From the Hawthorne Vault: Shirtless Edition
I won’t say too much other than GRAYSON, SHIRTLESS. You’re welcome.
Chapter 1: Grayson
Faster. Grayson Hawthorne was power and control. His form was flawless. He’d long ago perfected the art of visualizing his opponent, feeling each strike, channeling his body’s momentum into every block, every attack.
But you could always be faster.
After his tenth time through the sequence, Grayson stopped, sweat dripping down his bare chest. Keeping his breathing even and controlled, he knelt in front of what remained of their childhood treehouse, unrolled his pack, and surveyed his choices: three daggers, two with ornate hilts and one understated and smooth. It was this last blade that Grayson picked up.
Knife in hand, Grayson straightened, his arms by his side. Mind, clear. Body, free of tension. Begin. There were many styles of knife fighting, and the year he was thirteen, Grayson had studied them all. Of course, billionaire Tobias Hawthorne’s grandsons had never merely studied anything. Once they’d chosen a focus, they were expected to live it, breathe it, master it.
And this was what Grayson had learned that year: Stance was everything. You didn’t move the blade. You moved, and the blade moved. Faster. Faster. It had to feel natural. It had to be natural. The moment your muscles tensed, the moment you stopped breathing, the moment you broke your stance instead of flowing from one to the next, you lost.
And Hawthornes didn’t lose.
“When I told you to get a hobby, this isn’t what I meant.”
Grayson ignored Xander’s presence for as long as it took to finish the sequence—and throw the dagger with exacting precision at a low-hanging branch six feet away. “Hawthornes don’t have hobbies,” he told his little brother, walking to retrieve the blade. “We have specialties. Expertise.”
“Anything worth doing is worth doing well,” Xander quoted archly, wiggling his eyebrows—one of which had only just started to grow back after an experiment gone wrong. “And anything done well can be done better.”
Why would a Hawthorne settle for better, a voice whispered in the back of Grayson’s mind, when they could be the best?
Grayson closed his hand around the dagger’s hilt and pulled. “I should be getting back to work.”
“You are a man obsessed,” Xander declared.
Grayson secured the dagger in its holder, then rolled the pack back up, tying it closed. “I have twenty-eight billion reasons to be obsessed.”
Avery had set an impossible task for herself—and for them. Five years to give away more than twenty-eight billion dollars. That was the majority of the Hawthorne fortune. They’d spent the past seven months just assembling the foundation’s board and advisory committee.
“We have five more months to nail down the first three billion in donations,” Grayson stated crisply, “and I promised Avery I would be there with her every step of the way.”
Promises mattered to Grayson Hawthorne—and so did Avery Kylie Grambs. The girl who had inherited their grandfather’s fortune. The stranger who had become one of them.
“Speaking as someone with friends, a girlfriend, and a small army of robots, I just think you could do with a little more balance in your life,” Xander opined. “An actual hobby? Down time?”
Grayson arched a brow. “You’ve filed at least three patents since school let out for the summer last month, Xan.”
Xander shrugged. “They’re recreational patents.”
Grayson snorted, then assessed his brother. “How is Isaiah?” he asked softly.
Growing up, none of the Hawthorne brothers had known their fathers’ identities—until Grayson had discovered that his was Sheffield Grayson. Nash’s was a man named Jake Nash. And Xander’s was Isaiah Alexander. Of the three men, only Isaiah actually deserved to be called a father. He and Xander had filed those “recreational patents” together.
“We’re supposed to be talking about you,” Xander said stubbornly.
“I should get back to work,” Grayson reiterated, adopting a tone that was very effective at putting everyone except his brothers in their place. “And despite what Avery and Jameson seem to believe, I don’t need a babysitter.”
“You don’t need a babysitter,” Xander agreed cheerfully, “and I am definitely not writing a book entitled The Care And Feeding Of Your Broody Twenty-Year-Old Brother.”
Grayson’s eyes narrowed to slits.
“I can assure you,” Xander said with great solemnity, “it doesn’t have pictures.”
Before Grayson could summon an appropriate threat in response, his phone buzzed. Assuming it was the figures he’d requested, Grayson picked the phone up, only to discover a text from Nash. He looked back at Xander and knew instantly that his youngest brother had received the same message.
Grayson was the one who read the fateful missive out loud: “Nine-one-one.”