Chapter no 14

The Hawthorne Legacy (The Inheritance Games, 2)

Late into the night, I sat in the massive leather chair behind Tobias Hawthorne’s desk, staring at my birth certificate, at the signature the billionaire had highlighted. The name was my father’s, but the handwriting was the same as the writing on the walls of Toby’s wing.

A distinctive mix of print and cursive.

Toby Hawthorne signed my birth certificate. I couldn’t say those words out loud. All I could do was think about Ricky Grambs. By the age of seven, I’d been done letting him hurt me—but at six, I thought he hung the moon. He would breeze into town, pick me up, swing me around. He’d call me his girl and tell me that he’d gotten me a present. I’d fish through his pockets, and whatever I found there—a pen, loose change, a restaurant mint

—I got to keep.

It took me years to realize that every piece of treasure he ever gave me was trash.

My vision blurred, and I blinked back tears, staring at that signature: Ricky’s name but Toby’s writing.

I have a secret about the day you were born. I could hear my mom, as clearly as if she were in the room with me. I have a secret. It was a game we had played my whole life. She was wonderful at guessing my secrets. I’d never guessed hers.

Now it was right there in front of me. Highlighted. “Toby Hawthorne signed my birth certificate.” It hurt to talk. It hurt to remember every game of chess I’d played with Harry.

Ricky Grambs hadn’t picked up the phone when my mother died. But Toby? He’d shown up within days. And if Toby was adopted, if he wasn’t biologically a Hawthorne, then the DNA test that Zara and her husband had run meant nothing. It no longer ruled out the simplest solution to the question of why Tobias Hawthorne had left his fortune to a stranger.

I wasn’t a stranger.

Why had “Harry” sought me out right after my mother’s death? Why had a Texas billionaire visited the New England diner where my mother worked when I was six years old? Why had Tobias Hawthorne left me his fortune?

Because his son is my father. Everything else—my birthday, my name, the entire puzzle the Hawthorne brothers and I had thought we’d solved—it was exactly what Jameson had called it down in the tunnel: misdirection.

I stood up, unable to stay in one place a moment longer. I hadn’t needed a father in a very long time. I’d learned to expect nothing. I’d stopped letting it hurt. But now all I could think about was that, yes, Harry used to scowl when I outmaneuvered him on the chess board, but his eyes had gleamed. He’d called me princess and horrible girl, and I’d called him old man.

A jagged breath caught in my throat. I walked forward, toward the double doors that separated the office from its balcony. I burst through them, and they ricocheted back.

“Toby Hawthorne signed my birth certificate.” My voice was rough in my throat, but I had to say the words out loud. I had to hear them to believe them. I gulped in air and tried to take what I’d just said to its logical conclusion, but I couldn’t.

I physically couldn’t say the words. I couldn’t even think them.

Down below, I saw movement in the pool. Grayson. His arms cut through the water in a brutal, punishing breaststroke. Even from a distance, I could see the way his muscles pulled against his skin. No matter how long I watched him, his pace never changed.

I wondered if he was swimming to get away from something. To silence the thoughts in his mind. I wondered how it was possible that watching him made breathing easier and harder at the same time.

Finally, he pulled himself out of the pool. As if guided by some kind of sixth sense, his head angled up. Toward me.

I stared at him—through the night, through the space between us. He looked away first.

I was used to people walking away. I was good at not expecting anything from anyone.

But as I retreated back inside the office, I found myself staring at my

birth certificate again.

I couldn’t make this not matter. I couldn’t make Toby—Harry—not matter. Even though he’d lied to me. Even though he’d let me live in my car and buy him breakfast, when he came from one of the richest families in the world.

He’s my father. The words came. Finally. Brutally. I couldn’t unthink them. Every sign pointed to the same conclusion. I forced myself to say it out loud. “Toby Hawthorne is my father.”

Why didn’t he tell me? Where is he now?

I wanted answers. This wasn’t just a mystery that needed solving or another layer to a puzzle. It wasn’t a game—not to me.

Not anymore.

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