Chapter no 21

The Inheritance Games (The Inheritance Games, 1)

You read my letter.” Jameson Hawthorne slid into the back seat of the SUV beside me. Oren had already given me the rundown on the security features of the car. The windows were bulletproof and heavily tinted, and Tobias Hawthorne had owned multiple identical SUVs for times when decoys were needed.

Going to Heights Country Day School apparently wasn’t one of them. “Xander need a ride?” Oren asked from the driver’s seat, catching

Jameson’s eyes in the mirror.

“Xan goes to school early on Fridays,” Jameson said. “Extracurricular activity.”

In the mirror, Oren’s gaze shifted to me. “You okay having company?”

Was I okay in close quarters with Jameson Hawthorne, who’d stepped out of a fireplace and into my bedroom the night before? He touched my face—

“It’s fine,” I told Oren, squelching the memory.

Oren turned the key in the ignition and then cast a glance back over his shoulder. “She’s the package,” he told Jameson. “If there’s an incident…”

“You save her first,” Jameson finished. He kicked a foot up on the center console and reclined against the door. “Grandfather always said Hawthorne males have nine lives. I can’t possibly have burned through more than five of mine.”

Oren turned back to the front and put the car in drive, and then we were off. Even through the bulletproof windows, I could hear the minor roar that went up when we passed outside the gates. Paparazzi. There’d been at least a dozen before. Now there were twice that number—maybe more.

I didn’t let myself dwell on that for long. I looked away from the reporters—and toward Jameson. “Here.” I reached into my bag and handed him my letter.

“I showed you mine,” Jameson said, playing the double entendre for all it was worth. “You show me yours.”

“Shut up and read.”

He did. “That’s it?” he asked when he was done. I nodded.

“Any idea what he’s apologizing for?” Jameson asked. “Any great and anonymous wrongs in your past?”

“One.” I swallowed and broke eye contact. “But unless you think your grandfather is responsible for my mom having an extremely rare blood type and ending up way too low on the transplant list, he’s probably in the clear.”

I’d meant that to sound sarcastic, not raw.

“We’ll come back to your letter.” Jameson did me the courtesy of ignoring every hint of emotion in my tone. “And turn our attention to mine. I’m curious, Mystery Girl, what do you make of it?”

I got the feeling that this was another test. A chance to show my worth.

Challenge accepted.

“Your letter is written in proverbs,” I said, starting with the obvious. “All that glitters is not gold. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. He’s saying that money and power are dangerous. And the first line—better the devil you know than the one you don’t—or is it?—that’s obvious, right?”

His family was the devil that Tobias Hawthorne had known—and I was the devil he hadn’t. But if that’s true—why me? If I was a stranger, how had he chosen me? A dart on a map? Max’s imaginary computer algorithm?

And if I was a stranger—why was he sorry? “Keep going,” Jameson prompted.

I focused. “Nothing is certain but death and taxes. It sounds to me like he knew he was going to die.”

“We didn’t even know he was sick,” Jameson murmured. That hit close to home. Tobias Hawthorne had apparently been a champion at keeping secrets—like my mother. I could be the devil he doesn’t know, even if he knew her. I would still be a stranger, even if she wasn’t.

I could feel Jameson beside me, watching me in a way that made me wonder if he could see straight inside my head.

There but for the grace of God go I,” I said, returning to the letter’s contents, intent on following this to the end. “With different circumstances, any of us could have ended up in anyone else’s position,” I translated.

“The rich boy can become a pauper.” Jameson took his feet down from the center console and turned his head wholly toward me, his green eyes catching mine in a way that made my entire body go to high alert. “And the girl from the wrong side of the tracks can become…”

A princess. A riddle. An heiress. A game.

Jameson smiled. If this was a test, I’d passed. “On the surface,” he told me, “it appears that the letter outlines what we already know: My grandfather died and left everything to the devil he didn’t know, thereby reversing the fortune of many. Why? Because power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

I couldn’t have looked away from him if I’d tried.

“And what about you, Heiress?” Jameson continued. “Are you incorruptible? Is that why he left the fortune in your hands?” The expression playing at the corners of his lips wasn’t a smile. I wasn’t sure what it was, exactly, other than magnetic. “I know my grandfather.” Jameson stared at me intently. “There’s more here. A play on words. A code. A hidden message. Something.

He handed my letter back. I took it and looked down. “Your grandfather signed my letter with initials.” I offered up one last observation. “And yours with his full name.”

“And what,” Jameson said lightly, “do we make of that?”

We. How had a Hawthorne and I become a we? I should have been wary. Even with Oren’s assurances—and Alisa’s—I should have been keeping my distance. But there was something about this family. Something about these boys.

“Almost there.” Oren spoke from the front seat. If he’d been following our conversation, he gave no sign of it. “The Country Day administration has been briefed on the situation. I signed off on the school’s security years ago, when the boys enrolled. You should be fine here, Avery, but do not, under any circumstances, leave the campus.” Our car pulled past a guarded gate. “I won’t be far.”

I turned my mind from the letters—Jameson’s and mine—to what awaited me outside this car. This is a high school? I thought, taking in the sight outside my window. It looked more like a college or a museum, like something out of a catalog where all the students were beautiful and smiling. Suddenly, the uniform I’d been given felt like it didn’t belong on

my body. I was a kid playing dress-up, pretending that wearing a kitchen pot on her head could turn her into an astronaut, that smudging lipstick all over her face made her a star.

To the rest of the world, I was a sudden celebrity. I was a fascination— and a target. But here? How could people who’d grown up with this kind of money see a girl like me as anything but a fraud?

“I hate to puzzle and run, Mystery Girl.…” Jameson’s hand was already on the door handle as the SUV pulled to a stop. “But the last thing you need on your first day at this school is for anyone to see you getting cozy with me.”

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