Dry Run

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It was close to 9:30 by the time Riley returned to her apartment. She'd spent the last five hours thinking about what to do next with her life, how to extricate herself from Clint's financial hold, and how to see the triplets on her own terms—and theirs—without Paige and Clint interfering.

So Riley decided to go to the Library Cafe and talk to Allen about what Clint's terms had been when she became a business partner. It had been right around the time she got out of drug rehab, and at that time she'd let Clint take care of the specifics. But how much had Clint loaned him? What were the terms? Would she be able to take over Allen's share, and thus no longer be indebted to Clint in any way?

It wasn't as if Riley had done nothing but take Clint's money all these years. Though she hadn't gone to a traditional college, she might as well have done the equivalent of one when it came to coffee and running the Library Cafe. It was how she knew the difference between Arabica and Robusta, fair trade, shade-grown, and why dark roasts, light roasts, and French roasts were just not the same. It was the reason she was quite picky when it came to different varieties of coffee that the Library would carry, and not just settle for what was easier to purchase in bulk. They could, but it was her decision not to. It meant that coffee and espresso at the Library Cafe sometimes seemed overpriced, but only because a macchiato—or, at least, a real one at that—was a perfectly brewed espresso with a sliver of foamed milk and absolutely no sugar or syrup.

She did her fair share to run the shop, putting more hours than she should, spending days off there when she should be doing something else. She worked the hours she was supposed to and hardly ever took a day off. She trained the baristas on the job, after work, and only had the ones who'd proven themselves to know their coffee behind the espresso machines.

But she'd also hidden behind her job all that time in the hopes of forgetting what had happened between her and Gareth, how they'd both messed up. Her, when she lost it in that movie producer's party, and him, long before, when he slept with Paige and fathered her three boys.

In the back office, Riley and Allen came to a tentative agreement. Until they'd finally sit before a financial adviser who was not Clint, Riley would buy Allen out by the middle of the following year. She'd figure out the specifics later. She knew that she had half of what she needed sitting in mutual funds that she could withdraw and the other half, she'd simply take out a loan. Then she'd figure out how to repay Clint's initial investment.

It could work. It could not. But Riley knew that she had to start learning how to do things on her own. She'd relied too much on other people to do things for her, that it was time that she learned how to do the same things herself. She would have kept thinking about the same questions all night if her phone didn't ring just then.

"I didn't hear from you all afternoon," Ashe said, his voice worried. "Are you alright?"

"I am now," Riley said, smiling and forcing all thoughts of Clint, Paige, and triplets from her mind. She was going to see this as a new start, even if it was nothing but a mere phone call. She had to. If Ashe's appearance in her life told Riley one thing, it was that new beginnings were always around the corner, even if sometimes they took the appearance of Hollywood's latest boy toy and a stuck elevator. But then, it could be worse.

"Have you had dinner?" he asked.

Riley's stomach growled as if response, and she realized she hadn't eaten anything since the light lunch they had at the Village before ending up at the park. It was so like Ashe to call and check up on her since he'd become familiar with the way she ate, which was only whenever she remembered, and that if left to her own devices, she'd be inhaling coffee all day and call it a balanced diet.

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