Home > The Final Gambit (The Inheritance Games #3)(4)

The Final Gambit (The Inheritance Games #3)(4)
Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes

“You aren’t on your own.” Grayson let his eyes linger on mine, then carefully and deliberately broke eye contact. “Every year, on our birthdays,” he said, after a moment, “the old man would call us into his study.”

I’d heard this before. “Invest. Cultivate. Create,” I said. From the time they were kids, each year on their birthdays, the Hawthorne brothers had been given ten thousand dollars to invest. They’d also been told to choose a talent or an interest to cultivate, and no expense had been spared in that cultivation. Finally, Tobias Hawthorne had issued a birthday challenge: something they were to invent, create, perform, or will into being.

“Invest—you’ll soon have covered. Cultivate—you should pick something you want for yourself. Not an item or an experience but a skill.” I waited for Grayson to ask me what I was going to choose, but he didn’t. Instead, he removed a leather book from the inside of his suit jacket and slid it across the table. “As for your birthday challenge, you’ll need to create a plan.”

The leather was a deep, rich brown, soft to the touch. The edges of the pages were slightly uneven, as though the book had been bound by hand.

“You’ll want to start with a firm grasp of your financials. From there, think about the future and map out your time and financial commitments for the next five years.”

I opened the book. The thick off-white pages were blank.

“Write it all down,” Grayson instructed. “Then tear it apart and rewrite it. Over and over again until you have a plan that works.”

“You know what you would do in my position.” I would have bet my entire fortune that somewhere, he had a journal—and a plan—of his own.

Grayson’s eyes found their way back to mine. “You aren’t me.”

I wondered if there was anyone at Harvard—a single person—who knew him even a tenth as well as his brothers and I did. “You promised you would help me.” The words escaped before I could stop them. “You said you would teach me everything I needed to know.”

I knew better than to remind Grayson Hawthorne of a broken promise. I didn’t have the right to ask this of him, to ask anything of him. I was with Jameson. I loved Jameson. And, Grayson’s entire life, everyone had expected too damn much.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “This isn’t your problem.”

“Don’t,” Grayson ordered roughly, “look at me like I’m broken.”

You are not broken. I’d said those words to him. He hadn’t believed me then. He wouldn’t now, either. “Alisa wants me to put the money in a trust,” I said, because the least I owed him was a subject change.

Grayson responded with an arch of his brow. “Of course she does.”

“I haven’t agreed to anything yet.”

A slight smile pulled at the edges of his lips. “Of course you haven’t.”

Oren appeared in the doorway before I could reply. “I just got a call from one of my men,” he told me. “There’s someone at the gates.”

A warning sounded in my mind because Oren was perfectly capable of taking care of unwanted visitors himself. Skye? Or Ricky? Grayson’s mother and my deadbeat of a father were no longer in prison for an attempt on my life that, remarkably, they hadn’t orchestrated. That didn’t mean they weren’t still threats.

“Who is it?” Grayson’s expression went blade-sharp.

Oren held my gaze as he answered the question. “She says her name is Eve.”




For months, I’d kept the existence of Toby’s daughter a secret from everyone but Jameson. Because Toby had asked me to—but not just because Toby had asked me to.

“I need to take care of this,” I said with a calm that I in no way felt.

“I assume my assistance is not required?” Grayson’s tone was cool, but I knew him. I knew he would take my declining help as evidence that I was treating him with kid gloves.

Hawthornes aren’t supposed to break, his voice whispered in my memory. Especially me.

I didn’t have the luxury right now of trying to convince Grayson Hawthorne that he wasn’t weak or broken or damaged to me. “I appreciate the offer,” I told him, “but I’ll be fine.”

The last thing Grayson needed was to see the girl at the gates.

As Oren drove me out there, my mind raced. What is she doing here? What does she want? I tried to prepare myself, but the moment I saw Toby’s daughter outside the gates, a wall of emotion crashed into me. Her amber hair blew in a gentle breeze. Even from behind, even wearing a threadbare white dress smudged with stains, this girl was luminescent.

She’s not supposed to be here. Toby had been clear: He couldn’t save me from the legacy Tobias Hawthorne had left behind, but he could save Eve. From the press. From the threats. From the poisoned tree, I thought, stepping out of the SUV.

Eve turned. She moved like a dancer, with equal parts grace and abandon, and the moment her eyes met mine, I stopped breathing.

I’d known that Eve was a dead ringer for Emily Laughlin.

I’d known that.

But seeing her was like looking up to see a tsunami bearing down. She had Emily’s strawberry-blond hair, Emily’s emerald eyes. The same heart-shaped face, the same lips and delicate dusting of freckles.

Seeing her would kill Grayson. It might hurt Jameson, but it would kill Grayson.

I have to get her out of here. That thought pounded through my head, but as I reached the gates, my instincts sent up another warning. I scanned the road.

“Let her in,” I told Oren. I didn’t see any paparazzi, but experience had taught me the dangers of telescopic lenses, and the last thing Jameson or Grayson needed was to see this girl’s face plastered all over every gossip site on the internet.

The gates opened. Eve took a step toward me. “You’re Avery.” She took a jagged breath. “I’m—”

“I know who you are.” The words came out harsher than I’d meant them to—and that was the exact moment I saw blood crusted on her temple. “Oh, hell.” I stepped closer. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” Eve’s fingers wound tightly around the strap of her beat-up messenger bag. “Toby isn’t.”

No. My mind rebelled. My mom had loved Toby. He’d watched out for me once she was gone. He has to be okay. A breath trapped in my chest, I let Oren escort the two of us behind the SUV—away from prying eyes and ears.

“What happened to Toby?” I demanded urgently.

Eve pressed her lips together. “He told me that if anything happened to him, I should come to you. And, look, I’m not naive, okay? I know you probably don’t want me here.” She said those words like a person used to not being wanted. “But I didn’t have anywhere else to go.”

When I’d found out about Eve, I’d offered to bring her to Hawthorne House. Toby had vetoed that idea. He hadn’t wanted anyone to know about her. So why would he send her to me? Every muscle in my jaw and stomach tight, I forced myself to concentrate on the only thing that mattered.

“What happened to Toby?” I said again, my voice low and guttural.

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