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3 days later

Sitting here in front of everyone, in front of Jake is daunting. He won’t wash away the dumb smirk from his face but I can’t let him get to me. With my hands on my knees, I attempt to keep breathing normally and keep my voice even when his lawyer starts his questioning.

“Is it true that you purposefully wore revealing items of clothing to seduce my client?” I’m asked. The bile is rising in my throat but I manage to deny the allegation in a neutral voice. “Did you have an affair with him, hooking up at the office and your hotel room as often as possible when your husband was out of town?” The lawyer stands in front of me but I can still see Jake smiling behind him. “I did not. None of this happened,” Part of me wants to shout that he was the one hitting on me, I had to reprimand him many times but Mr. Hale warned me about letting anger take over. I must wait for him to question me and ask about it before giving the information. “My client made a statement about you following him willingly the night of the alleged kidnapping in an attempt to leave Ryan Faulkner Taylor. But you had a sudden change of heart once you arrived at the apartment. Were you going to leave your husband?” He asks me. That one stung more knowing Jake assaulted me. “I was not, I would never leave Ryan,” I’m aware my tone is slightly aggressive but the thought is making my blood boil. Ryan is the love of my life, I would never leave him for Jake. Clearly, he never understood my feelings and the bond between Ryan and me. “Were you initially going to have sex that night?” he asks without skipping a beat. “No, Jake sexually abused me that night, it was not consensual at all,” I stare at the lawyer until he says he’s done with his questions.

Ours comes closer and jumps right into it. “Mrs. Faulkner Taylor, can you recall what happened the night when you had to switch hotels in Calgary?” He makes sure to block Jake’s view. “Jake came to my room saying he wanted to talk. He said he was in love with me. The declaration sounded crazy to me and I reminded him I’m married to my soulmate; he finally left and I quickly packed my bags to go to another hotel in fear that he would come back,” My voice breaks on the last part but I’m trying to stay strong. That’s until Mr. Hale asks me to recall the night of the kidnapping and the following day. Tears stream down my face as I talk about everything that he put me through that night, my voice gets small and shaky. I manage the words out slowly but painfully. I’m staring at my hands on my knees avoiding looking around, I wouldn’t be able to survive if Jake would smile right now.

Part of the tape that was recorded by Jake is then shown on a screen to corroborate what I just said. Although not in his integrity, the frames that are shown still rip my heart apart. Having to sit here makes me feel vulnerable and dirty making my head spin. Hearing myself cry on tape sounds surreal as if I’m watching someone else going through this nightmare. What’s even worse is knowing Ryan has to suffer through this. I want to cover his eyes and ears, save him from the torture I know he’s experiencing. He knows about everything that was done to me, however, I never wanted him to see and hear it.

“What we just saw left physical damage, can you give us details?” I knew I had to talk about it but knowing I’m in a room with strangers but also people like Cooper and Max that are about to hear the answer makes me sick. “I...umm...yes, bruises, but also a perineal tear,” Exhausted, I momentarily go quiet. “Can you tell us what happened when your husband got to the apartment?” Mr. Hale’s voice is soft, I can tell he’s trying to make it easier for me somehow. Taking a few deep breaths, I talk about it in detail up until the moment Jake shot at Ryan, then I wail in pain unable to hold it together. Mr. Hale hands me a box of tissue giving me a minute. With my breathing back under control, I recall the events in a raspy voice. “Have you ever had a relationship with Mr. Murphy that was more than the professional one you had at work?” I’m asked. “No, never,” I sob. “Have you ever had a sexual relationship, even as briefly as one night with Mr. Murphy?” Mr. Hale asks. “No, nothing sexual,” I make the mistake of looking up, Jake licks his lips slowly. He’s a fucking monster. I knew he was sick but now I can see the extent of his psychosis. “Are you in love or were you ever in love with Mr. Murphy?” Mr. Hale asks. “No! Never have been, never will be!” I shout. Mr. Hale tells me he’s done with his questions. After a brief hesitation, I decide on keeping my head high as I walk past Jake to go back to Ryan’s side, I don’t look at him but I refuse to act as if he had destroyed me. I did go through a rough patch, so did Ryan but our love always conquers it all.

Finally reaching my seat, I give Ryan a look warning him from hugging me. I know he’s trying to help but I would break down in his arms. I do allow him to hold my hand. Thankfully, we get to go to the house soon after.

I notice Max being very quiet during the drive, he’s avoiding my eyes. I’ve been making dinner for everyone ever since we got here and tonight is no exception. I marinated some steaks that I’ll serve with mashed potatoes soon. They decided to hang by the pool while I got everything ready. Once more, the alone time allows me to review the day, I get angry thinking about Jake telling the police and his lawyer we were lovers. “Does he truly believe he had a chance?” Ryan suddenly appears in front of me interrupting my thoughts. “Should we eat outside? The weather is really nice,” he asks, looking sad. I know today was tough for my husband. “Sure, give me a minute, I’ll clean and set the table,” I turn around to reach for what is needed to do so but he grabs everything saying he’ll take care of it. Soon Max and Cooper come in and out of the house for them to bring plates, cups, utensils, drinks, etc. Max is still avoiding looking at me. “What’s up with him?” I wonder.

Once dinner is over, Ryan asks if it’s okay for them to play their game. As if he needed my permission. I should be studying, but I’m mentally exhausted so I sit with them. Even during their game, Max remains quiet only answering their questions here and there. “Max, are you okay?” I ask him. “Yeah… Yeah, don’t worry,” he mumbles. We exchange a look, I can tell he’s lying but I don’t want to call him out in front of the boys.

An hour later, I go to the kitchen to cut slices of cake for us. When I hand a piece to Max, he mumbles a thank you without looking at me. “I’m sorry but I have to ask, are you mad at me?” I can’t help myself, worried that I’ve done something wrong. “No! I…” tears form in his blue eyes. “Max! What’s wrong?” I say, softly while sitting on the armrest next to him pulling him into a hug. He gives Ryan a look, worried about his reaction, my husband nods his approval knowing Max is upset. He goes on to explain his cousin who is like a sister to him got raped when she was 14 years old. Sadly, her abuser then used a hammer to beat her up afterward. She survived but had a few broken bones and she now has trust issues. What Jake did to me brought back the bad memories. “I knew Jake had done bad things to you but I didn’t know what exactly and then when you talked about… the hammer… I… I’m so sorry, Ella! I’m sorry I couldn’t protect you. I’m sorry, Ryan. You hired me and I failed you,” Max cries holding onto me, his body shaking. My heart breaks for him, not only is what happened to his cousin horrible but his guilt has been eating at him. A few minutes pass by before Ryan speaks. “Max, I’ll be honest, I was going to fire you the first night because I was being ridiculous. It took me a while to warm up to you but you have been doing a great job for my wife. Aside from Cooper, I wouldn’t trust anyone with her. Let go of the guilt! What happened was horrible but I don’t blame you for it. Neither you nor Cooper are responsible for it,” Ryan says. I know that wasn’t easy for Ryan to say, for some reason he always had a fear of Max falling for me. He knows we’re good friends and would never cross the line, he knows how much I love him but some insecurities are harder to get under control. I would know about it, I still have to fight mine. Max’s sobs slow down and I ask if he’ll be okay, he nods. I go back to Ryan’s side. “It’s an honor working for you both. Ella, you’re one strong cookie. I admire you,” Cooper says. “You guys know too much about our lives, you’re stuck with us,” Ryan jokes around, his way of releasing the tension in the room.

“Okay, no more games for tonight, let’s watch a movie!” I announce while grabbing the remote and the blanket. Sitting in between Ryan’s legs, I wrap myself in the blanket covering his legs as well. Chuckles are heard in the room. “What?” I ask, confused. “You like to keep Ryan hot, don’t you? Let me turn up the AC for him,” Cooper laughs. “But then I’ll be even colder!” I whine. “I’ll keep you warm,” Ryan whispers while running his hands on my arms under the blanket. All of my worries disappear under Ryan’s loving touch. At least for now.
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