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Chapter no 14

The Inheritance Games (The Inheritance Games, 1)

thought you said your firm had this locked down.” Oren gave Alisa a look. She scowled back at him, made three phone calls in quick succession

—two of them in Spanish—and then turned back to my head of security. “The leak didn’t come from us.” Her eyes darted toward Libby. “It came from your boyfriend.”

Libby’s answer was barely more than a whisper. “My ex.”

 

 

“I’m sorry.” Libby had apologized at least a dozen times. She’d told Drake everything—about the will, the conditions on my inheritance, where we were staying. Everything. I knew her well enough to know why. He would have been angry that she’d taken off. She would have tried to pacify him. And the moment she’d told him about the money, he would have demanded to tag along. He would have started making plans to spend the Hawthorne money. And Libby, God bless her, would have told him that it wasn’t theirs to spend, that it wasn’t his.

He hit her. She left him. He went to the press. And now they were here.

A horde descended on us as Oren led me out a side door. “There she is!” a voice yelled.

“Avery!”

“Avery, over here!”

“Avery, how does it feel to be the richest teenager in America?” “How does it feel to be the world’s youngest billionaire?” “How did you know Tobias Hawthorne?”

“Is it true that you’re Tobias Hawthorne’s illegitimate daughter?”

I was shuffled into an SUV. The door closed, dulling the roar of the reporters’ questions. Exactly halfway through our drive, I got a text—not

from Max. From an unknown number.

I opened it and saw a screenshot of a news headline. Avery Grambs: Who Is the Hawthorne Heiress?

A short message accompanied the picture.

Hey, Mystery Girl. You’re officially famous.

 

 

There were more paparazzi outside the gates of Hawthorne House, but once we pulled past them, the rest of the world faded away. There was no welcome party. No Jameson. No Grayson. No Hawthornes of any kind. I reached for the massive front door—locked. Alisa disappeared around the back of the house. When she finally reappeared, there was a pained expression on her face. She handed me a large envelope.

“Legally,” she said, “the Hawthorne family is required to provide you with keys. Practically speaking…” She narrowed her eyes. “The Hawthorne family is a pain in the ass.”

“That a legal term?” Oren asked dryly.

I ripped open the envelope and found that the Hawthorne family had indeed provided me with keys—somewhere in the neighborhood of a hundred of them.

“Any idea which one of these goes to the front door?” I asked. They weren’t normal keys. They were oversized and ornately made. They all looked like antiques, and each key was distinct—different designs, different metals, different lengths and sizes.

“You’ll figure it out,” someone said.

My gaze jerked upward, and I found myself staring at an intercom.

“Cut the games, Jameson,” Alisa ordered. “This isn’t nearly as cute as you all think it is.”

No reply.

“Jameson?” Alisa tried again.

Silence, and then: “I have faith in you, M.G.”

The intercom cut off, and Alisa blew out a long, frustrated breath. “God save me from Hawthornes.”

“M.G.?” Libby asked, bewildered.

“Mystery Girl,” I clarified. “From what I’ve gathered, that’s Jameson

Hawthorne’s idea of a nickname.” I turned my attention to the ring of keys in my hand. The obvious solution was to try them all. Assuming one of these keys opened the front door, I’d get lucky eventually. But luck didn’t feel like enough. I was already the luckiest girl in the world.

Some part of me wanted to deserve it.

I flipped through the keys, inspecting the designs on the handles. An apple. A snake. A pattern of swirls reminiscent of water. There were keys for each letter of the alphabet, in fancy, old-fashioned script. There were keys with numbers and keys with shapes, one with a mermaid and four different keys featuring eyes.

“Well?” Alisa said abruptly. “Do you want me to make a phone call?” “No.” I turned my attention from the keys to the door. The design was

simple, geometric—not a match for anything on any of the keys I’d looked at so far. That would be too easy, I thought. Too simple. A second later, a parallel thought followed. Not simple enough.

I’d learned this much playing chess: The more complicated a person’s strategy seemed, the less likely an opponent was to look for simple answers. If you could keep someone looking at your knight, you could take them with a pawn. Look past the details. Past the complications. I shifted my focus from the handles of the keys to the part that actually went into the lock. Though the keys differed in size overall, the lock end was sized similarly from key to key.

Not just sized similarly, I realized, looking at two of the keys side by side. The pattern—the mechanism that actually turned the lock—was identical between the two. I moved on to a third key. The same. I began working my way through the ring, comparing each key to the next, one by one. Same. Same. Same.

There weren’t a hundred keys on this ring. The faster I flipped through them, the surer I was. There were two—dozens of copies of the wrong key, dressed up to look different from each other, and then…

“This one.” I finally hit a key with a different pattern from the others. The intercom crackled, but if Jameson was still on the other side, he didn’t say a word. I moved to put the key in the lock, and adrenaline jolted through my veins when it turned.

Eureka.

“How did you know which key to use?” Libby asked me.

The answer came from the intercom. “Sometimes,” Jameson Hawthorne said, sounding strangely contemplative, “things that appear very different on the surface are actually exactly the same at their core.”

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