Chapter no 12

The Inheritance Games (The Inheritance Games, 1)

Mother-faxing elf,” Max breathed. “Goat-dram, mother-faxing elf.” She lowered her voice to a whisper and let out an actual expletive. It was past midnight for me, and two hours earlier for her. I half expected Mrs. Liu to sweep in and snatch the phone away, but nothing happened.

“How?” Max demanded. “Why?”

I looked down at the letter in my lap. Tobias Hawthorne had left me an explanation, but in the hours since the will was read, I hadn’t been able to bring myself to open the envelope. I was alone, sitting in the dark on the balcony of the penthouse suite of a hotel that I owned, wearing a plush, floor-length robe that probably cost more than my car—and I was frozen.

“Maybe,” Max said thoughtfully, “you were switched at birth.” Max watched a lot of television and had what could probably have been classified as a book addiction. “Maybe your mother saved his life, years ago. Maybe he owes his entire fortune to your great-great-grandfather. Maybe you were selected via an advanced computer algorithm that is poised to develop artificial intelligence any day!

“Maxine.” I snorted. Somehow, that was enough to allow me to say the exact words I’d been trying not to think. “Maybe my father isn’t really my father.”

That was the most rational explanation, wasn’t it? Maybe Tobias Hawthorne hadn’t disinherited his family for a stranger. Maybe I was family.

I have a secret.… I pictured my mom in my mind. How many times had I heard her say those exact words?

“You okay?” Max asked on the other end of the line.

I looked down at the envelope, at my name in calligraphy on the front. I swallowed. “Tobias Hawthorne left me a letter.”

“And you haven’t opened it yet?” Max said. “Avery, for fox sakes—”

“Maxine!” Even over the phone, I could hear Max’s mom in the background.

“Fox, Mama. I said fox. As in ‘for the sake of foxes and their furry little tails…’” There was a brief pause and then: “Avery? I have to go.”

My stomach muscles tightened. “Talk soon?”

“Very soon,” Max promised. “And in the meantime: Open. The. Letter.”

She hung up. I hung up. I put my thumb underneath the lip of the envelope—but a knock at the door saved me from following through.

Back in the suite, I found Oren positioned at the door. “Who is it?” I asked him.

“Grayson Hawthorne,” Oren replied. I stared at the door, and Oren elaborated. “If my men considered him a threat, he never would have made it to our floor. I trust Grayson. But if you don’t want to see him…”

“No,” I said. What am I doing? It was late, and I doubted American royalty took kindly to being dethroned. But there was something about the way Grayson had looked at me, from the first time we’d met.…

“Open the door,” I told Oren. He did, and then he stepped back.

“Aren’t you going to invite me in?” Grayson wasn’t the heir anymore, but you wouldn’t have known it from his tone.

“You shouldn’t be here,” I told him, pulling my robe tighter around me. “I’ve spent the past hour telling myself much the same thing, and yet,

here I am.” His eyes were pools of gray, his hair unkempt, like I wasn’t the only one who hadn’t been able to sleep. He’d lost everything today.

“Grayson—” I said.

“I don’t know how you did this.” He cut me off, his voice dangerous and soft. “I don’t know what hold you had over my grandfather, or what kind of con you’re running here.”

“I’m not—”

“I’m talking right now, Ms. Grambs.” He placed his hand flat on the door. I’d been wrong about his eyes. They weren’t pools. They were ice. “I haven’t a clue how you pulled this off, but I will find out. I see you now. I know what you are and what you’re capable of, and there is nothing I wouldn’t do to protect my family. Whatever game you’re playing here, no matter how long this con—I will find the truth, and God help you when I do.”

Oren stepped into my peripheral vision, but I didn’t wait for him to act. I

pushed the door forward, hard enough to send Grayson back, then slammed it closed. Heart pounding, I waited for him to knock again, to shout through the door. Nothing. Slowly, my head bowed, my eyes drawn like magnet to metal by the envelope in my hands.

With one last glance at Oren, I retreated to my bedroom. Open. The. Letter. This time, I did it, removing a card from the envelope. The body of the message was only two words long. I stared at the page, reading the salutation, the message, and the signature, over and over again.

Dearest Avery, I’m sorry.

—T. T. H.

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