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       Bound, p.23

         Part #1 of Mastered series by Lorelei James
 

  “But I’m sure you have other games in mind.” She bounced in his arms as he continued to move around.

  “I could show you.”

  Amery turned her face toward his neck and placed a kiss on the pulse bounding in his throat. “I’m game.”

  “Good answer.” He set her on her feet.

  “Can I take the blindfold off?”

  “Not yet.” His palms skated up her arms and he draped them over his shoulders. “Come here. I can’t get enough of your mouth.”

  Lips as soft as silk brushed against hers. Once. Twice. Three times. Ronin mixed it up every time he kissed her. Which always left her craving more.

  “On second thought, why don’t you sit?” He gently pushed on her shoulders until her butt met a padded bench.

  Ronin must’ve brought her into the living room.

  “Sit forward and hold your arms out slightly. Knees together.”

  As much as she wanted to ask questions, a different vibe surrounded Ronin that kept her quiet and still.

  Fingers brushed the outside of her calves, and then her ankles were pressed together and wrapped in . . . what?

  Before she could ask, something circled her wrist and then it was pulled taut. Same thing on her left wrist and then both arms were pressed together behind her. Tightly behind her. She could feel his movements but couldn’t see what he was doing. But whatever it was pulled her forearms together and weighted her hands down. She couldn’t raise her arms at all.

  “Ronin?”

  No soft assurances from him, just silence.

  This isn’t right.

  But she trusted him.

  Didn’t she?

  You told him you were into anything he wanted. This is what he wanted. Just keep your mouth shut and go with it.

  That spiked her unease. Hadn’t she stopped being that eager-to-please girl years ago? The girl who wouldn’t make waves or speak up even when she needed to?

  Yes.

  So why was she reverting when something felt off about this situation? Like really, really off?

  “Ronin. What’s going on?”

  No response.

  Why wasn’t Ronin answering her?

  Had he left her alone?

  Panicked, she wiggled side to side to try and free herself, and the blindfold slipped. She squinted at the unfamiliar space.

  Where was she? She’d been in every room in his penthouse except for the locked storage room down the hall from his bedroom. Why had he brought her here?

  In the dim lighting Amery couldn’t see much beyond the wall directly in front of her. But what she saw on that wall froze her blood.

  Coils of rope. Dozens of different kinds. Some colored, some plain, a variety of thicknesses and lengths. Why would he need so many ropes?

  Her mouth dried when she saw the wall of swords. He’d flat-out told her he was an expert with knives. With his martial arts background, he could kill with his hands.

  Fear hit her so hard she couldn’t breathe. Ever since the first time they were together, he’d used something to tie her up. He’d made it sexy and exciting and he’d never hurt her, so she hadn’t examined it too closely. But now, being in this room, a room he’d had to keep locked because it appeared to contain instruments of torture, she wanted to scream. Except that no one would hear her.

  She’d really fucked up this time.

  Between the voices from the past, and her fear that she wouldn’t have a future, she thrashed so hard the bench started to move.

  “Amery. Take a deep breath.”

  She had a momentary sense of calm before she realized the soothing tone was part of his mind tricks to get her to relax her guard. “Why do you have me all tied up? What is this place? A secret torture room?” Amery felt the immediate change in his demeanor. Although it wouldn’t do any good to beg, she couldn’t stop the “Please don’t kill me.”

  Ronin yanked off the blindfold completely. “Kill you? What are you talking about?”

  But Amery was too busy craning her neck around to gawk at the room to answer.

  Next to the wall of ropes was a wall of silk scarves. When she tilted her head back, she noticed eye hooks and pulley systems permanently embedded in the ceiling. Had he faced her this way so she couldn’t see what was on the wall behind her? Oh God. Was it really that bad? She craned her neck around and saw what looked like an altar. For sacrifices?

  “Amery,” he said sharply. “Look at me.”

  She shook her head.

  “Why would you think I planned to kill you?”

  “Because you blindfolded me. You’ve tied me up with actual ropes. You’re strong and you know I can’t fight you off. All those other times led up to this, didn’t they? You got me to trust you and—”

  “Stop babbling.”

  “You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” She twisted her body against the bindings, trying to get away from him.

  “Don’t. You’ll hurt yourself.”

  “Why do you care? You’re going to hurt me anyway, aren’t you?”

  He grabbed her chin, forcing her face up. But he couldn’t make her look at him. “I won’t hurt you. Ever.”

  Tears leaked out the corners of her eyes because even now, when she was scared spitless, she wanted to believe him. “Let me go.”

  “Talk to me.”

  “Untie me.”

  “If I untie you will you talk to me?”

  No fucking way. I’ll run. But she didn’t voice her plan to flee, just nodded at him.

  Ronin reached down and tugged, releasing the binding from her ankles. He undid the ties around her arms so quickly she almost fell forward off the bench.

  As soon as she was free, she left the chamber of horrors, heading toward his bedroom. She opted not to make a break for the elevator, first because she was naked, second because Ronin might tackle her to keep her from leaving.

  Don’t be ridiculous. If he wanted to kill you he wouldn’t have let you go.

  Amery sensed him leaning in the doorway to his bedroom, watching her as she slipped on her thong and bra. After she got the dress on, her hands were shaking so hard she couldn’t get it zipped.

  “Will you let me help you?”

  “No!” she practically shouted. “Don’t touch me.”

  But as usual, Ronin did as he liked. He clamped his hand around her hip and tersely said, “Hold. Still.”

  Her traitorous skin broke out in goose bumps when his rough-tipped fingers connected with her flesh as he zipped her up.

  “Now will you talk to me?” he asked softly.

  She shook her head.

  “Baby. Please. What is going on with you?”

  That’s when she spun around and looked at him. “How did you expect me to react when you trussed me up and left me in a secret room full of ropes and God knows what else? What did you plan to do to me?” The fear returned and she started to cry.

  “You said you trusted me.”

  “How can I trust you when it’s obvious I don’t even know you!”

  Ronin’s face showed no emotion.

  “I want to leave.”

  “It’s one o’clock in the goddamn morning.”

  “I want to leave,” she repeated stubbornly.

  “And you’re planning to do what? Walk home?” His gaze swept over her. “Dressed like that? I don’t think so.”

  “I’ll call a cab. Just . . . let me go.”

  “Jesus, Amery, don’t be ridiculous. I’ll take you home.”

  Shaking her head, she slipped on her shoes and walked to the elevator. On her phone, she scrolled through the information for taxis and called the first one on the list. After rattling off the address, she learned it’d be a ten-minute wait.

  After she hung up, Ronin said, “You’d rather get in a car with a stranger than trust me to take you home?”

  Amery looked away.

  “I’m not a killer. And it wounds me in ways you can’t even begin to imagine that you’d think that of me.”
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  You know he’s right.

  “I thought you’d be okay with the binding, since I’ve used scarves and belts and ties on you before.”

  “But not ropes.”

  “Is it really the ropes that set you off?”

  “Yes. And the swords. And . . . everything.”

  “I’m sorry that scared you. I . . .” His jaw muscle flexed. “I should’ve told you.”

  “About the secret locked room?” Even saying that sounded scary and surreal.

  “That and other things. The ropes are for . . .” His face hardened. “Don’t look at me like that. The ropes aren’t for torture. I use them in kinbaku and shibari bondage.”

  Amery wrapped her hands around her upper arms and shivered. “What the hell is that? A jujitsu thing?”

  “No, but that’s where shibari and kinbaku came from,” he said evenly. “Please come back upstairs with me and I’ll explain everything.”

  Did she even want to know?

  Yes, she did. But her emotions were too raw, too unstable to process anything right now. She managed to choke out, “You should’ve told me.”

  “I know. So will you please come back upstairs?”

  She shook her head. “I can’t. Not now.”

  “If I give you a few days, then will you talk to me?”

  “I don’t know.”

  “This is killing me,” he said softly. “Absolutely fucking killing me to see you so miserable and scared and looking at me like I want to cause you harm. When all I wanted . . .”

  Amery wiped her fingers under her eyes, completely unaware she’d been crying. “When all you wanted was what?”

  “For you to understand who I am. To show you this part of me.”

  That caused her to cry harder.

  The tense silence between them stretched until Amery felt a black hole had opened up, threatening to swallow them both.

  The cab pulled up out front.

  Before Ronin unlocked the door, he stood behind her and spoke into her ear. “This isn’t over between us. I’ll give you time to come to terms or process or whatever you need. But you owe me the courtesy of a conversation. You need to listen to me with an open mind. And sooner, rather than later, would be better for both of us.”

  This was the Ronin she knew—the one she wanted. Reasonable, but determined. Amery wanted to throw herself into his arms, bury her face in his neck, and just breathe in the scent of him. Pretend nothing had happened.

  When his words for you to understand who I am echoed back to her, she realized this secret would’ve come out eventually.

  The cab honked.

  “I’ve got to go.”

  “One week,” he said hoarsely. “You call me or come to me within a week or I’m coming to you.”

  CHAPTER FIFTEEN

  SHE didn’t sleep well. Tired of tossing and turning, she rolled out of bed at nine and cleaned her loft from top to bottom. Pathetic that she’d fallen into that old habit of scrubbing the shit out of everything when she was upset. Next would she start wearing the finger-to-elbow rubber gloves her mother favored?

  No. You are not your mother.

  Marion Hardwick would never put herself in a situation like the one with Ronin in the first place. But if she had made a judgment error, she’d walk away and never look back. She’d never give him a chance to explain. She’d never satisfy her curiosity about what made a man like him tick.

  So, if she wasn’t like her mother . . . then why was she acting exactly like her? Cutting Ronin off at the knees and refusing to hear him out? She hadn’t already judged him . . . had she?

  God. This was so fucked up.

  Since she’d had such a good go of numbing her mind with cleaning, she tackled her office. By the time she’d showered off the grime, the clock read five. All she wanted to do was hole up and eat pizza and a pint of Oreo mint ice cream. Lose herself in bad TV. Watching back-to-back-to-back episodes of Storage Wars was better than fretting about the fact that she’d called Ronin a killer.

  A killer, for god’s sake.

  Talk about a knee-jerk reaction out of fear.

  Talk about stupidity.

  She’d immediately judged something she didn’t understand as . . . bad? Wrong? Scary? Freaky? When she’d been fine with it before when Ronin used scarves instead of ropes? When she didn’t know what it was besides that it turned her on?

  She didn’t know enough about bondage or whatever the fuck it was to form a subjective opinion. Since education was the only way to dispel fear, Amery cracked open her laptop and punched shibari in the search engine.

  Holy shit. Over eighty thousand hits showed up.

  Okay, maybe she was living under a rock; obviously it wasn’t as obscure a practice as she’d initially believed.

  The first thing she looked up was the definition.

  Shibari/kinbaku is the technique of using ropes to create sensual, dramatic, and erotic bondage that has roots in 16th-century Japanese martial arts, 18th-century historical Japanese judicial punishments, and 19th-century Japanese theatrical productions.

  She read further and learned that the practices were originally based on the jujitsu bondage punishment called hojojutsu. No wonder Ronin had an interest in it, since the practice had been borne out of the martial arts discipline he’d trained in his entire life. As far as she could tell, hojojutsu had been around since the time of the samurais. When samurais transported prisoners, they’d used ropes to bind and control them after capture. Some samurais became well known for their rope handiwork, which had to be functional and yet humane. Competitions arose between the samurais—the more intricate and distinct designs, the more respect the rope master garnered.

  Amery also learned the terms were slightly different branches of the same bondage discipline. Shibari was more artistic, focusing on the beauty of the finished rope design on a human canvas, composed of elaborate patterns and often demonstrated as performance art. Kinbaku, while employing many of the same knots and wraps as shibari, was more sexual in nature. A bond between the rope master and the one being bound focused on skin contact during the tying process, oftentimes with knots strategically placed to heighten sexual response.

  When Amery finally closed her laptop a few hours later, her head was swimming. But the questions foremost in her mind remained. Where had Ronin learned how to do it? If kinbaku was as much a part of him as he’d claimed, then he’d need to practice to reach master status.

  Do you really think with the way he looks and his forceful persona he’d be short on female volunteers to be stripped naked and tied up and then fucked by him?

  No.

  It wasn’t anger that surged but jealousy. And that was just too
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