The Real Thing

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"What do you want to talk about?" Riley asked, walking cautiously toward the door, her arms crossed in front of her. "Why don't you just move on and live your life without ruining any more of mine?"

"We need to talk, Riley," Gareth said. "Can you, at least, open the door and let me in so we can talk like two adults? It's cold out here."

"Then freeze. Or go back to your hotel where it's warm," Riley said. But Gareth only exhaled, hugged his arms around his chest and planted himself stubbornly outside the door.

"C'mon, Ri," Gareth said, his voice softening. "Truce?"

"We already tried that, Gareth, and we didn't get anywhere but the front page of some gossip rag. Where is this going to end up? Do you have your photographers with telephoto lenses waiting outside? In a car maybe?"

"Riley, you're overreacting," Gareth said, rolling his eyes.

Now, Riley was angry. How dare Gareth say she was over-reacting! No way was she letting him through the door now. He could freeze to death outside for all she cared.

"Over-reacting? You were already seeing Isobel when you kissed me and told me, ooh, baby, you're so real, or whatever else you were lying about. You did that just to get back at Ashe, didn't you? Well, I'm not falling for this 'we've got to talk' shit, alright? Just go, Gareth, and spare me the drama. I have enough drama right now."

Gareth leaned against the window. "You're not over-reacting. I'm sorry, alright? But we need to talk—get a few things straight once and for all." He winced as thunder rumbled overhead. "C'mon, Riley, I'm getting cold and wet out here. Please? Just talk. We need to talk about us."

"There is no us, Gareth. There hasn't been any us since you put me on a plane back to New York three years ago and said you'd come back for me, but you never did," Riley said. "So you can freeze your ass out there for all I care. Watch me."

For the next ten minutes, Gareth stood outside, arms crossed in front of his chest, his shoulders hunched forward, waiting for her to open the door. He wasn't giving up, not that Riley expected him to. He was stubborn when he wanted to be, which confused her. What did he want to talk about? And as much as she needed to put the books away, she couldn't do it knowing someone was soaking wet from the rain outside the shop awning. Did she want him to freeze to death? Gareth wasn't that stupid, but still—with Gareth, she'd given up figuring out why he did the things he did. What happened to his ever-present trucker hat, she wondered as she took a deep breath and opened the door.

"Come in then," she grumbled then lowered the blinds of the door completely as soon as she shut the door. The last thing she needed was another photographer misconstruing their conversation for something else.

"And I'm not making you any espresso either," Riley said as she walked past him to continue packing the books into the boxes. Gareth shrugged off his wet jacket and hung it on the coat rack next to the door, ruffling his wet hair and then stomping his boots on the doormat.

"What's with all these books? You're not closing up the shop, are you?" he asked as he crouched in front of her, the books forming a barrier between them.

"No, but someone wrote an online review claiming they'd seen a rat in here, and we had to clean up the entire back area, including the food service counters and pastry shelves, but we've yet to find a single rat or mouse dropping. So Allen figured that maybe it came from the bookshelves. I mean, look at this. It could be a perfect rodent condo, considering this is Manhattan," Riley said, spreading her arms to her sides to indicate the shelves that were currently barren of books. "He decided that we'd better take everything down and wipe the shelves clean—maybe even get rid of them altogether."

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