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the scandal erupted in late july when a paparazzi photographer who'd been tipped to follow stewart trailed the actress and the married father-of-two to a secret rendezvous in the hollywood hills:
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according to the photog, stewart had been headed home from the gym when she got a call and changed course, arriving at a deserted building. there, she met sanders and the two began to "paw" at each other in the actress' mini cooper. "it seemed like they couldn't get enough."
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occasionally looking out to make sure they weren't being watched, the lovers then headed to a desolate hiking trail where they continued to fool around. when people would walk by, the two split into opposite directions before quickly reuniting.
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"she was swept up in the moment," added the photog who, after realizing the goldmine he'd stumbled across, quickly called his agency for backup, and three more paparazzi crowded the scene. later, stewart dropped off sanders a few blocks from his home and the two kissed goodbye.
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within days, the snaps landed in the lap of us weekly, who reportedly secured the photos for a quarter-million dollars. notifying stewart's team of the story, the publication gave the actress a chance to come clean to pattinson before the pictures went to print:
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stewart, who'd appeared happy with pattinson at the teen choice awards just a day earlier, reportedly broke the news to her boyfriend over the phone:
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anticipating the looming us weekly story, the actress' team also hurriedly leaked news of the affair to people magazine in an effort to get out her side of the story first and soften the blow, minimizing the affair to a mere "fleeting moment" and "lapse in judgement":
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but by the next day, the photos hit the internet and stewart apologized for her infidelity in a public statement: "this momentary indiscretion has jeopardized the most important thing in my life, the person i love and respect the most, rob. i love him, i love him, i'm so sorry."
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sanders followed suit, telling people magazine: "i am utterly distraught about the pain i have caused my family. my beautiful wife and heavenly children are all i have in this world. i love them with all my heart. i am praying that we can get through this together."
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however for stewart, who for years had hedged on acknowledging her relationship with pattinson, the shockingly public declaration of love was too little too late. by the end of the week, pattinson would ask stewart to move out of the couple's home in los feliz:
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"i'm not sure they'll be able to recover from this," a source told people magazine. "[rob] is heartbroken and angry." added us weekly, "he doesn't know if he should forgive her," the mag also claiming that he'd been "weeks" away from proposing to stewart before the scandal:
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stewart's affair partner would also find a frosty reception at home, with sanders' wife, liberty ross, reportedly being blindsided by the news. "it's really shocking," said an us weekly source. "she's been with rupert since she was 18. he's the only love she's known."
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ross, a british model who'd given up her rising career to move to l.a. in support of sanders' filmmaking ambitions, had been open about the sacrifices she made in her marriage, telling a magazine just weeks before the scandal that she'd sometimes felt like a single mother:
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"i would never say out loud that i'm raising my children alone," ross told a publication in june, "but a lot of the time it has felt like that." though adding optimistically, "that's why everything feels so amazing now. we rode through the really hard times and we stuck it out."
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ross had also been instrumental in stewart's casting for the role of "snow white," even playing her mother in the film. "[kristen] was my number one choice," ross gushed at the film's london premiere. "she's got something very transfixing about her."
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and just hours before the story hit the press, ross ominously shared several tweets hinting at the news, including a cryptic "WOW," and following the us weekly account. on instagram, she made her feelings less opaque:
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and in the days to follow, the model would continue to show no mercy, stepping out sans wedding ring and reportedly cutting off contact with her philandering husband. "she's been focused just on her kids," reported people magazine. "it's what she cares about the most."
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all the while sanders would continue to flash the symbol of his commitment... and attempt to dodge the paparazzi:
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meanwhile, team stewart would continue its efforts to downplay the affair, with sources "close" to the actress telling outlets that she hadn't fooled around with sanders until after the movie's press tour had wrapped and that the relationship had never even been consummated:
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"it's not a relationship," a source told the website gossip cop, and stewart's pal giovanni agnelli, who produced her 2010 film "welcome to the rileys," would also insist that things had stayed PG - though it's unclear how he'd know:
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sanders' father michael echoed the brevity of the fling, telling a magazine: "it is all a lot of fuss about nothing ... it was just a welcome kiss." "she is a very pretty girl and when you work that closely with someone for so long, sometimes things happen."
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but subsequent reports would paint a more troubling picture, playing up the power dynamics between the lovers and alleging that sanders had been "infatuated" with his star actress and "chased" her for months. "[stewart] never chased him, never pursued him."
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ross' brother, leopold, would seemingly counter this narrative, reportedly telling a british tabloid that the affair had begun during the filming of "snow white" and lasted up until the last week, though later reports would insist ross' interview was a fake:
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but soon after, stewart-friendly site gossip cop would quietly amend its initial report that the tryst was a one-time to acknowledge there'd been several hook-ups, and radar online reported that stewart had even spent time with sanders' daughter, taking her out for ice cream:
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however the brazen nature and plentiful photos of the hook-up would cause others to speculate that something was amiss, and that perhaps the entire thing was a bizarre stunt orchestrated to help stewart shed her vampire-loving tween demographic:
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devoted fans of stewart and pattinson's would especially cry foul, dismissing the entire story as bogus and insisting the photos were doctored, providing bizarre, arrow-ridden diagrams highlighting random body parts as proof:
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unwavering in their allegiance to the on-and-off-screen couple they'd lovingly dubbed "robsten," fans retreated to a world of deluded fantasy, combatting each new tabloid story with an even more ludicrous conspiracy:
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while some theorized the photos were part of a joaquin phoenix-style experiment to fool the media, others wondered whether stewart was even in her right mind during the tryst, suggesting (hoping) that she might've been drugged, or perhaps suffered from an undiagnosed brain tumor:
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