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Chapter no 56

The Inheritance Games (The Inheritance Games, 1)

It was another three hours before Oren and his team cleared me to go back to Hawthorne House. I rode back in the ATV with three bodyguards.

Oren was the only one who spoke. “Due in part to Hawthorne House’s extensive network of security cameras, my team was able to track and verify locations and alibis for all members of the Hawthorne family, as well as Ms. Thea Calligaris.”

They have alibis. Grayson has an alibi. I felt a rush of relief, but a moment later, my chest tightened. “What about Constantine?” I asked. Technically, he wasn’t a Hawthorne.

“Clear,” Oren told me. “He did not personally wield that gun.”

Personally. Reading between those lines shook me. “But he might have hired someone?” Any of them might have, I realized. I could hear Grayson telling me that there would always be people tripping over themselves to do favors for his family.

“I know a forensic investigator,” Oren said evenly. “He works alongside an equally skilled hacker. They’ll take a deep dive into everyone’s finances and cell phone records. In the meantime, my team is going to focus on the staff.”

I swallowed. I hadn’t even met most of the staff. I didn’t know exactly how many of them there were, or who might have had opportunity—or motive. “The entire staff?” I asked Oren. “Including the Laughlins?” They’d been kind to me after I’d emerged from washing up, but right now I couldn’t afford to trust my gut—or Oren’s.

“They’re clear,” Oren told me. “Mr. Laughlin was at the House during the shooting, and security footage confirms Mrs. Laughlin was at the cottage.”

“What about Rebecca?” I asked. She’d left the estate right after talking to me.

I could see Oren wanting to say that Rebecca wasn’t a threat, but he didn’t. “No stone will be left unturned,” he promised. “But I do know that the Laughlin girls never learned to shoot. Mr. Laughlin wasn’t even allowed to keep a gun at the cottage when they were present.”

“Who else was on the premises today?” I asked.

“Pool maintenance, a sound technician working on upgrades in the theater, a massage therapist, and one of the cleaning staff.”

I committed that list to memory, then my mouth went dry. “Which cleaning staff?”

“Melissa Vincent.”

The name meant nothing to me—until it did. “Mellie?” Oren’s eyes narrowed. “You know her?”

I thought of the moment she’d seen Nash outside Libby’s room. “Something I should know?” Oren asked—and it wasn’t really a

question. I told him what Alisa had said about Mellie and Nash, what I’d seen in Libby’s room, what Mellie had seen. And then we pulled up to Hawthorne House, and I saw Alisa.

“She’s the only person I’ve let past the gates,” Oren assured me. “Frankly, she’s the only one I intend to let past those gates for the foreseeable future.”

I probably should have found that more comforting than I did. “How is she?” Alisa asked Oren as soon as we exited the SUV.

“Pissed,” I answered, before Oren could reply on my behalf. “Sore. A little terrified.” Seeing her—and seeing Oren standing next to her—broke the dam, and an accusation burst out of me. “You both told me I would be fine! You swore that I was not in danger. You acted like I was being ridiculous when I mentioned murder.”

“Technically,” my lawyer replied, “you specified ax-murder. And technically,” she continued through gritted teeth, “it is possible that there was an oversight, legally speaking.”

“What kind of oversight? You told me that if I died, the Hawthornes wouldn’t get a penny!”

“And I stand by that conclusion,” Alisa said emphatically. “However…” She clearly found any admission of fault distasteful. “I also told you that if you died while the will was in probate, your inheritance would pass through to your estate. And typically, it would.”

“Typically,” I repeated. If there was one thing I’d learned in the past week, it was that there was nothing typical about Tobias Hawthorne—or his heirs.

“However,” Alisa continued, her voice tight, “in the state of Texas, it is possible for the deceased to add a stipulation to the will that requires heirs to survive him by a certain amount of time in order to inherit.”

I’d read the will multiple times. “Pretty sure I’d remember if there was something in there about how long I had to avoid dying to inherit. The only stipulation—”

“Was that you must live in Hawthorne House for one year,” Alisa finished. “Which, I will admit, would be quite the difficult stipulation to fulfill if you were dead.”

That was her oversight? The fact that I couldn’t live in Hawthorne House if I wasn’t alive?

“So if I die…” I swallowed, wetting my tongue. “The money goes to charity?”

“Possibly. But it’s also possible that your heirs could challenge that interpretation on the basis of Mr. Hawthorne’s intent.”

“I don’t have heirs,” I said. “I don’t even have a will.”

“You don’t need a will to have heirs.” Alisa glanced at Oren. “Has her sister been cleared?”

“Libby?” I was incredulous. Had they met my sister?

“The sister’s clear,” Oren told Alisa. “She was with Nash during the shooting.”

He might as well have detonated a bomb for how well that went over.

Eventually, Alisa gathered her composure and turned back to me. “You won’t legally be able to sign a will until you turn eighteen. Ditto for the paperwork regarding the foundation conservatorship. And that is the other oversight here. Originally, I was focused only on the will, but if you are unable or unwilling to fulfill your role as conservator, the conservatorship passes.” She paused heavily. “To the boys.”

If I died, the foundation—all the money, all the power, all that potential

—went to Tobias Hawthorne’s grandsons. A hundred million dollars a year to give away. You could buy a lot of favors for money like that.

“Who knows about the terms of the foundation’s conservatorship?” Oren asked, deadly serious.

“Zara and Constantine, certainly,” Alisa said immediately.

“Grayson,” I added hoarsely, my wounds throbbing. I knew him well enough to know that he would have demanded to see the conservatorship papers himself. He wouldn’t hurt me. I wanted to believe that. All he does is warn me away.

“How soon can you have documents drawn up leaving control of the foundation to Avery’s sister in the event of her death?” Oren demanded. If this was about control of the foundation, that would protect me—or else it would put Libby in danger, too.

“Is anyone going to ask me what I want to do?” I asked.

“I can have the documents drawn up tomorrow,” Alisa told Oren, ignoring me. “But Avery can’t legally sign them until she’s eighteen, and even then, it’s unclear if she’s authorized to make that kind of decision prior to assuming full control of the foundation at the age of twenty-one. Until then…”

I had a target on my forehead.

“What would it take to evoke the protection clause in the will?” Oren changed tactics. “There are circumstances under which Avery could remove the Hawthornes as tenants, correct?”

“We’d need evidence,” Alisa replied. “Something that ties a specific individual or individuals to acts of harassment, intimidation, or violence, and even then, Avery can only kick out the perpetrator—not the whole family.”

“And she can’t live somewhere else for the time being?” “No.”

Oren didn’t like that, but he didn’t waste time on unnecessary commentary. “You’ll go nowhere without me,” Oren told me, steel in his voice. “Not on the estate, not in the House. Nowhere, you understand? I was always close by. Now I get to play visible deterrent.”

Beside me, Alisa narrowed her eyes at Oren. “What do you know that I don’t?”

There was a single moment’s pause, then my bodyguard answered the question. “I had my people check the armory. Nothing is missing. In all likelihood, the weapon fired at Avery wasn’t a Hawthorne gun, but I had my men pull the security footage from the past few days anyway.”

I was too busy trying to wrap my mind around the fact that Hawthorne

House had an armory to process the rest.

“The armory had a visitor?” Alisa asked, her voice almost too calm. “Two of them.” Oren seemed like he might stop there, for my benefit,

but he pressed on. “Jameson and Grayson. Both have alibis—but both were looking at rifles.”

“Hawthorne House has an armory?” That was all I could manage to say. “This is Texas,” Oren replied. “The whole family grew up shooting, and

Mr. Hawthorne was a collector.”

“A gun collector,” I clarified. I hadn’t been a fan of firearms before I’d almost been shot.

“If you’d read the binder I left you detailing your assets,” Alisa interjected, “you’d know that Mr. Hawthorne had the world’s largest collection of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Winchester rifles, several of which are valued at upward of four hundred thousand dollars.”

The idea that anyone would pay that much for a rifle was mind- boggling, but I barely batted an eye at the price tag, because I was too busy thinking that there was a reason Jameson and Grayson had both made visits to the armory to look at rifles—one that had nothing to do with shooting me.

Jameson’s middle name was Winchester.

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