Rapturous:Quantum Series, Book 4

By: M. S. Force

Chapter 1

Camouflage cleaned up at the Oscars, and Hayden Roth kissed me. I’m not sure which is a bigger deal. We’re surrounded by Oscar gold. Hayden won for Best Director, Flynn for Best Actor, Jasper for cinematography and all the Quantum principals for producing the year’s Best Picture. They’re euphoric as they celebrate at one party after another. But all I can think about is that when Hayden won, he kissed me—and he kissed me like he meant it.

He kissed me the way I’ve wanted him to for almost as long as I’ve known him, which is going on ten years now. That’s how long I’ve wanted him. At times, and never more so than when he kissed me earlier, I’ve suspected he wants me, too, but neither of us has ever given in to the attraction that simmers between us.

It could be because I work for Flynn, Hayden’s best friend and business partner, as well as Hayden and the other Quantum principals. Or maybe he thinks I’m too young for him, although six years isn’t that big of a deal. It’s not like I’m seventeen. I’m twenty-seven and fully grown, but I fear he thinks of me as the little girl I once was and not the woman I’ve become.

Flynn’s wife, Natalie, puts her arm around my shoulders and gives me a squeeze. “Having fun?”

“Absolutely. You?”

“Best night ever. They’re so happy.”

“Flynn is flying high because you’re here, not because of the Oscars.” The two of them are wildly in love, and though I’m thrilled for my friend and boss, I’m envious, too. I want that. I want the connection they have, and I want it with a man who is perpetually unavailable to me.

“I’m so glad he won,” Natalie says. “He deserves it.”

“Yes, he does.” Flynn’s fearless, gutsy performance as a severely injured veteran has been the talk of the award season this year, with a clean sweep at the Golden Globes, SAGs, BAFTAs and now the Oscars.

Hayden deserves a big chunk of the credit as the director who’d coaxed that gutsy performance from his best friend. The two of them are gold together, as evidenced tonight and over the last couple of months.

We’re crammed into a booth at the Vanity Fair party. Hayden is on one side of me, Natalie on the other. The heat of his leg pressed against mine has my full attention, whereas Natalie’s leg on the other side doesn’t do a thing for me, as much as I adore her.

No, Hayden is the one I want, in all his complicated, maddening, sexy, frustrating glory. It has occurred to me often during the years I’ve nursed this impossible crush that I could’ve chosen a far simpler man to worship from afar. I could’ve chosen a man who isn’t my boss’s best friend and business partner, two things that put me more or less off-limits to him. I could’ve chosen a man with fewer sharp angles and rough edges.

I’m a smart woman, and I’m well aware this fixation I have on such a difficult man isn’t healthy for me. Tell that to the heart that does backflips and handsprings any time he’s in the room, let alone wedged up against me, radiating the kind of heat that has me fantasizing about being naked in a bed with him.

I don’t care if it’s not in my best interest to want him. I don’t care that Flynn probably wouldn’t approve or that Hayden is more secretive than the CIA when it comes to his private life. I don’t care that my dad can’t stand him or that many of the people who work for him live in fear of his unpredictable rages. I don’t care that his family is one of Hollywood’s most dysfunctional—and that’s saying something in this town.

None of that matters. I want him, and after the way he kissed me tonight, I’m on fire with desire and determination. Tonight is the night. When he takes me home later, I’m going to make my move and to hell with the fallout. I’m sick and tired of wishing for something and not doing a damned thing to get what I want. It’s time to put up or shut up.

I groan at my own cliché-ridden thoughts, but this situation has become one giant, ridiculous cliché. If he doesn’t want me the way I want him, then why would he kiss me like a lover when he won the Oscar?

As if he can read my thoughts, Hayden turns away from the conversation he’s been having with Jasper to smile at me. Although, to call the subtle movement of his lips a smile is giving it far too much credit. It’s more like a cocky smirk than an actual smile.

“You okay?” he asks, his usually cold blue eyes gone warm with what might be affection.

I have to resist the urge to sigh with the pleasure of having his undivided attention. “I am. You?”

“Never better,” he says with an honest, genuine smile, so rare and so fleeting that I wish I could get a photo of it before it disappears.

“I’m so thrilled for you guys. I know how hard you worked on Camouflage. You deserve all the awards and accolades.”

“Thank you. I’m rather thrilled myself.”

Hayden is a complicated mix of brilliant and moody, driven and ambitious, ruthless and loyal. To see euphoria creep into that mix of intense qualities fills me with an unreasonable amount of happiness on his behalf. He works so hard and rarely takes the time to enjoy his success.