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       Bound, p.10

         Part #1 of Mastered series by Lorelei James

  he’d given her the penthouse tour. Exposed red clay brick walls, bright blue neon lighting beneath the teak bar top. Track lighting hanging from the rafters highlighted the glass shelves holding the liquor bottles on the bar-back and cast muted light over the entire area. She slid onto a sleek leather and chrome barstool.

  “What’ll it be?”

  Her eyes scanned the liquor bottles. “Do you have every kind of booze there is?”

  “I like a variety.”

  “What do you usually drink?”

  “Depends on my mood. I’m leaning toward a gin and tonic.”

  “I’ll have the same.”

  Ronin smiled. “Coming right up.”

  Amery bit back a girlie sigh at seeing his rare smile. With her, away from the dojo, he seemed to have a softer side. Ronin in action as eighth-degree black belt and hard-ass owner of Black Arts had a cool veneer as well as an aura of power. Everything about him screamed discipline.

  With that cool veneer stripped away, the man oozed sex. From his unruly black hair, to his liquid brown eyes that changed from ice to fire in one quick blink, to the fullness of his sensual mouth. And don’t get her started on the strength in his body. The measured way he walked—a combination of purpose and grace. The deliberateness as his hands performed a task even as simple as making a drink—no wasted movement. The man was an erotic enigma.

  So . . . why was he interested in her?

  She’d been so lost in thoughts of him she jumped when he slid a drink across the bar.

  “See if that tastes okay.”

  Amery sucked in a mouthful and swallowed. Crisp, tangy, limey. She smacked her lips. “It’s perfect. Is there anything you don’t do well?”

  Ronin thought about it a bit before he shook his head. “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.”

  “You’re intimidating as hell, Ronin Black.”

  He offered a slight bow. “Thank you.”

  Yeah, she was in way over her head with this man.

  “Come on.”

  Amery followed him inside the elevator.

  He opened a small panel above the main controls and punched in a code.

  The elevator moved up.

  Wait. Up? Weren’t they on the top floor?

  Before Amery could ask what was going on, the doors opened and a breeze blew in.

  Ronin took her hand.

  They stepped out of a small alcove onto the roof. As soon as they turned the corner, she gasped.

  Ronin said, “Surprise.”

  This wasn’t an ordinary roof in the city with vents sticking up and razor wire strung across the roof supports. This was an urban oasis with a view of the Rocky Mountains, the Denver skyline, and the Platte River Valley. And with the added height of brick walls around the entire perimeter, none of it was visible from street level. She said, “Heckuva surprise, Ronin,” and set her drink on the closest table.

  The forward space had been transformed into a Japanese garden, complete with full-sized junipers shaped into bonsai trees and a rock garden with a trickling waterfall. Pots of blooming flowers were scattered everywhere. Long strips of green grass were interspersed with raised beds filled with sand and stones.

  Amery looked to the right to where an eight-foot wall bisected the space. The pattern in the brick was eye-catching, as was the curved door in the center, crafted out of ornate metal. She glanced at Ronin over her shoulder. “What’s through there?”

  “Take a peek.”

  She crossed the decking, giving the thickly padded cushions on the chaise lounges a longing look. Somehow she tore her gaze from the relaxing garden and paused in front of the doorway.

  That’s when she caught a whiff of chlorine. “No way.” She pushed through the gate and found herself in front of a big swimming pool with underwater lighting. This side had the same concealing brick walls. Tables and chairs lined the outside of the pool with seating for at least a dozen people. Torches were jammed in planters at various intervals. She squinted at the far back corner and noticed a structure with a grass-thatched roof. Tiki bar?

  Amery closed her eyes and listened. She could barely hear the city noise up here. She felt him move in behind her, and her pulse quickened.

  He didn’t touch her even when he spoke directly into her ear. “You’re quiet.”

  “Stunned into silence. This whole rooftop thing you’ve got going on is beyond fabulous. I feel like I stumbled onto an episode of Cribs.”

  “I’ll admit I indulged myself. Urban living has rewards, but I need that daily communal with nature in my life, so making the rooftop into usable outdoor space was the logical choice. Maybe not the cheapest or the most practical solution, but this garden is my haven.”

  “How many people know about this place?”

  “Not many. I guard my private space militantly. This is the tallest structure for several blocks. The only people who can see it are flying in the air above us. And even if they pinpoint the location, if they were standing on the street level they’d never find it.”

  She tipped her head back, intending to look at the night sky, but Ronin was right there, gazing into her eyes, his face completely unreadable.

  “Thank you for sharing this with me.”

  “You’re welcome.”

  “I promise I won’t tell anyone.”

  “I’d appreciate that.” Ronin pressed his lips to the pulse point at the base of her throat.

  Amery wanted to curl herself into him. Beg him to strip her and take her right here on the sun-warmed cement. But the nice-girls-don’t-do-that voice popped up in her head and took control of her mouth, keeping it firmly closed.

  “Would you prefer to sit on the garden side or the pool side?”

  “Pool side.”

  He kissed the area below her ear. “Pick a spot and I’ll grab your drink.”

  She wandered around the pool, choosing a chair with an ottoman. After sinking into the plush cushion, she propped up her feet. A soft breeze drifted over her and she closed her eyes. She heard Ronin wandering around and opened her eyes to see him lighting a candle on the table.

  “I feel like I’m in some tropical paradise far from the mountains of Denver, Colorado.” She sipped her drink. “Do you spend much time up here?”

  “As much as I can. I swim most mornings. I don’t bring work up here. I keep it . . . pure, for lack of a better term.”

  “The sand and rocks portions on the other side . . . part of a Zen garden?”

  “On a small scale. It is gratifying and mind clearing to draw images in the sand and attempt to stack rocks. Humbling to witness the resilience in nature’s elements and understand that no matter how much we fight against it, we can’t control it.”

  His mind fascinated her; he had such a unique outlook. “I hope you don’t take this question the wrong way, but is a Japanese garden a family tradition?”

  Ronin looked at the wall as if he were looking through it. “I never thought about the garden being a household tradition. But there’s been one in every place I lived growing up, even for the few years we lived in the U.S.”

  That was the most he’d ever said about his family beyond the basics. “Do my questions bother you?”

  Those sharp eyes were on her. “You ask me questions most people don’t, which is probably why I answer them.”

  “I wasn’t allowed to ask too many questions growing up, so I made up for it after I escaped to college.”

  His thoughtful gaze remained on her as he sipped his drink. “We had that in common.”

  Silence lingered between them.

  Amery let her head fall back and closed her eyes. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been so content.

  Yet she felt Ronin’s eyes on her, moving across her body with as much power as an actual caress. She knew Ronin wanted her. They were adults; they should feel free to act on those desires. What was the holdup?

  “What are you thinking about that’s put that furrow in your brow?”<
br />
  She didn’t respond immediately.

  “Don’t try to craft a plausible lie; I’ll know if you’re telling the truth.”

  “How? Ninja mind tricks or something?”

  He laughed softly. “No tricks. I can tell by your eyes. You have very expressive eyes, Amery. Your emotions are right there.”

  Feeling a little reckless, she opened her eyes and leaned closer to him. “So tell me what I’m feeling, Ronin.”

  He reached out and ran his knuckles down the side of her face, his gaze locked on hers. “You’re frustrated with me. You wonder why we’re not in my bedroom or even going at it right here on a chaise. You wonder if the problem is you. If you’re acting too desperate for sex and if it’s a turnoff for me. You also wonder if it’s me. If I have some kind of sexual dysfunction.”

  Could he tell, even in the darkness, that she was blushing? She picked up her drink and drained it. Then she hopped up from her chair and walked around the edge of the pool. The concrete had retained some of the day’s warmth as she crossed to the steps on the far end. She dipped her toe into the water before she dropped both feet onto the first step.

  She sighed. Of course the water was the ideal temperature. What would it feel like to have the warm caress of water over every inch of her bare skin? To float in the void where all her senses were dulled?

  “You’re welcome to swim,” he said from across the patio.

  “I don’t have a swimsuit.”

  “So swim naked.”

  Amery choked back a laugh. Right. She’d just strip and dive right in as if being naked in public was no big deal. It was a very big deal to her, and she hated that it was.

  That sense of panic seized her. How had she ever believed she could get naked with Ronin Black? A man who probably had zero inhibitions and acres of muscles beneath his golden skin. Whereas she . . . had pasty white skin everywhere, the majority of it never having been exposed to the sun, or to very many men.

  Right then she suspected this would be the last time she’d be alone with Master Black. She couldn’t risk—

  Rough-skinned hands curled around her face and tipped her head back. Ronin said, “Lose that forlorn look, Amery. And don’t even think about leaving,” before smashing his mouth to hers in a consuming kiss.

  If she hadn’t gripped the handrail tightly, she would’ve lost her balance and tipped them both into the pool. Her knees were feeling as weak as her will. Her head buzzed and she didn’t know if this was from slamming her drink or from his powerful kiss.

  When she shifted toward him, he made a low sound in the back of his throat and scooped her into his arms.

  Okay. The buzzing in her brain and the zinging in her blood were definitely from this man.

  Ronin sat, keeping her sideways across his lap, continuing to kiss her. A hot, wet kiss that deleted all thoughts beyond more. The hard ridge of his cock digging into the outside of her thigh erased her doubts about his attraction to her.

  Finally he broke their lip-lock and rested his forehead to hers. “You are beautiful. Get it out of your head I don’t want you because I haven’t pinned you to the ground and fucked you until my knees are raw.”


  “Listen to me.”

  That tone immediately had her mouth snapping shut.

  “What were you thinking when you were standing in the pool?” He eased back to look into her eyes. “Truth.”

  “That for all my bold talk I’m not brave enough to strip my clothes off in front of you and dive naked into the deep end of the pool.”

  “Why?” His eyes darkened. “Do I scare you?”

  “I scare me. I’m not a casual nudist.”

  “And yet . . .” His fingers traced the seam of her capris up the inside of her thigh. “You tore off your pants and threw them at me the first night we met. Seeing those purple bikini panties? Every professional thought vanished from my head.”

  She buried her face in his neck. “I don’t know what possessed me to do that. I’ve never done anything like that before in my life. I was just so . . . mad at you.”

  “I’ve been told I have that effect on people,” he said dryly. “But most people throw punches at me, not clothing.”

  “Did you think I was crazy? Or just easy?”

  “Neither. I thought you were fiery and sexy. You were real, Amery. Because of who I am . . . I receive deference, not defiance. Your response intrigued me.” His lips brushed her ear. “You intrigue me. The proper girl who balks at casual nudity, yet I sense your desire to be bold. You can see yourself as the woman who strips bare to skinny-dip because it makes you feel rebellious. You want that rebel to break free.”

  How had he read her so easily?

  “Am I wrong?”

  “No. I want to be freed from the moral shackles that’ve weighed me down my entire life. Not in a Girls Gone Wild way, but like you said, to show myself that I can let go and not feel guilty about it.”

  “I’ll help you to let go.”

  Her belly flipped. “How?”

  “You have to trust me to find out.”

  But I don’t really know you.

  That realization didn’t bother her as much as the thought of saying no to him. Amery inhaled a deep breath and said, “Okay.”

  “Hang on.” Ronin stood and deposited her on the chair. He scooted the ottoman closer to her and sat on it. He claimed her mouth in a sensual kiss. While his tongue tangled and teased, he began to unbutton her blouse.

  She lifted her hands to touch him.

  He took her hands and peered into her face so deeply she swore his gaze had brushed her soul. He kissed the tips of her fingers. “I touch. You let me.”

  “But how is sitting here doing nothing teaching me to be bold?”

  “Bold is not only an action. Bold is an attitude. Bold is a state of mind.” Ronin rubbed her knuckles across his jaw. “Sometimes the boldest choice is to let go. It takes more courage to trust someone else to give you what you need than it does to just rely on getting it yourself.”

  “I never thought of it that way.”

  Ronin smiled. “Which is the perfect time for me to point out I don’t want you to think. I want you to feel.”

  Amery had the oddest feeling of . . . surrender? Or was it power?

  “I see it in your eyes, Amery. Let me show you how bold you can be.” He kissed her again, his mouth coaxing hers to respond.

  And respond she did. She stopped worrying where her hands should be and concentrated on the placement of his hands. Of the dexterity in his fingers as the rough tips brushed her skin. She let his pace—sometimes fast, sometimes slow—roll over her. Feed her. Soothe her. Incite her.

  Then his callused hands were sliding beneath her collar. He pushed the shirt off her shoulders and down her arms until the fabric caught in the bend in her elbows. Rather than tugging it free, he murmured, “Perfect,” and pressed an openmouthed kiss to the center of her chest. “Lean back and rest on your hands.”

  In this wanton position, she couldn’t help arching her spine, offering him total access to whatever he wanted.

  Ronin’s fingers danced over her. Following the edges of her collarbones, the cords in her neck. The curve of her shoulders. “Your skin tone is amazing. So pure.”

  Not pure, her anti-goddess side chimed in, pasty white.

  For once she told that voice to shut up.

  He twisted the front clasp of her bra and the cups separated. Although her eyes were closed, she felt his greedy gaze on her breasts as he slid her bra down to meet her shirt.

  She tried to slide her palms out, but there wasn’t any give in her shirt and she couldn’t move.

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