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       Bound, p.21

         Part #1 of Mastered series by Lorelei James

  He bent forward until his lips connected with the skin in front of her ear. “No, baby, it’s just you and me.” He nuzzled her cheek. “Spread your legs for me.”

  The thought of baring herself as Ronin’s rough-tipped finger abraded her clit . . . made her absolutely dripping wet.

  She rested her head against his shoulder, shifting to get comfortable as she slid her dress up.

  Ronin nonchalantly dropped his hand between her thighs.

  She squeezed his hand, stopping his forward motion. “Since you’re testing my control, it’s only fair I get to test yours too.”


  “No. Later.”

  “Fine. But right now it’s about you.”

  Emboldened, she bit down on the outside of his ear. “You sure? I think this fingering-me-until-I-tremble plan is about you and your need for control.”

  “Amery,” he half growled.

  Definitely about his control. She discreetly widened her knees.

  She only allowed a tiny surprised flinch when his finger wiggled beneath the edge of her thong and slipped down her slit. And back up. And down. Featherlight but insistent.

  Then Ronin drew circles around her clit as if he intended to torture her. Her quads tightened in response.

  “Look at me.”

  Amery raised her head. His eyes were a shade darker than normal, but so compelling she couldn’t look away.

  He stroked, swirled, and flicked his finger across that swollen nub, increasing the pace.

  Somehow she kept still when a hot wave started in her tailbone and radiated upward into soft, dizzying pulses.

  “How sexy you are right now. Cheeks flushed, eyes unfocused, teeth digging into your bottom lip as you come for me. And no one knows but me.”

  Ronin’s deep, quietly commanding voice rolled over her with as much power as the orgasm pulsating through her.

  When the storm ended, he brushed his mouth over her temple. “You okay?”

  “Better than okay.” Then reality encroached. “Do you think anyone—”

  “No. We appear to be exactly what we are: lovers enjoying a quiet moment together.” Ronin discreetly removed his hand and tugged her dress down.

  Amery didn’t dare look around the table. “Now what?”

  “Let’s wander through the crowd and see if we can find trouble.”

  “Very reckless tonight, Master Black.”

  “You don’t have any idea. And the night is young.”

  They exited the dining room and Ronin was waylaid several times. He remained polite but slightly aloof, which baffled most people. Including her.

  So maybe seeing the many faces of Ronin Black bothered her. In the times they’d been together, had he really shown her the man beneath the mask? Or was that side of him a mask too?

  They’d almost made it out of the ballroom when a barrel-chested man with thinning gray hair and an unlit cigar clamped between his teeth approached with what looked like a posse.

  “I wondered what it’d take to get you out of that dojo on the wrong side of the tracks.”

  Ronin offered the man a slight bow. “Always a pleasure to see you again, Mr. Pettigrew.”

  Pettigrew. Even Amery recognized that name. Thaddeus Pettigrew of Pettigrew Petroleum, Pettigrew Properties, Pettigrew Mining, and the restaurant chain Pettigrew’s. He was rumored to be the richest man in Colorado.

  “Cut the bullshit, Ronin. I got a dozen people fawning over me every damn day calling me Mr. Pettigrew. You’ve more than earned the right to call me TP in public too. Anyway, glad to see you here. I wanted to bend your ear and it saved me a trip to the seedy side of town.”

  “Of which you currently own what? Twenty percent?”

  Pettigrew grinned. “Closer to thirty now.”

  “Any pies you don’t have your finger in, TP?”

  “I steer clear of political soup. Since the bastards won’t let me smoke in here no matter how much green I dump in the coffers, I was headed outside. Walk with me. We can discuss that family business issue you called me about.”

  Family business?

  “I’d be happy to.” Ronin nudged Amery forward. “I’ll introduce my date before I leave her to her own devices. Amery Hardwick, Thaddeus Pettigrew.”

  Amery offered her hand. “A pleasure, Mr. Pettigrew.”

  “It certainly is.” Pettigrew winked at her. “I won’t keep your man long.”

  Ronin matched his pace to the lumbering Pettigrew and they exited out a side door.

  Amery marched to the bar and ordered a drink. Twenty minutes passed with no sign of Ronin.

  Someone moved in behind her and she turned, hoping to see her date, but Tyler invaded her space.

  “Dance with me.”

  She looked at him as if he’d lost his mind. “Where’s Chantal?”

  “Who knows? You’ve been standing here by yourself for too long and so have I. The music is playing. Let’s dance.”

  Amery’s gaze darted around the room. No sign of Ronin. And to be honest . . . it annoyed her she’d been cooling her heels so long. “Fine. One song.”

  A rock power ballad came on. Tyler settled his hands above her ass. “Huh-uh,” she said. “No junior high slow-dancing.” She held up her hand in waltz formation.

  He clasped her palm in his. “Did we ever dance like this when we were together?”

  “I don’t remember. Why?”

  “It’s nice. Better than the mosh pit at Theta Tau.”

  “I wouldn’t know. I avoided that mass of writhing bodies back then.”

  “But now? If you had the chance to do it again?

  “I’d try it.”

  “You’ve become the girl who’ll try anything once, huh?”

  Amery shrugged.

  “Still a little coy, but I don’t buy it because I can see how much you’ve changed.” He twirled them backward. “So, out of curiosity . . . why did you bail from the apartment complex after things ended between us? You just vanished and I didn’t know how to get in touch with you. I wondered if you were okay.”

  Bullshit. She’d just changed apartments, not jobs. “I left after having enough of living in Tyler Pessac’s love hotel.” She cocked her head and studied him. “Did Chantal ever find out about Brittney? Did either of them know about Lorena? Or was the fact that their apartments were on different floors enough to keep them from seeing you sneak out of the others’ places?”

  Tyler smirked. “See, that’s where everything gets blown out of proportion. Lorena was just one of those things. Brittney was a flash in the pan. I’m really sorry that I didn’t come clean with you about Chantal. There were better ways for you to find out—”

  “Than letting myself into your apartment and witnessing Chantal bent over your couch as you fucked her? Yeah, you’re probably right. An e-card or a text would’ve worked better as a breakup instead of the live sex show.”

  That took him aback. “You never used to talk like that.”

  “Wrong. I think you had some image in your head of me that’s patently untrue. You never really saw me.”

  “I was young and cocky. Self-absorbed. People change.”

  It was on the tip of her tongue to point out that little had changed with him.

  “Anyway, it’s nice to see you’ve gotten out of the shell I could never crack.”

  That’s because ham-handed you didn’t have the right tool.

  “Although I’ll admit I didn’t expect to see you at a ten-thousand-dollar-a-plate dinner.”

  Her head snapped up. “The pair of tickets for tonight’s dinner was twenty thousand dollars?”

  “You didn’t know that? Black didn’t brag how much money he was dropping on this?”

  “Ronin doesn’t brag.” He doesn’t have to went unsaid.

  “Right. He’s pure of thought, deed, and motive.” Tyler spun them deeper into the dancers. “He’d like everyone to believe that. But the truth is he’s a dangerous, violent man.”

  She s
hrugged. “Comes with the territory of living in the world of martial arts.”

  Tyler’s eyes searched hers. “That’s not what I was talking about. He’s not what he appears to be, Amery.”

  “Don’t pretend you know him. You don’t.”

  “And you do?”

  Sometimes. Other times he was as much a stranger as when they’d first met. But she wouldn’t give Tyler the satisfaction of admitting that. “Yes, I do.”

  “Knowing him and him knowing you are two different things. Trust me. Break it off while you can.”

  “Come on, Tyler. That’s a little vague. If you’ve got the low-down dirty on him, tell me.” Of course Tyler didn’t recognize her sarcasm.

  “There’ve been rumors that he’s not who he says he is. Rumors that he hasn’t completely distanced himself from his violent past that financed his lifestyle and his dojo.”

  Ronin had told her his fighting skills earned the money needed to buy the building he owned, but she wasn’t sure if that was common knowledge. “Where’d you hear that?”

  “Denver is a small community in the realm of sports. Ronin is well respected, but he’s feared too. Don’t you wonder why? Don’t you wonder how he’s able to afford to run with major players like Thaddeus Pettigrew and Max Stanislovsky? His dojo is successful, but not to that extent.”

  “I wonder why you’re so concerned about what kind of man Ronin is, and questioning his financial background, and listing who his friends are. Are you jealous?”

  “No. I’m just worried about you. You’re in over your head with him. You didn’t see the self-satisfied looks he shot everyone who looked at you, but I did. He gets his kicks forcing you to do what he wants, when he wants, where he wants.”

  Amery looked Tyler square in the eye, despite her suspicion that he knew what’d gone on beneath the table during dessert. “No one forces me to do anything anymore.”

  Tyler stopped dancing. “Your blasé attitude is freaking me out. This is not you, Amery. What happened to the sweet, fun, shy girl from North Dakota that I loved?”

  Her back snapped straight. “She grew up and shed that skin after the man she thought she loved made fun of her for retaining those embarrassing small-town traits. Now you’re claiming I should still be naive and clingy because that’s the version of me you loved? Bullshit. Need I point out that you couldn’t wait to get the hell away from me when I was the sweet, fun, and shy gal? You don’t need to worry for her, because she no longer exists. I know what I want and I ask for it because I deserve it. So back off. You don’t know me now, Tyler. You never really did.”

  “Fine, I’ll drop it. But I have to ask, what do your folks think of these changes in you? Do they approve of you being involved with a guy like Ronin?”

  “I don’t care. They’re not in my life. It only matters that I’m happy with the changes.”

  “But are you making all these changes for him?”

  “That’s an insulting insinuation.”

  He grabbed her biceps and hauled her closer. “Listen to me. You may think you’re tough because you live in a city now rather than a small town, but you don’t have the experience to deal with a man like Ronin Black. Very few people do. He’ll chew you up and spit you out.”

  Slightly alarmed by his vehemence, she said, “Tyler—”

  “Let. Her. Go.” A pause. “Now.”


  Tyler immediately retreated.

  “Never put your hands on her like that again. It would end very badly for you. Am I clear?”

  If Ronin’s tone were a weapon, Tyler would be lying in bloody chunks on the floor.

  Tyler raised his hands in mock surrender. “Sorry. We have a history and it was easy to slip into those old roles.” He shot Amery a quick smile. “Great to see you, Amery. If you ever need to talk . . . now you know where to reach me.” He spun on his heel and left the dance floor.

  Then Amery was wrapped in Ronin’s arms. She clutched his back and held on tight.

  “Are you okay?”

  “Yes. He’s just a blowhard who hasn’t changed, except he’s become even more of an asshole.”

  “Why did you dance with him?”

  “He asked me to.”

  His body stiffened. “That’s it? That’s the only reason?”

  “Do you have any idea how long you were gone? I was just supposed to cool my heels until you returned? I’ve already done that once tonight, Ronin. I was bored and he was here.”

  He made that displeased noise.

  “Besides, I was involved with Tyler for a few years. It’s not like he was a strange guy hitting on me.”

  “I would’ve preferred a stranger hitting on you to him.”

  Amery tried to look at Ronin, but he kept the side of his face pressed into hers, holding her in place. “Why?”

  “A stranger hasn’t seen you naked. Hasn’t touched you. Hasn’t fucked you. Tyler has. Goddammit, he had you for three years. The realization that he’d screwed up by letting you go was written all over his face tonight.”

  Ronin had read that wrong. Tyler didn’t want to be with her; he just didn’t want her to be with anyone else. “It doesn’t matter because I’m not with him. I’m with you.”

  His thumb swept over the pulse point in her throat. He repeated the motion and it felt as erotic as when he’d touched her clit. His scent, his touch, his uneven breathing stirred her hair and her desire. “But are you really with me?”

  “I’m confused. With you how?”

  “In every way I need you to be.”

  “Still confused.”

  “Come home with me and I’ll show you what I mean. What I need. You said anytime, any way. I want you to prove it to me tonight.”

  She shivered. “Let’s go.”

  They left the dance floor in the middle of the song.


  RONIN held her hand as they waited at the valet stand.

  Amery’s entire body tingled just from Ronin lightly stroking the inside of her wrist with his callused thumb. How would it be between them when they were alone? Mind-blowing.

  Maybe it did scare her how addicted she’d gotten to his touch.

  She shivered.

  He swept her hair over her shoulder. “You’re shaking. Are you cold?”

  “A little.”

  “Here.” He unbuttoned his jacket and shrugged it off. Then he draped it around her shoulders. “Better?”

  This was worse actually. The body-heated fabric that carried his scent completely surrounded her. “Yes. Thank you.”

  He curled his hands around her face. “Baby, what’s wrong?”

  “I can’t think of anything else but you.”

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