Chapter no 85

The Hawthorne Legacy (The Inheritance Games, 2)

You’re going to keep her a secret?” I demanded, once we were out of Mellie’s earshot. “Eve?”

Toby took my elbow and guided me to the exit. “There’s a car outside,” he told me. “Key’s in the ignition. Take it and drive north.”

I stared at him. “That’s it?” I said. “That’s all you have to say to me?” Eve’s face—Emily’s—was still fresh in my mind.

Toby reached out and brushed the hair off of my forehead. “In my heart,” he said quietly, “you were always mine.”

I swallowed. “But biologically, I’m not.” “Biology isn’t everything.”

I knew in that moment that I’d gotten this much right: Toby had sought me out after my mother died. He had been watching me. He had wanted to make sure that I was okay.

“My mom and I had this game,” I told him, trying my best not to cry. “We had lots of games, actually—but this one, her favorite, it was about secrets.”

He stared off into the distance for a moment. “I made her promise never to tell you—about me, about my family. But if it was just a game, if you guessed…” He looked back at me, and his own eyes were shining. “Damn it, Hannah.”

“How the hell was I supposed to guess?” The words burst out of my mouth. I was furious suddenly—at her, at him. “She said that she had a secret about the day I was born.”

Toby said nothing.

“You signed my birth certificate.” I wanted answers. He owed me that at least.

He reached out to lay a hand against my cheek. “There was a storm that night,” he said quietly. “Worst one I’d ever seen—Hawthorne Island

included. I shouldn’t have been there in the first place. I’d managed to stay away from Hannah for three long years. But something brought me back. I just wanted to see her again, even if I couldn’t let her see me.

“She was pregnant. Forecasts were calling for a hurricane. And she was alone. I was going to stay away. She was never supposed to know that I was there, but then the power went out—and she went into labor.”

With me. I couldn’t say that out loud, couldn’t say anything, couldn’t even tell him that my mother had been capable of making decisions for herself.

“The ambulance didn’t make it in time,” Toby said, his voice growing hoarse. “She needed someone.”

“You.” I managed one word this time—just one.

“I brought you into this world, Avery Kylie Grambs.”

There it was. My mother’s secret. Toby was there the night I was born. He’d delivered me. I wondered what my mom had felt, seeing him again after years. I wondered if he’d called her Hannah, O Hannah, and if she’d tried to make him stay.

“Avery Kylie Grambs.” I repeated the last words Toby had said to me. There was something about the way he’d said my full name. “It’s an anagram.” I swallowed again, and for some reason, whatever force had been holding back my tears gave way. “But you knew that.”

Toby didn’t deny it. “Your mom had a middle name all picked out. Kylie

—like Kaylie but minus a letter.”

That hit me hard. I’d never known that I was named after my mother’s sister. I’d never known about Kaylie at all.

“Hannah was set on giving you Ricky’s last name,” Toby continued. “But she didn’t like the first name he’d picked out.”

Natasha. “Ricky wasn’t there.” I blinked back tears and stared at Toby. “You were.”

Something Kylie Grambs.” Toby smiled and gave a little shrug. “I couldn’t resist.”

He was a Hawthorne. He loved puzzles and riddles and codes. “You chose my name.” I didn’t phrase it as a question. “You suggested Avery.”

“A Very Risky Gamble.” Toby looked down. “What I took that night. What Hannah took when she nursed me back to life, knowing what her family would do to her if they found out.”

A Very Risky Gamble—the reason Tobias Hawthorne had left me his fortune. Had he recognized his son’s fingerprints all over that name? Had he suspected, from the moment he heard it, that I was a link to Toby?

“When the ambulance got there, I disappeared,” Toby continued. “I snuck into the hospital one last time to see you both.”

“You signed the birth certificate,” I said.

“With your father’s name, not mine. It was the least he owed her.” “And then you left.” I stared at him, trying not to hate him for that. “I had to.”

Something like fury rose up inside me. “No, you didn’t.” My mom had loved him. She’d spent her entire life loving him, and I’d never even known.

“You have to understand. My father’s resources were unlimited. He never stopped looking for me. I had to stay on the move if I wanted to stay dead.”

I thought about Tobias Hawthorne, eating at a hole-in-the-wall diner in New Castle, Connecticut. Had it taken him six years to track Toby there?

Had he thought his son would come back? Had he realized who my mother was?

Had he thought, even for a moment, that I was Toby’s?

“What are you going to do now?” I asked, my voice like sandpaper in my throat. “The world knows you’re alive. Your father is dead. As far as we know, Sheffield Grayson was the only person who realized the old man had buried the police report about Hawthorne Island. He’s the only one who knew—”

“I know what you’re thinking, Avery.” Toby’s eyes hardened. “But I can’t come back. I promised myself a long time ago that I would never forget what I did, that I would never move on. Hannah wouldn’t let me turn myself in, but exile is what I deserved.”

“What about what other people deserve?” I asked vehemently. “Did my mother deserve to die without you there? Did she deserve to spend my entire life in love with a ghost?”

“Hannah deserved the world.”

“So why didn’t you give it to her?” I asked. “Why was punishing yourself more important than what she wanted?”

Why was it more important than what I wanted now?

“I don’t expect you to understand,” Toby told me gently—more gently than he’d ever spoken to me as Harry.

“I do understand,” I said. “You’re not staying gone because you have to. You’re making a choice, and it’s selfish.” I thought about Mr. and Mrs. Laughlin, about Rebecca’s mother. “What gives you the right to deceive the people who love you? To make that kind of decision for everyone else?”

He didn’t answer.

“You have a daughter now,” I told him, my voice low.

He looked at me, his expression never wavering. “I have two.”

In the span of a heartbeat, fury gave way to devastation. Tobias Hawthorne the Second wasn’t my father. He hadn’t raised me. I didn’t carry a single drop of his blood.

But he’d just called me his daughter.

“I want you to go outside, princess. Get in the car and drive north.”

“I can’t do that,” I said. “Sheffield Grayson is dead! There’s a body. The police are going to want to know what happened. And as screwed up as what Mellie did is, she doesn’t deserve to go down for murder. If we tell the police what really happened—”

“I know men like Sheffield Grayson.” Toby’s expression shifted, until it was utterly impossible to read. “He’s covered his tracks. No one knows where he is or who he was after. There will be nothing to tie him to this warehouse—nothing to even suggest he was in the state.”

“So?” I said.

Toby looked past me, just for a moment. “I know more than I wish I did about what it takes to make something—or someone—disappear.”

“What about his family?” I asked. Grayson’s family. “I can’t let you—” “You’re not letting me do anything.” Toby reached out to touch my face.

“Horrible girl,” he whispered. “Don’t you know by now? No one lets a Hawthorne do anything.”

That was the truth.

“This is wrong,” I said again. He couldn’t just make that body disappear. “I have to, Avery.” Toby was implacable. “For Eve. The spotlight, the

media circus, the rumors, the stalkers, the threats—I can’t save you from that, Avery Kylie Grambs. I would if I could, but it’s too late. The old man did what he did. He pulled you onto the board. But if I stay in shadows, if I make this disappear, if disappear—then we can save Eve.”

It had never been clearer: To Toby, the Hawthorne name, the money—it was a curse. The tree is poison, don’t you see? It poisoned S and Z and me.

“It’s not all bad,” I said. “Kidnapping and murder attempts aside, I’m doing fine.”

That was a ridiculous statement, but Toby didn’t even laugh. “And you will stay fine, as long as I stay dead.” He sounded so certain of that. “Go. Get in the car. Drive. If anyone asks you what happened, claim amnesia. I’ll take care of the rest.”

This was really it. He was really going to walk away from me. He was going to disappear again. “I know about the adoption,” I said, desperate to keep him here—to make him stay. “I know your biological mother was the Laughlins’ daughter and that she was coerced into the adoption. I know that you blame your parents for keeping secrets, for ruining the three of you. But your sisters—they need you.”

Skye was sitting in a jail cell, but she wasn’t guilty—this time, at least. Zara was more human than she wanted to admit. And Rebecca? Her mother was still mourning Toby.

“I read the postcards you wrote to my mom,” I continued. “I talked to Jackson Currie. I know everything—and I’m telling you: You don’t have to stay away anymore.”

“You sound just like her.” Toby’s expression softened. “I never could win an argument with Hannah.” He closed his eyes. “Some people are smart. Some people are good.” He opened his eyes and put a hand on each of my shoulders. “And some people are both.”

I knew, with a strange kind of prescience, that this moment would never leave me. “You’re not staying, are you?” I asked. “No matter what I say.”

“I can’t.” Toby pulled me in. I’d never been much of a hugger, but for a moment, I let myself be held.

When Toby finally let me go, I reached into my pocket and pulled out the small metal disk, the one he’d told my mother was valuable. “What is this?”

It was the last question I had for him. The last chance I had of making him stay.

Toby moved like lightning. One second, I held the disk in my hand, and the next, he had it. “Something I’ll be taking with me,” he said.

“What aren’t you telling me?” I asked.

He shook his head. “Horrible girl,” he whispered, his voice tender.

I thought of my mother, of every word she’d written to him about me, of the way he’d come for me tonight.

You have a daughter, I’d told him.

I have two.

“Am I ever going to see you again?” I asked, my throat closing in on the words.

He leaned forward, pressed a kiss to my forehead, and stepped back. “It would be a very risky gamble.”

I opened my mouth to reply, but the door to the warehouse flew inward.

Men poured inside. Oren’s men.

My head of security stepped between me and Toby Hawthorne and then leveled a deadly look at Tobias Hawthorne’s only son. “I think it’s time we had a little talk.”

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