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Chapter no 15

The Inheritance Games (The Inheritance Games, 1)

Welcome home, Avery.” Alisa stepped into the foyer and spun to face me. I stopped breathing, just for an instant, as I crossed the threshold. It was like stepping into Buckingham Palace or Hogwarts and being told that it was yours.

“Down that corridor,” Alisa said, “we have the theater, the music room, conservatory, solarium.…” I didn’t even know what half of those rooms were. “You’ve seen the Great Room, of course,” Alisa continued. “The formal dining is farther down, then the kitchen, the chef’s kitchen.…”

“There’s a chef?” I blurted out.

“There are sushi, Italian, Taiwanese, vegetarian, and pastry chefs on retainer.” The voice that said those words was male. I turned to see the older couple from the will’s reading standing by the entry to the Great Room. The Laughlins, I remembered. “But my wife handles the cooking day-to-day,” Mr. Laughlin continued gruffly.

“Mr. Hawthorne was a very private man.” Mrs. Laughlin eyed me. “He made do with my cooking most days because he didn’t like having any more outsiders poking around in the House than necessary.”

There was no doubt in my mind that she was saying House with a capital H—and even less that she considered me an outsider.

“There are dozens of staff on retainer,” Alisa explained. “They all receive a full-time wage but work on call.”

“If something needs doing, there’s someone to do it,” Mr. Laughlin said plainly, “and I see that it’s done in the most discreet fashion possible. More often than not, you won’t even know they’re here.”

“But I will,” Oren stated. “Movement on and off the estate is strictly tracked, and no one makes it past the gates without a deep background check. Construction crews, the housekeeping and gardening staff, every masseuse, chef, stylist, or sommelier—they are all cleared through my

team.”

Sommelier. Stylist. Chef. Masseuse. My brain worked backward through that list. It was dizzying.

“The gym facilities are down this hall,” Alisa said, returning to her tour guide role. “There are full-sized basketball and racquetball courts, a rock climbing wall, bowling alley—”

A bowling alley?” I repeated.

“Only four lanes,” Alisa assured me, as if it was perfectly reasonable to have a small bowling alley in one’s house.

I was still trying to formulate an appropriate response when the front door opened behind me. The day before, Nash Hawthorne had given the impression of someone who was out of here—yet there he was.

Motorcycle cowboy,” Libby whispered in my ear.

Beside me, Alisa stiffened. “If everything’s in order here, I should check in with the firm.” She reached into her suit pocket and handed me a new phone. “I programmed in my number, Mr. Laughlin’s, and Oren’s. If you need anything, call.”

She left without saying a single word to Nash, and he watched her go. “You be careful with that one,” Mrs. Laughlin advised the eldest

Hawthorne brother, once the door had closed. “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

That cemented something for me. Alisa and Nash. My lawyer had advised me against losing my heart to a Hawthorne, and when she’d asked me if I’d ever had my life ruined by one of them, and I’d said no, her response had been lucky you.

“Don’t go convincing yourself Lee-Lee is consortin’ with the enemy,” Nash told Mrs. Laughlin. “Avery isn’t anyone’s enemy. There are no enemies here. This is what he wanted.”

He. Tobias Hawthorne. Even dead, he was larger than life.

“None of this is Avery’s fault,” Libby said beside me. “She’s just a kid.” Nash swung his attention to my sister, and I could feel her trying to fade into oblivion. Nash peered through her hair to the black eye underneath.

“What happened here?” he murmured.

“I’m fine,” Libby said, sticking her chin out.

“I can see that,” Nash replied softly. “But if you decide you’d like to give me a name? I’d take it.”

I could see the effect those words had on Libby. She wasn’t used to having anyone but me in her corner.

“Libby.” Oren got her attention. “If you’ve got a moment, I’d like to introduce you to Hector, who will be running point on your detail. Avery, I can personally guarantee that Nash will not ax-murder you or allow you to be ax-murdered by anyone else while I’m gone.”

That got a snort from Nash, and I glared at Oren. He didn’t have to advertise how little I trusted them! As Libby followed Oren into the bowels of the house, I became keenly aware of the way that the oldest Hawthorne brother watched her go.

“Leave her alone,” I told Nash.

“You’re protective,” Nash commented, “and you seem like you’d fight dirty, and if there’s one thing I respect, it’s those particular traits in combination.”

There was a crash, then a thud in the distance.

“That,” Nash said meditatively, “would be the reason I came back and am not living a pleasantly nomadic existence as we speak.”

Another thud.

Nash rolled his eyes. “This should be fun.” He began striding toward a nearby hall. He looked back over his shoulder. “You might as well tag along, kid. You know what they say about baptisms and fire.”

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