Home > The Final Gambit (The Inheritance Games #3)(5)

The Final Gambit (The Inheritance Games #3)(5)
Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The wind caught Eve’s hair. Her pink lips parted. “They took him.”

Air whooshed out of my lungs, my ears ringing, my sense of gravity distorted. “Who?” I demanded. “Who took him?”

“I don’t know.” Eve’s arms curved protectively around her torso. “Toby found me months ago. He told me who he was. Who I was. We were doing fine, just the two of us, but then last week something happened. Toby saw someone.”

“Who?” I asked again, the word torn out of me.

“I don’t know. Toby wouldn’t tell me. He just said that he had to leave.”

Toby does that, I thought, my eyes stinging. He leaves. “You said someone took him.”

“I’m getting to that,” Eve said tersely. “Toby didn’t want to take me with him, but I didn’t give him a choice. I told him that if he tried to leave me behind, I would go to the press.”

Despite a leaked photograph and some tabloid rumors, no media outlet had yet been able to substantiate claims that Toby was alive. “You blackmailed him into taking you with him?”

“If you were me,” Eve replied, something almost beseeching in her tone, “you would have done the same.” She looked down, impossibly long lashes casting shadows on her face. “Toby and I went off the grid, but someone was tracking us, stalking us like prey. Toby wouldn’t tell me who we were running from, but on Monday, he said that we had to split up. The plan was for us to meet back up three days later. I waited. I stayed off the grid, just like he’d taught me. Yesterday, I showed up at our meeting place.” She shook her head, her green eyes glistening. “Toby didn’t.”

“Maybe he had second thoughts,” I said, wanting that to be true. “Maybe—”

“No,” Eve insisted desperately. “Toby never lied to me. He never broke a promise. He wouldn’t—” She cut herself off. “Someone took him. You don’t believe me? I can prove it.”

Eve pulled her hair away from her face. The dried blood I’d seen was just the tip of the iceberg. The skin around the cut was mottled, a sickening mix of black and blue.

“Someone hit you.” Until Oren spoke, I’d almost forgotten he was there. “With the butt of a gun, I’m guessing.”

Eve didn’t even look at him. Her bright green eyes stayed locked on mine. “Toby didn’t show up at our meeting place, but someone else did.” She let her hair fall back over the bruise. “They grabbed me from behind and told me that if I knew what was good for me, I would forget all about Toby Hawthorne.”

“They used his real name?” I managed to form the question.

Eve nodded. “That’s the last thing I remember. They knocked me out. I woke up to find they’d stolen everything I had on me. They even went through my pockets.” Her voice shook slightly, and then she steeled herself. “Toby and I had stashed a bag for emergencies: a change of clothes for each of us, a little cash.” I wondered if she realized how tightly she was holding that bag now. “I bought a bus ticket, and I came here. To you.”

You have a daughter, I’d told Toby when we found out about Eve, and he’d replied, I have two. Swallowing back the twisted bramble of emotions inside me, I turned to Oren. “We should call the authorities.”

“No.” Eve caught my arm. “You can’t report a dead man missing, and Toby didn’t tell me to go to the police. He told me to come to you.”

My throat tightened. “Someone attacked you. We can report that.”

“And who,” Eve bit out, “is going to believe a girl like me?”

I’d grown up poor. I’d been that girl—the one nobody expected much from, the one who was treated as less than because I had less.

“Bringing the authorities in could tie our hands,” Oren told me. “We should prepare for a ransom demand. In the event that we get no such demand…”

I didn’t even want to think about what it meant if the person who’d taken Toby wasn’t after money. “If Eve tells you where she was supposed to meet Toby, can you send a team to do recon?” I asked Oren.

“Consider it done,” he said—then his gaze shifted abruptly to something or someone behind me. I heard a sound from that direction, a strangled, almost inhuman sound, and I knew, even before I turned around, what I would see there. Who I would see there.

“Emily?” Grayson Hawthorne was staring at a ghost.

 

 

CHAPTER 7


Grayson Davenport Hawthorne was a person who valued control—of every situation, of every emotion. When I took a step toward him, he stepped back.

“Grayson,” I said softly.

There were no words for the way he was staring at Eve—like she was a dream, every hope and every torment, everything.

Silvery gray eyes closed. “Avery. You should…” Grayson forced a breath in, out. He straightened and squared his shoulders. “I’m not safe to be around right now, Avery.”

It took me a moment to realize that he thought he was hallucinating. Again. Breaking down. Again.

Tell me again that I’m not broken.

Closing the space between us, I took Grayson by the shoulders. “Hey,” I said softly. “Hey. Look at me, Gray.”

Those light eyes opened.

“That’s not Emily.” I held his gaze and wouldn’t let him look away. “And you aren’t hallucinating.”

Grayson’s eyes flickered over my shoulder. “I see—”

“I know,” I said, bringing my hand to the side of his face and forcing his eyes back to mine. “She’s real. Her name is Eve.” I couldn’t be sure he was hearing me, let alone processing what I was saying. “She’s Toby’s daughter.”

“She looks…”

“I know,” I said, my hand still on his jaw. “Emily’s mom was Toby’s biological mother, remember?” Newborn Toby had been adopted into the Hawthorne family in secret. Alice Hawthorne had faked a pregnancy to hide the adoption, passing him off as her own. “That makes Eve a Laughlin by blood,” I continued. “There’s a family resemblance.”

“I thought—” Grayson cut off the words. A Hawthorne did not admit weakness. “You knew.” Grayson looked down at me, and I finally let my hand fall away from his face. “You aren’t surprised to see her, Avery. You knew.”

I heard what he wasn’t saying: That night in the wine cellar—I knew.

“Toby wanted her existence kept secret,” I said, telling myself that was why I hadn’t told him. “He didn’t want this life for Eve.”

“Who else knows?” Grayson demanded in that heir-apparent tone, the one that made questions sound perfunctory, like he was doing the person he was questioning a courtesy by asking instead of wresting the answer from their mind himself.

“Just Jameson,” I replied.

After a long, torturous moment, Grayson looked past me to Eve, emotion etched in every muscle of his jaw. I wasn’t sure how much of his torment was because he thought I considered him weak and how much of it was her. Either way, Grayson didn’t hide from his pain this time. He walked toward Eve, letting it come, like a shirtless man stepping out into freezing rain.

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