Love Stripped

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Chapter 24

(Jake’s POV)

“This is why, ladies and gentlemen, this is a suitable product for you company.” The man, properly dressed for a meeting with CEOs, finally finished the lecture with that sentence.

Then, his dark brown eyes regarded a man sat at the end of a considerably long table, with dim green eyes looking distant, and bored, as if he was only there physically. However, when the group, sat at the sides of the shining brown table, began talking, his mind flew to the conference room. He sighted exhaustedly, and then bolted up.

It was time for the CEO to give his word about the man’s presentation.

“Thank you for the presentation, it was very interesting.” Jake started, his eyes on the graphics displayed on a board. But just as quickly as he’d glanced at the board, he looked back at the man, and locked his eyes. “However, I’ve already made a decision. I am not, at all, interested in your product.”

As he expected, everyone glanced at each other, whispering, and either narrowing or widening their eyes, such was the shock swelling inside them. Among the group, Jake spotted his mother at the far left of the people, and she was the only one who was smiling in a proud way.

“But why?” Someone finally dared to ask.

Putting an effort to look a rather interested in the business of his company, Jake put in plain words what he thought of the product, and to reinforce his idea of it, he signalled a young woman to distribute a stack of papers to every single man and woman. They read it, and they knew he was right.

The meeting soon ended with Jake saying, “Well, I think I can say we’re done with this meeting, aren’t we?” All nodded and smiled, with the exception of the man who presented the product, and left the meeting with a frown.

“Very good, I have to admit.” Jake’s mother spoke for the first time, soon after they left the conference room. “And it was just your first meeting.”

“Yeah,”

“It wasn’t difficult,”

“No, it wasn’t.” He agreed tediously. “Are we going home, now?”

“Yes,” His mother replied, “I think I can say I left the company in good hands.”

“You should already be sure of it.” Jake pointed out sharply, lacking emotion. His mother locked sideways at him, but said nothing.

Jake had been in his mother’s for two days, already. The company was the only thing that distracted him from everything... from Kimberly, given that he wasn’t allowed to have moments alone to wonder about the way she’d fooled him, and also because when he got to bed, he was too tired to remain awake and mull over everything Kimberly had disclosed last time they’d been together.

Already in the car, his mother couldn’t help it. “You still haven’t told me what’s wrong, Jake.”

“Nothing’s wrong, mom.” He lied. It was everything. Everything was wrong, especially when Kimberly was the reason. Looking at his mother and facing his brother, knowing they always knew, and hadn’t told him, made him sick.

Kimberly was a stripper. In addition to that, his stepfather harassed her, and everyone close to him – his mother, brother, and even his best friend – knew, but none of them had stepped forward and told him.

His heart always tightened in his chest whenever he thought of Kimberly laying in his bed, gazing at him with her gray eyes... and whenever he pictured her face when he was giving her pleasure and had thought she deserved more than ever one of his sex adventures had, it sickened him to know he’d been mistaken about her this whole time. She wasn’t the one.

She was just a fucking stripper.

“Is everything ok between you and Eric?” His mother asked, probing into his business.

“Yes. He apologized and I apologized, so we’re ok, again.” To think a mere stripper had torn him from his younger brother just like that... It angered him.

“What about Kimberly? How is she?”

“I don’t know, and I don’t want to talk about her.” He retorted, clenching his fists at the sound of Kimberly’s name. He’d broken up with her, and he’d left her. What he’d said had made her cry, but he hadn’t cared. How could he, when she’d lied to him? He loved her! He was ready to give her everything she wanted! Why did she have to ruin it? Why did he even fall for her?

Months ago, he wouldn’t care. He would just screw her, and then dump her, just like he did to his sex adventures. Alas, Kimberly... Kimmy had gotten him tangled in her webs like no one had.

“What do you mean you don’t know?” His mother questioned him, frowning at him.

“I don’t know. Can’t you understand the freaking words?” And before he saw the insulted look imprinted on his mother’s aging features, the car parked in front of their mansion, and Jake climbed out of the care in a hostile way.

He made his way through the maze of his house to his room. When he got there, he tossed the papers onto his desk, over his laptop, and began taking off his expensive suit. He was longing for a bath that would soothe the tension in his body.

Unfortunately, he was brought to a halt when someone knocked. “Who is it?”

“Eric,” His bother spoke from the other side of the wall. Walking out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around his lean waist, Jake sauntered up to his door, and unlocked it. The moment Eric stepped inside, he blurted out, “Mom’s worried about you, man.”

“She shouldn’t,” He prompted, turning his back on his younger brother. “I’m fine.”

“She can’t stop talking about you. How you’ve been acting weird, and-”

“I said I’m fine!” He suddenly snapped, spinning around to look at his brother, utterly dumbfounded. “Can’t you and mom see that? I’m tired of being asked what the fuck is wrong with me!” They were all aware of that, Jake knew it, but they were his family. They were worried. But mad as Jake still was, he didn’t value that at all. However, Eric wouldn’t still leave his room.

“How... How’s Kim?” He dared to ask. It was the first his brother referred to Kimberly ever since they’d fought the day he and Kimberly worked things out, almost two months ago.

“Why won’t you call her and ask? I haven’t called her in two days?”

“You haven’t called her?” There was shock affecting Eric’s voice. “Why not?”

“I don’t feel like it.” Eric grew suspicious; Jake could easily see it on his face. Maybe he should just tell them he’d broken up with Kimberly. After all, he couldn’t keep hiding this for long. They’d all eventually find out.

“Mom has been trying to call her to know what’s wrong with you, but she won’t pick up her calls.” That was easy to answer. Perhaps Kimberly just didn’t want to talk to his mother anymore, because now, she had nothing else to deal with her. Yes, it was definitely that. “You know why?”

Of course he knew. And to end with all the probing and annoying surveys, Jake finally revealed, “Yes, I do. We’re not dating anymore.”

“What?” Eric burst out, completely flabbergasted. If he’d been smart, he would’ve have discovered what was going on more swiftly. Couldn’t Eric tell by the despicable way he was treating his mother, and avoiding Aiden’s calls, that he already knew they’d all omitted the truth from him?

It wasn’t the fact that Kimberly was a stripper that hurt him and angered him the most. What enraged him was that they’d all known and but no one had disclosed the truth! He was her boyfriend, and they hadn’t told him! His own mother apparently didn’t give a damn about her son dating a stripper! How could that be? And Kimberly... it made his blood boil whenever he remembered Eric had known about her the whole time, and he hadn’t. She hadn’t trusted him.

“You heard me. I’m sure you don’t really need to ask why, do you? If you think, I’m sure you’ll get to the right conclusion!” As he spoke, his voice rose, and his fists clenched in anger. He could feel his heart pounding on his throat. “Thanks for the warning, brother.”

“She asked me to keep a secret.” Eric revealed, his voice wavering, but still calm under those circumstances.

“She asked mom and Aiden to keep a secret, too?”

“Of course!” Eric unexpectedly yelled, lifting his arm to point at him. “She was afraid of you! Not even her sister knows! How the fuck did you find out, anyway?”

“After months of being involved with her, she finally decided to tell me.” Now... maybe he preferred Kimberly had kept him in the dark. Although he loathed her now for lying and not trusting him, he still loved her. And no matter how much he hated it, he couldn’t stop loving her just like that. After all, he’d never really loved someone like he’d loved Kimberly. From all the women he’d been with... Kimberly had been the only one who’d gotten him that easily. He’d tried to fight against that surge of desire, but it had been impossible to resist her.

“You fucking broke up with her because she’s a stripper?” Eric looked suddenly angrier than Jake. “She fucking likes you, no, loves you more than anything!”

“I didn’t break up with her just because she was a stripper, you idiot! I broke up with because she didn’t trust me!”

“She didn’t tell her own sister!”

“But she told you, mom, and Aiden!”

“You’re so fucking stupid, Jake!” Eric shouted, as if Jake had insulted him somehow. “I told Aiden because I was drunk, and I told mom because she wanted to know who was the stripper Peterson...” His brother abruptly trailed off, his eyes widened in shock. He thought Kimberly hadn’t told him about that?

“Kimberly knew Peterson was our stepfather! And when mom discovered, she didn’t even bother to tell me, hey Jake, you’re a dating the stripper your stepfather harassed! You didn’t tell me either, and you’re my fucking brother, Eric! That’s what bugs me more than anything in the world!” Jake’s dark green eyes blazed with fury as he regarded his brother intently. Couldn’t they just understand what made him angry? Kimberly didn’t trust her, and his family hadn’t told him a damn thing! “Do you think I’d have broken up with her, just because she was a stripper? I’d be mad at her, I won’t lie about that, but I’d eventually want her back! She could just fire herself and I’d give anything she needed! Unfortunately, Kimberly didn’t trust me!”

“Jake,” Eric started, restraining himself from yelling, “You need to-”

“I fucking love her, Eric!” He let out the fury and the pain, watching the amazement stamped on his brother’s face. He’d never said he loved a woman before. Hell, he’d never loved anyone! “I’ve never been played before, but now that I actually like someone, I’m played? I should’ve never let her live with me. My life was perfect before she came.”

“No, it wasn’t, and you know it.” Eric promptly said, and deep inside him, Jake knew he was right.

However, before he could keep quarrelling with his brother, their mother stormed inside his bedroom. “Jake, Tom wants to talk to you!” Her tone vacillated with worry. Something was wrong. “He said he’s been trying to call you, but you haven’t picked up any calls.”

“What’s wrong?” He asked wryly, not at all wanting to talk to any of those who lived at his house.

“I think it’s about Kim.”

“If it’s Kimberly, I don’t want to talk to her.” She wanted to talk to him, now? She was wrong, if she thought he’d want to listen to her miserable excuses.

“I think you should.” Regardless of the worried tone, his mother spoke sharply, and her green eyes pierced through him, almost intimidating him.

Sighing, Jake took the phone from his mother’s hand, and leaned it on his ear. “Tom?”

“Jake! Thank God!” He sounded urgent - too urgent and anxious. Had something happened? “Listen, did Kimberly go with you to your mother’s?”

Before Jake could even think of a reply, he heard voices in the background, and out of the blue, it was Sidney on the other side. “Jake, tell me, please, did my sister go with you?”

“No,” He answered flatly.

“Are you sure? Please, just tell me you’re lying.”

“I’m not,”

“Oh God...” All of a sudden, Jake was listening to Sidney crying.

“What’s wrong?” He felt his stomach twisting. It was his turn to be worried.

“Kim’s missing, Jake!” Sidney yelled hysterically, “After you guys left, she never returned!”

“What? That’s impossible! I left her at the str- at the, ah... at her workplace! Have you tried to call her?” Anxiety built up inside his body. Kimberly was missing. It couldn’t be. It just couldn’t.

“Of course! But her cell’s off! Something happened, Jake, I’m sure of it! Kim never has her cell off and she never spends nights out without warning me!”

Jake didn’t know what to say. What had he done? Had something happened to her after he’d left her alone that night?

“Have you tried calling Lisa?”

“Yes! Lisa called everyone she knew!” Sidney revealed, weeping. Jake could easily picture Kimberly’s younger sister with tears streaming from her blue eyes. “She doesn’t know where Kim is, too! I think Lisa even went to Kimberly’s work, but they said she hasn’t shown up in two days!”

That was impossible. He’d left her right there, just a few feet from the strip club. Could she have gone to a hotel just to be alone for some time? No, he knew Kimberly better than that... She would have at least warned Lisa or Sidney. Something bad had happened, and Jake felt the fear seeping deep into his bones.

“Look, I’ll be there as soon as I can, ok?” He didn’t wait for a reply. He hung up the call, and returned the cell. Ignoring the probing stares from his mother and brother, Jake dashed back to the bathroom.

“What’s wrong?” Eric was the first to speak.

Jake had never put on his clothes that fast. He was ready in less than a minute with a shirt and beach shorts on. When he left the bathroom, he gazed at his mother’s, from whom he’d gotten his eyes, and divulged, “Kimberly’s missing.”

“What? How? What happened?” Both of them scurried around him, yearning for answers Jake didn’t have.

“I don’t know!” He roared, now completely out of control. “I left at the strip club the night I came here! Sid says she hasn’t come home for the past two days and that she missed work, too!”

“Kim never misses work.” Eric pointed out, his voice sick with concern.

“You think I don’t know that, Eric? Kimberly might have kept this from me for months, but I do know she never ever misses work!”

“Jake, you need to calm down. You’re going back now?” She touched his arm, and before Jake replied, she glanced at Eric. “He knows?”

He wasn’t the one who answered. Jake was. “Yes, I know! And thank you for telling me, mom!” Just like that, he shook off his mother hand, and walked towards the door. “I have to go now. I have to know what’s wrong with Kimmy...” If whatever happened had been his fault... he’d never forgive himself.

He darted out of his room, both his mother and brother chasing him down the extravagant staircase that led to main hall. “Jake, wait!”

“I can’t wait, mom! I have to go!” With guilt eating his limbs, Jake stormed out of the house, and towards his car parked on one of the garages. He unlocked it, climbed inside, and started the engine. A second later, he was one his way to find out something about Kimberly’s whereabouts.

Where was she, anyway? Why was she doing this? Was she trying to make him worry to death so he’d go after her? Well, she’d surely succeeded in that! Still... that sounded like something Kimberly wouldn’t do. She wouldn’t play with fire, she wouldn’t leave her sister crying out because she was missing, would she? What had he done, then? He should’ve never left her in the middle of the street that night!

On his way back, Jake prayed for Kimberly’s welfare if something had indeed happened. His relation with her was ruined, but he still loved her. He learned to love a woman by loving her. He learned how to give pleasure and receive none in return. He was ready to give her everything she wanted...

Why did all good things come to an end?

Maybe he was destined to stay as he was before she came along; before she changed his mind, and set alight that fire of desire that soon flooded his body at voracious speed every night, greedily yearning for her.

When got home, they were all gathered in the living room – Tom, Sidney, James, Aiden, Ben, and Lisa. His eyes met Aiden’s first, but he quickly looked away and set his eyes on Kimberly’s younger sister, whose blue eyes were red from crying. He knew it was worthless to ask, but still... “Where is she?”

“I don’t know, Jake!” Sidney almost yelled, her voice affect by the nervous. “She hasn’t come home for the past two days, and her phone’s off! We’ve tried-”

“Can I talk to you in private, Jake?” Lisa’s voice cutting off Sidney attracted Jake’s dark green eyes to her. He nodded, and then, ignoring the enquiring glances, Jake and Lisa set off to his room in the basement.

As soon as they walked inside, and Lisa shut the door, Jake unleashed some of the anger by questioning Kimberly’s best friend in a very hostile way. “Do you know where she is? If this is a joke-”

“She told you, didn’t she?” Lisa interrupted him. Jake swallowed dryly at that question, and just nodded. “She was so nervous about telling you the truth, Jake... She wanted to tell you, really, but she feared your reaction. She was afraid that you’d break up with her.”

“And I did.” The words were like scorching irons burning his tongue.

“You broke up with her?” Lisa’s eyes widened in shock. What the hell did she expect? That Jake would continue to date Kimberly as if nothing had ever been hidden? “Why? Because she’s a stripper?”

“I didn’t break up with her because she’s a stripper.” Jake started, his eyes never deserting Lisa’s. He was no coward, especially when it came to dealing with problems. “I’d be mad at her if that had been the only problem, and eventually I’d want her back, I know it, but the problem is that she didn’t trust me.”

“Jake, at first she didn’t want to tell you because she didn’t know you at all! But then, things began evolving, and-”

“I don’t give a shit about that, now.” He cruelly cut off her lover’s best friend. Fury once more seeped deep into his bones, and it didn’t go away. Once more, Jake found himself roaring with the reason that had led to his breakup with Kimberly. “She told my brother about Damien, when he blackmailed her! She told Eric that my stepfather had harassed her! My mother knows, my best friend knows about her, too! And you know what? I was her boyfriend, but I was the only one being kept in the dark! She didn’t tell me-”

“Oh, she did, Jake!” Lisa was suddenly yelling, as well. Outraged by the fact that Jake had broken up with her best friend, regardless of the reason. “You think it’s easy for her to go to work at night, and study during the day? Do you think she doesn’t mine lying to her sister every damned night when she goes out to work? Do you think she loves having those sick man staring her body every fucking night?”

“I-”

“You’re a fucking asshole, Jake! Kimberly was the whole time when she told me Eric was better than you! If you truly liked her, why couldn’t you understand her situation? I really, really hope you had nothing to do with whatever happened to Kimberly, Jake. That’s all I have to say for now.” And as if she thought herself much better than him, she threw him a disgusted look, telling him she thought him scum.

Was everyone against him, then?

Kimberly had been the one who’s built their relation over lies and lack of trust, and they were all mad at him because that had been his reason to break up with her? They knew nothing about them! Lisa had no clue how his relation with Kimberly was! Eric could be better than him, but he hadn’t been the one Kimberly had chosen! She’d wanted him! But now... he was the one in Kimberly’s place when they first admitted they liked each other. He loved her, but he didn’t want her now.

“Jake?” Someone asked outside his room. Jake easily recognized the voice. It was Aiden. Without prior warning, his best friend walked in, and stated, “Look, we’re thinking about going to the police. Do you want to come?”

“No, I’m going elsewhere.” He walked past Aiden, and left his room. But before he went on his way, he looked over his shoulder, and finally said, “By the way, you too ruined out relationship.”

“What?” Aiden asked, going after Jake, now. “What the fuck are you saying? Are you out of your mind or something?”

Everyone was now in the hall, staring at the both of them. “No, I’m just furious because no one seems to fucking trust me.” Aiden’s eyes flickered, and Jake was then sure his best friend knew what he meant. However, he ignored him, and looked at the others, “I’m going to her work to see if someone has heard of her.”

“I already went there,” Lisa revealed with disdain.

“I don’t give a shit if you went there or not. I haven’t, and that’s what matters to me.” He turned his back on them, and left the house without looking back at the shocked faces.

At that point, he didn’t want to deal with anyone but Kimberly herself. He was eager to know if was ok! Yet, every single person just annoyed him more to the point he’d almost lose his head! They thought they knew about their relationship, but the truth was... they had no idea. It was his and Kimberly’s problem, and no one else’s.

Jake got to the strip club in short minutes. When he walked in, it was practically empty, and the few girls that wandered there weren’t even dressed to do their job. When Jake looked at his right side, he sighted the woman that had come to Kimberly the night Aiden and Ben had brought him here. She’d lied there, too. The woman wasn’t just a friend, she was a co-worker!

“Excuse me,” Jake approached the woman, and when she looked at him, the look on her face told him she recognized him easily. She was indeed beautiful, Jake would give her that. “Have you seen Kimberly?”

“No, I haven’t. Her friend has already come here. We have no idea where Kimberly might be.” As the woman spoke, her voice wavered with worry and uneasiness. “She’s been missing work for last couple of days.”

“She never called any of you to let you know she wouldn’t be coming?”

The woman shook her head, her blonde hair stirring her hair. “No,”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I am. You’re her boyfriend, aren’t you?” She suddenly asked, completely off-topic, now. He only nodded. There was no point in explaining a stranger they’d broken up, and why. “We talked about you. I guess she already told you. Boy, I never saw that girl so nervous!”

“Why was she nervous?”

“Because of you, of course.” The woman’s lips curled in a seductive smile, though it wasn’t deliberate. “She wanted to tell you, and she came to me for advice. Is everything ok between the two of you?”

Before he could take hold of himself, his temper was unleashed. “Do I look like everything’s ok? Is Kimberly standing right next to me, saying everything is ok? She’s fucking missing ever since she told me!“~

“I didn’t know-”

“I guess you don’t know a lot of things, then.” Jake said despicably. Although he knew the woman didn’t deserve the cold fury he’d momentarily set free, he was just too out of himself to say anything else. It was always the same thing. They thought they did, but they had no idea.

He stormed out of the strip club, leaving the woman behind him. He halted outside, and glanced at his watch – 5 PM. A few more hours, and it’d be third day Kimberly would be missing. Thinking about that, Jake looked at the alley, and suddenly saw a car driving off the fastest he could, without a plate number.

Jake didn’t see who was driving, but uneasiness flooded him. Something wasn’t right.

Looking back at the alley, Jake walked towards it, and since the sun was still up, the alley wasn’t dark. His eyes roamed throughout that tiny place, and saw nothing but black bags of garbage. However... there was something white in the middle of all that.

He stepped towards it, and he got closer, it began taking a shape. His heart skipped a beat when he saw feet. What the hell was that?

Curious, Jake drew nearer, and became aware it was a dirty white sheet, stained with blood... wrapped around a body? He blinked twice, but the sheet and the body were still there.

Out of curiosity or fear of finding her there – Jake didn’t know which – urged him to move towards the white sheet and the body.

Then, he jaw fell open.

What had he done?

Kimberly’s red hair was spread across her shoulder, and the dirty sheet covered her naked body from her chest to her ankles. Her face and chest were bruised, and her lips cut. Wait a second... naked body?

His first reaction was to jump over the garbage bags and grab her. His vision immediately blurred with thick tears, and the maddening rage and anxiety replaced all else. She couldn’t be dead. She couldn’t possibly be dead. No, of course she wasn’t... He couldn’t lose her!

“Kimmy!” He yelled, his fingers moving over her bruised cheek. “Baby, please... Kimberly!”

She didn’t move, but what calmed him down, even if a wee bit, was the fact that she was still breathing. It was a shallow, feeble breathing, but it meant she still breathed! At last, logical sense came, and Jake bolted up holding Kimberly in his arms. “Help!”

Just as fast as he’d walked out of the strip club, he stormed inside with tears streaming from his eyes, and people staring at him. The woman he’d talked was the first to react. “Oh my God! Kim! What just happened? What did you do?”

“I found her in the alley!” He yelled, holding her tightly in his arms, and utterly ignoring the shock on people’s faces. He just couldn’t take his green eyes off the woman of his life, so badly injured. Was this what had happened to her the night he’d left her alone? Before he knew it, he was desperately yelling, “Call 911! Quickly!”

And as he waited, the guilt ate him inside. Kimberly loved him, she’d told him about her secret, she’d stood up to his temper and the way he’d cruelly treated her, yet this was how he repaid her? By deserting her so this would happen to her?

“Baby...” He whispered, his tears falling over Kimberly’s battered chest.

He didn’t even notice the emergency team darting inside the strip club short minutes later. They tried to take her away from him, but his grip was tight. They had to grab him and pull him away from her. When he did let her go, Kimberly was immediately taken to the ambulance, and Jake went with her.

He was once again separated from her once they got to the hospital. They took her away without a word, but soon after, a nurse appeared to warn him he’d have to wait, seeing that the medical staff was now taking care of her.

“How much time?” He’d asked urgently, wanting to see her that bad. “What’s wrong with her?”

“It’s too early to say, sir, but from what the doctors have seen... you should expect the worse.”

“The-e w-worse?” He choked on the word, such was the fear sinking deep inside him. “What do you mean?” He yelled eagerly, drawing attention to himself.

“Miss Roberts may have been sexually assaulted.”

The moment those words struck, it was if he the world had crumbled under his feet.

The nurse was lying. She had to be. It could be true! Kimberly... No.

It was his fault. His fault.

The image of a man forcing Kimberly to do anything at all disgusted him to the point his stomach twisted, and he felt a appalling taste in his mouth. He’d kill whoever that man was. “I swear to God...” He muttered under his breath, “I’ll find him... I’ll kill him.”

Then again, if he hadn’t left her there, like that... maybe one of this would’ve happened. If he’d calmed down first, instead of dashing out of there, they would’ve talked, Kimberly would’ve soothed him down. He would’ve thought about her words and what she meant to him, and both would apologize...

Snapping back t reality, Jake gripped his phone and called Tom to warn them. He called his mother as well, and she said she was on her way with Eric, and would be there in mere minutes, given that they’d soon left after he did.

As he waited, guilt ate his insides. Should he apologize for what he did? Should he wait for her to be ready to talk to him? Would she ever talk to him, at all? How would she react once she’d wake up and face him, after he’d left her to the mercy of a sick man?

“Jake!” Someone suddenly yelled, and Jake swiftly recognized the voice as being his mother’s. When they approached him, he was assailed by all type of questions.

He tried to say the words, he tried to force himself, but it was just too hard. And to get worse, the others arrived as well. Sidney ran towards him, her eyes puffy and red. “Where is she, Jake?” She asked keenly, “What happened to her? Tell me!”

“I... Kimberly, she...” They all stared at him, their faces marked with uneasiness and worry. All of them were waiting for his terrible answer. “They say... She... She was-”

“She what, Jake? Just fucking say it!” His brother roared, completely out of control. Jake wasn’t at all shocked with his brother’s behaviours’, for he too cared too much about his girlfriend. No, ex-girlfriend. After all, Jake did break up with her, and now... he couldn’t feel any guiltier.

Taking a deep breath, Jake finally disclosed. “Kimberly was raped.”

Their mouths fell open, and their faces were drained of blood. They had their eyes fixed on him, wide-open in disbelief. Sidney had just frozen, and James had hugged. Ben looked as if he’d seen a ghost, but it was the look on Aiden, Lisa, Eric and his mother’s face who caught his attention.

Out of the blue, Eric said, “You were the last who was with her.”

Jake frowned. What the hell? Was he implying he... he’d been the one to...? “You’re saying I did it, is that it, Eric? I fucking had her every night, you think I’d do that to her?” He regarded them all, his heart shattered by what his brother had meant. “I fucking love her, and you guys think I raped her?”

“Jake, Eric didn’t-”

“Yes, he did, mom!” Jake cur off his mother, and pulled back when she grasped his arm. He felt deeply insulted. “He loved her so much and hates me just as much that he thinks I’m the one who raped her! You don’t know what Kimberly means to me! You don’t know anything about Kimberly and I, and what happened that night, so just get the fuck away from me.”

He waited, scowling at them all. No one defied his decision, because his fury scared them. Even his mother walked away with Eric. However, Sidney stayed behind. She was completely inconsolable. “Promise me... you had nothing to do with what happened to her, Jake.”

“I guarantee you, and I promise I had nothing to do with it, Sid.” He engulfed her lover’s sister, and added. “I love her, Sid. I’d never do that to her. Never.”

“I believe you,” Sidney let him know, looking up at him with her ocean blue eyes, with dark bags underneath. Jake noticed the effort she did to smile, but the pain was so great that it was a failed attempt.

Moments later, Sidney left him, and Jake waited alone for what it seemed like an eternity.

“Are you the family of Miss Roberts?” A man suddenly approached him, pulling him back to reality. Jake bolted up from the chair, and faced a tall man, about his forty.

“Yes,” All of them replied in unison.

Judging by the silence, the man doubted them, so Sidney stepped forward, and cleared up her throat. “I’m her sister.”

“And I’m her boyfriend.” Jake revealed urgently. He couldn’t miss the chance to know everything about Kimberly’s feeble state! And he didn’t care at all about the eyes fixed on his back.

“I’m Dr. Simms.” The man finally nodded and spoke. “Would you please come with me?”

“Yes,” Jake and Sidney replied at the same time. The man turned around, and they both followed him through corridors jammed with patients and medical staff, until they reached a certain room.

The tagged along inside, and immediately saw Kimberly in bed. What drew his attention from the fact she was alive were all of the bruises marking her tanned skin. However, it didn’t take away from her beauty. While Sidney ran towards her sister, crying, and caring not about the fact that she hadn’t yet woken up, Jake stayed by the Dr. Simms’s side.

“I was the one who treated Miss Roberts.” The Dr. began saying, and Jake forced himself to look away from the sight of Sidney crying by Kimberly’s bedside. “I have good and bad news.”

Jake’s heart tightened in his chest. “The bad first, please.”

Dr. Simms nodded. “Miss Roberts was indeed sexually abused judging from the hematomas on her body, and by the exams we did on her. We believe some of the hematomas on her body were from possible movements she may have done to defend herself, while the rest are a result of the treatment.” He leafed through some medical reports, and then stared at him again, a grin parting his lips. “But so far, all we can say is that you’re a very lucky guy.”

“What do you mean?” His eyebrow went up in curiosity, at the same in tried to control that urge to turn around and hold tight to Kimberly’s bruised body.

“Well, it’s a miracle the baby has survived.”

Utterly swept by surprise, Jake blurted out, “What?”

“Miss Roberts is about one month pregnant.” Dr. Simms’ eyes narrowed, and he was visibly confused, now. “Aren’t you the father?”

Of course he was the father! Wasn’t he? Unless... No. She swore she’d never gone to bed with any of those men! She might have lied, of course... She’d lied to him before, hadn’t she?

“She was on the pill.” It was the only thing he could say without showing any emotion.

“Well, first of all,” Dr. Simms started, ready to lecture him when he least needed. “The pill is only ninety-nine per cent safe, which means there is that unlucky one per cent where Miss Roberts could get pregnant. Secondly, there’s also a day where Miss Roberts might’ve forgotten to take the pill-”

“That’s impossible; I saw her taking the pill every freaking night. She never forgets!”

“There are also other ways to why Miss Roberts may have gotten pregnant whilst on the pill.” Dr. Simms continued, ignoring Jake’s rude interruption. “She could’ve thrown up or could have had diarrhoea only four hours after taking the pill. That would stop the pill’s effect, as well as some antibiotics she might’ve been taking while...”

Out of the blue, Jake went utterly deaf. He’d found the answer.

Kimberly had told him she’d been taking some pills because of the flu... Was that the reason why the pill didn’t work, and got her pregnant with a child of him?

“Thank you for the explanation.” Jake mumbled, cat-eyes glazed.

“You’re welcome. Miss Roberts may wake up anytime soon. Please remember to be cautious about the amount of people you bring to the room, ok?”

“Sure,”

The Dr. strolled away, and Jake turned around, still completely taken aback by the revelation. After all the arguments he’d had with Kimberly, where she’d insisted she wasn’t pregnant... she actually was. However... was the baby really his?

Opening his mouth to give Sidney the news, the blue eyed girl actually smiled faintly, and said, “I heard. I’m going to be a aunt, uh? It’s truly a miracle.” Her eyes shone with tears that hadn’t yet been shed. “At least we can revel on that.”

“We better warn the others,” Jake prompted. Sidney agreed with a nod, and bolted up. “You need some alone time with her, I can see the craving on your face.

“Thanks.” She was right. Regardless of the doubts that writhed his heart, Jake did indeed crave to hold onto to the woman he’d treated so badly. “Just... tell my mother I want to talk to her in private first, ok?”

Nodding, Sidney set off towards the waiting room.

There was a chair by the bed side, and Jake sauntered up to it and sat down. His hand unconsciously soared towards Kimberly’s, and he gripped it tightly, yet carefully so he wouldn’t hurt her more than she’d already been. As he felt her skin chilly, his heart was shattered once more, and he found himself denying the possibility of Kimberly sleeping around with those sick men that watched her obsessively every freaking night.

She loved him. She’d said that, and she’d also told him she’d never had sex with any of those men.

Then again... she’d lied to him about being a stripper.

He sighed, the awful doubt about Kimberly clinging painfully to his mind. He had no idea whether he should believe her or not. The lack of her trust in him made him doubt. Sidney had said they had something to celebrate, but did Kimberly want to celebrate the fact that she was pregnant after knowing she’d been raped by some motherfucker? Would she want to see him the moment she wakes up? Will she want to be with him? What would she tell him after everything she went through with him, and whoever touched her? Would she say it had been his entire fault, and that she didn’t want to see him anymore?

“You wanted to speak to me?” Looking over his shoulder, Jake spotted his mother only a few feet away.

“Yes,”

She strode towards the bed, and her eyes widened with shock once she saw Kimberly. “Oh my God, she’s...”

“Kimberly’s pregnant,” Jake disclosed as he got up. He wanted to tell his mother first because she should know before all the others did. She knew Kimberly was a stripper. Would she consider the fact that the child growing inside Kimberly could be someone else’s?

“What?” She stared up at him with the same cat-eyes he’d inherited of her. “When did it happen?”

“If it’s mind,” He phrased, “About a month ago.”

“What do you mean if it’s yours?” She enquired, looking shocked.

“Well, mom, in case you don’t remember, she’s a stripper!”

“So?”

“So? She might have had sex with any of those fucking sick men!” He said, his voice plain with disgust and unleashed fury. “After all, she’s a fucking a stripper!”

“First of all, don’t talk like that in front of me, because I am not one of your friends.” His mother glared at him, her tone even, yet wavering with anger. “And secondly, what do you mean she’s a stripper? She can’t be a stripper and keep men’s hands away from her?”

“She’s a fucking stripper who men watch every fucking night!” He yelled, anger growing to a blinding fury. “She lied to me this whole time, why wouldn’t she lie now and say the baby’s mine, when there’s a possibility that it isn’t? Some guy may have screwed her and since I’m rich she may want to make me believe it’s my child, too! Strippers are the same thing as fucking whores!”

He reasoning was even more hindered when he harked back to the night of his birthday, at the strip club. The stripper Ben and Aiden had arranged for him, spent the whole time gazing at him, and Jake could the desire in her eyes! She’d wanted him, just like every other girl! Every stripper was like that as well. Kimberly was one of them! Who could prove she didn’t act like one?”

“How can I possibly know if it’s mine? How can I know she just didn’t fuck with some motherfucker that went there?”

Before he saw it coming, his mother’s arm flew towards his face, and slapped him.

“What the fu-”

She slapped him a second time. Jake stared at his mother, dumbfounded.

“You will not speak to me like that.” She said calmly yet unwaveringly, taking hold of her own temper. “How can you possibly consider Kimberly did such thing to you?”

“How? She never trusted me or told me about her job! Why should I believe the baby’s mine when she might lie about it?”

“Because there is a chance it might be true.”

“How do you know?” His eyes bored into hers, and fury shone back at his mother like an open flame.

“Do you know I’d allow my son to fall for a stripper?” She started, “Do you think I’d let you date her if I knew what she did?”

Jake’s eyes narrowed now with puzzlement. “You knew she was a stripper even before I did.”

“Exactly. That’s why I sent a man every night for weeks, to check on her. He repeated the same thing back to me over and over again – she always danced throughout the night, she always did lap dances, but she never allowed a man to touch her. Every time one did, she’d stop working and would walk away. He also talked with the employees and they said the same thing. They never saw Kimberly let a man touch her. The only exception was Peterson, and he was drunk.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” No one trusted him. And that broke his heart.

“She made me promise I wouldn’t tell you. Every time I said she should tell you, she’d just bed me not to tell you a thing. She was afraid of you.”

Everyone repeated the same thing. She hadn’t told him because she’d been afraid of him and his maddened reaction. Hell, she was right in fearing him! He went nuts that night near the strip club and deserted her! At doing that, he allowed some psychopath hurt the woman he loved!

He broke up with her, he told her she was the worse of the woman he’d been with, he said he wanted her out of the house and that he didn’t want to touch her anymore.

Guilt crept up his spine and it ate his limbs. He had told her all of those nasty things and he’d abandoned her there, alone and crying... only to bed raped.

Miraculously, their child survived.

It was their baby. Their baby. “I should have-”

“It’s useless to wonder about what you could’ve done differently, because it’s done already. Oh, come here, Jake.” And as his mother, she clung to him and hugged him when he most needed. However, it didn’t satisfy him, because the one person he was craving for... was lying in a bed, her body all bruised. He still wanted to feel her, and the need to apologize to her stroked him like nothing had ever hit him before.

“She’s going to leave me, mom. I told her... I... It’s my fault. I was the reason that happened to her! I should’ve trusted her!” He yelled, the hate for himself loud and clear. How could he not trust her? How could he doubt Kimberly and her love for him?”

“It’s done, now, Jake. You’ll just have to wait until she wakes up and speaks to you.”

"If she wants to talk to me,”

“She will,” However, Jake noticed her mother’s voice wavering with doubt. Kimberly had been raped because he’d left her alone, so how could she possibly want to see him? The closest he’d probably get to her would be when she’d be packing her stuff to get out of his house when.

No, echoed through his mind.

He wouldn’t let that happen. Not when he really just wanted her close to him. First, she’d need to rest, so she wouldn’t be able to work, and consequently, couldn’t look for a new house. She’d have to stay with him, and he’d give her anything she wanted and needed. Staying close to her and support and attain for his mistakes would be his top priorities. However... how could he do anything of that when he was going to have to move into his mother’s city, because of the company?

“I’m going to start working full-time in the company, right?” His mother nodded, her eyebrow arched up in curiosity. “So, eventually, I’d have to move in, am I right?”

“Of course. You should’ve already thought about it.”

“Couldn’t Kimberly... and her sister, obviously move in with me while she’s recovering? I mean, at our house she has plenty of people to look after her! We can even hire a nurse just for herself-”

“Frankly, son,” His mother interrupted him, looking doubtful. “I don’t think Kim would want that. Ever since I met her, I saw right away how independent she was. She won’t accept it, Jake, and the idea about the nurse... I know she’d hate it, and even you know it.”

“She’d listen to you... and Eric! I’m sure!” He said desperately. If he had to walk to Eric, he would! He knew that Eric liked his sister, he’d do anything for her welfare!

“Who’s going to listen to me?” Both Jake and his mother glanced at the door, only to spot Sidney, Lisa, and Eric at the door.

Before Jake replied, though, Sidney quickly apologized, “I’m sorry, they were all getting too much impatient, so I had to start bringing them!”

“You’re not the only one who has the right to see her, and...” Eric’s hateful words were lost in the air when he looked past his brother, and became suddenly aware of Kimberly’s critical state. “Oh my God...” He immediately ran towards her, with Lisa tagging along, and leaned over her bruised body. When he assessed her state, he glared at Jake, and yelled, “Was this what you did to her, you sick fuck?”

Jake’s temper immediately flared at that. “I didn’t do anything to her!”

“Yes, you did! You were-”

“Do you really believe I’d hurt Kimberly? I love her, and no matter how angry I was at her, do you think I’d hurt the woman who carries my child?”

At such news, Eric’s jaw fell open.

“Oh my God!” Lisa shrieked beside Eric. “So she really was pregnant!”

A swirl of emotions showed in Eric’s face – anger, sadness, bitterness, contrasting with everyone else’s.

“Aren’t you going to say something now?” Jake spat, feeling his mother gripping his arm so he wouldn’t advance towards Eric.

“I honestly don’t know what she saw in you.”

“Say that again!” Jake said, struggling to free himself of his mother’s grip. “Say it again!”

“I fucking don’t know what she saw in you!” Eric yelled, anger growing to a blinding fury. “How can she be pregnant with your child? It’d be better if she was carrying one of those perverts’ child! You’re everything she doesn’t want – doesn’t need! I am everything she needs! She told me! Do you think she really likes you?”

Jake’s eyes widened in pure shock. He was utterly taken aback by what his own brother had just said. The hate Eric felt for him was even bigger than what he imagined. Was Eric that obsessed with Kimberly? Did he love her that much?

“You’re my brother...” Jake uttered, too hurt to look into his brother’s eyes, blazing with hate. “Do you hate me that much because she chose me?”

“You know what?” The way Eric shouted, the way his anger and bitterness showed through him, every bit of it, was felt by the entire room. “Yes! I fucking hate you for all the countless times Kim told me she preferred me, but then ended up going to you at the end of the day!”

“I’m sure she just said that because-”

“You treated her like dirt!”

“Guys...” A voice said.

“What?” They both shouted.

“Kim’s waking up.”

The moment Lisa said those words, both of them turned towards the red haired, and saw her body moving.

Jake immediately pushed Eric aside, and approached the bed. He leaned over his lover, and desperately blurted out, “Baby, Kimmy! Please say something!” Craving to look into her stormy gray eyes, to listen to her voice, to feel her skin on hers, Jake grasped her hand, and didn’t look away from her face.

“Dad?” She spoke, her voice a faint murmur. “I...”

Dad? What the hell?

“Kimmy!” He cried out, but she wouldn’t open her eyes.

“Dad? Why are you...” At last, Kimberly’s eyes slowly opened, and he was the first person she looked at. Alas, when she faced Jake, her reaction was far different than Jake could’ve ever imagined. “Who are you?”

“Kimmy, it’s me, Jake!” What was happening? Was she just playing him, wanting him to suffer?

“I don’t know you!” She cried out, struggling to pull away from his tight grip. Fear and confusion was imprinted all over her bruised, though gorgeous, features.

“Kimberly!” He howled, gripping her shoulder, wishing she’d just stop lying! “Don’t do this to me!”

“Let me go! I don’t know you!” She tried to yell, but it only came out as more than a feeble whisper. “Let me go!”

No, she couldn’t do this to him. “Baby...”

“Jake, I think you better stop,” Sidney warned him, her hand on his shoulder. “You’re scaring her!”

“She doesn’t remember me,” He glanced at everyone else behind, who stood thunderstruck at what was happening. “Kimmy, please.”

“I said I don’t know you! Let go of me!” But he wouldn’t. He just couldn’t set her free!

“Stop it!” It was Eric voice, a thundering roar at his ear. He came up to the bed, and pushed him away from Kimberly. Then, his greenish eyes bored into hers, and he spoke in a soothing voice. “Kim, are you ok? Don’t you remember me?”

“I don’t know any of you, so I can I remember you?” And just like Jake, Eric’s heart began to break.

“Kimmy...” Jake cried out her name, holding himself so he wouldn’t just grab her and hug her and kiss her, when she just didn’t recognize him as the man she’d claimed to love. “Can’t... Can’t you remember us?”

“No!”

“Are you sure? Please-”

“Yes, I’m sure!” Her voice wavered with fear, and her for a second, her eyes glanced at Sidney. Her sister came up to her, and comforted her, as she still stared at all of them, puzzled. “Who are you?”

“Jake...” It was his mother’s voice, not so determined anymore. She took her hand to her mouth, which let them know she was just as fearful and taken aback as they were. “I think... I think she might have retrograde amnesia as a result of... you know what.”

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