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       Bound, p.27

         Part #1 of Mastered series by Lorelei James
 

  long-held traditions that are part of the discipline. Living the philosophy really kicked in when I sequestered myself at the monastery.”

  “On a spiritual level?” she asked.

  “To some extent. I immersed myself in training. Over the years I’d worked with swords, knives, sticks, every weapon at my disposal. To be honest, I wasn’t particularly skilled at any of them. I excelled at the hand-to-hand drills and utilizing pressure points to disable an opponent. So the idea of learning the ropes, so to speak, didn’t excite me.” He paused. “It surprised me when a rope in my hand felt natural and I picked up everything quickly.

  “By the end of my second year of training, at age nineteen, I equaled my teacher in skill. He enlisted help from another rope master. His specialty was . . .” Ronin’s eyes met hers. “Shibari.”

  “Did he demonstrate on you?”

  Ronin shook his head. “He had three female companions he ‘lent’ to me. They were knowledgeable and vocal about what did and didn’t work in my tying techniques.”

  That crazy punch of jealousy hit her again. “These women had no issue being lent out to you by their master like some kind of fuck toys?”

  “I didn’t fuck them, Amery. I bound them.”

  “Oh.” But she couldn’t let it go. “Were those his rules? Or their choice?”

  “Are you asking me if I would’ve fucked them if they’d wanted it?”

  Amery raised her chin. “Yes.”

  He twisted a hank of hair around his fingers and tugged her closer for a quick kiss. “No. They were strong with supple bodies and completely unashamed of their nakedness. During that time—I didn’t treat them like women, but as objects I could bend to my will. To my vision. That’s when I understood I needed the beauty and artistry of shibari and kinbaku in my life as more than just tying a woman up like a package. I wanted the intimate connection.”

  This was a much deeper look into him than she’d expected to get from him tonight. Amery reached for his hand. It was the first time she noticed his knuckles were raw, red, and scraped up more than usual. “What happened?”

  “I worked out harder this week than what I normally do.”

  Knox had mentioned that to her. “Why?”

  Ronin twisted his hand and brought her knuckles to his mouth for a soft kiss. “I was on edge and needed a way to channel my frustration besides taking it all out on my students.”

  “So you . . . ?” she prompted.

  “Hit the heavy bag. A lot.”

  “Ronin. Why didn’t you wear hand protection?”

  “I did.”

  She closed her eyes. Images of him methodically beating the shit out of a heavy bag, his face placid as pain exploded from his hands, twisted her stomach in knots. “Does it hurt?”

  “What? My knuckles?”

  “Yes.”

  “I’ve had worse.” He paused. “Do the marks and scabs bother you? Would you rather I didn’t touch you until they’re healed?”

  Amery opened her eyes. “It bothers me that you’ve been hurting.”

  “Being in pain is the story of my life. These hands have been broken, bruised, bloodied, scabbed, and scarred. I’ve hurt people with these hands.” Ronin dropped his head and stared at his hands, turning them over to look at the palms. He curled his fingers in and then stretched them out. “When I realized I had a knack for ropes, I wanted to find balance between using my hands for pain as well as beauty. I wanted to create something beautiful, even if it was as fleeting as pain. I’ll never be an artist in traditional mediums, but with a rope in my hands and a vision in my head, I become an artist.”

  Amery let his words flow through her and it set something inside her free.

  This man was beauty.

  She dropped to her knees in front of him.

  Ronin’s surprised eyes hooked hers.

  She took his right hand in her left, threading their fingers together until their palms met. Then she brought his left hand to her mouth, letting her lips drift across his ravaged knuckles. She pressed kisses on the back of his hand, the joint of his thumb, and the tips of his fingers. Then she pressed his hand to the side of her face. “I think your scarred hands are beautiful. Will you use them to create that rope artistry on me?”

  “You really want that?”

  “I really do, now that I understand it. Now that I understand you.”

  “You undo me, Amery.” He stroked her cheek with the ragged pad of his thumb. “I should be on my knees before you.”

  She melted.

  Ronin stared at her, his face again devoid of expression and it scared her.

  “What?”

  “Do you know why I took an interest in you that first night you showed up at my dojo?”

  Hoping to lighten things up, she tossed off, “There’s another reason besides you recognizing my natural untapped abilities in martial arts?”

  Ronin smiled. “Besides that. Although you missed class this week and you will be required to make up the session.”

  “In private? With you?”

  He shook his head.

  “Shoot. Anyway, tell me why you took an interest in me.”

  “Because of this.” He tugged the shirt down, below the ball of her right shoulder and traced the raised flesh of her scar. “How did you get this?”

  She glanced at the white lines an inch apart that ran parallel for two inches up her biceps and the thick line at the top that connected the two lines. “The summer I turned eight my parents sent me to stay at my grandparents’ farm. After living under my parents’ iron rule . . . I went a little wild. Got a little reckless.”

  “Your first experience with no boundaries?” he said wryly.

  “Something like that. Anyway, somehow I ended up in the bull pasture and those mean motherfuckers chased me. When I reached the fence, I dove through it, scared to death of being gored by a bull. In my haste to escape, I got caught up in the barbed wire. I twisted and jerked until I freed myself. I didn’t realize how deeply the barbed wire had gouged me until I felt blood running down my arm.

  “At that age I was more worried that my grandma would be mad I’d ripped my shirt than that I’d injured myself. Long story short—I covered the wound with duct tape and that stopped the bleeding. But I hadn’t gotten it clean, which made it itch, so I picked at the scabs and ended up with a scar.” She looked at him. “Why? Are you into scars?”

  “Never before now. But this one”—his finger followed the white lines—“threw me off.”

  “Why?”

  “Because it’s nearly identical to the Japanese symbol for a rogue samurai warrior.”

  “Seriously?” Amery glanced down at it. “I’d think it was weird that you knew that, but given your background . . .”

  Ronin placed his fingers beneath her chin, forcing her to meet his gaze. “Do you know what word is the English translation for a rogue samurai warrior? A samurai without a master?”

  The intensity in his eyes caused her heart to skip a beat. “No. What?”

  He paused and said, “Ronin.” Then he angled his head to place his lips on the scar. “You have my name etched on your skin, Amery. I considered that a sign.” His eyes met hers again. “Wouldn’t you?”

  The room spun. She didn’t trust herself to open her mouth, so she rested her head on his leg.

  He silently stroked her hair.

  Finally she said, “I know we need to talk some more, but I’d really like to wrap myself around you for a little while.”

  “Here on the couch or up on the roof?”

  Amery lifted her face and looked at him. “What about your bedroom?”

  Those golden eyes gleamed. “I have willpower, but not that much after a week without you. I can’t promise to keep my hands to myself.”

  “I’m not asking you to.”

  Without a word Ronin scooped her into his arms and carried her into his bedroom.

  CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

  THEY stripped down to their un
derwear and crawled beneath the cool sheets. Entwined together with Ronin in the dark, Amery suspected nature would take its course. And it did, just not in the way she imagined. They fell asleep.

  She woke up disoriented and peeked over Ronin’s shoulder to check the time on the alarm clock. Seven a.m. Wow. Neither of them had stirred all night.

  Ronin murmured, “Where you going?”

  “Nowhere.” She snuggled back into him and closed her eyes.

  But now that she’d awakened him, he trailed his fingers up and down her spine. “Guess we both needed rest.” He kissed the top of her head. “I didn’t sleep worth a damn last week.”

  “Because you missed me?”

  “Could be. Or could be the extra hours working out. Or a combination. How about you?”

  “I slept like a baby.”

  He made a displeased noise and quickly pinned her arms to her sides. “Is that so?”

  “Yes, because babies wake up several times in the night and need comforting. Or food. Since I didn’t have anyone around to comfort me, I cracked a pint of Häagen-Dazs at two a.m.”

  “You wallowed in sugar; I wallowed in pain. Why exactly was it we weren’t wallowing together?”

  “Oh, a little thing about you neglecting to show me your ropes before you tied me up in them.”

  His arms tightened around her. “What now? I’ve got you locked down. Without ropes.”

  “Well, I have a weird question we didn’t talk about last night.”

  “Which is?”

  “Does it always have to be kinky between us?”

  Ronin rolled her to face him. “What do you mean?”

  She tried not to fidget under his sharp stare. “Will you need to tie me up every time in order to get off?”

  His eyes narrowed.

  “Oh, don’t try and scare me with that sensei glare.”

  “I haven’t even begun to scare you.”

  “I’m serious, Ronin.”

  “So am I.”

  Somehow Amery got the drop on him and was striding into the living room before he could grab her.

  He spun her around. “What the hell? You just walk away in the middle of a conversation?”

  “I asked you a question and you hedged. Normally that’s not a big deal because you do it all the freakin’ time. Last night I listened to you and I have a better grasp on this part of you. So I deserve a straight answer on whether we can ever have sex without the bondage stuff.”

  Ronin stared at her so long she geared herself up for another non-answer. But he curled his hand around her face. “It doesn’t always have to be that way. And you must be aware of that, since it hasn’t always been that way between us.”

  “Bondage of some sort has played a role in most of our sexual encounters.”

  “I suppose maybe it has.” This being Ronin, he didn’t offer an explanation or an excuse for it. He jerked her body against his. “Understand one thing. I don’t always need ropes or ties, but I am always in charge. That’s one thing that won’t ever change. And I intend to prove it every chance I get.”

  That declaration in his sleep-roughened voice made her tingle everywhere.

  “You got that?” he asked.

  “Yes, sir.”

  “Good.” He stepped back and crossed his arms over his chest. “Lose the bra.”

  Amery unhooked it and tossed it aside.

  “And the panties.”

  She shimmied the black silk down her legs. Completely bared to him, she wondered what sexual treat he had planned first thing.

  “Now let’s have some breakfast.”

  “But I’m naked!”

  “So you are. Looks like I’ll be frying the bacon.”

  “Ronin.” She placed her hands on her hips and tapped her foot. “Aren’t you supposed to be proving that you don’t need kink all the time?”

  “That only applies to the sexual side of our relationship. Besides, eating breakfast in the buff isn’t kinky.”

  “It is for me!”

  “You’ll get used to it.” Then he sauntered into the kitchen.

  • • •

  TWO hours later they were lounging by the pool.

  Ronin said, “What would you like to do today?”

  Amery cracked a lid open. “Besides this? Nothing.”

  “Nothing? Not one thing?”

  “We could roll around in your big bed. Get ourselves hot, sweaty, and sticky and then jump back into the pool.”

  “You have a thing for my pool.”

  “No, I have a thing for you. The pool is just a bonus.” She looked at him over the top of her sunglasses. “You up for a tumble?”

  “Actually I wanted to talk to you about that.” Ronin reached for her hand. “Since you’ve agreed to let me bind you, I’d like the first time to be a little more formal.”

  Her belly made a slow roll. “Can you explain that?”

  “I want you in the right headspace from the start. And knowing that you’re in my practice room, waiting for me, will put me in the right frame of mind too.”

  “Okay. But what does that have to do with us taking a tumble right now?” She paused. “Oh. Do you want to tie me up right now?”

  “No. But as much as I want to build the anticipation of the binding, I’d like to build the anticipation of the sex after the binding, by abstaining from it.”

  “You’re serious.”

  He kissed her knuckles. “Completely. It isn’t like I expect to hold off for a week, just until tomorrow night. Can you be here at nine?”

  Amery smiled. “Looking forward to it.”

  “Perfect. I’ll leave instructions for you in the room.”

  Instructions. That did sound formal.

  “Would you like a peek in the practice room?”

  She’d wondered if he’d offer. “No. I’d rather it retain some mystery.”

  “Good point.”

  “Besides, the room is for you, not for me.”

  “Another good point. But I promise we’ll both enjoy it.”

  She didn’t doubt that for a second. “So now that I know sex is off the table for today . . .” She stood and whipped off her bikini top, then ditched her bottoms. She threw a grin at him from the edge of the pool. “Let’s swim naked.”

  “You are getting bolder.” He shed his swim trunks and moved in behind her.

  “Yes, I am. And I’m blaming it on you.” Then she wrapped
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