Chapter no 9

The Inheritance Games (The Inheritance Games, 1)

stayed out back a few minutes longer. Nothing about this day felt real. And tomorrow, I’d go back to Connecticut, a little richer, hopefully, and with a story to tell, and I’d probably never see any of the Hawthornes again.

I’d never have a view like this again.

By the time I returned to the Great Room, Jameson Hawthorne had miraculously managed to find a shirt—and a suit jacket. He smiled in my direction and gave a little salute. Beside him, Grayson stiffened, his jaw muscles tensing.

“Now that everyone is here,” one of the lawyers said, “let’s get started.”

The three lawyers stood in triangle formation. The one who’d spoken shared Alisa’s dark hair, brown skin, and self-assured expression. I assumed he was the Ortega in McNamara, Ortega, and Jones. The other two— presumably Jones and McNamara—stood to either side.

Since when does it take four lawyers to read a will? I thought.

“You are here,” Mr. Ortega said, projecting his voice to the corners of the room, “to hear the last will and testament of Tobias Tattersall Hawthorne. Per Mr. Hawthorne’s instructions, my colleagues will now distribute letters he has left for each of you.”

The other men began to make the rounds of the room, handing out envelopes one by one.

“You may open these letters when the reading is concluded.”

I was handed an envelope. My full name was written in calligraphy on the front. Beside me, Libby looked up at the lawyer, but he passed over her and went on delivering envelopes to the other occupants of the room.

“Mr. Hawthorne stipulated that all of the following individuals must be physically present for the reading of this will: Skye Hawthorne, Zara Hawthorne-Calligaris, Nash Hawthorne, Grayson Hawthorne, Jameson Hawthorne, Alexander Hawthorne, and Ms. Avery Kylie Grambs of New

Castle, Connecticut.”

I felt about as conspicuous as I would have if I’d looked down and discovered that I wasn’t wearing clothes.

“Since you are all here,” Mr. Ortega continued, “we may begin.” Beside me, Libby slipped her hand into mine.

“I, Tobias Tattersall Hawthorne,” Mr. Ortega read, “being of sound body and mind, decree that my worldly possessions, including all monetary and physical assets, be disposed of as follows.

“To Andrew and Lottie Laughlin, for years of loyal service, I bequeath a sum of one hundred thousand dollars apiece, with lifelong, rent-free tenancy granted in Wayback Cottage, located on the western border of my Texas estate.”

The older couple I’d seen earlier leaned into each other. All I could think was: ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS. The Laughlins’ presence wasn’t mandatory for the reading of the will, and they’d just been given one hundred thousand dollars. Apiece!

I tried very hard to remember how to breathe.

“To John Oren, head of my security detail, who has saved my life more times and in more ways than I can count, I leave the contents of my toolbox, held currently in the offices of McNamara, Ortega, and Jones, as well as a sum of three hundred thousand dollars.”

Tobias Hawthorne knew these people, I told myself, heart thumping.

They worked for him. They mattered to him. I’m nothing.

“To my mother-in-law, Pearl O’Day, I leave an annuity of one hundred thousand dollars a year, plus a trust for medical expenses as set forth in the appendix. All jewelry belonging to my late wife, Alice O’Day Hawthorne, shall pass to her mother upon my death, to be distributed as she sees fit upon hers.”

Nan harrumphed. “Don’t you go getting any ideas,” she ordered the room at large. “I’m going to outlive you all.”

Mr. Ortega smiled, but then that smile faltered. “To…” He paused and then tried again. “To my daughters, Zara Hawthorne-Calligaris and Skye Hawthorne, I leave the funds necessary to pay off all debts accrued as of the date and time of my death.” Mr. Ortega paused again, his lips pushing themselves together. The other two lawyers stared straight ahead, avoiding looking at any member of the Hawthorne family directly.

“Additionally, I leave to Skye my compass, may she always know true north, and to Zara, I leave my wedding ring, may she love as wholly and steadfastly as I loved her mother.”

Another pause, more painful than the last. “Go on.” That came from Zara’s husband.

“To each of my daughters,” Mr. Ortega read slowly, “beyond that already stated, I leave a one-time inheritance of fifty thousand dollars.”

Fifty thousand dollars? I’d no sooner thought those words than Zara’s husband echoed them out loud, irate. Tobias Hawthorne left his daughters less than he left his security detail.

Suddenly, Skye’s reference to Grayson as the heir apparent took on a whole new meaning.

“You did this.” Zara turned toward Skye. She didn’t raise her voice, but it was deadly all the same.

“Me?” Skye said, indignant.

“Daddy was never the same after Toby died,” Zara continued. “Disappeared,” Skye corrected.

“God, listen to you!” Zara lost her hold on her tone. “You got in his head, didn’t you, Skye? Batted your eyelashes and convinced him to bypass us and leave everything to your—”

“Sons.” Skye’s voice was crisp. “The word you’re looking for is sons.” “The word she’s looking for is bastards.” Nash Hawthorne had the

thickest Texas accent of anyone in the room. “Not like we haven’t heard it before.”

“If I’d had a son…” Zara’s voice caught.

“But you didn’t.” Skye let that sink in. “Did you, Zara?”

“Enough.” Zara’s husband stepped in. “We will sort this out.”

“I’m afraid there’s nothing to be sorted.” Mr. Ortega reentered the fray. “You will find the will is ironclad, with significant disincentives to any who might be tempted to challenge it.”

I translated that to mean, roughly, shut up and sit down.

“Now, if I may continue…” Mr. Ortega looked back down at the will in his hands. “To my grandsons, Nash Westbrook Hawthorne, Grayson Davenport Hawthorne, Jameson Winchester Hawthorne, and Alexander Blackwood Hawthorne, I leave…”

“Everything,” Zara muttered bitterly.

Mr. Ortega spoke over her. “Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars apiece, payable on their twenty-fifth birthdays, until such time to be managed by Alisa Ortega, trustee.”

“What?” Alisa sounded shocked. “I mean… what?”

“The hell,” Nash told her pleasantly. “The phrase you’re looking for, darlin’, is what the hell?”

Tobias Hawthorne hadn’t left everything to his grandsons. Given the scope of his fortune, he’d left them a pittance.

“What is going on here?” Grayson asked, each word deadly and precise.

Tobias Hawthorne didn’t leave everything to his grandsons. He didn’t leave everything to his daughters. My brain ground to a halt right there. My ears rang.

“Please, everyone,” Mr. Ortega held up a hand. “Allow me to finish.”

Forty-six point two billion dollars, I thought, my heart attacking my rib cage and my mouth sandpaper-dry. Tobias Hawthorne was worth forty-six point two billion dollars, and he left his grandsons a million dollars, combined. A hundred thousand total to his daughters. Another half million to his servants, an annuity for Nan…

The math in this equation did not add up. It couldn’t add up.

One by one, the other occupants of the room turned to stare at me.

“The remainder of my estate,” Mr. Ortega read, “including all properties, monetary assets, and worldly possessions not otherwise specified, I leave to Avery Kylie Grambs.”

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