Chapter no 54

The Inheritance Games (The Inheritance Games, 1)

The door Mrs. Laughlin had sent me through didn’t lead directly to a bathroom. It led to a bedroom that held two twin beds and little else. The walls were painted a light purple; the twin comforters were quilted from squares of fabric in lavender and violet.

The bathroom door was slightly ajar.

I walked toward it, so painfully aware of my surroundings that I felt like I could have heard a pin drop a mile away. There’s no one here. I’m safe. It’s okay. I’m okay.

Inside the bathroom, I checked behind the shower curtain. There’s no one here, I told myself again. I’m okay. I managed to get my cell phone out of my pocket and called Max. I needed her to answer. I needed not to be alone with this. What I got was voicemail.

I called seven times, and she didn’t pick up.

Maybe she couldn’t. Or maybe she doesn’t want to. That hit me almost as hard as looking in the mirror and seeing my blood-streaked, dirt-smeared face. I stared at myself.

I could hear the echo of gunfire.

Stop. I needed to wash—my hands, my face, the streaks of blood on my chest. Turn on the water, I told myself sternly. Pick up the washcloth. I willed my body to move.

I couldn’t.

Hands reached past me to turn on the faucet. I should have jumped. I should have panicked. But somehow, my body relaxed into the person behind me.

“It’s okay, Heiress,” Jameson murmured. “I’ve got you.”

I hadn’t heard Jameson come in. I wasn’t entirely sure how long I’d been standing there, frozen.

Jameson reached for a pale purple washcloth and held it under the water.

“I’m fine,” I insisted, as much to myself as to him.

Jameson lifted the washcloth to my face. “You’re a horrible liar.” He ran the cloth over my cheek, working his way down toward the scratch. A breath caught in my throat. He rinsed the washcloth, blood and dirt coloring the sink, as he lifted the cloth back to my skin.

Again. And again.

He washed my face, took my hands in his and held them under the water, his fingers working the dirt from mine. My skin responded to his touch. For the first time, no part of me said to pull away. He was so gentle. He wasn’t acting like this was just a game to him—like I was just a game.

He picked the washcloth back up and ran it down my neck to my shoulder, over my collarbone and across. The water was warm. I leaned into his touch. This is a bad idea. I knew that. I’d always known that, but I let myself concentrate on the feel of Jameson Hawthorne’s touch, the stroke of the cloth.

“I’m okay,” I said, and I could almost believe that. “You’re better than okay.”

I closed my eyes. He’d been there with me in the forest. I could feel his body over mine. Protecting me. I needed this. I needed something.

I opened my eyes, looked at him. Focused on him. I thought about going two hundred miles an hour, about the climbing wall, about the moment I’d first seen him up on that balcony. Was being a sensation seeker so bad? Was wanting to feel something other than awful really so wrong?

Everyone is a little wrong sometimes, Heiress.

Something gave inside of me, and I pushed him gently back against the bathroom wall. I need this. His deep green eyes met mine. He needs it, too. “Yes?” I asked him hoarsely.

“Yes, Heiress.”

My lips closed over his. He kissed me back, gentle at first, then not gently at all. Maybe it was the aftereffects of shock, but as I drove my hands into his hair, as he grabbed my ponytail and angled my face upward, I could see a thousand versions of him in my mind: Balanced on the balcony’s railing. Shirtless and sunlit in the solarium. Smiling. Smirking. Our hands touching on the bridge. His body protecting mine in the Black Wood. Trailing a washcloth down my neck—

Kissing him felt like fire. He wasn’t soft and sweet, the way he had been while washing away the blood and dirt. I didn’t need soft or sweet. This was exactly what I needed.

Maybe I could be what he needed, too. Maybe this didn’t have to be a bad idea. Maybe the complications were worth it.

He pulled back from the kiss, his lips only an inch away from mine. “I always knew you were special.”

I felt his breath on my face. I felt every last one of those words. I’d never thought of myself as special. I’d been invisible for so long. Wallpaper. Even after I’d become the biggest story in the world, it had never really felt like anyone was paying attention to me. The real me.

“We’re so close now,” Jameson murmured. “I can feel it.” There was an energy in his voice, like the buzzing of a neon light. “Someone obviously didn’t want us looking at that tree.”


He went to kiss me again, and, my heart sinking, I turned my head to the side. I’d thought… I wasn’t sure what I’d thought. That when he told me I was special, he wasn’t talking about the money—or the puzzle.

“You think someone shot at us because of a tree?” I said, the words getting caught in my throat. “Not, say, the fortune I inherited that your family would like to get their hands on? Not the billions of reasons that anyone with the last name Hawthorne has to hate me?”

“Don’t think about that,” Jameson whispered, cupping my cheeks. “Think about Toby’s name carved into that tree. Infinity carved into the bridge.” His face was close enough to mine that I could still feel his breath. “What if what the puzzle is trying to tell us is that my uncle isn’t dead?”

Was that what he’d been thinking when someone was shooting at us? In the kitchen, as Oren took a needle to my wound? As he’d brought his lips to mine? Because if the only thing he’d been able to think about was the mystery…

You’re not a player, kid. You’re the glass ballerina—or the knife.

“Will you listen to yourself?” I demanded. My chest was tight—tighter now than it had been in the forest, in the thick of it all. Nothing about Jameson’s reaction should have surprised me, so why did it hurt?

Why was I letting it hurt?

“Oren just pulled a chunk of wood out of my chest,” I said, my voice

low, “and if things had worked out a little differently, he could have been pulling out a bullet.” I gave Jameson a second to reply—just one. Nothing. “What happens to the money if I die while the will is in probate?” I asked flatly. Alisa had told me the Hawthorne family didn’t stand to benefit, but did they know that? “What happens if whoever fired that gun scares me off, and I leave before the year is up?” Did they know that if I left, it all went to charity? “Not everything is a game, Jameson.”

I saw something flicker in his eyes. He closed them, just for an instant, then opened them and leaned in, bringing his lips painfully close to mine. “That’s the thing, Heiress. If Emily taught me anything, it’s that everything is a game. Even this. Especially this.”

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