LOS ANGELES More than three years after being beaten up by then-boyfriend Chris Brown, R&B singer Rihanna has admitted that she still loves him, calling Brown possibly "the love of my life".
The "Umbrella" singer told Oprah Winfrey in a television interview broadcast on Sunday that she and Brown, 23, had rebuilt their trust and now had a "very close friendship".
Brown was convicted in 2009 of assaulting Rihanna, his girlfriend at the time, in a violent attack on the eve of the 2009 Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. He apologized publicly and was sentenced to five years probation, community service, domestic violence counseling and was ordered to stay away from Rihanna.
The restraining order was lifted last year and the pair have since teamed up in the studio on 2012 singles "Birthday Cake" and "Turn Up the Music," fueling speculation that they were back together.
"We have maintained a very close friendship ever since the restraining order was dropped. We just worked on it, little by little, and it has not been easy...We built a trust again and that's it. We love each other and we probably always will and that's not anything we're gonna try to change," Rihanna, 24, told Winfrey.
Rihanna said it is hard hiding her feelings when she meets up with Brown.
"It's awkward because I still love him. My stomach drops and I have to maintain this poker face and not let it get to the outer part of me...I think he was the love of my life."
(Reporting By Jill Serjeant; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Andrew Hay)