It's Only Business

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The week that Ashe left for the Asian leg of his movie tour was one of the worst weeks for Riley. She couldn't quite pinpoint why she felt so sad, depressed and lonely, but she did. Even though Ashe kept her abreast of his schedule each day by giving her his itinerary and daily timetable, it wasn't enough. Along with rumors that he was still pining for Isobel (the PR machine hard at work, she figured), there were unofficial reports that Ashe had been officially dropped from the movie Alabama Rain.

Then two customers told her that someone had posted a review on a business review website that they'd seen a huge rat scurrying into the back room of the cafe. The news made Riley almost spill the espresso she was making.

"Excuse me? A rat?"

"That's what we just read," said a young woman who introduced herself as Natalie. Despite reading the review, she still came in. "I've been coming here, for at least a year, Riley, and I've never seen even a hint of dust on your counters, so it could be some competitor. I hear they do that these days."

"Didn't they close down that donut shop uptown?" asked someone further back in the line. "They caught it all on camera! Rats tasting the—"

"All right, that's it," Riley said, turning toward a stricken-looking Martin. The last thing she wanted was a stampede of customers out the door at the mention of a rat tasting the pastries. "Can you finish this order for me? I've got to check the back."

Riley tried not to panic as she went into the back room and inspected everything, looking for rat droppings and finding none. She went online to find the one-star review that mentioned the rat sighting, but as soon as she found it, Riley felt her surrounding spin in front of her.

Worst cafe ever! Don't understand the 5-star reviews when I just saw a rat in the back room.

It was signed by someone named coffeeofficionado, but before Riley could counter the review with a response, her notifications app beeped, letting her know that there was a news report on Ashe. Of course, she had to stop everything and click on that.

Ashe Hunter Out and Gareth Roman In!

Representatives for Reign Studios have confirmed that former co-star Gareth Roman has replaced Ashe Hunter, tipped to play the late country singer Conley Brennan. "I'm quite thrilled that Cookie, Conley's widow, hand-picked me to play her late husband," Gareth Roman was quoted in a press conference held in Tennessee this morning.

Isobel Reign, who will play Cookie Brennan, was quoted as saying, "I wish Ashe the very best, but I believe that Gareth will be the perfect Conley, and I'm so grateful to Cookie for giving us this opportunity to tell their story.

Representatives for Ashe Hunter could not be reached for comment. The actor is currently in Tokyo promoting his latest movie, Sentience, which is out now in theaters and has so far raked in $86 million in US box-office receipts.

Riley was crushed. She couldn't help but see Ashe's replacement as a sign of Isobel getting her way and punishing Ashe for dumping her. But at the same time, Gareth had nailed the accent, so maybe it was just business. But Riley wasn't worried about Gareth, for her thoughts were on Ashe and how he would take the news.

Even Paige was disappointed, when she called Riley five minutes later, considering that the three of them were now private investors in Rowan Productions, the company that Ashe and Hazel had set up when they'd first acquired the rights to Conley Brennan's songs. It would have made sense for them to have acquired the rights to his life as well, Riley thought. But then she remembered what Ashe said, about having the power to release—or withhold—the rights to the songs that Reign Productions would need for Alabama Rain. And the movie would need it.

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