Chapter no 2

The Hawthorne Legacy (The Inheritance Games, 2)

Our wager struck, Jameson took off in one direction in the tunnels, and I went in another. Hawthorne House was massive, sprawling, big enough that, even after three weeks, I still hadn’t seen it all. A person could spend years exploring this place and still not know all the ins and outs, all the secret passageways and hidden compartments—and that wasn’t even counting the underground tunnels.

Lucky for me, I was a quick learner. I cut from underneath the gymnasium wing to a tunnel that went below the music room. I passed beneath the solarium, then climbed a hidden staircase into the Great Room, where I found Nash Hawthorne leaning casually against a stone fireplace. Waiting.

“Hey, kid.” Nash didn’t bat an eye at the fact that I’d just appeared seemingly out of nowhere. In fact, the oldest Hawthorne brother gave the impression that the whole mansion could come crashing down around him and he’d just keep leaning against that fireplace. Nash Hawthorne would probably tip his cowboy hat to Death herself.

“Hey,” I replied.

“I don’t suppose you’ve seen Grayson?” Nash asked, his Texas drawl making the question sound almost lazy.

That did nothing to soften the impact of what he’d just said. “Nope.” I kept my answer short and my face blank. Grayson Hawthorne and I had been keeping our distance.

“And I don’t suppose you know anything about a chat Gray had with our mother, right before she moved out?”

Skye Hawthorne, Tobias Hawthorne’s younger daughter and the mother of all four Hawthorne grandsons, had tried to have me killed. The person who’d actually pulled the trigger was the one in a jail cell, but Skye had been forced to leave Hawthorne House. By Grayson. I will always protect

you, he’d told me. But this… us… It can’t happen, Avery.

“No clue,” I said flatly.

“Didn’t think so.” Nash gave me a little wink. “Your sister and your lawyer are looking for you. East Wing.” That was a loaded statement if I’d ever heard one. My lawyer was his ex-fiancée, and my sister was…

I didn’t know what Libby and Nash Hawthorne were.

“Thanks,” I told him, but when I made my way up the winding staircase to the East Wing of Hawthorne House, I didn’t go looking for Libby. Or Alisa. I’d made a bet with Jameson, and I intended to win. First stop: Tobias Hawthorne’s office.

In the office, there was a mahogany desk, and behind the desk was a wall of trophies and patents and books with the name Hawthorne on the spine—a breathtaking visual reminder that there was nothing ordinary whatsoever about the Hawthorne brothers. They had been given every opportunity, and the old man had expected them to be extraordinary. But I hadn’t come here to gawk at trophies.

Instead, I took a seat behind the desk and released the hidden compartment I’d discovered not long ago. It held a folder. Inside the folder, there were pictures of me. Countless photographs, stretching back years. After that fateful meeting in the diner, Tobias Hawthorne had kept tabs on me. All because of my name? Or did he have another motive?

I thumbed through the photos and pulled out two. Jameson had been right, back in the tunnels. I was holding out on him. I’d been photographed with Toby twice, but both times, all the photographer had captured of the man beside me was the back of his head.

Had Tobias Hawthorne recognized Toby from behind? Had “Harry” realized we were being photographed and turned his head away from the camera on purpose?

As far as clues went, this wasn’t much to go on. All the file really proved was that Tobias Hawthorne had been keeping tabs on me for years before “Harry” had shown up. I thumbed past the photographs to a copy of my birth certificate. My mother’s signature was neat, my father’s an odd mix of cursive and print. Tobias Hawthorne had highlighted my father’s signature, as well as my date of birth.

10/18. I knew the significance there. Both Grayson and Jameson had loved a girl named Emily Laughlin. Her death—on October 18—had torn

them apart. Somehow, the old man had intended for me to bring them back together. But why would Tobias Hawthorne have highlighted my father’s signature? Ricky Grambs was a deadbeat. He hadn’t even cared enough to pick up the phone when my mother died. If it had been left up to him, I would have gone into foster care. Staring at Ricky’s signature, I willed Tobias Hawthorne’s reasoning in highlighting it to become clear.


In the back of my mind, I heard my mother’s voice. I have a secret, she’d told me, long before Tobias Hawthorne had written me into his will, about the day you were born.

Whatever she’d been referring to, I was never going to guess it now that she was gone. The one thing I knew for certain was that I wasn’t a Hawthorne. If my father’s name on that birth certificate weren’t proof enough, a DNA test had already confirmed that I had no Hawthorne blood.

Why did Toby seek me out? Did he seek me out? I thought about what Jameson had said about his grandfather killing twelve birds with one stone. Going back through the folder again, I tried to find some shred of meaning. What wasn’t I seeing? There had to be something

A rap at the door was the only warning I got before the doorknob began to twist. Moving quickly, I gathered the photographs and slipped the file back into the hidden compartment.

“There you are.” Alisa Ortega, attorney-at-law, was a model of professionalism. She arched her brows into what I had mentally termed the Alisa Look. “Would I be correct in assuming you’ve forgotten about the game?”

“The game,” I repeated, unsure which game she was talking about. I felt like I’d been playing since the moment I’d first stepped through the door of Hawthorne House.

“The football game,” Alisa clarified, with another Alisa Look. “Part two of your debut into Texas society. With Skye’s exit from Hawthorne House, appearances are more important than ever. We need to control the narrative. This is a Cinderella story, not a scandal—and that means that you need to play Cinderella. In public. As frequently and convincingly as possible, starting with making use of your owner’s box tonight.”

Owner’s box. That clicked. “The game,” I repeated again, comprehension dawning. “As in, an NFL game. Because I own a football


That was still so absolutely mind-blowing that I almost succeeded in distracting myself from the other part of what Alisa had said—the bit about Skye. Per the deal I’d struck with Grayson, I couldn’t tell anyone about his mother’s part in my attempted murder. In exchange, he’d handled it.

Just like he’d promised he would.

“There are forty-eight seats in the owner’s suite,” Alisa said, going into lecture mode. “A general seat map is created months in advance. VIPs only. This isn’t just football; it’s a way of buying a seat at a dozen different tables. Invites are highly sought after by just about everyone—politicians, celebrities, CEOs. I’ve had Oren vet everyone on the list for tonight, and we’ll have a professional photographer on hand for some strategic photo opportunities. Landon has crafted a press release that will go out an hour before the game. All that’s left to worry about is…”

Alisa trailed off delicately. I snorted. “Me?”

“This is a Cinderella story,” Alisa reminded me. “What do you think Cinderella would wear to her first NFL game?”

That had to be a trick question.

“Something like this?” Libby popped into the doorway. She was wearing a Lone Stars jersey with a matching scarf, matching gloves, and matching boots. Her blue hair was tied into pigtails with a thick bunch of blue and gold ribbons.

Alisa forced a smile. “Yes,” she told me. “Something like that—minus the black lipstick, the black nail polish, and the choker.” Libby was pretty much the world’s most cheerful goth, and Alisa was not a fan of my sister’s sense of fashion. “As I was saying,” Alisa continued emphatically, “tonight is important. While Avery plays Cinderella for the cameras, I’ll circulate among our guests and get a better sense of where they stand.”

“Where they stand on what?” I asked. I’d been told again and again that Tobias Hawthorne’s will was ironclad. As far as I knew, the Hawthorne family had given up on trying to challenge it.

“It never hurts to have a few extra power players in your corner,” Alisa said. “And we want our allies breathing easy.”

“Hope I’m not interrupting.” Nash acted like he’d just happened upon the three of us—like he wasn’t the one who’d warned me that Alisa and

Libby were looking for me. “Go on, Lee-Lee,” he told my lawyer. “You were sayin’ something about breathing easy?”

“We need people to know that Avery isn’t here to shake things up.” Alisa avoided looking directly at Nash, like a person avoiding looking into the sun. “Your grandfather had investments, business partners, political relationships—these things require a careful balance.”

“What she means when she says that,” Nash told me, “is that she needs people to think that McNamara, Ortega, and Jones has the situation entirely under control.”

The situation? I thought. Or me? I didn’t relish the idea of being anyone’s puppet. In theory, at least, the firm was supposed to work for me.

That gave me an idea. “Alisa? Do you remember when I asked you to get money to a friend of mine?”

“Harry, wasn’t it?” Alisa replied, but I got the distinct feeling that her attention was divided three ways: between my question, her grand plans for the night, and the way Nash’s lips ticked upward on the ends when he saw Libby’s outfit.

The last thing I needed my lawyer focused on was the way that her ex was looking at my sister. “Yes. Were you able to get the money to him?” I asked. The simplest way to get answers would be to track down Toby— before Jameson did.

Alisa tore her eyes away from Libby and Nash. “Unfortunately,” she said briskly, “my people have been unable to find a trace of your Harry.”

I rolled the implication of that over in my mind. Toby Hawthorne had appeared in the park days after my mother’s death, and less than a month after I left, he was gone.

“Now,” Alisa said, clasping her hands in front of her body, “about your wardrobe…”

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