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       Bound, p.25

         Part #1 of Mastered series by Lorelei James
 

  “Will you tell Ronin if I decide to go?”

  “Not sure. I’d hate to tell him you’ll be there and then you get cold feet and pull a no-show.”

  Amery started to protest that she wouldn’t do that, but she couldn’t guarantee it. There was a huge chance she would chicken out.

  “Ronin hasn’t said anything about what went down between you two. Not that I’m surprised; he’s the most private man I’ve ever met. I’ve worked for him for years and still only know parts of him.”

  “That drives me crazy.”

  He shrugged. “It is what it is and that’s the way he prefers it. What I do know of him I respect the hell out of, so it makes it easier to accept the walls he’s built around himself to maintain that privacy.”

  No doubt Knox had Ronin’s number.

  “The other reason I know something unpleasant happened is that Sensei has been a fucking taskmaster the past three days. His training regimen for advanced students is difficult, but he’s kicked it up a notch to brutal. And that’s with all his classes, not just the higher-ranking belts and the MMA trainees. He’s been equally brutal on himself—driving harder than usual during his workouts.”

  She had a moment of relief that Ronin wasn’t unaffected by what’d happened between them.

  Knox stood. “So think about it.” He handed her a business card. “Call me either way.”

  “I will.”

  “I’m really hoping you’ll say yes.”

  • • •

  AFTER two restless days and two sleepless nights, Amery called Knox on Friday morning and agreed to go to the club. And she told him to make sure Ronin knew she’d be in attendance.

  That decision made, she tackled the next one on her list.

  She’d been vacillating about agreeing to work on Cherry Starr’s project, given the erotic subject matter. She didn’t want to alienate her existing clients, some of whom were religious organizations.

  On the other hand, broadening her job opportunities made good financial sense, especially in this economy. Besides, she could call that branch of her design company something else. Like Hard-time Designs. Or Hard-up Designs. Or Hard-on Designs. She snickered at the last one, opened her e-mail, and started to type.

  Cherry,

  Again, thanks for your honest and informative response. I’m very interested in helping create a sexy cover for your book. If you want to send me the parameters for the image as well as what you envision for art and an approximate deadline, I’ll get started on it as soon as possible.

  Thanks, A~

  CHAPTER SIXTEEN

  “WHAT does one wear to a bondage sex club?”

  Knox looked up at Amery sharply. “Ronin didn’t instruct you on what to wear?”

  “I haven’t heard from him. So I was surprised he told you to bring me to the penthouse first.” She paused. “Is that part of the scene? The rope master or whatever he’s called specifies clothing?”

  He nodded. “Especially if you’re being displayed.”

  Displayed. That word twisted the knots in her stomach tighter. Amery almost bailed on this adventure right then.

  But she knew she had to go.

  She wandered to the window. Twilight sent a pinkish orange glow across the Denver skyline. “What time are we supposed to be there?”

  “In an hour.”

  “Doesn’t exactly give me any time to shop.” Wasn’t as though Amery could call up Emmylou and ask to borrow fetish wear. Or Chaz either, for that matter, but if she had to lay odds on who owned leather and rubber clothing, she’d pick Chaz.

  “I have a suggestion,” Knox said.

  “Me going naked is not an option.”

  Knox let loose a big booming laugh. “Ronin would have the head of anyone who saw you naked without his permission—including mine.”

  Again she fought the urge to bristle at the word permission.

  “I think the reason he wanted you here is that there are women’s club clothes in storage on the fifth floor.”

  Amery asked, “Whose clothes?” even when she knew the answer.

  “They belong to Ronin,” Knox said diplomatically. His gaze moved over her clinically. “You’re the right size.”

  “So Ronin has a type?” she snapped. “Average-height strawberry blondes of Nordic descent with small breasts and pasty white skin?” And no backbone. “Is that what Naomi looks like?”

  Knox stared at her as if she’d crossed a line.

  “What?”

  “You’re wrong. Naomi is nothing like you.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “Well, first off, she’s Japanese.”

  Why hadn’t Ronin told her that?

  Because Ronin doesn’t tell you much.

  “Do you want to wear the clothes or not?” he asked.

  “It’s not like I have a choice.” She headed to the elevator. “Let’s go.”

  Knox curled his hand around her biceps, stopping her. “The storage room is off-limits. I’ll grab a few things and bring them to you.”

  She bit back her sarcastic comment about actually being allowed to choose her own clothing and returned to pacing in front of the window.

  What should she expect at this club? Would she see members getting whipped and spanked? Would there be lewd sex acts? What qualified as lewd in a sex club anyway?

  And where did bondage master Ronin fit in? If she was disgusted or scared by what she witnessed, would she ever speak to him again?

  Or maybe you’re more worried it won’t disgust you at all.

  But what woman wouldn’t freak the fuck out if her lover brought out a coil of rope and demanded, “On your knees, hands behind you”?

  Amery rested her head against the glass. She was so confused about all of this. Would tonight clear it up or further muddy the waters?

  The elevator doors opened. Knox approached her, holding out half a dozen hangers enshrined in plastic dry cleaners bags.

  “I brought a variety. You are a guest tonight, so that will create some interest. But I’d suggest understated clothing if you don’t want to stand out.” He offered her that same slight bow she was used to from Ronin and left the room.

  Amery stripped to her bra and panties in Ronin’s bedroom. She snagged the black leather miniskirt from the first bag. She hated that it fit her like a dream. Had Ronin seen Naomi in this skirt? Had he slid his hands beneath the hem and cupped Naomi’s ass?

  Stop it.

  But the image wouldn’t go away, now that she had a better idea what Naomi looked like—probably exotic in that Japanese geisha way—so she nixed the skirt.

  The second dress was one piece; not leather, not rubber, but somewhere in between. Composed of funky cutouts that left her midriff exposed and a sweetheart neckline, it might’ve been okay except for the rings on either side of the neck that were probably meant for a leash.

  Definitely the no pile for that one.

  The next number was hot pink rubber. Amery couldn’t figure out how the hell to get it on, so it hit the discard pile.

  The last item was a pair of leather pants. She worried she’d have to grease her legs to squeeze her thighs into them, but they molded to her contours as if they were made for her. Glancing at her ass in the mirror, she grinned. Her butt looked fantastic.

  The shirt selection left a lot to be desired—either see-through or midriff. She eyed her lacy black bra. Although it wasn’t any more revealing than a swimsuit top, she couldn’t waltz into this club wearing leather pants and her bra.

  On a whim she opened Ronin’s closet. She flipped through the dozen white dress shirts until she found one in the back that looked smaller than the rest. She slipped it on and Ronin’s scent washed over her. She closed her eyes against the pang of longing. How could she miss him so deeply when at the same time she felt she didn’t know him?

  She stepped in front of the full-length mirror. The shirt was too big. Grabbing the ends, she tied a knot at her waist. Her black bra peeking through
was a little trashy, but a better choice than a rubber dress with her ass cheeks hanging out.

  Amery wandered out of Ronin’s room and Knox looked up from his cell phone. “That’ll work.”

  “Good. So we what . . . just go? You’re driving us?”

  Knox shook his head. “Ronin is sending a car. It’ll be about fifteen minutes.”

  “Oh. Okay.” She headed for the bar and made herself a dirty girl lemonade—vanilla vodka, Chambord, triple sec, sour mix, and Diet Sprite. She looked at Knox when he perched on a barstool. “Can I get you something?”

  “No. I don’t drink on club nights. I’d take ice for my water, though.”

  Amery dropped cubes in a glass and slid it in front of him. “Maybe you’d better fill me in on sex club etiquette.”

  “You’re a guest, so rule one is observation only. In scenes where there are whips or paddles and you hear the submissive saying no, understand that’s part of the game. There are members who like getting pain and others who like giving it. Do not intervene.”

  She sipped her drink. “Is Ronin one of the types who like to give pain?”

  “Not directly. He has several bondage suspensions that end up being painful enough to be called punishment.”

  “Bondage suspensions,” she repeated. “As in hanging a person from the ceiling by a rope?”

  “By a series of ropes.”

  “You’ll tell me to direct my questions to Ronin, but what is he like in his public persona as rope master Ronin when people are watching his every move? Especially since he has the strict ‘no observation’ rule in the dojo?”

  Knox looked uncomfortable. “Ronin is a fucking master with ropes. He’s artistic and sensual, unlike some other so-called rope experts, who’ve turned shibari and kinbaku into weird performance art. He’s in high demand as a teacher. So the nights he schedules a demo at the club, it’s usually packed.”

  She wanted to ask if Ronin had sex with his models, or if he had sex with certain people at the club because . . . hello, it was a kinky sex club. Why would he be a member if he didn’t want the free sex benefits? “Are you a master with ropes too?”

  “I’m better than average because Ronin has mentored me. I don’t teach but I do practice. My area of expertise in the club is different than his.”

  “What is your area of expertise?”

  Hard blue eyes hooked hers. “Pain. Some members want it and they come to me to dish it out.”

  Yikes.

  “Ronin asked me to ask you if you’ll make time for him after the demonstration ends.”

  “Make time where? At the club?” In front of everyone?

  “Either at the club or here, since you’re leaving your things here.”

  “Can we see how it goes first?”

  Knox frowned.

  “I’m afraid to say yes because . . . what if I can’t handle what I see? Not only Ronin’s part, but the rest of the club stuff?”

  He studied her for a few moments. “Think of it this way. These members’ choices are not your choices. What you see them doing is no reflection on you, or the type of sex you’re comfortable with. As you’re walking through, realize it is an exclusive club. You may never get to see anything like it again. And more likely than not, you’ll end up aroused by what you see. That’s the hardest part for most people to handle.” He looked at his phone. “We need to get downstairs.”

  Amery upended her drink. “Do I need to bring a purse or money or my certificate of clean health or anything?”

  Knox grinned. “Nope. Just an open mind.”

  • • •

  THE driver parked in an underground garage and accompanied them into the building. He and Knox exchanged pleasantries about the packed house for the night, but it meant nothing to her.

  The elevator stopped on an unmarked floor. She squinted at the panel. None of the buttons had numbers. The elevator doors opened to a small reception area. The guy behind the desk looked like a Broncos defensive lineman—an armed lineman.

  He nodded at Knox and handed Amery a clipboard. “Privacy form. Read it. Sign it. Believe it. Understand if the privacy rules are violated, we will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law. And yes, we have ways of knowing exactly who violates the contract and when. And yes, our legal team has dealt with such matters expediently and with the harshest penalties the legal system allows. Do I make myself clear, Ms. Hardwick?”

  “Yes.” Amery took the clipboard and sat on the lone chair in the room to read it. Nowhere on the form did it indicate who owned the business, but she did find the DBA listed as Twisted, so she knew the club had a name. The agreement prevented the signee from discussing the club, its location, its purpose with any persons who weren’t members or on an active guest list status. No exceptions. Members of the club adhered to strict anonymity outside the club—members violating that stipulation would be removed from club membership rolls and prosecuted for breach of contract. No exceptions.

  As much as the legal side of this scared her, she signed her name anyway. This would be her only visit to the club and she intended to leave as soon as Ronin finished his demonstration. She passed the clipboard back. Then to her surprise their chauffeur notarized it. Handy.

  Then the supersized desk clerk addressed Knox. “You or Master Black can ensure that she will not be unattended at any time?”

  Knox said, “I’m here strictly in escort capacity tonight, and as Ronin’s fill-in.”

  Fill-in? What was that?

  The clerk handed Amery a lanyard with a plastic card affixed to the clip. It read GUEST. He tied a black ribbon around Knox’s biceps. Then he punched a code into a keypad and the chauffeur/notary guy/elevator operator opened the door for them.

  Amery tried to act cool, but her heart raced as they stepped through the doorway.

  Knox didn’t take her arm. In fact, he hung back to see which direction she’d go. She opted to go right.

  The open area looked like a dance floor at any club downtown. High ceilings. No windows. Conversation areas on the outskirts of the floor. She tried not to gawk at the people dancing naked. Or the people with collars on with leashes attached. No one paid attention to her, although a few nodded at Knox.

  Once they’d crossed the room, she asked, “Is Ronin already here?”

  “Yes.”

  “How long until the demonstration starts?”

  “Half an hour. Is there something specific you’d like to see?”

  “I don’t know what my options are.”

  “I’ll give you an overview.”

  She pointed at his armband. “What’s that for?”

  “To let members know I’m not available tonight.”

  “Oh.” She paused. “Is that unusual for you?”

  “Very. Come on.”

  Knox told her about the club, three levels with a fourth level reserved for private events. Amery didn’t ask what constituted an event.

  People roamed the halls. Normal-looking people. Some wore fetish wear, but it didn’t seem as odd as she’d imagined.

  Until they reached the next floor. Holy. Fuck. This area was set up like a big barn with stalls. The first four had stationary X’s, which Knox explained were St. Andrew’s crosses. In the first stall a naked woman was secured face-first to the cross. A man, cracking a whip, decorated her skin with welts across her backside from her calves to her shoulders.

  Every time she cried out, Amery winced. In the far corner a woman on her knees, arms handcuffed behind her back, gave a blow
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