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       Bound, p.29

         Part #1 of Mastered series by Lorelei James

  She shifted her head and saw the red marks on her skin. All over her skin. Would the marks still be visible in the morning? Would her friends and clients recognize rope burns on her wrists?

  He tipped her chin up. “Hey. Where’d you go?”

  “Just worried about”—what other people will think? jumped into her head before she blocked it out. “How long will the rope marks show?”

  “They’ll be gone in a few hours. But you’ve got to expect to have marks every time I bind you. It’s physics. Something coarse rubs against a soft surface and it’ll result in a mark.” Ronin dragged a fingertip across the red line above her left breast. “Some who are tied want the marks. In fact, the more marks the better. It’s a badge of honor for them.”

  “But they don’t have mainstream jobs where they have to face, say, the church camp counselor, who’s picking up promotional materials and she sees the graphic artist with rope burns on her arms, wrists, and ankles.”

  “Amery, I’d never put your livelihood in jeopardy. But there will be times when the marks won’t fade as fast as tonight. It depends on the size and type of rope, what pattern I’m attempting, where I tie you, if I use suspension, and even if I fuck you when you’re bound.”

  “So maybe the question is, how often do you want to bind me? Every time we’re together? Will you demand it? Do you need it?” Sitting on the bed, naked, talking about bondage specifics should’ve made her feel sexually free, but mostly she felt confused and exposed.

  Ronin gathered her into his arms.

  Almost immediately, she relaxed.

  “One thing at a time, okay?”

  She nodded.

  “There’s no need to set a schedule, like I’ll bind you on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and Wednesdays and Mondays are no-tie days. Kinbaku can be spontaneous. But I can also plan to practice a specific binding on you several days in advance. So I’d let you know, like tonight, that we’ll be in a more formal situation. Does that work for you?”


  He kissed her temple. “You can ask me to tie you. If you ever want to look at pictures of possible poses you’d like to try, let me know. Will I demand that your body becomes mine to play with? Sometimes. But you can always say no.”

  “I heard about safe words and—”

  “We won’t need one because if you aren’t in the mood, all you have to say is no. If you have a panic moment while you’re bound and you want me to untie you, I’ll probably first determine why you want to be released, and if it’s not a health or safety concern, chances are good I can just talk to you to figure out the issue, okay?”


  “As far as me needing to bind you . . . that’s a trickier answer. Obviously I like the way you look when you’re bound. Working with ropes centers me in a way nothing else does. And like with any other skill, if kinbaku and shibari aren’t practiced regularly it fades. So it falls somewhere between a compulsion and a skill for me.”

  She said, “Oh, I get it,” even when she didn’t, but she was trying. “If I decided I’m not into the kinbaku aspect of our relationship anymore?” Amery felt him smile, as if he didn’t believe that’d happen.

  “Then we’d have to revisit a few things in our relationship.”

  “Such as?”

  “Such as you understanding that I would be binding other women. Which leads to my next question.” He shifted to look at her face. “I’m a teacher. I give demonstrations. Would you be willing to be bound in public?”

  Amery shook her head. Vehemently. “No way.”

  “Which is fine, just as long as you’re aware that I will use other models in public venues and possibly in private when I need to practice.”

  Jealousy stabbed her in the gut.

  “I won’t fuck them, but I will touch them in a sexual manner.”

  She noticed he didn’t ask her permission. The thought of him touching another woman . . . made her want to try out a few of the choke holds he’d taught in her self-defense class on said women. She had to act mature—even if she didn’t feel it. “I wish I had the guts to bare myself like that, but I don’t. It’s been enough of a challenge baring myself to you. I won’t give you false hope that I’ll ever ‘get over’ it either.”

  “I’m not asking you to.” Ronin softly pressed his lips to hers.

  “As long as we’re discussing expectations, there’s something I’d like to talk about.”


  Amery rolled to face him, placing her palms on his smooth pectorals, secretly marveling at the perfection of his chest. “You’re at the dojo late most nights, which doesn’t allow us much time together during the week. So I’m fine with hanging out here or at my place in the evenings. But on the weekends, I want us to go out and enjoy the Denver area. That’s the only aspect of being part of a couple that I missed.”

  “Doing couple things?”

  “Yes. It isn’t like I’ve been sitting at home, letting life pass me by while I wait for that couplehood. It’s just some activities are more fun when you’re sharing them with another person.”

  Ronin smiled. “I couldn’t agree more. So do you have things planned for us?”

  She exhaled a quiet relieved breath. She hadn’t been sure how he’d take her suggestion. “Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park?”

  “Cool. I haven’t been up there in a while. What else?”

  “I’ve never been to the Coors Brewery Tour in Golden.”

  “I’m always down with drinking beer right after it’s been tapped.” At the word tapped, he patted her ass. “These are great ideas. Keep going.”

  Encouraged, Amery rattled off her next set of ideas, which included a visit to Tiny Town, Colorado, and attending an ice-skating extravaganza at the Pepsi Center. “I don’t want to overly plan so we have time for spontaneity.”

  “Good. As a matter of fact, I’m feeling spontaneous right now.”

  She squealed when he lifted her up, straddling her across his groin. “But you’ll be doing the work this time.”

  “Yes, sir.”


  THE sidewalk was wet when they exited the theater out the side door to avoid the crowd. The rain had left a chill in the night air. Amery snuggled into Ronin and he wrapped his arm more securely around her shoulder.

  “So? What did you think?”

  “Interesting. Never heard a Christian death metal band before.”

  She laughed. “Most people haven’t.”

  “How did you hear about them? And more important, how does this correlate to your upbringing? Because I took you to kabuki theater last weekend and you took me to a rock concert.”

  They’d spent the last two weekends doing couple things. But it hadn’t cut into Ronin’s plans for her—just seemed to reinforce his constant desire for her. He’d bound her standing up, similar to the tree pose in yoga: her heel pressed into her thigh, her arms above her head, hooked to the ceiling. He’d made her come three times before he fucked her like that.

  “See? You’re quiet because you can’t justify it.”

  “I took you to a Christian rock concert,” she corrected. “And it correlates because the lead singer and I are from the same area in North Dakota. We attended some of the same church camps. He always wanted to kick up the youth worship services with contemporary music to make it more relatable. You can imagine how well that went over. Rick left town, moved to Minneapolis, and started this band. I’d lost track of him over the years, so when I saw how popular they’ve gotten in the Christian music scene and were playing in Denver, I thought it’d be fun to check it out.”

  “I was surprised to see so many people there. Who knew the devil’s music wrapped in angel’s wings had such a strong following?”

  Amery elbowed him. “Not funny.”

  “Although I wasn’t sure if I was disappointed or relieved there weren’t any animal sacrifices onstage.”

  “Says the Buddhist with an altar in his practice room.”

  “It’s not a Buddhist altar; it’s a Shinto shrine. And if you noticed, I didn’t buy a CD, but I was in the minority, so they are doing well, at least on the merchandising side.”

  “I’m happy he’s successful doing what he loves. Not everyone is so lucky in their working lives.”

  He kissed her temple. “We are.”

  “For as long as it lasts for me.”

  “Meaning what?” They cut across the street and walked past abandoned buildings that lined both sides of the block. Showing up late to the event meant all the prime parking spots close to the venue had been snapped up, so they’d parked several blocks away.

  “Meaning I’ve been scrambling to find new business. With so many places taking their graphic needs in-house, not only have I lost clients, but it’s harder picking up new ones. I’ve tightened my belt as much as I can, but unless things pick up soon, I’ll have to let Molly go.”

  Ronin stopped and faced her. “Amery. Why haven’t you told me this?”

  “Because it’s hard to admit, especially to someone who’s running a successful business. I doubt you’ve got downward trends like in the line of work I’m in.”

  “I’ve had some pretty lean years and done what I had to, to make ends meet.” He brushed a stray hair from her cheek. “Is there anything I can do?”

  “Besides line me up a million-dollar client?” she joked. Then she kissed the frown on his mouth. “Kidding. One good thing is even if I have to close up shop and go to work for another company, I won’t lose my apartment because of the storefront rental income from Emmylou and Chaz. It’s just I feel guilty about Molly.”

  A metal clank echoed and she spun around to see where the noise had come from. But there weren’t any streetlights and the area was completely deserted.

  How could that be? For as many people who’d attended the show, there should be more people heading back to their cars. But the sidewalk was empty and no cars zipped by. She got a little creeped out in the eerie silence. “Are we going the right way?”

  Ronin looked around. Frowned at the darkness. “This doesn’t look right. We must’ve gotten turned around and exited on the wrong side. My car is the other direction.”

  They reversed course. Right after they crossed the street, two guys stepped out of the shadows.

  Amery almost screamed, they’d slunk out of nowhere so fast.

  “I see we got us some tourists in our neighborhood,” one guy said to the other.

  “Know what we do to tourists who find themselves ‘lost’ in our neighborhood, bro?” the other guy said.

  “We charge them a finder’s fee.”

  “So pay up, motherfuckers.”

  Fear slammed into her.

  The two guys moved in uncomfortably close. She heard a noise and looked over her shoulder to see two more guys spread out behind them.

  They were fucked.

  Then Ronin put his mouth on her ear. “Stay behind me and out of the way.”

  “I don’t like you whispering to your bitch, so knock that shit off and pay the fuck up.”

  Ronin said nothing. But she noticed he’d maneuvered them so she was behind him and his back was to the wall.

  The Hispanic guy taunted, “Don’t got nothin’ to say, ése? We’re insulting your woman and you’re gonna stand there and take it?” Then he leered at Amery. “Got a mind to prove to you what it’s like to be with a real man, puta. Make him watch how I can make you scream.”

  Laughter echoed around them.

  “None of that yet, bro.” The other guy gestured with his chin to Ronin and crossed his arms over his chest. “Hand over your wallet, watch, and everything in your pockets. Do it fast.”

  Ronin didn’t budge.

  Which pissed off the black guy. “You deaf? Or you need an incentive to do what the fuck we tell you?”

  “I’m not deaf. I’m also not handing over my wallet. Here’s your warning to back off.”

  “Back off? Or what? You’re outnumbered, dumb fuck.”

  “Got ourselves a real hero here,” the other guy drawled. “Let’s see how tough you are.”

  Please no. What if the guy had a gun? Or a knife?

  The Hispanic kid moved in on Ronin’s right side as the black guy came at him from the left. She wasn’t sure where the two other guys were. She just knew that four against one were shitty odds and she couldn’t get to her phone to call 911.

  Everything happened in slow motion—but also lightning fast.

  Ronin stepped forward as the Hispanic attacker came at him. He delivered an open-handed strike to the guy’s nose and swept his feet out from beneath him. The guy hit the ground hard and howled in agony, clutching his broken nose.

  The black guy didn’t spare his buddy a glance; all his rage was focused on Ronin. He held his arms up and in front of his face and performed a couple of shadowboxing moves. But as soon as he led with his right hand, Ronin grabbed it, twisted the dude’s arm entirely behind his back until something popped. The guy yelled—as much from pain as the fact that he also found himself on the ground eating dirt.

  In that moment Amery couldn’t look away from Ronin’s effortless control of the situation. He’d barely moved; he hadn’t even broken a sweat.

  When the other two thugs—both white punks—approached him, Ronin said, “Walk away.”

  “Fuck you,” one of the guys retorted. He jumped into the fray only to find himself facedown on the filthy wet pavement clutching the knee Ronin had kicked.

  The other one turned tail and ran.

  Amery thought they’d get out of there pronto, but Ronin was patting down each guy. When he found two guns, she had another resurgence of fear.

  What if the guy had just pulled out a gun and shot them both?

  Breathe. Come on, Ronin. We’re supposed to run. Remember what you taught me?

  She watched in horrified fascination as Ronin ejected the clips from the guns, pulled back on the thumb release, and dumped the bullets on the ground. He wiped down the metal before he whipped the empty clips into the street drain. Then he jammed one gun beneath the waistband in the small of his back and let the other gun dangle in his hand.

  Ronin backed away and said, “Let’s go,” to her.

  They remained silent on their brisk walk back to his vehicle. They only stopped once at a Dumpster to ditch the guns. He opened the passenger door to the SUV, hoisted her in, and didn’t speak until they were out of the sketchy part of town.

  “Are you okay?”

  She shook her head.

  He picked up her hand and kissed it. “What can I do?”

  “I don’t know.”

  Even after they parked his car and took the elevator to his place, Ronin gave her a wide berth. Maybe fighting and ditching firearms were just par for the course with him, but they weren’t for her. Not at all. Her body hadn’t settled down from the adrenaline rush. She shook so hard she thought she might be sick. As soon as the elevator doors opened to his penthouse, she made a beeline for the bathroom.

  He didn’t try and barge in.

  She splashed cold water on her face and gulped several mouthfuls of water before exiting the bathroom.

  Ronin waited outside the door. “Can I get you anything?”

  She shook her head and wrapped her arms around herself.

  “Amery. Talk to me.”

  “I don’t know what to say. I just don’t understand.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “Why did you take their guns? Why didn’t we just leave once you had them on the ground?”

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