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       Bound, p.33

         Part #1 of Mastered series by Lorelei James
 

  “I left my swimsuit in the guest room.”

  He kissed her forehead. “I’ll meet you at the pool after I shower.”

  She opened the drawer where she’d stashed the two new swimsuits Ronin had bought her. As soon as she ditched her workday clothes, she breathed easier. Which was ironic since she’d never been comfortable in swimwear. Spying Ronin’s white dress shirt on the back of the door, she slipped it on as a cover-up.

  The elevator spit her out on the roof and she practically skipped to her favorite chaise on the pool side. With half a buzz relaxing her, she closed her eyes and basked in the sun’s fading rays.

  The next time Amery opened her eyes, the sun had dropped in the horizon. She scrambled upright and looked over to see Ronin stretched out beside her. Watching her. “Crap. Did I fall asleep?”

  “Only for an hour.”

  She ran a hand through her hair. “Sorry.”

  “Don’t be. You must’ve needed it.”

  “So you’ve been up here listening to me snore the whole time?”

  “Except for the call I had to take right after I got out of the shower.”

  Was this his way of sharing? “What was the call about?”

  “Boring business stuff.”

  And . . . not so much with the sharing.

  But he did reach for her hand. After a bit, Ronin said, “I’ve been thinking.”

  “About?”

  “Your financial situation.”

  Hard not to get her back up. “And?”

  “And I came up with a way to help you.”

  “Ronin. I already designed a new logo for Black Arts. As a matter of fact, I saw the new patch on your gi top.”

  “Looks great, doesn’t it? But you piddling around with graphic stuff for my dojo wasn’t what I had in mind.”

  “Then what?”

  He stood and moved to sit on the bottom of her chaise. “Please hear me out before you jump in and say no.”

  That definitely got her back up. “I’m listening.”

  “You’ve got a good thing going with your business. Unique, yet mainstream enough you haven’t locked yourself into a niche market. I suspect given the chance you could spin it into a bigger agency. Not now but a few years down the road. Which is why I want to invest in Hardwick Designs.”

  “Invest in?”

  “I’d give you a year’s worth of operating capital so you could keep Molly on.”

  “Give?” she repeated.

  He squeezed her knee. “Loan, if you prefer. You wouldn’t have to start repayments until your company was operating in the black again.”

  “What’s the interest rate for this investment?”

  “Standard business rate. The whole point of this is to keep your business afloat during these market fluctuations. It’ll level out sooner rather than later. The signs are already there with the unemployment rate dropping, new construction rates slowly climbing again, and the upswing in the stock market.”

  Amery stared at him. Since when did Zen Master Black give a damn about the effects of the economy?

  Just another sign that you don’t know him beyond sexually.

  “I would be a silent investor, so you needn’t worry I’d take over your business. I’m already running the dojo and dealing with other family pressures. I wouldn’t require much for financial reporting besides a basic idea where you are bi-monthly on the profit and loss.”

  As much as she wanted to snap, No way in hell am I ever taking a penny from you, and then list the reasons as dispassionately as he had done, she coolly asked, “Are you finished?”

  His eyes narrowed. “Don’t you have questions?”

  “Just one.” She cocked her head. “Will you take business advice from me?”

  “Sure.”

  Maybe the buzz of anger gave her the push to address the grumblings she’d heard in his dojo. “Pull out whatever stick you’ve got up your ass about Brazilian jujitsu and consider adding that martial arts discipline to the Black Arts class schedule. You’ve already got self-defense classes, kickboxing classes, you’re training mixed martial artists, and your staff offers personal protection training. I heard Ito talking to Knox about his judo background. He should also be teaching judo classes, which would be another addition to the lineup. Right now you have space to expand into on the third floor and a diversity of classes, including Muay Thai, would increase your income base.”

  If she expected a stunned reaction from him that she’d poked her nose into his business, or that her attempt at redirection would actually work, well, she was sorely mistaken. Ronin’s expression didn’t change. He merely said, “So noted. Any questions about the business solution I proposed to address your issue?”

  “No, because I already have an answer.”

  “Which is?”

  “Hell no.” She pushed off the chaise.

  “Where are you going?”

  “For a swim. Alone.” Amery dove into the deep end and popped up like a cork. The water temperature was perfectly refreshing and cooled off her hot head. She floated in the warm void, eyes closed. Filling her lungs with air to keep herself afloat forced her to focus on her breathing.

  But eventually her ears picked up weird sounds underwater, distorting them to the point she couldn’t figure out what they were. She remained perfectly still.

  One sound that she didn’t need to decipher: a body diving into the pool. She righted herself after being tossed around by the waves and then Ronin was right there.

  Amery backed up.

  He followed her.

  “What part of ‘I want to swim alone’ is confusing to you?”

  “What part of ‘this is my pool’ is confusing to you?” he countered.

  “Fine. I’ll get out.”

  He blocked her exit. “Can we finish our conversation?”

  “We did. Now move.”

  “No.” Ronin latched on to her biceps, careful in the way he held her—firmly, but not too closely. “Talk to me.”

  “There’s nothing to say.”

  “If you’re so pissed off at me about this, why aren’t you lashing out at me?”

  “Oh, I’m supposed to be rude after turning down a business proposition from my lover? Sorry, I’m unfamiliar with protocol.”

  “Jesus, Amery.”

  Her eyes searched his. “You even offering me a loan has changed things between us.”

  “Bull.”

  “And I’m really sorry I told you about my financial issues, which forced you into a heroic attempt to save my business. So forget I brought it up and we’ll keep this”—she gestured between them—“the way it’s been.”

  Ronin moved in close—dangerously close. “And what way has that been?”

  “Fun. No pressure to make it into something it’s not.”

  “Like what?”

  “Permanent.”

  “Permanent,” he repeated.

  “Yes. If you loaned me money, then we’d be tied together, for at least a year, making it awkward when one of us walks away.”

  Evidently that was the wrong thing to say.

  Ronin’s mouth crashed down on hers. The kiss was ferocious. Uncompromising. So blistering hot Amery was shocked the water around them wasn’t boiling.

  Hard hands on her body, in her hair. She couldn’t catch her breath, his mouth was so demanding.

  He ripped his lips free of hers, and his voice reverberated in her ear. “I’ll show you tied together.” Then he sank his teeth into the skin at her throat and pulled her head back. His eyes burned into hers. “I have you where I want you, how I want you, and you’ll be mine until I release you.”

  She should’ve protested his tight hold on her or his warning. But she didn’t. She wanted to experience every dirty, bad, harsh thing he wanted to do with her.

  “Do you understand?”

  Primal lust and the need to . . . master her shone in his eyes.

  In that moment she realized he wasn’t talking about binding her
with ropes, but with this sexual obsession. He hadn’t disputed her claim that there’d never be permanence between them. Any other time her brain would’ve taken over, dissecting every word. But her brain wasn’t in charge right now; her body was. And it had already readied for him: heart racing, blood pumping, pussy wet, clit swollen, nipples tight. So she gave him the answer they both wanted—even when it frightened her how quick and visceral her response to this man had become.

  “Yes, I understand.”

  Ronin took her to the ground and fucked her until his knees were raw and her back bore the cement scrape marks of his possession. After he’d turned her mindless, he fucked her again in the swimming pool. No words exchanged. The sounds of heaving breathing, soft grunts and sighs, and splashing water became the only conversation they needed.

  There was no tenderness in the aftermath. And for the first time with him, Amery felt ashamed of what they were doing to each other—not sexually, but emotionally.

  “Ronin.”

  “I know, baby.”

  But he didn’t know. And worse, he didn’t ask what she’d meant. He retreated from her again.

  They remained like that, side by side on the pool deck, staring up at the sky, not speaking because neither knew what to say.

  CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

  AMERY had just settled in behind her desk on Friday morning with a cup of coffee when her office door opened.

  “Delivery for Amery Hardwick.”

  She glanced up. Chaz stood in the doorway holding an enormous bouquet of flowers.

  He lowered them and met her eyes. “A peace offering for jumping to conclusions and jumping your shit. I’m sorry. It was a dick move and it’ll never happen again.”

  “You sure about that?”

  “Oh, I’ll probably be a dick to you again, but it won’t be for the same reason.” He set the flowers on top of the filing cabinet and fiddled with them. “Friends support each other. I didn’t support you, ergo, I’m a shitty friend. I’ve felt so freakin’ guilty I couldn’t even show my face around here.”

  “I missed your ugly mug, Chaz.”

  “Not even on my worst hair day am I ugly on the outside.” He sobered. “But on the inside . . . different story.”

  Amery got up and gave him a hug. “We all have ugly days. I’m glad today isn’t one of them.”

  “I am too, ma chérie. So am I forgiven?”

  “Only if you buy me lunch.”

  “Done. Indian sound okay?”

  “Sounds perfect.” She gave him one last squeeze. “Thanks for the pretty posies.”

  “Guilt flowers are the best kind.”

  • • •

  “HARDER.”

  “No.”

  “Yes. Move into it with your whole body. Perfect. You’ve got the rhythm. Now pull back slowly.”

  Amery panted and slumped against him. “You’re wearing me out, Ronin.”

  “That’s the point. Come on. Stay with me here. We’re almost there.”

  “I can’t.”

  He peered down at her, their faces so close she saw sweat beaded on his jawline. She licked her lips, wanting a taste of salt and Ronin.

  “Stop with the bedroom eyes. Take a breath. Then we’re going again.”

  She moved back and brought up her hands into position. Then she let fly, hitting the heavy bag with all she had.

  “I knew you could hit harder.”

  “That’s because I superimposed your face on my target area,” she panted between punches.

  “Whatever works. Fifty more. Make them count and this will be it.”

  Amery gritted her teeth and smacked the meaty part of her forearms into the bag. Left, right, left, right.

  “Don’t hunch your shoulders. Change the pattern. Three strikes with the right, then one with the left.”

  She kept that pattern for a dozen strikes and focused on a fast switch when he changed the rhythm again to two and two.

  “Ten left. All left strikes.”

  Wham. Wham. Wham. So much sweat ran into her eyes she could hardly see. But she didn’t let it deter her as she counted out the last seven blows.

  “Strong finish. Excellent work. Grab a drink.”

  “I don’t think I can move.” Her words were muted since she’d face-planted into the heavy bag.

  “Either let go and get a drink or I’ll add another hundred drills.”

  She cracked one eye open and glared at him. “Bite me.”

  Outside class Ronin would’ve laughed at her. But being as they were in the dojo . . . he lifted one imperious eyebrow.

  “Sorry, Sensei. Getting a drink now.” She trudged to the bench and uncapped her water, taking four gulps. Maybe she wasn’t supposed to sit on the bench, but she didn’t care. Her legs were noodles.

  “The extra training classes show marked improvement in your form and stamina.”

  “How did this go from being in a self-defense class to private instruction with boxing and takedown techniques?” She knocked back another mouthful of water. “You training me for women’s MMA?”

  “Not hardly.”

  “I’m getting special treatment because . . . ?”

  “I deemed it so.”

  “Or because I’m fucking Sensei Black?”

  Ronin smirked. “That too.”

  “I know I’m supposed to respect the teacher/student line when we’re in the dojo.”

  “But?”

  “But all I can think about is you tying my arms with that nylon resistance strap and fucking me against the wall.”

  “For that obvious insubordination, I’d give you ten lashes with that strap before I bind you and fuck you.”

  Amery hid her smile behind her water bottle. “I apologize for putting such raunchy thoughts in your head, Master Black.”

  “Class dismissed, Ms. Hardwick.”

  “Does that mean we can . . . ?”

 
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