. So why would he send her to me? Every muscle in my jaw and stomach tight, I forced myself to concentrate on the only thing that mattered.

“What happened to Toby?” I said again, my voice low and guttural.

The wind caught Eve’s hair. Her pink lips parted. “They took him.”

Air whooshed out of my lungs, my ears ringing, my sense of gravity distorted. “Who?” I demanded. “Who took him?”

“I don’t know.” Eve’s arms curved protectively around her torso. “Toby found me months ago. He told me who he was. Who was. We were doing fine, just the two of us, but then last week something happened. Toby saw someone.”

“Who?” I asked again, the word torn out of me.

“I don’t know. Toby wouldn’t tell me. He just said that he had to leave.”

Toby does that, I thought, my eyes stinging. He leaves.

“You said someone took him.”

“I’m getting to that,” Eve said tersely. “Toby didn’t want to take me with him, but I didn’t give him a choice. I told him that if he tried to leave me behind, I would go to the press.”

Despite a leaked photograph and some tabloid rumors, no media outlet had yet been able to substantiate claims that Toby was alive. “You blackmailed him into taking you with him?”

“If you were me,” Eve replied, something almost beseeching in her tone, “you would have done the same.” She looked down, impossibly long lashes casting shadows on her face. “Toby and I went off the grid, but someone was tracking us, stalking us like prey. Toby wouldn’t tell me who

we were running from, but on Monday, he said that we had to split up. The plan was for us to meet back up three days later. I waited. I stayed off the grid, just like he’d taught me. Yesterday, I showed up at our meeting place.” She shook her head, her green eyes glistening. “Toby didn’t.”

“Maybe he had second thoughts,” I said, wanting that to be true. “Maybe—”

“No,” Eve insisted desperately. “Toby never lied to me. He never broke a promise. He wouldn’t—” She cut herself off. “Someone took him. You don’t believe me? I can prove it.”

Eve pulled her hair away from her face. The dried blood I’d seen was just the tip of the iceberg. The skin around the cut was mottled, a sickening mix of black and blue.

“Someone hit you.” Until Oren spoke, I’d almost forgotten he was there. “With the butt of a gun, I’m guessing.”

Eve didn’t even look at him. Her bright green eyes stayed locked on mine. “Toby didn’t show up at our meeting place, but someone else did.” She let her hair fall back over the bruise. “They grabbed me from behind and told me that if I knew what was good for me, I would forget all about Toby Hawthorne.”

“They used his real name?” I managed to form the question.

Eve nodded. “That’s the last thing I remember. They knocked me out. I woke up to find they’d stolen everything I had on me. They even went through my pockets.” Her voice shook slightly, and then she steeled herself. “Toby and I had stashed a bag for emergencies: a change of clothes for each of us, a little cash.” I wondered if she realized how tightly she was holding that bag now. “I bought a bus ticket, and I came here. To you.”

You have a daughter, I’d told Toby when we found out about Eve, and he’d replied, I have two. Swallowing back the twisted bramble of emotions inside me, I turned to

Oren. “We should call the authorities.”

“No.” Eve caught my arm. “You can’t report a dead man missing, and Toby didn’t tell me to go to the police. He told me to come to you.”

My throat tightened. “Someone attacked you. We can report that.”

“And who,” Eve bit out, “is going to believe a girl like me?”

I’d grown up poor. I’d been that girl—the one nobody expected much from, the one who was treated as less than because I had less.

“Bringing the authorities in could tie our hands,” Oren told me. “We should prepare for a ransom demand. In the event that we get no such demand…”

I didn’t even want to think about what it meant if the person who’d taken Toby wasn’t after money. “If Eve tells you where she was supposed to meet Toby, can you send a team to do recon?” I asked Oren.

“Consider it done,” he said—then his gaze shifted abruptly to something or someone behind me. I heard a sound from that direction, a strangled, almost inhuman sound, and I knew, even before I turned around, what I would see there. Who I would see there.

“Emily?” Grayson Hawthorne was staring at a ghost.

You'll Also Like