:Chapter 16:

There was an awful silence, and Kijima stiffened too when he turned his head and noticed Ren standing at the doorway, carrying his satchel. Kyoko, feeling stricken by fear at the visible rage brewing in Ren's dark obsidian eyes, practically ripped herself away from Kijima's embrace, nearly tumbling over her feet as she did so.

Why, just why, did Ren look so terrifyingly angry, as if he had just caught her committing a horrid crime? It was only a hug! Compared to what Kyoko had seen him do with Momose back at the Blue Princess Hotel (albeit the actress had initiated the kiss, not Ren), this was nothing! Hugs were platonic; kisses were most decidedly not. She was sure Kijima didn't even think of her in that way; he was merely being nice and trying to console her—she'd been on the verge of tears, after all, about her mother.

Besides, wasn't Ren friends with Kijima? Didn't he trust his friend not to make any moves on Kyoko? Still, the more she thought about it, the less certain she felt of their camaraderie. Kijima and Ren might have exchanged cordial and amicable greetings back at the Star Awards, but she was foolish to automatically think it might mean a genuine friendship between them. Social networking was a big part of show business, and Kijima and Ren were both veterans of that world. Not to mention if Kijima was really Ren's friend, he wouldn't have tried to warn Kyoko about Ren behind Ren's back. Why, it seemed almost as if he had been trying to scare Kyoko away from Ren at the Star Awards; even if what he said—Ren being a 'predator' and Kyoko his 'prey'—had been true, his intentions seemed rather negative towards Ren.

"Tsuruga-san!" Kijima swung around and beamed blithely at the other man. He was either choosing to ignore the cold fury in Ren's countenance, or simply didn't notice it. Somehow, Kyoko doubted it to be the latter. "I must say, I wasn't expecting to see you. Dear me, this is a little awkward, isn't it?"

There was a short pause, and Kyoko's pulse jumped nervously in her throat as she looked in alarm at Ren. The rage in his exotic features remained, and for a frightening moment he said nothing at all.

But then the actor seemed to come to an internal decision of some sort, and very slowly—so slowly that Kyoko felt goosebumps erupt on her skin—his lips curved upwards into a mocking smile.

"Kijima-san," Ren murmured. Dressed in a black coat over an elegant white buttoned shirt and a pair of tight dress pants, he looked as infuriatingly attractive as ever. "How surprising to see you here as well."

"Oh, well, it's a long story," Kijima laughed breezily. He gestured at Kyoko. "Shocking as it must be, I'm actually here to see your baby mama."

Kyoko's cheeks immediately turned scarlet at what he called her.

Ren stepped into the apartment, his onyx eyes gleaming. "Really?" he inquired coolly. "How very curious. And what business would you have with her, Kijima-san?"

As he spoke, the male had gracefully glided over to where Kyoko stood, and the girl barely suppressed a squeak when her lover slid his arm soundlessly around her delicate shoulders, drawing her petite form closer to him. A bashful Kyoko could feel the toned, hard musculature of Ren's much taller and bigger body pressed against hers, and her complexion reddened further at the sensation. She would be lying if she said she did not enjoy it.

Kijima, not looking fazed by Ren's clearly territorial behavior, answered him flippantly.

"I'm here on behalf of Kyoko's mother," he announced. "You might not believe this, but Mogami Saena and I happen to be good friends. Talk about a small world, eh?"

Ren's face was unreadable despite the surprise he must be feeling that Kijima knew Kyoko's name, let alone who her mother was. After all, Ren had concealed Kyoko's identity from the public in order to protect her from his obsessive, zealous fans, and that included keeping her name hidden from his fellow celebrities in the entertainment industry.

Kyoko's belly twisted. She couldn't help but experience a spurt of unease and discomfort the moment Kijima mentioned Saena to Ren. Kyoko had rarely talked about her mother with Ren before, and he always seemed to understand her reluctance to breach the subject and had thus never pushed her about it. Therefore, to have Kijima bring up Saena so nonchalantly and so candidly in front of Ren made her feel extremely unsettled. She also felt oddly exposed, which was irrational of her since she knew Ren was already long aware of who her mother was. He'd seen her looking through newspapers before with her mother's name plastered all over the bold, black headlines, despite her attempts to browse through the papers discreetly without his notice.

Kyoko had never explicitly told him that she was the daughter of Mogami Saena, but it was easy enough to infer that from the similar surname and the physical resemblance between both women. But Ren had remained as tactful as ever; he hardly spoke to her about Saena, having noted that Kyoko must never have talked about her mother for a reason. This was why Kyoko hated that Kijima had brought up the topic of Saena to Ren. It marked the first, proper time her lover would ever discuss Saena in front of her, and in a setting where she had almost no control of the conversation.

"I assume that Mogami Saena told you Kyoko's residential address?" Ren remarked dryly.

Kijima grinned. "She did. I hope you don't mind."

"And what does Mogami Saena want, Kijima-san?" Ren asked.

Kijima's grin broadened. "About that," he said. "No offense to you, Tsuruga-san, but I'd rather pass on Saena's message to Kyoko when she's alone with me."

Kyoko's breath hitched. Was Kijima crazy? Ren was already angered enough by the embrace she'd shared with Kijima earlier, and now the latter was spouting this bullshit? Did Kijima not understand how territorial and possessive Ren could get?

Was he trying to piss Ren off even more?

"Look, Kijima-san," Kyoko piped up. She didn't dare to look at Ren for fear of what his reaction might be. "Can't you just tell me my mother's message now? Why do I have to be alone to hear it?"

"Your mum's message is pretty personal," Kijima replied readily. "Won't you want some privacy?"

Kyoko hesitated.

He did have a point. The reason she had not spoken to Ren about her mother all this while was because she did not want to reveal to him how unloving and cruel her mother was towards her. Such unfeelingness and lack of affection from a mother was considered very unnatural in society; as far as Kyoko knew, most mothers loved their children fiercely. In fact, Kyoko's baby wasn't even born yet and her maternal instincts to love it and protect it were already stirring within her.

Juliena was another prime example of a mother who was very protective towards her son. She'd viewed Kyoko as a threat to her baby cub and had attempted to eliminate the threat as quickly as possible. For someone like Ren who was dearly loved by his mother, Kyoko wasn't sure how to reveal to him just how much her own mother hated her. He might not comprehend such an anomaly, and the last thing she wanted was to feel judged, or worse—pitied. There was a high chance that Saena's message, whatever it was, might implicitly convey Saena's contempt towards Kyoko, and to have Ren right next to her listening to it… Well, she felt terribly vulnerable and discomfited.

Kyoko inhaled, then exhaled slowly.

But then again, she and Ren had gone a long way from where they had once stood in the past. Ren had confided in her his secret about his mother's identity so as to build a new level of trust between them, and she appreciated his effort immensely. Now, perhaps, it was her time to reciprocate regarding her own mother. She was going to feel very vulnerable and exposed, but this was what trust was about, after all. It was about having faith in your partner and surrendering a part of yourself to them, and not worrying about their reaction.

"Just tell me her message," Kyoko told Kijima. "I don't need privacy when it comes to Ren."

She felt her lover turned his head silently to regard her, but she shakily forced herself to keep her gaze on Kijima.

Kijima looked a little taken aback. He clearly wasn't expecting her to say what she did. For a couple of seconds, he stared at her, looking too stunned to speak.

"Well," he said finally. "It looks like the both of you are closer than I thought, huh?"

"Please, tell me the message," Kyoko said beseechingly. She was really curious now as to what her mother wanted from her. They hadn't spoken in years, and suddenly, out of the blue, her mother apparently had a message for her. She didn't think Kijima was lying. How else would he have known Kyoko's name, as well as her mother's? Something must have happened with Saena to want to contact her daughter after so long. Could it be anything to do with Juliena Hizuri? It seemed too coincidental with Juliena's threat yesterday.

Instead of answering Kyoko, Kijima pulled out something from the front pocket of his flannel suit, and handed it to her.

It was a card. A business card, to be exact. Kyoko could see Kijima's full name emblazoned in a large, bold font on the card, as well as his phone number under it.

"Maybe this isn't the case for you, but I'd prefer to talk to you alone about your mother," Kijima informed her genially. "I get that now's not a good time, so give me a call if you want to receive your mother's message. Maybe we can arrange a meeting just between the both of us, eh?"

Before Kyoko could utter a word in reply, the business card was plucked straight from her hand. She could only watch, dumbfounded, as Ren neatly tore the card in half and carelessly dropped the tattered pieces onto the linoleum floor as if the paper was nothing but trash to him.

"Tsuruga-san." For the first time since Ren had showed up, Kijima looked annoyed. "What the hell are you doing?"

Ren's sensuous mouth was tipped upwards in an unnervingly cruel smile. There was something very malicious in the way he looked at Kijima, and an intimidated Kyoko could feel her skin prickling in apprehension despite the fact that none of her lover's antagonism was directed towards her. It was times like these that Kyoko was relieved she was not Ren's enemy; she knew by now that he possessed a very savage, cold-blooded side to him when confronting his adversaries, as seen by how he had mercilessly shattered Shotaro's nose and ribcage. The fact that he was emanating a similarly eerie vibe towards Kijima told Kyoko that the pair were definitely not the good friends she'd initially assumed they were.

"I should hope you won't regret this, Tsuruga-san," Kijima pointed out acerbically. "You only have yourself to blame if your pretty little girlfriend never gets to communicate with her mother—"

"If Mogami Saena has something to say to Kyoko, she should come and pass on the message herself instead of hiding behind someone else and asking him to convey it for her," Ren cut him off calmly. "I don't condone cowardice, Kijima-san."

Kyoko swallowed. She couldn't deny that Ren did make a very good point.

Kijima folded his arms across his chest. "What makes you think Saena is scared of Kyoko?"

"Either that, or you offered to come here on her behalf," Ren drawled silkily. "I wonder what your motives are, Kijima-san?"

Kijima stared daggers at the other male, his teeth gritted. His fists were clenched and his body had turned as rigid as stone. Kyoko, who was slightly overwhelmed by the threatening atmosphere, clung to Ren's side meekly for comfort. Her lover's muscled arm had slid down from her shoulders and was now wrapped around her slender waist, pressing her diminutive figure protectively against him. However, his gaze remained fastened on Kijima's aggrieved profile, which was a sharp contrast against Ren's sardonic one.

Kijima was the first to back down.

"Well, I can see that my presence isn't welcome here," he deadpanned. "I had thought that Kyoko-chan would be more receptive since I'm here on behalf of her mother, but I guess that's not the case."

Kyoko flinched.

"You were the one who refused to relay her mother's message in front of me, Kijima-san," Ren commented amusedly.

"So I did," Kijima said shortly.

Kyoko forced out, "Kijima-san—"

"No, save it," he interrupted curtly. "I don't need to hear whatever it is you want to say."

He stalked over to the door of the apartment, his hands tucked moodily in his pockets. Turning his head, he looked squarely at Kyoko.

"Mark my words," he said resolutely. "Your precious Tsuruga-san isn't all you think he is. It's only a matter of time before you truly find out how fucked up he is, and trust me, I'll be around to watch you two fall apart."

And with that being said, he flung open the door, and left, slamming it behind him.


Kyoko stared at the closed door, her hazel eyes wide with astonishment. She stood rooted to the spot, feeling too shell-shocked by Kijima's abrupt farewell to react. Kyoko couldn't believe how audacious Kijima had been to make such a nasty declaration right in front of Ren. The usual cordiality in their interactions was completely gone. Any uncertainties she had about their friendship were instantly wiped away; she was positive now that Kijima and Ren had never been friends throughout the whole time she'd known them (at least not since their meeting at the Star Awards, which was where Kyoko had first met Kijima), but had merely been acquaintances who were playing a game of companionable and affable charades with each other when in reality, both of them were extremely guarded and wary of the other. She didn't know what Ren had done to make Kijima feel so adversely towards him, though judging by Ren's malevolent, ruthless manner towards Kijima earlier, she could hazard a guess. But Kyoko didn't believe that Ren would treat someone so callously for no reason at all. Whatever animosity they shared had to originate from something deeper between them.

And then Ren's regal dark head suddenly bent to hers, distracting Kyoko from her rumination, and she gasped as he crushed his perfect lips against hers in a heated, possessive, open-mouthed kiss.

Her entire body trembled from the intensity of the kiss; his lips explored her soft, pink mouth relentlessly, and she noticed that this was one of the few times where there was nothing gentle about his ministrations. He pulled her bottom lip into his sensual mouth and suckled on it expertly, and she shivered in his arms at the arousal simmering like boiling hot flames within her lower body. Kyoko moaned as his tongue then brazenly penetrated the cavern of her mouth, and twined itself around hers. He thrusted his skilled, flexible tongue inside of her in a blatant imitation of the act of sexual intercourse, and Kyoko gasped wildly against his lips at the unexpectedly powerful sensation he'd elicited within her, her slim hips bucking against his.

Finally, Ren ended the kiss, and she slumped in his embrace, her heart pounding and her legs feeling like they were made of jelly. She would have fallen to the floor had it not been for his strong arms, which were coiled around her tiny waist, holding her up. The girl rested her copper head against the rock-hard surface of his chest, panting heavily as Ren tenderly lowered his lips to her disheveled hair.

"Why did you…. What was that for?" Kyoko asked breathlessly.

"Do I need a reason to kiss you?" Ren said simply. He cupped her chin with his long, dexterous fingers and lifted her face directly towards his so that he could study her dazed eyes, flushed semblance and swollen, rosy lips with a masculine satisfaction. "After all, you belong to me, darling, and you would do well to remember that."

Kyoko's face blazed a deeper shade of color. Her pulse had turned even more erratic at his blunt, matter-of-fact statement, and she sucked in an uneven breath.

"Is… Is this about Kijima?" she questioned timidly. "I don't care about what he said. You shouldn't pay any attention to it—"

"Why was he touching you?" Ren's lush baritone voice was flat.

Kyoko stilled. So this was about that stupid hug she'd shared with Kijima, after all.

"He… He was talking about my mother, and I got upset," she admitted. "He was comforting me. It's a long story."

Ren's midnight eyes were hooded and unrevealing at her confession, and an increasingly rattled Kyoko had no idea what he was thinking. Instead of responding verbally to her, she was surprised when he reached for the drawstrings of her apron, untied the knot, and gently removed the bright pink fabric from her person. After placing the apron to one side, he guided her to the couch and made sure she was comfortably seated.

Once she had settled down, her companion put his satchel bag onto the coffee table—it had been hanging from his broad shoulder the whole time—and she watched dumbly as he deftly opened the satchel and retrieved a brown paper package from inside. The delicious scent of what smelled like chicken sandwiches hit her olfactory senses, and almost at once her mouth watered. She'd completely forgotten about lunch, and she had no idea how famished she was until Ren had taken out the sandwiches. He must have purchased them on his way here. The woman practically drooled as her lover unwrapped the paper packaging with a fluid, swift proficiency before handing the sandwich to her. She bit into it greedily, savoring the taste of freshly baked bread, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, mustard, and juicy chicken.

Kyoko was about halfway into devouring the sandwich when she noticed that Ren, who had seated himself next to her on the sofa, was watching her eat in a mixture of fondness and fascination.

"What?" Kyoko cleared her throat, feeling suddenly self-conscious. She touched her face, praying there weren't traces of sauce or other bits of the sandwich on her skin. "Why are you looking at me like that?"

Ren chuckled. "I've never seen anyone attack food with that kind of vigor. It's adorable."

Kyoko's cheeks flamed with embarrassment. He was basically calling her a glutton!

Desperate to change the subject, she blurted out recklessly, "You shouldn't have torn up Kijima's card in front of him, you know. That was really rude."

His smile slowly disappeared, and a glint entered his exotic obsidian eyes. "Oh?"

"And what if I really never receive my mother's message?" Kyoko pressed on. "I mean, it could be something important."

"Why don't you contact her yourself, then?" Ren purred.

He gracefully reached into the pocket of his expensive overcoat, and took out a card—another business card, as a matter of fact.

Kyoko's mouth went dry when she saw the words that the flashy, prominent letters formed on the card.

Mogami Saena.

Without thinking she reached out her hand to grab the card, but Ren promptly withdrew it from her reach.

"Not so fast, darling," he drawled.

"How did you get Saena's business card?" Kyoko gaped. "And… Why—?"

Ren was holding up the business card with his long, adroit fingers and examining it thoughtfully.

"I spoke to Julie yesterday," he said, giving Kyoko a shrewd side-glance. "From what I understand, she said something to you about Mogami Saena, didn't she?"

Kyoko faltered, her hands tightening around her half-eaten sandwich. She hadn't expected Ren to have spoken with his mother, but now that she thought about it, it made sense. He had known that Juliena had physically forced Kyoko to take a car ride with her, and it was hence natural that he would want to speak to his mother about the situation. Her throat tightened. Had Juliena told Ren about how angry and aggravated Kyoko had been to her? Oh, God. In Kyoko's defence, though, she had been forcefully kidnapped by someone she didn't even know, so her belligerent reaction was to be expected. However, Kyoko still regretted being so hostile to her lover's mother. She'd been so blinded by jealousy, thinking that Juliena was one of Ren's former lovers. Now all Kyoko could do was cringe at the assumption she'd made. Forget about making a good impression in front of her in-laws—not that she and Ren were marrying, but still. Kyoko's poor relationship with Juliena seemed painfully beyond repair.

"Just what did Juliena tell you?" Kyoko asked Ren carefully.

"She said enough for me to know that your mother is a cause for concern at the moment," Ren responded wryly. "I believe you told me the same thing last night. Or am I wrong?"

Kyoko nearly choked on her sandwich. Her memory flitted back to the erotic night before, where she had been lying helplessly in their bed, his talented fingers roaming underneath her scantily-clad lingerie, where the area between her unclothed thighs was. He had practically seduced the answer out of her regarding Juliena's threat last night.

Her lover smiled knowingly at the sight of her crimson features, and slinked his arm around her waist once more, tugging her closely to him on the sofa so that she was resting against his sleekly muscled physique. He dipped his head from behind her and Kyoko emitted a mortifyingly high-pitched gasp of pleasure as he kissed her bare neck.

"Tell me exactly what else Julie told you," Ren murmured huskily into her creamy skin. "Or we can always have a repeat performance of last night, and you'll tell me either way."

Kyoko's breathing sped up as liquid lust stirred in her lower belly, and she let out another loud, flustered squeak, almost dropping her sandwich.

"I'll tell you, I'll tell you!" Kyoko exclaimed hastily, her skin burning and her pulse thundering in her veins. A naughty part of her longed for him to carry out what he was suggesting, but another part of her was dreadfully abashed and disconcerted that she literally had no control over herself whenever he so much as put his mouth—or fingers—on her.

Kyoko figured by now that Ren deserved to know the truth. Besides, even if she refused to tell him, she didn't doubt that he possessed the ability to seduce the answers right out of her if he so wanted to. Yesterday had been a prime example. All he had to do was pleasure her with those clever hands, leave her on the edge of a climax and deny her what she desperately desired, and she would become putty in his grasp. She wouldn't have the willpower to stop him from initiating the session either; there was something very sexually hypnotic about Ren whenever he touched her, and it was likely she would encourage him to continue with his ministrations once he started them. Regardless of his methods, Kyoko wanted to tell him about Juliena's threat anyway. She was so tired of handling her burdens herself and hiding secrets from him. If Juliena was his mother, surely he could come up with a way to stop Juliena from ruining Saena's career, right?

The most important part of all, of course, was that Kyoko wanted to stay with Ren. Juliena was trying to tear them apart, and Kyoko had originally resigned herself to complying with the other woman's demands. But after Kyoko and Ren had decided to make an effort since last night to try to earn the other's trust, Kyoko wanted to give it a shot and stay with him. She wanted it so badly that it consumed her entire being. If Juliena was an obstacle to their relationship, then Kyoko didn't want to face her alone.

She didn't need to face her alone.

"About my mother," Kyoko began hesitantly. She felt nervous and antsy, which was hardly shocking considering that she was about to disclose to Ren something extremely personal and sensitive to her. "She and I, we've always had a… a rocky relationship. We're not normal. I mean, compared to you and Juliena… Well, Juliena is obviously so protective of you. Let's just say that protecting me is not really at the top of my mother's agenda."

Ren said nothing. His arm was still tucked around her waist, and she was both relieved and perturbed that she couldn't see his face from where her back was leaning on him.

Kyoko took a deep breath, then went on. "She's a lawyer. A damned good one. She's won at almost all of her cases, which is why she's known as—"

"'The Queen of Court'," Ren finished for her. "I know. I've read up about her. When I found out vaguely about her involvement with Juliena last night, I called Yashiro-san and asked him to do a little networking on my behalf so that I could obtain her business card. She's an elusive one, this Queen of Court."

Of course. It wasn't easy to gain access to Saena's business card, since she only represented the wealthiest and most influential clients in court. But Ren was the biggest star in Japan, which meant he was the epitome of the rich and the famous, and it was therefore child's play for him to use his contacts to get his hands on her business card.

"So that's why you said you needed to meet Yashiro-san this morning," Kyoko said as comprehension dawned. "It wasn't just to submit paperwork, was it? You went to take my mother's card from him!"

"That's correct." Ren laughed, a glorious rich rumble at the back of his throat, and she shivered as she felt the deep reverberations running up his chest. "Now. Go on with your story, please."

Kyoko decided she would yell at him later for planning this since last night and yet choosing to keep mum about it.

"Did you hear about my mother's recent case?" she wanted to know. "She won."

"Hmm. Yes."

"Well, according to your mother," Kyoko said miserably, "Saena slept with the judge of that case to win."

She swiveled her head around this time to take in Ren's beautiful face, but his expression was as cryptic as ever.

Was he appalled with Kyoko right now for being the daughter of a corrupt attorney? Was he starting to regret ever associating himself with Kyoko, let alone having dated her? No wonder Juliena Hizuri loathed Kyoko so much, and this had nothing to do with Kyoko's snappy attitude towards Juliena back in the latter's car (though that had made everything worse); in Juliena's perspective, Kyoko was nothing more than the child of a filthy, corrupt individual. Everyone knew there was a high chance that a parent's debauchery could rub off on their children, not to mention the same blood ran in their veins. How could someone as tainted as Kyoko be good enough for her perfect son? And now that she'd told Ren the truth, he might think the same way as his mother. It was one thing for Juliena to hate her and reject her, but if Ren did the same thing, Kyoko would be utterly destroyed.

"The judge's wife is an actress who is a friend of your mother's," Kyoko elaborated, feeling increasingly woeful as she spoke. "The actress hired a private detective to follow the judge—her husband—and the private detective took photographs of my mother and the judge at a love hotel."

"Allow me to guess." Ren's tone was glacial. "My mother threatened to release these photographs to the public if you continued staying by my side, which would subsequently destroy your mother's career."

Kyoko nodded, staring desolately at the remains of her sandwich. She didn't feel hungry anymore.

"Oh, darling." Kyoko stilled when he kissed the top of her head. "You should have told me sooner."

"I know," she sighed. "I was just… I don't know, scared that if I tell you, Juliena would find out somehow and then she'd make her friend release the photos and then it'll be all over—"

"Listen to me, Kyoko." Ren touched her thin shoulders and gently turned her around on the couch to face him. "Do you still remember what your mother's latest case was about?"

Kyoko bit her lip. "I think so."

"Then you know that she was representing a powerful business mogul who'd allegedly raped and murdered many women in his employment. Because she was his lawyer and she won his case, this man has gotten off scot-free for his crimes. Do you think this is fair for the women he raped and killed, and for the families of these women?"

Kyoko paled.

Why hadn't she thought of this sooner? She had been so caught up with fretting about the possible destruction of her mother's career that she hadn't spared a thought for the details of the lawsuit.

Kyoko was horrified with her mother. She knew Saena could be unfeeling, but this was simply too much. How could Saena be so heartless and cold-blooded that she was willing to ruin all these women's lives just so she could win the case and maintain her title as the Queen of Court? The female victims had been raped and murdered, and now justice would never be served for them! How were their families supposed to find closure, then, when the rapist slash murderer that had assaulted their daughters or wives was still at large? And what if he was still going after other innocent women? No wonder Juliena hated Kyoko so much for the terrible things her mother had done—Kyoko almost hated Saena now, too. And it wasn't just the women who had been raped and killed that were the victims. There was the judge's wife, too, who had lost her husband to a homewrecker that was Mogami Saena. What if the judge and the actress had kids? How was their mother supposed to explain to them that their father had slept with another woman? To make matters worse, Saena hadn't even slept with the judge because she loved him. She'd done it to win a case that should never have been won.

"Ren," Kyoko whispered, tears welling up in her ochre eyes. She slammed her sandwich, still enveloped in the paper packaging, onto the coffee table with such force that she squished the bread. "How could I not have thought about all those other people?"

He took her in his warm embrace, stroking her disheveled copper hair as he did so. "You shouldn't blame yourself too much. You were worried for your mother's welfare because you love her very much. It's natural she would come first in your mind." His onyx eyes gleamed. "The same way you come first to mine before all else."

Kyoko stared up at him in wonder, feeling a surge of euphoria rise within her chest. This was the closest thing to a love confession that she had ever gotten from him, and she found herself praying that she hadn't imagined his words.

Somehow, what he said gave her the courage to do what was right.

"I've decided," she choked out at last. "I think the truth needs to be exposed. Even… Even if it costs my mother her career."

Even if her mother should blame and hate Kyoko forever.

Ren gazed at her with an almost tender look in his smoky dark eyes, then slowly kissed her forehead.

"You are twice the woman your mother would ever be, Mogami Kyoko," he said softly. Extending Saena's business card towards her, he added languidly, "Go ahead. Call her to ask for her message. Unless you'd like me to do that for you?"

From his voice, Kyoko knew that he was serious. He would call Saena in Kyoko's stead if she wanted him to, and he would find no problem with it whatsoever.

But this was her mother, not Ren's. Kyoko strongly believed that she had to communicate with Saena herself. If not, she would be no better than her mother, who had been so cowardly that she'd used Kijima as a messenger instead of choosing to face Kyoko herself.

Kyoko swallowed hard. Nevertheless, she ignored the temptation to stall for time. Fishing her smartphone out from the pocket of her jeans, she dialed the private number that was listed on Saena's business card, and waited, her skin breaking out in a cold sweat. Ren, evidently respecting her decision, was holding her free hand, his calloused thumb tracing her small knuckles soothingly.

Would Saena pick up a call from a caller ID that she did not recognise? Kyoko was positive that her bigwig clients normally contacted her through their representatives, and even then their representatives contacted Saena's secretary first, not Saena herself.

She waited about five rings before a dispassionate, efficient-sounding female voice spoke.

"Mogami Saena speaking."

Kyoko's heart stopped.

She was hearing her mother's voice for the first time in God only knows how many years. Saena's voice had not changed at all; she still sounded like she was utterly incapable of feeling any human emotion. It was the exact same voice that had told Kyoko so long ago as a little child that her academic grades weren't good enough, that her performance in school and at home was poor, that she just wasn't good enough. This voice carried so much power over Kyoko's heart—if the slightest trace of disapprobation was audible in said voice, Kyoko would be devastated. Even though she was now an adult and no longer lived under her mother's roof (which had been a brief time in her childhood anyway), old habits died hard, and Kyoko instinctively found herself feeling like a little girl again, wanting to gratify that voice and to earn her mother's praise. She shoved the illogical urge away—she hadn't called Saena to please her mother. She had called Saena to ask what Saena wanted from her. That was it.

"It's me, Mother," Kyoko said, hoping fervently that a tremor didn't surface in her voice. "It's Kyoko."

There was a tense silence.

And then Mogami Saena spoke again.

"Where are you right now?" she asked blandly. There was no greeting, no pleasantries exchanged—her mother cut right to the chase.

"I'm at home," Kyoko stammered. "In my apartment."

"I will be there in twenty minutes."

Kyoko opened her mouth again, but the line had gone dead. She stared down at her smartphone disbelievingly. It was just like Saena to make a decision without properly consulting Kyoko about it. She had not even bothered to ask if Kyoko would be free for the next twenty minutes. As far as Saena was concerned, once her decision was made, Kyoko would have to comply with it. It didn't matter if it inconvenienced Kyoko. Kyoko would have to work around her schedule to meet Saena's demands.

"Kyoko?" Ren's rich, velvety voice was inquisitive, and it brought her right out of her reverie.

"My mother's coming here in twenty minutes," Kyoko said numbly. Then she leapt up from the couch, dropped her phone on its plush surface, and clutched the sides of her disarrayed copper hair. "Oh, my God! My mother is coming in twenty minutes, Ren!"

She started pacing up and down the living room, and then stuffed her miniature fist into her mouth in a fit of anxiety. She felt edgy and restless, not to mention scared out of her mind. Talking to her mother over the phone was one thing, but seeing her face-to-face? Kyoko had no idea how she was going to cope with that. She clamped her teeth over her bony knuckles, trying to gather her frazzled nerves and prevent herself from falling prey to a panic attack.

"Come here."

Kyoko froze. In the midst of the agitated chaos that was her mental state, Ren's deep, unruffled command sliced through her bubbling hysteria like a blade.

She did as she was told, making her way clumsily back to where he was still tranquilly seated on the sofa.

"I'm terrified, Ren," Kyoko confessed faintly. "I haven't seen my mother in years, and now she's coming here to see me in twenty minutes. I'm not ready for this! I'm scared as hell, and I'm so stressed you can't even—"

She was unceremoniously cut short when Ren's slender fingers boldly unzipped the fly of her jeans in a single fluid motion.

"Wha—what are you doing?" Kyoko gasped out. She had not been expecting this turn of events.

"Relieving your stress," he said simply, as if it was obvious.

And then he peeled the denim away from her hips, and his nimble fingertips went to the waistline of her silk panties, his touch hot against her skin.


A couple of minutes later, a spent Kyoko lay limply in Ren's arms on the sofa, her limbs weak and her body—especially her nether region—buzzing blissfully from the effects of the fierce orgasms that she'd had. Her anxieties had vanished; in fact, her mind was now ecstatically blank, wiped clean of all her troubles.

Just earlier her lover had gotten rid of her jeans with a quick efficiency and pulled down her flimsy underwear before positioning his mouth right at the naked junction between her legs, making her cry out in rapture. He hadn't hesitated for even a second; his heated tongue lapped vigorously against the rapidly dampening folds of her womanhood as if she was the most delicious thing he'd ever sampled, his experienced fingers effortlessly locating her clitoris and rubbing against it unapologetically. It didn't make things easier that Kyoko was standing on her feet, her jeans and her panties discarded in a pile on the floor, with Ren's head bent between her naked thighs, one of his dexterous hands gripping the side of her narrow waist to secure her. When his fingers had seized her throbbing clitoris and skillfully applied a deliberate amount of burning friction to it, she had immediately climaxed with a choked exclamation, and consequently her already quivering legs had given way. Ren had protectively scooped Kyoko up in his arms before she fell, and had then gently placed her slim body down onto the sofa.

Despite her mind-shattering orgasm, he had not been done with her yet. She'd barely recovered from her release when he had lowered his head to the dripping petals of her entrance and serviced her again, his sharp teeth catching the sensitized, blood-filled bud peeking through her wet, pink walls and suckling it unrelentingly between his lips, his cheeks hollowing from the intensity. Caught in a renewed haze of unbearable lust, Kyoko had unconsciously grabbed the raven glossy locks of Ren's hair, tugging him closer so that she could grind her pelvis feverishly against his wickedly upturned mouth. With his mouth preoccupied by the soaked, slippery folds of her nectar, his deft hands had skimmed across her smooth flesh underneath the hem of her t-shirt, and had pushed her cotton bra upwards so that they fell back from her small, perky breasts and onto her clavicles. Kyoko had wailed out in pleasure as his large hands had cupped each of the swollen mounds of her breasts beneath her shirt, his calloused thumbs flicking her sensitive nipples.

The combined sensation of his talented fingers applying a sinful pressure to her nipples and his white teeth playfully scraping against her clitoris shoved her over the edge; Kyoko had arched her back on the sofa—his palms continued massaging each of her breasts in a teasing, circular motion—and hoarsely screamed her release, the dewy petals of her core convulsing and spasming against his mouth. The tension—like a coil spring—that had been suffocating her since the start of today snapped apart in her belly and escaped her body through the release of her essence into his inviting lips. He'd sucked harder on her clitoris throughout her intense orgasm, enhancing her euphoria and catapulting her from a second climax straight into a third. Her vision faded to a surreal black, and she was only mildly aware that he was licking her clean.

After that, an exhausted but sated Kyoko could only lie slumped on the sofa as a half-smiling Ren straightened her bra and then covered her half-naked body with his coat, which fell past her knees since it was extremely lengthy on her far more petite stature. He'd folded and kept her abandoned jeans into his satchel, and helped her put her panties back on. She had simply lay there in a pool of serenity, watching him sleepily as he lifted her thighs up gently from the sofa and slid her underwear back over her shapely legs and around her slender hips. From where she lay she could see the tented outline of Ren's impressive erection straining through his dress pants (his reaction to their session earlier), and she wanted him inside her so badly that she ached all over again.

He must had read Kyoko's desires on her face, for he said roughly, "Not now, darling. Not until Ruriko says you are ready."

She pouted, but knew there was no changing Ren's mind. Still, it was probably for the better, since—God forbid—her mother might arrive any time now.

Ren had seated himself gracefully on the couch and gathered her in his arms.

"How are your stress levels now?" Ren inquired, the corner of his sculpted lips quirking mischievously.

Kyoko blushed furiously, her cheeks suffused with a hue of red. "Better."

He chuckled. "That's good to hear."

She traced contented circles on Ren's broad shoulder, then raised her head and lovingly kissed his jaw. "Thank you," she said shyly, her complexion still a crimson shade.

"You're more than welcome," he responded lazily, his eyes devilishly bright.

"I really don't deserve you," Kyoko sighed out, overcome by what he had done for her. "Yet I still want to be with you so much that it hurts."

"No one deserves anyone, Kyoko," Ren said levelly. "We are never entitled to anything. If we want something, we fight for it. That is all there is to it."

Kyoko's hazel eyes widened. "I need to fight harder for you, don't I?" she asked earnestly.

Ren curled a strand of her bronze hair around his spidery, long fingers.

"You don't have to fight for me since I am already yours, love," he murmured gently.

"Really?" she whispered.

He smiled tenderly at her. "Really."

She blinked, trying to hold back delighted tears. Quietly, she trailed kisses down his elegant jawline, and his possessive arms brought her body closer to him.

It was then when the doorbell rang, a sharp, shrill discord that broke through her joy.

Kyoko tensed up immediately as the significance behind the noise hit her. Her delirious high from her intimate moment with Ren started to fade, only to be replaced by the familiar pins and needles swarming her skin.

The following seconds were met with a flurry of movements. Kyoko hurriedly rolled back the lengthy sleeves of Ren's oversized coat over her forearms so that she could free her slim hands through them, while Ren tied the belt of his coat precisely around her svelte waist so that the ebony fabric enclosed her bare legs.

Their hands entwined, Kyoko then followed Ren down the hallway and towards the closed door of her apartment, her heart hammering within her ribs and her belly constricting uncomfortably.

The fear and the anxiety were returning, and she hated it.

Ren glanced sedately at her, his magnetic obsidian eyes seeking her apprehensive brown ones for a brief heartbeat, and he opened the door.

A tall woman—dressed in a smart, immaculate black blazer, creamy buttoned blouse, and an equally jet-black pencil skirt—stood at the doorway, holding a briefcase. Her long legs were clad in dark silk stockings and she wore a pair of raven high-heeled pumps. There was something undeniably gothic and beautiful about her; it was perhaps in the way she carried herself, with the icy, dignified air of a queen. As if to match her haughty personality, her facial features were the refined, matured version of Kyoko's more rounded, innocent one. The older woman's lips were painted a stark, bloody scarlet, and her hazel eyes were narrowed, cynical, and cold as she regarded Ren.

Kyoko's muscles turned rigid as those cold, lofty eyes glanced towards her. She could read the disapproval in Saena's demeanor, and a razor-sharp dagger seemed to penetrate her chest in response. Almost at once she felt like the little girl in her past again, facing a reproving, patronizing mother whose disapprobation never failed to crush Kyoko's buoyant spirits. Her composure was falling apart so quickly that it floored even herself.

"Mother," she croaked.

Saena's brow arched. "Don't call me that, please," she stated frostily. "You have no mother, and I have no children. Make sure you remember that from now on."

A horrible hush greeted her words.

Kyoko's head jerked as if Saena had physically struck her. Agony and hurt welled up within her, and she took a step back, barely noticing the grim concern in Ren's midnight eyes as his long-fingered hand tightened around her diminutive one. The lack of oxygen in her shrinking lungs made it near impossible for her to think straight.

Saena might have always been harsh and severe, but she had never said anything this staggering before. Making such a statement now—and in such an unfazed, emotionless tone, too—brought her mother's cruelty to a whole other level.

Kyoko was a fool to think she was ready for this.

Letting out a wounded gasp, Kyoko spun on her heel, ripped her hand blindly out of Ren's, and ran back into her apartment, not wanting to face her mother any longer. Her ochre eyes were stinging, and grief-stricken tears spilled under her lashes.

She wasn't ready, and probably never would be.


:tbc:


A/N: Thank you very much to those of you who suggested which fic—'Amnesia' or 'FotPB'—you'd like to see updated first. It was a pretty close tie, but more people suggested FotPB, so there you go. I'm also very grateful to everyone who reviewed my fics in general; so, thank you again!

(By the way, I know it's been a while since this fic was updated, so if you don't remember what Saena's intended message to Kyoko actually is, go ahead and check chapter fourteen!)

This is a little random, but I must admit that I have not kept myself constantly up to date with the new Skip Beat! manga chapters, especially since (spoiler alert!) Kyoko did not receive a White Day's gift from Ren, and I ended up feeling very disappointed in him. It makes me feel a little sour towards the manga in general. Speaking of which, Kyoko did have a mini-breakdown in the manga after she heard what her mother said on television, so this scenario in 'FotPB' is a little similar.

Thanks for reading, and please drop a review if you liked/disliked this chapter!

Edit:

(15/12/19)

Hey, guys! First of all, thank you so much for reading FotPB and for your support over the years. Unfortunately, I am writing this to state that I'll be officially discontinuing this fic. I think it's better to state it here rather than keep your hopes up in vain for an update that won't come.

FotPB has garnered plenty of mixed reactions, especially in the beginning. You guys have no idea the hate I got writing this fic. Many reviewers were livid at how unhealthy this relationship was, of how horrible Ren is, etc, and you guys would be absolutely right. He is not a good person in this fic. I'm tired of reiterating this point over the years. This isn't a happy, rainbow-filled relationship. And I won't lie and say I wasn't exhausted by the negativity I got by readers who constantly ignored my warnings in my A/Ns.

And then there were some reviewers who raged at me for updating so slowly. I remember one reviewer who said the actual Skip Beat! manga updated faster than me, and saying how ridiculous it was for me to update so slowly in comparison. I'd never forget how angry I felt when I read it.

Obviously the manga would update faster, because the mangaka is getting paid for her work. She is contracted to update monthly with a publisher. I do not work with a publisher, and I write for free because it's my passion. I don't follow a schedule, and neither should that reviewer assume I should follow one when I'm not contractually obligated to update for said reviewer.

Of course, this isn't directed at most of you. There is still the majority of you who are sweet and encouraging and have been so supportive for so long. To those readers, thank you so much. I'm so grateful. I just thought I should share how I felt writing FotPB over the years, things that I've never shared before.

As for my other Skip Beat! fics, those are not discontinued yet, especially not Sugar. Hopefully not. Until then, see you guys around, and thanks again so much for everything! x

-LJ