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Chapter no 65

The Inheritance Games (The Inheritance Games, 1)

Oren went up first, then returned—via pole, not slide. “Room’s clear,” he told me. “But if you try to climb up, you might pull a stitch.”

The fact that he’d mentioned my injury in front of Nash told me something. Either Oren wanted to see how he would respond, or he trusted Nash Hawthorne.

“What injury?” Nash asked, taking the bait.

“Someone shot at Avery,” Oren said carefully. “You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would you, Nash?”

“If I did,” Nash replied, his voice low and deadly, “it would already be handled.”

“Nash.” Oren gave him a look that probably meant stay out of it. But from what I’d been able to tell, “staying out of it” wasn’t really a Hawthorne trait.

“I’ll be going now,” Nash said casually. “I have some questions to ask my people.”

His people—including Mellie. I watched Nash saunter off, then turned back to Oren. “You knew he would go talk to the staff.”

“I know they’ll talk to him,” Oren corrected. “And besides, you blew the element of surprise this morning.”

I’d told Grayson. He’d told his mother. Libby knew. “Sorry about that,” I said, then I turned to the room overhead. “I’m going up.”

“I didn’t see a desk up there,” Oren told me.

I walked over to the pole and grabbed hold. “I’m going up anyway.” I started to pull myself up, but the pain stopped me. Oren was right. I couldn’t climb. I stepped back from the pole, then glanced to my left.

If I couldn’t make it up the pole, it would have to be the slide.

 

 

The last library in Hawthorne House was small. The ceiling sloped to form a pyramid overhead. The shelves were plain and only came up to my waist. They were full of children’s books. Well-worn, well-loved, some of them familiar in a way that made me ache to sit and read.

But I didn’t, because as I stood there, I felt a breeze. It wasn’t coming from the window, which was closed. It came from the shelves on the back wall—no. As I walked closer, I discovered that it was coming from a crack between the two shelves.

There’s something back there. My heart caught like a breath stuck in my throat. Starting with the shelf on the right, I latched my fingers around the top of the shelf and pulled. I didn’t have to pull hard. The shelf was on a hinge. As I pulled, it rotated outward, revealing a small opening.

This was the first secret passage I’d discovered on my own. It was strangely exhilarating, like standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon or holding a priceless work of art in your hands. Heart pounding, I ducked through the opening and found a staircase.

Traps upon traps, I thought, and riddles upon riddles.

Gingerly, I walked down the steps. As I got farther from the light above, I had to pull out my phone and turn on the flashlight so I could see where I was going. I should go back for Oren. I knew that, but I was going faster now—down the steps, twisting, turning, until I reached the bottom.

There, holding a flashlight of his own, was Grayson Hawthorne.

He turned toward me. My heart beat viciously, but I didn’t step back. I looked past Grayson and saw the only piece of furniture on the landing of the hidden stairs.

A Davenport.

“Ms. Grambs.” Grayson greeted me, then turned back to the desk. “Have you found it yet?” I asked him. “The Davenport clue?”

“I was waiting.”

I couldn’t quite read his tone. “For what?”

Grayson looked up from the desk, silver eyes catching mine in the dark. “Jameson, I suppose.”

It had been hours since Jameson had left for school, hours since I’d seen Grayson last. How long had he been here, waiting?

“It’s not like Jamie to miss the obvious. Whatever this game is, it’s about us. The four of us. Our names were the clues. Of course we would find

something here.”

“At the bottom of this staircase?” I asked.

“In our wing,” Grayson replied. “We grew up here—Jameson, Xander, and me. Nash, too, I suppose, but he was older.”

I remembered Xander telling me that Jameson and Grayson used to team up to beat Nash to the finish line, then double-cross each other at the end of the game.

“Nash knows about the shooting,” I told Grayson. “I told him.” Grayson gave me a look I couldn’t quite discern. “What?” I said.

Grayson shook his head. “He’ll want to save you now.” “Is that such a bad thing?” I asked.

Another look—and more emotion, heavily masked. “Will you show me where you were hurt?” Grayson asked, his voice not quite strained—but something.

He probably just wanted to see how bad it is, I told myself, but still, the request hit me like an electric shock. My limbs felt inexplicably heavy. I was keenly aware of every breath I took. This was a small space. We stood close to each other, close to the desk.

I’d learned my lesson with Jameson, but this felt different. Like Grayson wanted to be the one to save me. Like he needed to be the one.

I lifted my hand to the collar of my shirt. I pulled it downward—below my collarbone, exposing my wound.

Grayson lifted his hand toward my shoulder. “I am sorry that this happened to you.”

“Do you know who shot at me?” I had to ask, because he’d apologized

—and Grayson Hawthorne was not the type to apologize. If he knew…

“No,” Grayson swore.

I believed him—or at least I wanted to. “If I leave Hawthorne House before the year is up, the money goes to charity. If I die, it goes to charity or my heirs.” I paused. “If I die, the foundation goes to the four of you.”

He had to know how that looked.

“My grandfather should have left it to us all along.” Grayson turned his head, forcefully pulling his gaze from my skin. “Or to Zara. We were raised to make a difference, and you…”

“I’m nobody,” I finished, the words hurting me to say.

Grayson shook his head. “I don’t know what you are.” Even in the

minimal light of our flashlights, I could see his chest rising and falling with every breath.

“Do you think Jameson’s right?” I asked him. “Does this puzzle of your grandfather’s end with answers?”

“It ends with something. The old man’s games always do.” Grayson paused. “How many of the numbers do you have?”

“Two,” I replied.

“Same,” he told me. “I’m missing this one and Xander’s.” I frowned. “Xander’s?”

“Blackwood. It’s Xander’s middle name. The West Brook was Nash’s clue. The Winchester was Jameson’s.”

I looked back toward the desk. “And the Davenport is yours.” He closed his eyes. “After you, Heiress.”

His use of Jameson’s nickname for me felt like it meant something, but I wasn’t sure what. I turned my attention to the task at hand. The desk was made of a bronze-colored wood. Four drawers ran perpendicular to the desktop. I tested them one at a time. Empty. I ran my right hand along the inside of the drawers, looking for anything out of the ordinary. Nothing.

Feeling Grayson’s presence beside me, knowing that I was being watched and judged, I moved on to the top of the desk, raising it up to reveal the compartment underneath. Empty again. As I had with drawers, I ran my fingers along the bottom and sides of the compartment. I felt a slight ridge along the right side. Eyeballing the desk, I estimated the width of the border to be an inch and a half, maybe two inches.

Just wide enough for a hidden compartment.

Unsure how to trigger its release, I ran my hand back over the place where I’d felt the ridge. Maybe it was just a seam, where two pieces of wood met. Or maybe… I pressed the wood in, hard, and it popped outward. I closed my fingers around the block that had just released and pulled it away from the desk, revealing a small opening. Inside was a keychain, with no key.

The keychain was plastic, in the shape of the number one.

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