Chapter no 7

The Inheritance Games (The Inheritance Games, 1)

My fingers itched to pull out my phone and start taking pictures, but I resisted. Libby had no such compunctions.

“Mademoiselle…” Xander side-stepped to block one of Libby’s shots. “May I ask: What are your feelings on roller coasters?”

I thought Libby’s eyes might actually pop out of her head. “This place has a roller coaster?”

Xander grinned. “Not exactly.” The next thing I knew, the “baby” of the Hawthorne family—who was six foot three if he was an inch—was pulling my sister toward the back of the foyer.

I was dumbfounded. How can a house “not exactly” have a roller coaster? Beside me, Grayson snorted. I caught him looking at me and narrowed my eyes. “What?”

“Nothing,” Grayson said, the tilt of his lips suggesting otherwise. “It’s just… you have a very expressive face.”

No. I didn’t. Libby was always saying that I was hard to read. My poker face had single-handedly been funding Harry’s breakfasts for months. I wasn’t expressive.

There was nothing remarkable about my face.

“I apologize for Xander,” Grayson commented. “He tends not to buy into such antiquated notions as thinking before one speaks and sitting still for more than three consecutive seconds.” He looked down. “He’s the best of us, even on his worst days.”

“Ms. Ortega said there were four of you.” I couldn’t help myself. I wanted to know more about this family. About him. “Four grandsons, I mean.”

“I have three brothers,” Grayson told me. “Same mother, different fathers. Our aunt Zara doesn’t have any children.” He looked past me. “And on the topic of my relations, I feel as though I should issue a second

apology, in advance.”

“Gray, darling!” A woman swept up to us in a swirl of fabric and motion. Once her flowy shirt had settled around her, I tried to peg her age. Older than thirty, younger than fifty. Beyond that, I couldn’t tell. “They’re ready for us in the Great Room,” she told Grayson. “Or they will be shortly. Where’s your brother?”

“Specificity, Mother.”

The woman rolled her eyes. “Don’t you ‘Mother’ me, Grayson Hawthorne.” She turned to me. “You’d think he was born wearing that suit,” she said with the air of someone confiding a great secret, “but Gray was my little streaker. A real free spirit. We couldn’t keep clothes on him at all, really, until he was four. Frankly, I didn’t even try.” She paused and assessed me without bothering to hide what she was doing. “You must be Ava.”

“Avery,” Grayson corrected. If he felt any embarrassment about his purported past as a toddler nudist, he didn’t show it. “Her name is Avery, Mother.”

The woman sighed but also smiled, like it was impossible for her to look at her son and not find herself utterly delighted in his presence. “I always swore my children would call me by my first name,” she told me. “I’d raise them as my equals, you know? But then, I always imagined having girls. Four boys later…” She gave the world’s most elegant shrug.

Objectively, Grayson’s mother was over the top. But subjectively? She was infectious.

“Do you mind if I ask, dear, when is your birthday?”

The question took me by surprise. I had a mouth. It was fully functioning. But I couldn’t keep up with her enough to reply. She put a hand on my cheek. “Scorpio? Or Capricorn? Not a Pisces, clearly—”

“Mother,” Grayson said, and then he corrected himself. “Skye.”

It took me a moment to realize that must be her first name, and that he’d used it to humor her in an attempt to get her to stop astrologically cross- examining me.

“Grayson’s a good boy,” Skye told me. “Too good.” Then she winked at me. “We’ll talk.”

“I doubt Ms. Grambs plans to stay long enough for a fireside chat—or a tarot reading.” A second woman, Skye’s age or a little older, inserted herself

into our conversation. If Skye was flowy fabric and oversharing, this woman was pencil-skirts and pearls.

“I’m Zara Hawthorne-Calligaris.” She eyed me, the expression on her face as austere as her name. “Do you mind if I ask—how did you know my father?”

Silence descended on the cavernous foyer. I swallowed. “I didn’t.” Beside me, I could feel Grayson staring again. After a small eternity,

Zara offered me a tight smile. “Well, we appreciate your presence. It’s been a trying time these past few weeks, as I’m sure you can imagine.”

These past few weeks, I filled in, when no one could get ahold of me.

“Zara?” A man with slicked-back hair interrupted us, slipping an arm around her waist. “Mr. Ortega would like a word.” The man, who I took to be Zara’s husband, didn’t spare so much as a glance for me.

Skye made up for it—and then some. “My sister ‘has words’ with people,” she commented. “I have conversations. Lovely conversations. Quite frankly, that’s how I ended up with four sons. Wonderful, intimate conversations with four fascinating men…”

“I will pay you to stop right there,” Grayson said, a pained expression on his face.

Skye patted her son’s cheek. “Bribe. Threaten. Buy out. You couldn’t be more Hawthorne, darling, if you tried.” She gave me a knowing smile. “That’s why we call him the heir apparent.”

There was something in Skye’s voice, something about Grayson’s expression when his mother said the phrase heir apparent, that made me think I had greatly underestimated just how much the Hawthorne family wanted that will read.

They don’t know what’s in the will, either. I suddenly felt like I’d stepped into an arena, utterly unaware of the rules of the game.

“Now,” Skye said, looping one arm around me and one around Grayson, “why don’t we make our way to the Great Room?”

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