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       Bound, p.31

         Part #1 of Mastered series by Lorelei James
 

  Amery muttered, “Sadistic bastard,” as she rolled to her feet.

  “I’m not a bastard—my parents were married when my ma birthed me. But sadistic? Yeah, I’ll cop to that one.” He switched his stance. “Block me.”

  Before Amery gathered her wits, Deacon was in her face, sweeping her legs out from under her. She hit the mat butt first. Rather than lie there humiliated, she latched on to his pant leg and tugged.

  Deacon turned his upper body, which allowed her to kick him in the back of the knee. He immediately went down to one knee. He raised a surprised brow. “Good work. Self-defense is eighty percent improvisation in the moment.”

  “What’s the other twenty percent?”

  “Ten percent is using learned skills and the last piece of that pie chart is utilizing fear. Without fear we’d have no need for self-defense.”

  “Gee, Yondan, you almost sounded like Sensei with that bit of philosophy,” she teased.

  “I can only hope his influence is rubbing off on me. Now show me strikes.”

  “Which ones?”

  “All of them.”

  By the time she finished, the class had run thirty minutes over and she dripped sweat.

  Yondan looked as fresh as a daisy. “I’ll let Sandan Zach know you’re caught up with your class.”

  “Thank you.”

  “You can find your way out of the maze?”

  Amery nodded.

  He offered her a slight bow and exited the room.

  She’d intended to go straight to the locker room and change, but she took a wrong turn and ended up in an area she’d never been in before. She stopped in front of a five-foot-wide window that looked into a training room. Given the dark tint of the glass, she doubted the people inside the room could see out.

  Her gaze was immediately drawn to Ronin at the front of the classroom.

  With his hair pulled back, his shrewd eyes assessing his students, his don’t-fuck-with-me posture—he was a magnificent sight to behold.

  He wore black gi pants and a red gi top. Knotted at his waist was his black belt with eight red stripes embroidered across the width and his master level in Japanese below it to the tip of his belt. The upper patch on the left side of his chest read SENSEI BLACK. Below that was the American flag patch, a smaller Japanese flag below that, and four small patches she couldn’t read. He had more patches on the sleeves of his gi top—on both sides—and on the right side of his chest was the new Black Arts logo she’d designed.

  She grinned. Hadn’t taken much time for the design to be integrated.

  Since Amery didn’t have anything better to do, and she figured he couldn’t see her anyway, she decided to observe him in teaching mode with what looked like advanced black belt students.

  After the sixteen students rose to their feet, he paired them off. Even when they were performing warm-up exercises, Ronin corrected strikes and postures. And more than a few students tensed up when he assisted them. Sensei Black definitely ruled with an iron fist.

  As she watched him interact, she didn’t see a glimmer of the Ronin she knew. No smile. No banter. His posture was as rigid as the set of his jaw.

  The disjointed feeling should’ve made it easier to slink away from this man she didn’t recognize. But it locked her in place, keeping her hopeful she’d catch a glimpse of her lover.

  When the grappling started, she expected he’d sit on the sidelines, but he surprised her again and forced each student to demonstrate the technique on him.

  Or maybe a more apt description was they all tried to demonstrate the technique and their teacher summarily dumped them on their face into the mat.

  It wasn’t Ronin’s facial expression or body language that telegraphed his displeasure that not a single student had properly demonstrated the technique. He barked out an order and even Amery jumped.

  A student left and returned within a few minutes with Knox.

  Shihan Knox practiced the technique and immediately employed it perfectly. Amery suspected Ronin had sandbagged his response. Then the sensei challenged Shihan once again, after he’d given a slow-motion demo on the basics of the technique.

  That time Shihan ended up in a submission hold.

  As he did the next time.

  That’s when Amery realized neither man had held back.

  And still, even with Shihan Knox in the room, there wasn’t any sign of the Ronin she knew. She really didn’t recognize him when the kicking sequence began. Sensei’s kicks were hard and lightning fast against the practice bag.

  How much have you ever really known of this man?

  After she’d calmed down, she’d been grateful when he disabled the attackers that night. But now seeing how quickly he could explode into violence and how impassive he remained through it, she knew he’d kept a large part of who he was hidden from her. Right now his ability with ropes didn’t frighten her nearly as much as his easy segue into calculated violence.

  She fought a shiver and stepped back.

  At that moment Ronin looked up and she swore he knew she was there, breaking the rules.

  Amery ducked down and managed to sneak out before anyone caught her.

  Or so she thought.

  An hour later when Ronin showed up at her place, he was in a mood. Usually after he’d washed away the sweat and violence that clung to him after hours in the dojo, he reconnected with that Zen vibe and he rarely let her see his agitation.

  Not tonight.

  She knew if she asked what’d wound him so tight, he’d refuse to confide in her, but she guessed his students’ lack of progress played a big part in his edginess—not that she could mention she’d watched him with a class, since that was a total breach of the “no observation” rule.

  Hoping to improve his mood, Amery offered to use her personal massager on him, joking that it’d finally be used as the manufacturer had intended. Instead of what she’d planned, rather naively, it turned out—to rub every inch of the vibrating head over his muscular body to try and soothe him—Ronin had set his own plans into motion.

  Only after he’d caressed her, aroused her, and divested her of every stitch of her clothing did she notice he’d cleared off her coffee table.

  “Ronin? What are you—”

  “You know what I want,” he murmured against the curve of her neck as he knotted her hair on top of her head with a pen. “If you don’t want this, tell me no.”

  Her mouth remained closed.

  “Good.” Then he brought out camouflage rope.

  She shivered when his fingertips traced the outsides of her arms to her wrists.

  “Arms behind your back. Make sure you’ve got good circulation because this might take a while.” He brushed a tender kiss across her shoulder. “I’m practicing tethered turtle on you.”

  While his touches were gentle, she sensed him hanging on to his control by a thread. Since he’d demanded honesty from her, she deserved the same courtesy. “You seem on edge.”

  “I am.” Ronin’s voice burned her ear. “Why do you think I enforce the ‘no observation’ rule in my dojo, Amery?”

  Shit, shit, shit. Master Black had seen her through the two-way glass or else his super-ninja instincts had sensed her.

  Or maybe . . . Yondan Deacon told him you were skulking around after your lesson.

  Dammit. Maybe letting her roam free had been some kind of test to see if she’d follow the rules even when there didn’t appear to be anyone around to enforce them.

  Well, she’d flunked that test big-time.

  “I asked you a question,” he said in that pseudo-reasonable tone.

  “No, sir, I don’t know why you have that rule.”

  “I set that rule to allow my students to fail in private because failure is the best way to learn, adapt, and change.”

  “Are you going to punish me for my failure since I broke that rule?”

  “No. You were under Yondan’s supervision tonight; it’s his call on how to deal with it.”

>   That wasn’t reassuring. “So this turtle pose or whatever it’s called isn’t a punishment pose?”

  Ronin’s lips swept across the shell of her ear. “You sound disappointed.”

  “No! I’m not.”

  “If I wanted to punish you, I’d use a hojojutsu binding.” His arm snaked under hers and he wrapped his fingers around her throat. “Those ties include neck restraints.”

  She swallowed hard.

  “The challenge isn’t in the binding but in the chase and capture beforehand.”

  Holy crap. A chase? Then a capture? That sounded a little scary.

  “I feel your heart racing, Amery. Relax. Tethered turtle pose celebrates the duality of the creature—the beauty of a hard exterior that protects the inner softness.”

  “Oh.”

  “You ready to begin?”

  “Yes.”

  “Climb onto the coffee table and I’ll arrange you.”

  Once he’d positioned her, she rested her cheek against the cool wood, breathing in the scent of lemon furniture polish. Her knees were spread wide, but the rest of her body was curled in—a turtle in its shell.

  “Beautiful.” He scraped his fingers down her naked back from her shoulders to the curve of her ass. “Breathe, baby, because it’s going to get tight.”

  Those words, uttered in his velvety rasp, jolted through her like a shot of pure adrenaline. Anticipation was her new drug of choice administered by the man with magic hands. She craved that sense of helplessness as he bound her . . . and then the calm he bestowed on her that followed after the binding.

  Out of the corner of her eye, she saw his black T-shirt hit the floor. He stood close enough that she saw his toes peeking out from beneath the frayed hem of his worn jeans.

  Lust slid in and piggybacked on Amery’s anticipation. She knew exactly what he looked like looming above her—the strong, sexy, determined rope master. His muscles flexing. His dark hair untamed around his chiseled face. His eyes would flicker from amber brown to inky black, gauging her every reaction as he knotted the ropes and stretched them against her pale skin. His full lips would be pursed with concentration. His jaw set. His breathing faster than normal because her submission excited him.

  It excited her too, more than she’d ever imagined. But along with the excitement was fear. And a little shame, which she understood was part of the appeal for her because it was shame she could control.

  Ronin placed a kiss on her skin, as he always did. “I’m going to start tying you now.”

  And as always, her pulse leaped when she heard the whisper of friction as he uncoiled the rope.

  Relax. Breathe.

  He knotted and twisted the ropes, starting at her ankles and working his way forward, until her entire body was covered. She felt as if he’d spun a spider’s web around her. Although it’d taken him a while to bind her, she hadn’t drifted into the floaty headspace yet.

  Ronin had left her head and neck free from restraint. She understood he expected her to stay in position just by his will alone. His fingers tightened and tested the configuration. When the ropes abraded her flesh, his caresses eased some of the sting.

  Some, not all.

  If there wasn’t any pain and fear with this bondage, would she still participate?

  The word no sprang into her head, unbidden.

  Sweet baby Jesus. What kind of woman liked—no, craved—the way this man trussed her up every chance he got?

  Then Ronin’s clipped voice burrowed into her ear. “Will gagging you keep you from giving voice to those negative thoughts in your head?”

  He’d immediately sensed her internal war with herself. His intuitiveness would freak her out if she wasn’t so grateful for it and the verbal reminder on why she trusted him. “Please don’t gag me.”

  “Who is holding you prisoner right now? Your thoughts?”

  “No.”

  “Then who?”

  “You are.”

  “By choice?”

  “Yes, by choice,” she repeated, once out loud and then again to herself, almost as self-affirmation.

  He added more pressure to the binding across her shoulders. “That’s right. Every thought, every breath, every heartbeat, every pulse of blood, every whisper, every sigh, every gasp of pain, every moment belongs to me. I’m pushing you to the place where negative thoughts don’t have any hold on you and you are exactly as you were meant to be. So you will let me do this. To you. For you.” He paused. “And for me.”

  “Yes, sir.”

  “Lose yourself in what I give you.” His warm, soft lips brushed the sensitive skin beneath her ear. “Remind yourself what your surrender means to me.”

  Everything.

  Tears stung her eyes. “Thank you.”

  He murmured in Japanese and retreated.

  She half expected his touches to become reverent, but if anything, his hands became harsher. The web of constriction more pronounced. He crafted a shell around her, even as she became the shell. Curled up and bound, she felt safe. Protected. Tethered to the table and to him.

  His pleasure in her submission sent her soaring.

  Amery knew the moment when he stood back and admired his handiwork. The glow of his pride flowed over her as he studied the beauty of her body reformed by his ropes. His scrutiny lasted anywhere from a minute to what seemed like forever. Then he’d untie her. Check for rope burns and thoroughly inspect her reddened flesh for other marks. He’d deal with any abrasions with tender touches, whisper-soft kisses, and on rare occasions, first aid ointment. After that he’d wrap himself around her until she settled back into normalcy from the bondage high.

  But that wasn’t the game plan that night.

  She was still floating in that happy place when a familiar buzz yanked her out of subspace.

  “Very sweet and thoughtful of you to offer up your toy for my use. But the better choice is for me to use it on you.”

  What? No. What the hell was he thinking?

  Before she opened her mouth to protest, he placed the buzzing head of her massager directly on her clit.

  Amery gasped, trying to shift her hips away, but he’d locked her down completely.

  “How fast does this get you off?”

  Now she wished he had gagged her so she wouldn’t have to answer.

  “I’m waiting.”

  Shit. “Two minutes.” Tops. Sometimes it took under a minute. Not that she’d admit it to him. Ever.

  “Where’s the fun in that? Or the challenge? I like taking my time. As you well know. Slow and steady wins the race.”

  “Are you seriously spouting lines from the freakin’ ‘Tortoise and the Hare’ at me?”

  “I thought it appropriate, given the circumstances. Given the fact that you also have a rabbit vibrator in your collection of toys. Would you prefer me to use it instead?”

  “Don’t you dare torture me with my own vibrators, Ronin Black.”

  “Or what?” When he nestled the buzzing vibrator head at the top of her cleft, her soft tissues got all tingly. “You’re short on options. The way I see it, you’ve got two choices. You can stay here and take it.” He dragged his mouth across her skin, employing
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