Check Mate

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"It was you?"

"Who else did you think it was?" Clint exclaimed. "If it weren't for me, nothing would ever get done—and done right. You, with your apartment. Allen, with his cafe of which you now own half. And Gareth. Have you ever wondered how Gareth went from nobody to somebody in less than three years, Riley? How he didn't have to be some director's pet, and get his ass branded with some guy's initials just to get his first role in that war movie—"

"Hell's Kingdom. It was a mini-series on cable," Riley whispered, remembering the news reports, the articles that talked about Gareth's rise to fame—a quick one that involved being at the right place at the right time. "He nailed that audition."

"Nailed that audition, my ass. You need to grow up, Riley, and know how things really work in show business—any business for that matter," Clint chuckled. "You've got to make it through the door first in any town before you can nail anything. It's who you know—not what you know that gets your foot through the door. He'd still be doing potato chip commercials if it weren't for me. He'd still be waiting tables at the Ivy if it weren't for me. Do you think Collette Williams would have taken him in as a client if I hadn't paid her to handle his non-existent career? She wouldn't even touch him with a ten-foot pole then. But of course now, she salivates at the faintest glimmer of a contract."

"But I don't understand," Riley stammered. "Why would you do that? Why did you want Gareth and I out of New York so badly—"

"You don't get it, do you? You absolutely don't get it." Then he stared at her, his face turning pale. "Oh my God, you don't know."

"Know what?" Riley was too overwhelmed to think straight, and she felt stupid for not getting what Clint expected her to get. But what could he possibly mean?

"She'd had four miscarriages. You remember every single one, Riley, because she cried on your shoulder every time. And every time you told her everything was going to be alright, that we were going to get pregnant, that it was going to happen, that the IVF would be successful the next time—or whatever it is sisters say to each other," Clint said.

"If there's one thing that can reduce a man to nothing, Riley, no matter powerful he thinks he is, it's knowing he can't father any children—not after prostate cancer, no matter how successful the treatments were," Clint said, shaking his head. "What was I thinking, believing I could beat the odds even when the best doctors told me that success rates for even implantation of a fertilized egg were still less than fifty percent?"

It took Riley a few seconds to understand the meaning of Clint's words. Of course, she'd been there for every miscarriage, almost every pregnancy test that said she wasn't pregnant, and every time, Paige had cried.

"So you thought that Gareth would make the perfect donor? Did he even know? Did he volunteer?" Riley felt the tears falling down her face. She was losing this round and worse, she'd lost it a long time ago. "Was that Paige's idea? Or yours?"

"Neither. It just happened," Clint said. "After the last IVF results came back negative, she went to see you—like she always did. Only you weren't home; you were working late. But Gareth was home, and I guess they started drinking and talking. And...and things happened. That's all I know."

Riley shut her eyes, not wanting to see Paige and Gareth together, but it was hard, for she'd already seen them together.

"She never went back to your apartment ever since," Clint whispered, and Riley knew he was right. Paige used to have no problems being in the same room with Gareth, they'd always gotten along, joked and teased each other but never anything beyond friends. But that all changed, Riley remembered it now. Both of them changed. When Paige started making excuses, asking Riley to come to their brownstone instead—alone—Riley had always thought it was because of her pregnancy.

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