Chapter no 8

The Inheritance Games (The Inheritance Games, 1)

The Great Room was two-thirds the size of the foyer. An enormous stone fireplace stood at the front. There were gargoyles carved into the sides of the fireplace. Literal gargoyles.

Grayson deposited Libby and me into wingback chairs and then excused himself to the front of the room, where three older gentlemen in suits stood, talking to Zara and her husband.

The lawyers, I realized. After another few minutes, Alisa joined them, and I took stock of the other occupants of the room. A White couple, older, in their sixties at least. A Black man, forties, with a military bearing, who stood with his back to a wall and maintained a clear line of sight to both exits. Xander, with what was clearly another Hawthorne brother by his side. This one was older—midtwenties. He needed a haircut and had paired his suit with cowboy boots that, like the motorcycle outside, had seen better days.

Nash, I thought, recalling the name that Alisa had provided.

Finally, an ancient woman joined the fray. Nash offered her an arm, but she took Xander’s instead. He led her straight to Libby and me. “This is Nan,” he told us. “The woman. The legend.”

“Get on with you.” She swatted his arm. “I’m this rascal’s great- grandmother.” Nan settled, with no small difficulty, into the open seat beside me. “Older than dirt and twice as mean.”

“She’s a softy,” Xander assured me cheerfully. “And I’m her favorite.” “You are not my favorite,” Nan grumbled.

“I’m everyone’s favorite!” Xander grinned.

“Far too much like that incorrigible grandfather of yours,” Nan grunted. She closed her eyes, and I saw her hands shake slightly. “Awful man.” There was a tenderness there.

“Was Mr. Hawthorne your son?” Libby asked gently. She worked with

the elderly, and she was a good listener.

Nan welcomed the opportunity to snort again. “Son-in-law.”

“He was also her favorite,” Xander clarified. There was something poignant in the way he said it. This wasn’t a funeral. They must have laid the man to rest weeks earlier, but I knew grief, could feel it—could practically smell it.

“Are you all right, Ave?” Libby asked beside me. I thought back to Grayson telling me how expressive my face was.

Better to think about Grayson Hawthorne than funerals and grieving. “I’m fine,” I told Libby. But I wasn’t. Even after two years, missing my

mom could hit me like a tsunami. “I’m going to step outside,” I said, forcing a smile. “I just need some air.”

Zara’s husband stopped me on my way out. “Where are you going?

We’re about to start.” He locked a hand over my elbow.

I wrenched my arm out of his grasp. I didn’t care who these people were. No one got to lay hands on me. “I was told there are four Hawthorne grandsons,” I said, my voice steely. “By my count, you’re still down by one. I’ll be back in a minute. You won’t even notice I’m gone.”

I ended up in the backyard instead of the front—if you could even call it a yard. The grounds were immaculately kept. There was a fountain. A statue garden. A greenhouse. And stretching into the distance, as far as I could see, land. Some of it was treed. Some was open. But it was easy enough, standing there and looking out, to imagine that a person who walked off to the horizon might never make their way back.

“If yes is no and once is never, then how may sides does a triangle have?” The question came from above me. I looked up and saw a boy sitting on the edge of a balcony overhead, balanced precariously on a wrought-iron railing. Drunk.

“You’re going to fall,” I told him.

He smirked. “An interesting proposition.” “That wasn’t a proposition,” I said.

He offered me a lazy grin. “There’s no shame in propositioning a Hawthorne.” He had hair darker than Grayson’s and lighter than Xander’s. He wasn’t wearing shirt.

Always a good decision in the middle of winter, I thought acerbically, but I couldn’t keep my gaze from traveling downward from his face. His

torso was lean, his stomach defined. He had a long, thin scar that ran from collarbone to hip.

“You must be Mystery Girl,” he said.

“I’m Avery,” I corrected. I’d come out here to get away from the Hawthornes and their grief. There wasn’t a trace of a care on this boy’s face, like life was one grand lark. Like he wasn’t grieving just as much as the people inside were.

“Whatever you say, M.G.,” he retorted. “Can I call you M.G., Mystery Girl?”

I crossed my arms. “No.”

He brought his feet up to the railing and stood. He wobbled, and I had a moment of chilling prescience. He’s grieving, and he’s too high up. I hadn’t allowed myself to self-destruct when my mom died. That didn’t mean I hadn’t felt the call.

He shifted his weight to one foot and held the other out.

“Don’t!” Before I could say anything else, the boy twisted and grabbed the railing with his hands, holding himself vertical, feet in the air. I could see the muscles in his back tensing, rippling over his shoulder blades, as he lowered himself… and dropped.

He landed right beside me. “You shouldn’t be out here, M.G.”

wasn’t the shirtless one who’d just jumped off a balcony. “Neither should you.”

I wondered if he could tell how fast my heart was beating. I wondered if his was racing at all.

“If I do what I should no more often than I say what I shouldn’t”—his lips twisted—“then what does that make me?”

Jameson Hawthorne, I thought. Up close, I could make out the color of his eyes: a dark, fathomless green.

“What,” he repeated intently, “does that make me?”

I stopped looking at his eyes. And his abs. And his haphazardly gelled hair. “Drunk,” I said, and then, because I could sense an annoying comeback coming, I added two more words. “And two.”

“What?” Jameson Hawthorne said.

“The answer to your first riddle,” I told him. “If yes is no and once is never, then the number of sides a triangle has… is… two.” I drew out my reply, not bothering to explain how I’d arrived at my answer.

“Touché, M.G.” Jameson ambled past me, brushing his bare arm lightly over mine as he did. “Touché.”

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