Chapter no 16

The Inheritance Games (The Inheritance Games, 1)

Nash had long legs, so a lazy amble on his part required me to jog to keep up. I looked in each room as we passed, but they were all a blur of art and architecture and natural light. At the end of a long hall, Nash threw open a door. I prepared myself to see evidence of a brawl. Instead, I saw Grayson and Jameson standing on opposite sides of a library that took my breath away.

The room was circular. Shelves stretched up fifteen or twenty feet overhead, and every single one was lined completely with hardcover books. The shelves were made of a deep, rich wood. Spread across the room, four wrought-iron staircases spiraled toward the upper shelves, like the points on a compass. In the library’s center, there was a massive tree stump, easily ten feet across. Even from a distance, I could see the rings marking the tree’s age.

It took me a moment to realize that it was meant to be used as a desk.

I could stay here forever, I thought. I could stay in this room forever and never leave.

“So,” Nash said beside me, casually eyeing his brothers. “Whose ass do I need to kick first?”

Grayson looked up from the book he was holding. “Must we always resort to fisticuffs?”

“Looks like I have a volunteer for the first ass-kicking,” Nash said, then shot a measuring look at Jameson, who was leaning against one of the wrought-iron staircases. “Do I have a second?”

Jameson smirked. “Couldn’t stay away, could you, big brother?”

“And leave Avery here with you knuckleheads?” Until Nash mentioned my name, neither of the other two seemed to have registered my presence behind him, but I felt my invisibility slip away, just like that.

“I wouldn’t worry too much about Ms. Grambs,” Grayson said, silver

eyes sharp. “She’s clearly capable of taking care of herself.”

Translation: I’m a soulless, gold-digging con artist, and he sees straight through me.

“Don’t pay any attention to Gray,” Jameson told me lazily. “None of us do.”

“Jamie,” Nash said. “Zip it.”

Jameson ignored him. “Grayson is in training for the Insufferable Olympics, and we really think he can go all the way if he can just jam that stick a little farther up his—”

Asterisk, I thought, channeling Max. “Enough,” Nash grunted.

“What did I miss?” Xander bounded through the doorway. He was wearing a private school uniform, complete with a blazer that he shed in one liquid motion.

“You haven’t missed anything at all,” Grayson told him. “And Ms. Grambs was just leaving.” He flicked his gaze toward me. “I’m sure you want to get settled.”

I was the billionaire now, and he was still giving orders.

“Wait a second.” Xander frowned suddenly, taking in the state of the room. “Were you guys brawling in here without me?” I still saw no visible signs of a fight or destruction, but obviously, Xander had picked up on something I hadn’t. “This is what I get for being the one who doesn’t skip school,” he said mournfully.

At the mention of school, Nash looked from Xander to Jameson. “No uniform,” he noted. “Playing hooky, Jamie? Two ass-kickings it is.”

Xander heard the phrase ass-kicking, grinned, bounced to the balls of his feet, and pounced with no warning, tackling Nash to the ground. Just some friendly impromptu wrestling between brothers.

“Pinned you!” Xander declared triumphantly.

Nash hooked his ankle around Xander’s leg and flipped him, pinning him to the ground. “Not today, little brother.” Nash grinned, then flashed a much darker look at the other two brothers. “Not today.”

They were—the four of them—a unit. They were Hawthornes. I wasn’t. I felt that now, in a physical way. They shared a bond that was impervious to outsiders.

“I should go,” I said. I didn’t belong here, and if I stayed, all I would do

was stare.

“You shouldn’t be here at all,” Grayson replied tersely.

“Stuff a sock in it, Gray,” Nash said. “What’s done is done, and you know as well as I do that if the old man did it, there’s no undoing it.” Nash swiveled his head toward Jameson. “And as for you: Self-destructive tendencies aren’t nearly as adorable as you think they are.”

“Avery solved the keys,” Jameson said casually. “Faster than any of us.” For the first time since I’d walked into the room, all four brothers fell into an extended silence. What is going on here? I wondered. The moment

felt tense, electric, borderline unbearable, and then— “You gave her the keys?” Grayson broke the silence.

I was still holding the key ring in my hand. It suddenly felt very heavy.

Jameson wasn’t supposed to give me these.

“We were legally obligated to hand over—”

key.” Grayson interrupted Jameson and started stalking slowly toward him, snapping the book in his hand closed. “We were legally obligated to give her key, Jameson, not the keys.”

I’d assumed that I was being messed with. At best, I’d thought it was a test. But from the way they were talking, it seemed more like a tradition. An invitation.

A rite of passage.

“I was curious how she’d do.” Jameson arched an eyebrow. “Do you want to hear her time?”

“No,” Nash boomed. I wasn’t sure if he was answering Jameson’s question or telling Grayson to stop advancing on their brother.

“Can I get up now?” Xander interjected, still pinned beneath Nash and seemingly in a better humor than the other three combined.

“Nope,” Nash replied.

“I told you she was special,” Jameson murmured as Grayson continued closing in on him.

“And I told you to stay away from her.” Grayson stopped, just out of Jameson’s reach.

“So I see that you two are talking again!” Xander commented jollily. “Excellent.”

Not excellent, I thought, unable to draw my eyes away from the storm brewing just feet away. Jameson was taller, Grayson broader through the

shoulders. The smirk on the former’s face was matched by steel on the latter’s.

“Welcome to Hawthorne House, Mystery Girl.” Jameson’s welcome seemed to be more for Grayson’s benefit than for mine. Whatever this fight was about, it wasn’t just a difference of opinion on recent events.

It wasn’t just about me.

“Stop calling me Mystery Girl.” I’d barely spoken since the moment the library door had swung inward, but I was getting sick of playing spectator. “My name is Avery.”

“I’d also be willing to call you Heiress,” Jameson offered. He stepped forward into a beam of light shining down from a skylight above. He was toe-to-toe with Grayson now. “What do you think, Gray? Got a nickname preference for our new landlord?”

Landlord. Jameson was rubbing it in, like he could handle being disinherited if it meant that the heir apparent had lost everything, too.

“I’m trying to protect you,” Grayson said lowly.

“I think we both know,” Jameson replied, “that the only person you’ve ever protected is yourself.”

Grayson went completely, deathly still.

“Xander.” Nash stood, pulling the youngest brother to his feet. “Why don’t you show Avery to her wing?”

That was either Nash’s attempt to prevent a line from being crossed or an indication that one already had been.

“Come on.” Xander bumped his shoulder lightly against mine. “We’ll stop for cookies on the way.”

If that statement was meant to dissipate the tension in the room, it didn’t work, but it did draw Grayson’s attention away from Jameson—for the moment.

“No cookies.” Grayson’s voice was strangled, like his throat was closing down around the words—like Jameson’s last shot had cut off his air completely.

“Fine,” Xander replied cheerily. “You drive a hard bargain, Grayson Hawthorne. No cookies.” Xander winked at me. “We’ll stop for scones.”

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