Valorous, Book 2 in the Quantum Series
Natalie & Flynn
INCLUDES a TAME version of Valorous IN THE BACK of the STEAMY version!
The second installment in the New York Times bestselling Quantum trilogy by author Marie Force, writing as M.S. Force.
He’s a sexual dominant. She’s sworn off sex. There’s no way they can make a relationship work—or can they?
After crashing into her destiny, Natalie discovers destiny can be a double-edged sword when it includes the biggest movie star in the world… Can Flynn and Natalie’s new love survive the incessant scrutiny, among other challenges they face? From Hollywood to Las Vegas, Flynn and Natalie’s whirlwind love affair has it all— romance, passion, steamy hot sex, relentless paparazzi and a murder that could be their undoing. Flynn is a dirty-talking hero who puts it all on the line for the woman he loves, who leaves no desire unfulfilled, who will do anything it takes to protect what’s his…
Other Books in the Quantum Series
She’s in shock. That’s the only possible explanation for the glazed look in her gorgeous brown eyes as well as the unusual and pervasive silence between us. She’s trembling so violently that I want to call a doctor to give her something to calm her down. I’m at a total loss as to how to comfort her.
I’ve brought her to my home, hoping to protect her from the feeding frenzy going on outside hers. All my worst nightmares have come to life, but my worst nightmares have nothing on hers. With her painful past made public for the world to dissect, she’s lost her job as well as her anonymity, and it’s entirely my fault.
I want to get on the phone with my people—lawyers, publicists, anyone who can get me the blood of the man who hurt her. I want to get Leah over here, because Natalie needs a friend. But I’m afraid to leave her alone for even the short time it would take to make calls that might help. Her silence is freaking me out. I liked it better when she was sobbing. That I understood. The eerie silence… That scares me.
Then I remember how she admired the big tub in my bathroom—the one I’ve never used in the ten years I’ve owned this place. Leaving her curled up on my bed, I go into the bathroom and start the bath. Under the counter, I find a bottle of body wash that can be used to make bubbles. Keeping one eye on her and another on the tub, I wait until it’s three-quarters full before I turn it off and return to her.
Sitting on the edge of the mattress, I kiss her cheek, which is cold under my lips. “Hey, Nat, I ran you a bath. It might feel good to warm up.”
She doesn’t protest, so I help her up and out of her clothes and then pick her up to carry her into the bathroom, where the tub full of steaming water and bubbles awaits. Two nights ago, we made love for the first time, yet nothing about this is sexual. When I deposit her into the water, I end up with wet sleeves, so I remove my shirt and take a seat next to the tub.
“Sweetheart, will you talk to me?”
“Nothing to say.” Her voice is dull and flat, as are her eyes. The tears that roll silently down her cheeks break my heart and threaten my own composure. I have to do something—anything—to help her.
“I’ll be right back.” I get up to go into the other room to find my phone and a dry shirt. I’ve missed thirty-two calls and forty-six text messages. I ignore all of them and call Gabe at Quantum. He runs our BDSM club and acts as Quantum’s head of security in New York.
“Flynn,” he says, “are you all right?”
“I’ve had better days. I need a doctor for Natalie. Do you know someone who can come here and be discreet?”
“My cousin. I’ll call and set it up.”
“Let me know if there’s anything else I can do. We all want to help.”
“I will, thanks again.”
I return to the bathroom, where Natalie hasn’t moved from where I put her. Tears continue to leak from her eyes, every one of them a knife to my heart.
“Flynn,” she whispers.
“What, honey?” I kneel beside the tub. “I’m right here. What do you need?”
“I’m going to be sick.”
I grab the trashcan from the floor and get it to her just in time to hold back her long dark hair as she heaves violently. “I need to get Fluff,” she says, still gasping from being sick.
“I’ll ask Leah to bring Fluff here. Don’t worry about anything.” I settle her back against the towel I’ve rolled into a pillow for her in the tub. I wet a washcloth under cool water and kneel next to the tub to wipe her face and mouth. “I’ll get your phone so we can text Leah.”
Tears continue to roll unchecked down her pale cheeks.
In all my thirty-three years, I’ve never felt as helpless as I do right now. I don’t want to leave her for even the short minute it takes to retrieve her phone from where we left it with her purse in the living room. “I’ll be right back, okay?”
She nods, and the weary resignation I sense in that small gesture crushes me. This is my fault, and I’m going to fix it for her or die trying. I bring the phone back to the bathroom. “Do you want to punch in your code?”
“You can do it,” she says. “It’s zero one one eight.”
I’m strangely moved to be trusted with her code. What can I say? I’m a disaster where she’s concerned. After punching in the code, I see that her phone is alight with messages and voice mails. Ignoring all that, I open a text to Leah.
Hey, it’s Flynn. Natalie is asking for Fluff. How do you feel about bringing her to us at my place?
She responds immediately. So glad to hear from you. How is she? Of course I’ll bring Fluff. Whatever I can do.
Thanks. Not so good… Fluff will help.
I send another text with info about how to get into the garage at my place, which is not something I give to just anyone. But right now, I can’t be bothered with things I’m normally obsessive about, such as protecting my privacy. All I care about is Natalie and whatever I can do for her.
The buzzer on the elevator sounds, and I’m once again torn over leaving Natalie alone, even for a minute. “Fluff is on her way with Leah. I’m going to get the door. Be right back.”
She doesn’t reply. Tears continue to roll down her cheeks, but she’s completely unaware. The vacant look in her eyes terrifies me.
I run for the elevator. “Yeah?”
“It’s me.” Addie.
Without hesitation, I hit the buzzer to let in my faithful assistant. A minute later, she steps off the elevator, drops her bag in my foyer and hugs me. “What can I do?” She’s become like a little sister to me in the five years she’s worked for me. There’s nothing either of us wouldn’t do for the other, which she’s just proven once again.
“I don’t even know what I need right now.”
“Whatever it is, I’m here for both of you.”
“How did you get here so fast?”
“I jumped on a plane an hour after the news hit the Web. Liza is coming, too,” she said of my publicist, “but I told her not to come here tonight. Tomorrow will be soon enough.”
“Good call, thanks. I need to get back to Natalie. She’s in the tub. Gabe is sending his doctor cousin over.”
“I’ll make tea.”
“She likes hot chocolate.”
“I’ll make that, then.” She grasps my arm. “You’re not in this alone. The entire Quantum army is circling and out for blood.”
“Thanks for coming, Addie.”
“Just doing my job.”
“You’re doing much more than that, as you well know.”
“Go to her. It’s all going to be okay.”
Though I’m soothed by Addie’s assurances, one look at Natalie’s ghostly white, tearstained face tells me it’s going to be a very long time—if ever—before things are all right again. “Let’s get you out of there, sweetheart.” As if she’s a child, I help her up and out. I dry her and wrap her up in a warm robe of mine. Then I towel-dry and brush her hair.
All the while, she stares blankly at the wall, barely blinking even as tears keep on coming. Where the hell is that doctor? “Let’s get you to bed.” She doesn’t so much as blink when I pick her up and carry her to my bed. After she’s tucked in under the thick down comforter, I sit beside her, holding her hand and wishing I knew what to do for her.
Addie comes in with a mug of hot chocolate and silently puts it on the bedside table before leaving us alone.
“Addie made you some hot chocolate.”
“What’s she doing here?”
The question is a huge relief to me. “She came to help us.”
“There’s nothing she can do.”
The absolute desolation in her voice is another arrow to my broken heart. “There’s a lot we can do, and we’re going to do all of it after we take care of you. You’re the only thing that matters.”
“Your career, what they must be saying…”
“Fuck that. I couldn’t care less about my career right now. I care about you. I love you, and I hate that this is happening to you because of me.”
“I just… I don’t understand… Why? Why would he do this?”
I wipe the tears from her face while holding back my own. I can’t remember the last time I cried about anything, but I fear if I start now, I might never stop. “Who did it, Nat?”
“It had to be the lawyer in Lincoln. I paid him a lot of money to help me change my name after everything that happened. Why would he do this?”
“Money.” I’m gutted as the pieces fall together. “After you were seen with me, he recognized the chance to cash in.”
“I was his client,” she says on a sob. “He’s not allowed to talk about me.”
“You’re damned right he’s not. I’ll see to it that he’s disbarred and charged criminally for what he’s done to you. Not to mention we’ll sue his ass off.”
“It’s like it’s happening all over again… Feels just like it did then.”
She’s referring to being raped at fifteen, which the whole world is now hearing about thanks to a fucking lawyer in Lincoln, Nebraska, who sold her out to make a buck—probably a lot of them.
I can barely breathe through the rage. I want to cry along with her at knowing I caused her to be victimized all over again. I dragged her back into a nightmare that she’d long ago put behind her. If I’d had any idea something like this was even possible, I never would’ve been seen in public with her.
“It’s not your fault,” she says softly.
Though I’m relieved to see a spark of life in her normally luminescent eyes, I refuse to be let off the hook. “It’s absolutely my fault. Because you were seen with me, they wanted to know more about you, so they dug until they found someone willing to talk for a price.”
“I don’t blame you. I blame him.”
I adore her for being concerned about me at a time like this. “What’s his name, sweetheart?”
“David Rogers. He’s the only person, until today, who knew me by both names. It had to be him.”
“You’ve never told anyone, even your family?”
She shakes her head. “I haven’t seen or talked to my family in eight years.”
I’m saddened to be reminded of how alone she’s been for all these years. Well, she’s not alone anymore. I want every detail of what happened to her, but asking for that now isn’t what she needs. So I sit with her, holding her hand and offering her sips of hot chocolate until a knock on the door announces the doctor’s arrival.
I’m relieved that Gabe’s cousin is a woman. I’m further relieved when she doesn’t make a thing of who I am. Rather, she focuses all her attention on Natalie.
“Hi there, I’m Doctor Janelle Richmond.” She shares dark hair, eyes, complexion and a general family resemblance with Gabe.
I get up to shake her hand. “Thanks so much for coming.”
Natalie glances at me, her trepidation palpable. “You called a doctor?”
“I thought it might help to get something so you can sleep.”
“Maybe I could have a moment alone with Natalie?” Janelle asks.
I don’t want to leave, but I defer to her. “Is it okay with you?” I ask Natalie.
She grasps handfuls of the down comforter on my bed. “I guess.”
“I’ll be right outside the door. Call if you need me.” I lean in to kiss her forehead before I leave the room, closing the door behind me.
Addie finds me in the hallway. “How is she?”
“A little better than she was.” I run my fingers through my hair repeatedly. “Can you call Emmett for me?”
“Sure.” She goes to the living room to get her phone and returns to my post outside the bedroom door. “Here you go.”
I take the phone from her. “Emmett.”
“What can I do, Flynn?” As the chief counsel for Quantum, Emmett Burke is a friend as well as a colleague. He’s also a member of Club Quantum, our secret BDSM club. “I can’t even imagine how upset you must be.”
“I’ve moved past upset straight to enraged. A lawyer named David Rogers in Lincoln, Nebraska, handled Natalie’s legal name change. She says he’s the only person on earth who knows her by both names. I want him buried.”
“I’m all over it.” After a pause, he says, “Flynn… I know you’ve been tending to Natalie, but what they’re reporting about what happened to her… You… um… You need to prepare yourself before you read it. It’s h-hard-core, man.”
In ten years in business together as well as a close personal friendship, I’ve never heard the supremely confident Emmett Burke stutter or stammer. That he is doing both now only adds to my anxiety. “Give me the highlights—or lowlights.” I brace myself for what I’m about to hear.
His deep sigh comes through the phone loud and clear, letting me know how difficult it is for him to tell me these things. “Her father was a top aide to former Nebraska governor Oren Stone. They were lifelong best friends. The families were close, and Natalie—or April, as she was known then—babysat Stone’s kids. She traveled with them on family vacations and spent many a night at the governor’s mansion.”
My stomach knots with tension as the story unfolds. Her name was April…
“Apparently, Stone arranged for Natalie to babysit for a weekend that his wife and kids were going to be out of town. He held her there all weekend, raped her repeatedly and threatened her family if she told anyone.”
I feel like I’ve been gut-punched. “Son of a fucking bitch.”
“She went straight to the cops.”
I close my eyes in awe of her strength and courage as a brutalized fifteen-year-old who had the guts to take that bastard down.
Then Emmett drops the next bomb. “Her parents sided with Stone.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?”
“I wish I was. The case made national news. Stone made a lot of enemies on his way up the ranks. A bunch of people stepped up to support her through the trial. She filed for and was granted emancipation from her parents. She testified against Stone, and her graphic, detailed testimony sealed his fate. He was sentenced to twenty-five years to life in prison. About four weeks after he went to jail, he was raped and murdered in the shower by another inmate.”
I experience a perverse feeling of pleasure at knowing he suffered even a fraction of what he’d inflicted on her.
“She disappeared after the trial. There’s no mention of her anywhere online after the day Stone was sentenced.”
“That must be when she changed her name.”
“Natalie Bryant made her debut a couple of years later as a freshman at the University of Nebraska. There’s no mention anywhere of how or where she spent the years between the trial and college. She graduated in four years and then moved to New York to take a position as a teacher at a charter school.”
“Tell me there’s something we can do about this Rogers guy.”
“Oh, there’s a lot we can do. I’ll be making a call to the Nebraska bar to start with and preparing a civil suit as well as demanding criminal charges be brought against him. He’s going to be very sorry he ever fucked with her—and you.”
“Whatever we do, we can’t make this any worse for her than it already is.”
“I hate to say it’s likely to get worse before it gets better.”
The thought of it getting any worse makes me sick. I lean against the wall, closing my eyes when they fill with tears. Hearing the details of what happened to Natalie shreds me. My emotions are all over the place. “I want to protect her, but I don’t know how.”
“The most important thing you can do is keep her off the Internet and away from TV. She knows what happened. She doesn’t need to see it playing out for all the world to see—again. I’ve spoken with Liza, and we’re on it. Just take care of her and try not to worry. It’ll blow over in a couple of days.”
That may be true, but would Natalie ever be the same joyful, sweet person she was before her life and painful past were exposed to the world?
When the bedroom door opens, I tell Emmett I have to go. “I’ll call you tomorrow.”
“Talk to you then.”
I stash Addie’s phone in my pocket. “How is she?”
“She gave me permission to tell you she’s definitely in shock and having a physical reaction to it, thus the trembling and crying. I gave her a very light sedative to help her get some rest.” She hands me her business card. “If she’s still feeling anxious or has trouble sleeping, call me tomorrow and I’ll call in a script.”
“Is she… Will she be okay?”
“Eventually, but it’s going to take some time for her to process what’s happened. You’ll need to be patient and let her work through it in her own way.”
Patience isn’t exactly my best quality, but I’ll become the most patient man on earth if that’s what Natalie needs from me.
“Please call me if I can be of any further assistance to either of you.”
“Thank you so much for coming.”
“Of course. Gabe speaks so fondly of you and the others at Quantum. I know how much you mean to him.”
“He’s one of the good ones for sure.”
“I’ll let myself out so you can get back to Natalie.”
“Thanks again.” I step into the bedroom, where the only light is coming from the bathroom. Natalie’s eyes are closed, but her cheeks are still wet with tears. As I get closer to the bed, her eyes open. Even in the midst of despair, I feel the connection that has drawn us together since the day we met. And now that connection has ruined her life.
“Can I get you anything?”
She shakes her head. “Will you… Can you…”
“What, honey? Anything.”
“Will you hold me?” Her voice breaks on a sob. “Please?”
“There’s nothing else in this world I’d rather do.” I’m thankful—and humbled—that she still wants me close to her after the mess I’ve made of things. I strip off my shirt and drop my jeans into a pile on the floor and crawl into bed with her.
Releasing an anguished moan, she turns into my embrace, pressing her face into my chest.
Tears fill my eyes and spill down my face. I can’t bear her pain. It’s as if someone is sticking a knife straight through my heart. “It’s okay, baby. I’m right here, and everything is going to be okay. I promise.”
I run my hand over her back, which is covered by my bulky robe. Her shoulders shake with the power of her sobs. “Everyone will know,” she says so softly I almost don’t hear her. “The whole world will know what happened to me.”
“And they’ll know you survived and thrived in spite of it. They’ll know that part, too.”
“I didn’t want anyone to know. I didn’t want you to know.”
“Baby, nothing could ever change the way I feel about you. If anything, I love you even more than I did this morning, and I wouldn’t have thought that was possible.”
“Remember what you said to me once? That it took years of therapy to be able to realize this was done to you? It wasn’t your fault? Same thing now. You didn’t do this. Someone else did, and we’re going to make him pay. I promise you that.”
“What will it matter if he pays? Everyone will still know. You’ll know.”
“Natalie, sweetheart, it doesn’t change anything for me. I’d still choose you a thousand times. A million times.”
She burrows her face into the nook between my neck and shoulder, and I hold her as close as I possibly can. We stay that way, her sobs gentling, until we hear a telltale yip from the hallway.
The excitement I hear in her voice fills me with hope. “Stay right here. I’ll get her for you.” I kiss her forehead and get up from the bed, taking a minute to pull on my jeans before I open the door to Leah and Addie, who are about to knock.
Fluff sees me and shows me the ten teeth she has left in her fourteen-year-old mouth.
“Fluff,” Natalie says. “Come to Mama.”
The little white ball of fur bolts into my room and onto my bed, where she’s reunited with Natalie.
“Thanks, Leah.” Natalie’s roommate is trying not to stare at my bare chest.
“Um, sure. Could I see Nat? Just for a minute?”
“Of course. Go on in.” I step aside to let her enter the room.
“You have a dog in your bed,” Addie says, going for a bit of levity.
“So it seems.” A herd of elephants can invade my bedroom if that will make Natalie happy. “And isn’t it just my luck that Fluff is immune to my many charms?”
Addie suppresses a laugh. “So you’ve finally encountered the one female on earth who isn’t bowled over by Flynn Godfrey?”
“So it seems. She actually bit me and drew blood the day I met Natalie.”
“I might’ve heard about that.”
“Hayden’s been telling tales out of school again, huh?”
“I’ll never reveal my sources.”
My best friend and business partner is crazy about Addie, not that he’ll ever admit it to himself or to her. I suspect the attraction runs both ways, but Addie doesn’t talk about him to me, and I don’t ask.
I run my fingers through my hair repeatedly until I’m certain it has to be standing straight up. “Tell me what to do here, Addie. I’m at a total loss.”
“Just be there for her. She needs to know nothing has changed for you because of what happened today.”
“I’ve told her that already. I don’t know if she believes me.”
“Keep telling her until there can be no doubt.”
“I never expected to feel this way about anyone.”
Addie smiles at my confession. “It happens to the best of us.”
“I can’t lose her over this. I just can’t.”
“You won’t. When the dust settles, and it will, she’ll remember that you were with her through it all. That’ll matter.”
While I appreciate Addie’s vote of confidence, I wish I could be more certain that Natalie and I will get through this intact. How long will it take for her to blame me for ruining everything for her?