Home > The Final Gambit (The Inheritance Games #3)(8)

The Final Gambit (The Inheritance Games #3)(8)
Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes

I frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Give us twenty-four hours, and I’ll let you know.”

Twenty-four hours? I was just supposed to sit here, doing nothing, for twenty-four hours? I hung up the phone.

“Does Oren think Eve is a threat?” Max asked in a dramatic stage-whisper.

Xander made a face. “Note to self: Cancel the welcome festivities.”

I thought about Oren telling me to let him handle it, then about Eve swearing that all she wanted was to find Toby. “No,” I told Xander. “Don’t cancel anything. I want to get a feel for Eve.” I needed to know if we could trust her because if we could, maybe she knew something I didn’t. “Got any particular festivities in mind?” I asked.

Xander pressed his hands together. “I believe that our best option for assessing the truth of the mysterious Eve’s character is… Chutes and Ladders.”




The Hawthorne version of Chutes and Ladders wasn’t a board game. Xander promised he would explain further once I got Eve to agree to play. Focused on that task, I made my way to the Versailles wing. At the top of the east staircase, I found Grayson standing statue-still outside the wing, dressed in a silver three-piece suit, his blond hair wet from the pool.

A poolside cocktail party. The memory hit me and wouldn’t let go. Grayson is expertly deflecting every financial inquiry that comes my way. I glance toward the pool. There’s a toddler balanced precariously on the edge. She leans forward, topples over, goes under, and doesn’t come up. Before I can move or even yell, Grayson is running.

In one liquid motion, he dives into the pool, fully clothed.

“Where’s Jameson?” Grayson’s question drew me back to the present.

“Probably somewhere he’s not supposed to be,” I answered honestly, “making very bad decisions and throwing caution to the wind.”

I didn’t ask Grayson what he was doing outside the Versailles wing.

“I see that Oren put a man on Eve.” Grayson almost managed to sound like he was commenting on the weather, but a comment never felt like just a comment coming from him.

“It’s Oren’s job to make sure I stay safe.” I didn’t point out that under other circumstances, Grayson would have considered that his job, too.

Est unus ex nobis. Nos defendat eius.

“Oren shouldn’t be worried about me.” Eve stepped into the hall. Her hair was dry and fell in gentle waves. “Your security team should be focusing everything on Toby.” Eve let her vibrant green eyes go from me to Grayson, and I wondered if she recognized the effect she had on him. “What do I have to do to convince you that I am not a threat?”

She was looking at Grayson, but I was the one who answered the question. “How about a game?”



“Hawthorne Chutes and Ladders,” Xander boomed, standing in front of a pile of pillows, rope ladders, grappling hooks, suction cups, and nylon rope. “The rules are fairly simple.” The list of complicated things that Xander Hawthorne considered to be “fairly simple” was lengthy. “Hawthorne House has three chutes—entrances to the passageways that involve, let’s say, a drop,” Xander continued.

I smiled. I’d already found all three.

“There are slides built into the walls of your mansion?” Max snorted. “Mother-foxing rich people.”

Xander did not take offense. “Some chutes are more advantageous than others. If another player beats you to a chute, that chute is frozen for three minutes, so everyone will need one of these.” Xander picked one up a pillow and gave it a gentle, but somehow menacing, swing. “Battles must be waged.”

“Hawthorne Chutes and Ladders involves pillow fights?” Max asked in a tone that made me think she was picturing all four Hawthorne brothers swinging pillows at one another. Possibly shirtless.

“Pillow wars,” Xander corrected. “Once you successfully claim your chute and make it to the ground floor, you exit the House, and it’s a race to climb to the roof from the outside.”

I surveyed the climbing supplies spread out at our feet. “We get to choose a ladder?”

“One does not,” Xander corrected me austerely, “simply choose a ladder.”

Grayson broke the silence he’d adopted the moment Eve had stepped into the hall. “Our grandfather liked to say that every choice worth anything came with a cost.”

Eve assessed him. “And the cost for climbing supplies is…”

Grayson answered her assessing look with one of his own. “A secret.”

Xander elaborated. “Each player confesses a secret. The person with the best secret gets to pick their climbing supplies first, and so on and so forth. The person with the least impressive secret goes last.” I was starting to see why Xander had chosen this game. “Now,” he continued, rubbing his hands together. “Which brave soul wants to go first?”

I eyed Eve, but Grayson intervened. “I’ll go.” He fixed his silvery eyes straight ahead. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it definitely wasn’t him saying, with absolutely no intonation, “I kissed a girl at Harvard.”

He… No, I wasn’t going to finish that thought. What Grayson Hawthorne did with his lips was none of my business.

“I got a tattoo.” Max offered up her own secret with a grin. “It’s very nerdy and in a location I will not disclose. My parents can never find out.”

“Tell me more,” Xander said, “about this nerdy tattoo.”

Grayson arched a brow at his brother, and I tried to think of something that would make Eve feel like she had to open up. “Sometimes,” I said quietly, “I feel like Tobias Hawthorne made a mistake.” Maybe that wasn’t a secret. Maybe it was obvious. But the next part was harder to say. “Like he should have chosen someone else.”

Eve stared at me.

“The old man didn’t make mistakes,” Grayson said in one of those tones that dared you to argue—and strongly advised against it.

“My turn.” Xander raised his hand. “I figured out who my father is.”

“You what?” Grayson whipped his head toward his brother. Skye Hawthorne had four sons, each with a different father, none of whom she’d identified. Nash and Grayson had discovered their fathers within the last year. I’d known that Xander was looking for his.

“I don’t know if he knows about me.” Xander rushed the words. “I haven’t made contact. I’m not sure I’m going to, and by the sacred rules of Chutes and Ladders, none of you can ever mention this again unless I bring it up first. Eve?”

With the rest of us still focused on Xander, Eve bent and picked up a grappling hook. As I turned to look at her, she trailed her finger along its edge. “Almost twenty-one years ago, my mom got drunk and cheated on her husband, and I was the result.” She didn’t meet a single person’s eyes. “Her husband knew I wasn’t his, but they stayed married. I used to think that if I could be good enough—smart enough, sweet enough, something enough—the man we all pretended was my father would stop blaming me for being born.” She tossed the grappling hook back down. “The worst part was my mom blamed me, too.”

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