Chapter no 24

The Inheritance Games (The Inheritance Games, 1)

Max called me back around noon. At Heights Country Day, modular scheduling meant that there were gaps in my schedule during which I wasn’t expected to be anywhere in particular. I could wander the halls. I could spend time in a dance studio, a darkroom, or one of the gymnasiums. When, precisely, I ate lunch was up to me. So when Max called and I ducked into an empty classroom, no one stopped me, and no one cared.

“This place is heaven,” I told Max. “Actual. Heaven.”

“The mansion?” Max asked.

“The school,” I breathed. “You should see my schedule. And the classes!”

“Avery,” Max said sternly. “It is my understanding that you have inherited roughly a bazillion dollars, and you want to talk about your new school?”

There was so much I wanted to talk to her about. I had to think to remember what she knew and what she didn’t. “Jameson Hawthorne showed me the letter his grandfather left him, and it’s this insane, twisty puzzle-riddle thing. Jameson’s convinced that’s what I am—a puzzle to be solved.”

“I am currently looking at a picture of Jameson Hawthorne,” Max announced. I heard a flush in the background and realized she must have been in the bathroom—at a school that wasn’t as lax about student free time as this one. “Gotta say. He’s faxable.”

It took me a second to catch on. “Max!”

“I’m just saying, he looks like he knows his way around a fax machine. He’s probably really great at dialing the numbers. I bet he’s even faxed long-distance.”

“I have no idea what you’re even talking about anymore,” I told her.

I could practically hear her grinning. “Neither do I! And I’m going to

stop now because we don’t have much time. My parents are freaking out about all of this. Now is not the time for me to be skipping class.”

“Your parents are freaking out?” I frowned. “Why?”

“Avery, do you know how many calls I’ve gotten? A reporter showed up at our house. My mom’s threatening to lock down my social media, my email—everything.”

I’d never thought of my friendship with Max as particularly public, but it definitely wasn’t a secret, either.

“Reporters want to interview you,” I said, trying to wrap my mind around it. “About me.”

“Have you seen the news?” Max asked me. I swallowed. “No.”

There was a pause. “Maybe… don’t.” That piece of advice spoke volumes. “This is a lot, Ave. Are you okay?”

I blew a hair out of my face. “I’m fine. I’ve been assured by my lawyer and my head of security that a murder attempt is highly unlikely.”

“You have a bodyguard,” Max said, awed. “Son of a beach, your life is cool now.”

“I have a staff, servants—who hate me, by the way. The house is like nothing I’ve ever seen. And the family! These boys, Max. They have patents and world records and—”

“I’m looking at pictures of all of them now,” Max said. “Come to mama, you delicious mustards.”

“Mustards?” I echoed. “Bastions?” she tried.

I let out a snort of laughter. I hadn’t realized how badly I’d needed this until she was there.

“I’m sorry, Ave. I have to go. Text me but—” “Watch what I say,” I filled in.

“And in the meantime, buy yourself something nice.” “Like what?” I asked.

“I’ll make you a list,” she promised. “Love you, beach.”

“Love you, too, Max.” I kept the phone up to my ear for a second or two after she was gone. I wish you were here.

Eventually, I managed to find the cafeteria. There were maybe two dozen people eating. One of them was Thea. She nudged a chair out from

her table with her foot.

She’s Zara’s niece, I reminded myself. And Zara wants me gone. Still, I sat.

“I’m sorry if I came on a little strong this morning.” Thea glanced at the other girls at her table, all of whom were just as impossibly polished and beautiful as she was. “It’s just that, in your position, I’d want to know.”

I recognized the bait for exactly what it was, but I couldn’t keep myself from asking. “Know what?”

“About the Hawthorne brothers. For the longest time, every boy wanted to be them, and everyone who likes boys wanted to date them. The way they look. The way they act.” Thea paused. “Even just being Hawthorne- adjacent changed the way that people looked at you.”

“I used to study with Xander sometimes,” one of the other girls said. “Before…” She trailed off.

Before what? I was missing something here—something big.

“They were magic.” Thea had the oddest expression on her face. “And when you were in their orbit, you felt like magic, too.”

“Invincible,” someone else chimed in.

I thought about Jameson, dropping down from a second-story balcony the day we’d met, Grayson sitting behind Principal Altman’s desk and banishing him from the room with an arch of his brow. And then there was Xander: six foot three, grinning, bleeding, and talking about robots exploding.

“They aren’t what you think they are,” Thea told me. “I wouldn’t want to live in a house with the Hawthornes.”

Was this an attempt to get under my skin? If I left Hawthorne House—if I moved out—I’d lose my inheritance. Did she know that? Had her uncle put her up to this?

Coming into today, I’d expected to be treated like trash. I wouldn’t have been surprised if the girls at this school had been possessive over the Hawthorne boys, or if everyone, male and female, had resented me on the boys’ behalf. But this…

This was something else.

“I should go.” I stood, but Thea stood with me.

“Think what you want to about me,” she said. “But the last girl at this school who got tangled up with the Hawthorne brothers? The last girl who

spent hour after hour in that house? She died.

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