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Chapter no 17

The Inheritance Games (The Inheritance Games, 1)

The first scone is what I like to call the practice scone.” Xander stuffed an entire scone in his mouth, handed one to me, then swallowed and continued lecturing. “It is not until the third—nay, fourth—scone that you develop any kind of scone-eating expertise.”

“Scone-eating expertise,” I repeated in a deadpan.

“Your nature is skeptical,” Xander noted. “That will serve you well in these halls, but if there is one universal truth in the human experience, it is that a finely honed scone-eating palate does not just develop overnight.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of Oren and wondered how long he had been tailing us. “Why are we standing here talking about scones?” I asked Xander. Oren had insisted that the Hawthorne brothers weren’t a physical threat, but still! At the very least, Xander should have been trying to make my life miserable. “Aren’t you supposed to hate me?” I asked.

“I do hate you,” Xander replied, happily devouring his third scone. “If you notice, I have kept the blueberry confections for myself and gave you”—he shuddered—“the lemon-flavored scones. Such is the depth of my loathing for you personally and on principle.”

“This isn’t a joke.” I felt like I’d fallen into Wonderland—and then fallen again, rabbit hole after rabbit hole, in a vicious cycle.

Traps upon traps, I could hear Jameson saying. And riddles upon riddles.

“Why would I hate you, Avery?” Xander asked finally. There were layers of emotion in his tone that hadn’t been there before. “You aren’t the one who did this.”

Tobias Hawthorne had.

“Maybe you’re blameless.” Xander shrugged. “Maybe you’re the evil genius that Gray seems to think you are, but at the end of the day, even if

you thought that you’d manipulated our grandfather into this, I guarantee that he’d be the one manipulating you.”

I thought of the letter that Tobias Hawthorne had left me—two words, no explanation.

“Your grandfather was a piece of work,” I told Xander.

He picked up a fourth scone. “I agree. In his honor, I eat this scone.” He did just that. “Want me to show you to your rooms now?”

There’s got to be a catch here. Xander Hawthorne had to be more than he appeared. “Just point me in the right direction,” I told him.

“About that…” The youngest Hawthorne brother made a face. “There’s a chance that Hawthorne House is just a tiny bit hard to navigate. Imagine, if you will, that a labyrinth had a baby with Where’s Waldo?, only Waldo is your rooms.”

I attempted to translate that ridiculous sentence. “Hawthorne House has an unconventional layout.”

Xander did away with a fifth and final scone. “Has anyone ever told you that you have a way with words?”

 

 

“Hawthorne House is the largest privately owned residential home in the state of Texas.” Xander led me up a staircase. “I could give you a number for square footage, but it would only be an estimate. The thing that truly separates Hawthorne House from other obscenely large, castle-like structures isn’t so much its size as its nature. My grandfather added at least one new room or wing every year. Imagine, if you will, that an M. C. Escher drawing conceived a child with Leonardo da Vinci’s most masterful designs.…”

“Stop,” I ordered. “New rule: You’re no longer allowed to use any terminology for baby-making when describing this house or its occupants— including yourself.”

Xander brought a hand melodramatically to his chest. “Harsh.” I shrugged. “My house, my rules.”

He gawked at me. I couldn’t believe I’d said it, either, but there was something about Xander Hawthorne that made me feel like I didn’t have to apologize for my own existence.

“Too soon?” I asked.

“I’m a Hawthorne.” Xander gave me his most dignified look. “It’s never too soon to start trash-talking.” He resumed playing the tour guide. “Now, as I was saying, the East Wing is actually the Northeast Wing, located on the second floor. If you get lost, just look for the old man.” Xander nodded toward a portrait on the wall. “This was his wing, these last few months.”

I’d seen pictures of Tobias Hawthorne online, but once I looked at the portrait, I couldn’t look away. He had silver-gray hair and a face more weather-worn than I’d realized. His eyes were Grayson’s, almost exactly, his build Jameson’s, his chin Nash’s. If I hadn’t seen Xander in motion, I might not have recognized a resemblance between him and the old man at all, but it was there in the way Tobias Hawthorne’s features pulled together

—not the eyes or nose or mouth, but something about the shape in between. “I never even met him.” I tore my eyes from the portrait and looked at

Xander. “I’d remember if I had.” “Are you sure?” Xander asked me.

I found myself looking back at the portrait. Had I ever met the billionaire? Had our paths crossed, even for a moment? My mind was blank, except for one phrase, looping through over and over again. I’m sorry.

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