11. More Secrets

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After a long, relaxing brunch, Valerie and Lorne returned to their suite, and she pointed to a couch as they entered. "We need to sit and talk."

He nodded. "I've sensed your growing tension since we rose from the table."

"Yeah. I'm sure you must have." She blew out a deep breath. "I cannot keep it in any longer."

Lorne pulled her into a hug. "What is it?"

"I was raped."

"Oh, God!" Lorne unwrapped his arms and stepped back. "I thought you wanted it. I honestly did."

Valerie let out a loud laugh, wiping tears from her cheeks as her body shook. Still chortling, she managed to say, "Oh, you silly man."

He shook his head. "I'm sorry."

She stepped forward, still chuckling as she wrapped her arms around his neck. "Not you, silly." Then cradling his face with her hands, she brought it down for a kiss. A long, passionate one.

Valerie laughed again as their mouths parted. "You'd have a strong case that I had raped you." She contorted her face into a grimace. "You'd win too. You're a man."

"I'm confused."

"As is our legal system."

He pulled her tighter to his chest, stroking the back of her head as reality appeared to hit him when she began trembling. "When were you raped?"

"2005. Last year of university."

He nodded toward the couch. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"I don't want to." She blew out a deep breath. "But I need to if we're to continue."

He scooped her up into his arms. "Let's lie on the bed. It'll be more comfortable."

The feel of his bulging muscles had restored her calm by the time he laid her on the freshly-made bed. He lay down on his side next to her and draped an arm up her chest between her breasts, his hand cradling her cheek.

After a long silence, she began, "Photo shoot at Harrods. In the dressing room after. The photographer raped me." She fell silent again as controlled deep breathing took over.

Lorne waited.

"After dragging my reputation through the gutter of the courts, he was acquitted." She began shuddering again.

Lorne remained silent as he moved his arm to cradle her back and pull her into his chest, then he asked, "How did his defence contrive that?"

"They entered into evidence a group of nude photos of me." She stopped and took a series of deep breaths. "Oh, God! Fully spread and inviting."

"But, you said you always kept your knickers on. Where would they have gotten those?"

"We learned later that he had Photoshopped my head onto nude bodies and distributed them to the sleazy press and the online porn sites." She glanced into his eyes, then burst into deep sobbing.

Lorne rocked her in his arms, remaining silent as she calmed.

"The Crown ruled I had likely encouraged and welcomed his advances."

"But, wouldn't a physical comparison have shown the sham."

"For sure — if I had been represented."

"How so?"

"Huh? You know bloody well what a lawyer costs. I chose to plead the case myself rather than depleting my savings and going into debt."

"What about legal aid?"

"If I were the defendant." She laughed. "The accused has a far better chance to get aid than does the accuser."

Lorne nodded. "Yeah. The victim becomes the villain in the hands of a good defence counsel."

"I was constantly overruled as I struggled to counter the accusations and refute the validity of the images." She shook her head as she blew out another deep breath.

"So, he's still out there raping?"

"He was released three months ago." She began shuddering again.

Lorne gently rocked her until she calmed. "Released?"

"During my first trial, a camera was found in the dressing room ceiling, but by the time Scotland Yard had matched the fingerprints and made connections, the verdict had been given."

"He had planted the camera?"

She nodded. "Scotland Yard seized his computers and backups. They were filled with videos of models changing between shoots."

"And of his raping you?"

"Oh, yeah." She paused to wince. "They played it for the court during the second trial. Oh, God! The whole fucking thing."

"And you had to sit through it?"

She bobbed her head. "Of course. But, this time I had taken counsel."

Lorne nodded. "Wise."

"Yeah. Her expertise made it a quick trial, and Broughton was convicted of rape, libel, slander and fraud among other things."

She blew out another deep breath. "I brought suit against him for libel, defamation of character, loss of livelihood, and personal suffering."

"With the evidence from the trials, that would be an easy victory."

"It was. I was awarded his entire estate." She chuckled. "The Court ruled invalid his petition that he be left with means to support himself, arguing the Crown would be providing his room and board for a minimum of ten years."

"Did he have much worth?"

"The major part was a house in Belgravia, which had been passed down through his family."

"A tidy value."

She nodded. "It was a good part of my seed money. The balance came from Harrods when they settled out of court."

"Harrods?"

"I brought suit against them. He was their employee, and the assault had taken place in their dressing room."

"Big?"

"Yeah. Very."

Lorne caressed her back. "Money can't erase the trauma, though."

She wiggled closer to him. "I was awarded ongoing therapy. It helped, but you've been far better in this brief while than they were in an entire decade."

Valerie paused for a long time, thinking. May as well pour it all out now. "Hug me tighter, Lorne."

He adjusted the cuddle, pulling her into his chest, remaining silent.

"I changed my name to Redburn to be more difficult to trace." She paused as trembling again took over her body. "But he still found me."

"You've informed the authorities?"

"Immediately." She ground her face into his neck and was silent for a long while before she continued, "They can do nothing. The second trial established he's the father, and he's now petitioned the courts for parental responsibility."

"Parental responsibility?"

"With Chloe."

Lorne slowly nodded as he appeared to be absorbing the information. "She'd be ten now, wouldn't she? I'd love to meet her."

"Oh, God!" Tears streamed down Valerie's face as she held him tighter.

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