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Chapter no 6

The Hawthorne Legacy (The Inheritance Games, 2)

Trying to talk to Xander had been a bust. I’d gotten as far as I could reading about the fire. What next? I thought, walking down a long corridor toward my locker. Talk to someone who knew Toby? Skye was out, for obvious reasons. I didn’t trust Zara, either. Who did that leave? Nash, maybe? He would have been about five when Toby disappeared. Nan. Maybe the Laughlins. Rebecca’s grandparents ran the Hawthorne estate and had for years. Who is Jameson talking to? What’s his lead?

Frustrated, I pulled out my phone and shot off a text to Max. I didn’t really expect a reply, because my best friend had been on technological lockdown ever since my windfall—and the accompanying attention from the press—had ruined her life. But even with the guilt I was carrying about what my instant fame had done to Max, texting her made me feel a little less alone. I tried to imagine what she would tell me if she were here, but all I came up with was a string of fake curse words—and strict orders not to get myself killed.

“Did you see the news?” I heard a girl down the hallway ask in a hushed voice as I stopped in front of my locker. “About her father?”

Gritting my teeth, I tuned out the sounds of the gossip mill. I opened my locker—and a picture of Ricky Grambs stared back at me. It must have been cut out of an article, because there was a headline above the photograph: I Just Want to Talk to My Daughter.

Rage simmered in the pit of my stomach—rage that my deadbeat of a father would have dared to talk to the press, rage that someone had taped this article to the back of my locker door. I looked around to see if the perpetrator would make themselves known. Heights Country Day lockers were made of wood and didn’t have locks. It was a subtle way of saying, People like us don’t steal. What need was there for security among the elite?

As Max would say, Bullship. Anyone could have accessed my locker, but no one in the hallway was watching my reaction now. I turned back to tear the picture down, and that was when I noticed that whoever had taped it up had also papered the bottom of my locker with scraps of bloodred paper.

Not scraps, I realized, picking one up. Comments. For the past three weeks, I’d done a good job at staying offline, avoiding what internet commenters were saying about me. To some people, you’ll be Cinderella, Oren had told me when I first inherited. To others, Marie Antoinette.

In all caps, the comment in my hand read, SOMEONE NEEDS TO TEACH THAT STUCK-UP BITCH A LESSON. I should have stopped there, but I didn’t. My hand shook slightly as I picked up the next comment. When will this SLUT die? There were dozens more, some of them graphic.

One commenter had just posted a photo: my face, with a target photoshopped over it, like I’d been caught in the sight of a gun.

 

 

“This was almost certainly just a bored teenager pushing boundaries,” Oren told me as we arrived back at Hawthorne House that afternoon.

“But the comments…” I swallowed, some of the threats still emblazoned on my brain. “They’re real?”

“And nothing you need to worry about,” Oren assured me. “My team keeps tabs on these things. All threats are documented and assessed. Of the hundred or so worst offenders, there are only two or three to date that merit watching.”

I tried not to get hung up on the numbers. “What do you mean,

watching?”

“Unless I’m mistaken,” a cool, even voice said, “he’s referring to the List.”

I looked up to see Grayson standing a few feet away, wearing a dark suit, his expression impossible to read but for a line of tension in his jaw.

“What list?” I said, trying not to pay too much attention to his jawline. “Do you want to show her?” Grayson asked Oren calmly. “Or should I?”

 

 

I’d heard that Hawthorne House was more secure than the White House. I’d seen Oren’s men. I knew that no one got onto the estate without a deep background check and that there was an extensive monitoring system. But there was a difference between knowing that objectively and seeing it. The surveillance room was lined with monitors. Most of the security footage was focused on the perimeter and the gates, but there were a handful of monitors that flashed through the corridors of Hawthorne House, one by one.

“Eli.” Oren spoke, and one of the guards who was monitoring the feeds stood. He looked to be in his twenties, with a military-style haircut, several scars, and vibrant blue eyes ringed with amber around the pupil. “Avery,” Oren said, “meet Eli. He’ll be shadowing you at school, at least until I’ve completed a full assessment of the locker situation. He’s the youngest member of our team, so he’ll blend better than the rest of us would.”

Eli looked military. He looked like a bodyguard. He did not look like he would blend at my high school. “I thought you weren’t concerned about my locker,” I told Oren.

My head of security met my eyes. “I’m not.” But he also wasn’t taking any chances.

“What, precisely,” Grayson said, coming up behind me, “happened at your locker?”

I had a brief and infuriating urge to tell him, to let him protect me, the way he’d sworn he would. But not everything was Grayson Hawthorne’s business. “Where’s this list?” I asked, stepping away from him and redirecting the conversation to the reason I was here.

Oren nodded to Eli, and the younger man handed me an actual, literal list. Names. The one at the top was RICKY GRAMBS. I scowled but managed to scan the rest of the list. There were maybe thirty names, total. “Who are these people?” I asked, my throat tightening around the words.

“Would-be stalkers,” Oren answered. “People who’ve attempted to break onto the estate. Overly zealous fans.” He narrowed his eyes. “Skye Hawthorne.”

I took that to mean that my head of security knew why Skye had left Hawthorne House. I’d promised Grayson secrecy, but this was Hawthorne House. Most of the occupants were far too clever for their own good—or anyone else’s.

“Could you give me a moment with Avery?” Grayson did Oren the courtesy of pretending that was a request. Unimpressed, Oren glanced toward me and arched a questioning brow. I was tempted to keep Oren there out of spite, but instead, I nodded at my head of security, and he and his men slowly filed out of the room. I half expected Grayson to cross-examine me about what I’d told Oren about Skye, but once the two of us were alone, that cross-examination never came.

“Are you okay?” Grayson asked instead. “I can see how this would be a lot to take in.”

“I’m fine,” I insisted, but this time I couldn’t muster the will to tell him that I didn’t need his protection. I’d known, objectively, that I would need security for the rest of my life, but seeing the threats laid out on paper felt different.

“My grandfather had a List as well,” Grayson said quietly. “It comes with the territory.”

With being famous? With being rich?

“Regarding the situation we discussed last night,” Grayson continued, his voice low, “do you understand now why you need to leave it alone?” He didn’t say Toby’s name. “Most of these people on the List would lose interest in you if you lost the fortune. Most of them.”

But not all. I stared at Grayson for a moment, my eyes lingering on his face. If I were to lose the fortune, I’d lose my security team. That was what he wanted me to understand.

“I understand,” I replied, ripping my eyes from Grayson’s, because I also understood this: I was a survivor. I took care of myself. And I wouldn’t let myself want or expect anything from him.

Turning away, I stared at the security monitors. A flash of movement on one of the feeds caught my eye. Jameson. I tried not to be too obvious as I watched him striding with purpose through a corridor I couldn’t place. What are you up to, Jameson Hawthorne?

Beside me, Grayson’s attention was on me, not the monitors. “Avery?” He sounded almost hesitant. I hadn’t been sure that Grayson Davenport Hawthorne, former heir apparent, was capable of hesitating.

“I’m fine,” I said again, keeping half an eye on the screen. A moment later, the feed flashed to another corridor, and I saw Xander, walking with just as much purpose as Jameson. He was carrying something in his hands.

A sledgehammer? Why would he have a—

The question cut off in my mind because I recognized Xander’s surroundings, and suddenly I knew exactly where he was going. And I would have bet my last dollar that Jameson was on his way there, too.

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