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       Bound, p.34

         Part #1 of Mastered series by Lorelei James

  He made that low growl. “Not here. But I’d better find you on your knees in my practice room in an hour to make the raunchy images you put in my head a reality.”

  Her pulse spiked.

  “Am I clear?”

  “Yes, sir.”

  He stopped in the doorway and turned to give her a slow once-over. “Don’t bother showering. You’ll need another one by the time I’m through with you tonight.”

  A shiver worked through her. She couldn’t wait.

  • • •

  A few days after Chaz apologized, Emmylou had shown up at Amery’s loft after hours, with a bottle of whipped cream vodka and two bags of Amery’s favorite Lindt chocolates.

  The conversation had started out surprisingly awkward. Emmylou had apologized for listening to Tyler and not recognizing his true motives. But then she’d admitted Tyler wasn’t the only one who’d expressed concerns about Ronin and his business connections. One of Emmylou’s clients had seen Ronin leaving Amery’s business when she’d come in for a massage.

  She’d assumed Ronin was Emmylou’s massage client and proceeded to tell her about Ronin’s connection to Thaddeus “TP” Pettigrew, the mogul who owned half of Denver. The source swore that several years ago Ronin had dealt with the vagrants, dealers, and squatters at several abandoned buildings in the Platte River Valley District. Once the commercial and residential buildings had been cleared of undesirables, including existing tenants who put their buildings up for sale, TP bought up a huge chunk of the area and applied for urban renewal funds.

  Not exactly illegal, but it sounded suspicious given Ronin’s hard stance on ethics in and out of the dojo.

  Emmylou’s source, a real estate broker, swore it was common knowledge but no one had shared details on exactly what Ronin had done to force people out. But rumors ran rampant.

  So despite Emmylou’s apology, Amery had a sense of disquiet about the information. Especially since she knew Ronin and TP were friends and they’d left the Colorado Sports Banquet for a private business discussion. She’d tracked down a few articles on TP, and the more she read, the more disparaging the pieces were on TP’s questionable business practices and the organizations he supported. Being associated with TP often resulted in a tainted reputation—guilt by association. So why would Ronin subject himself to that?

  Maybe he didn’t have a choice.

  Amery continued to worry that she wouldn’t have a choice but to let Molly go. What sucked was she had no one to discuss her business issues with. Chaz couldn’t keep a secret. She’d considered talking to Emmylou, but with Amery being her landlord, admitting her financial struggles might send Emmylou looking for a different place to set up shop, and Amery depended on her rental income.

  Shaking herself out of her reverie and needing a break, she wandered into the massage studio and paused in the office doorway.

  Emmylou glanced up from her laptop. “Heya, girlie. What’s shakin’?”

  “Not much. I’m making a Target run and wondered if you needed anything.”

  She set her zebra-striped reading glasses on her desk. “You need me to keep an eye on your side while you’re gone?”

  “Nah. Molly is here holding down the fort.”

  “Cool. I could stand to pick up a few things myself.” She grabbed her purse and rounded her desk. “Mind if I tag along?”

  “Not at all. But no teasing me about my love of sour green apple Icees.”

  Emmylou tapped a finger on Amery’s lips. “Anything that turns your mouth bright green and makes you look like you just sucked off a Martian is always subject to ridicule.”

  Amery hip-checked her on the way out the front door. “I oughta make you ride in the back.”

  “You miss me yankin’ your chain. So, what’s up with this emergency run to Target? Is BOB out of batteries?”

  “BOB is a cliché. My vibrator is named WON.”

  “WON?” Emmylou repeated, stopping in the middle of the sidewalk. “As in Don Juan?”

  “Nope. It’s short for Want Orgasm Now. WON.” She grinned. “I put an accent on it to make him sound more sophisticated.”

  “Bet poor WON has been gathering dust. I doubt you use him when you’ve got your sexy stud around.”

  “Except for when Ronin uses WON on me,” she muttered. She glanced across the roof of the car to see if Emmylou had heard that, but she’d checked her ringing phone and gestured that she needed to take the call.

  Amery slid into the driver’s seat and started the car, welcoming the cool air blowing on her heated face. The memory from last night with WON once again under Ronin’s control rolled through her like a violent summer storm filled with lightning, thunder, tornadoes, and hail.

  The car jiggled as Emmylou climbed in. “Sorry about that. Two injured Rockies players need immediate massage therapy sessions, so I had to shift my schedule for tomorrow.”

  “Doesn’t immediate mean . . . now? Today?”

  “It would if they were in town, but they’re on the road, so luckily it means tomorrow.” Emmylou’s eyes narrowed. “Why are you all flushed?”

  Wet daydreams courtesy of Ronin Black. “Because I’ve been sitting in a hot car waiting for you.”

  “Then let’s hit it, sista.”

  Horrible traffic meant it took twice as long to reach the Super Target in suburbia.

  They each grabbed a cart and separated. Amery stocked up on fruit, produce, Noosa yogurt, deli fixings, and frozen entrées for one. Then she tracked down the remaining household items on her list before heading into the health and beauty section. Face wash, hair products, mascara, and lip gloss added to her cart, she cut down the feminine products aisle.

  She stopped in front of the depilatory creams, waxes, and concoctions devoted to aiding in the removal of unwanted hair. As she debated choices on what would work best around her bikini line, Emmylou barreled around the corner.

  “There you are. I worried I might find you cooing over baby clothes again.”

  “I did that one time and it was a fluke.” She’d hoped for privacy in making this personal grooming choice, but Emmylou gave her none.

  “What’re you doin’ down this aisle anyway? This stuff is crap. You want to skin the beaver you go to a professional.”

  Amery blushed. “Jesus, Emmylou. You didn’t have to shout that.”

  “I didn’t. Why are you embarrassed?” Emmylou pushed her cart closer and peered into Amery’s face. “You’ve never been professionally waxed, plucked, or creamed, have you?”

  “No. I can’t imagine spreading my legs and showing my naked feminine bits to a total stranger. I’d die from that much exposure.”

  “Sweetie. It’s clinical. No different than goin’ to the doctor.”

  “Wrong. I know it seems old-fashioned and ridiculous, but I don’t ever see myself waltzing into a salon and asking some stranger to pour hot wax on my crotch.”

  But you had no issue with Ronin pouring hot wax all over your breasts.

  Not the same thing.

  Emmylou kissed her forehead. “Darlin’ girl, I’ll never make fun of you for that. But if you really want to try waxing the lady taco, I’ll do it for you at the studio. Takes, like, ten minutes to heat up the wax tank.”

  “Since when do you give wax jobs?”

  “Since always. Some of the guys who come to me for a massage are apelike hairy. The fur on their backs grosses me out and reminds me why I prefer to eat the banana split rather than the banana.”


  She laughed. “I love shockin’ you, sugar. Anyway, it’s easier if I have to do a deep-tissue massage to remove the man pelts beforehand. Word spread among my clients that I’ll wax backs, chests, eyebrows, ears, bellies, and the old twig and berries for an extra fee. I don’t broadcast those services, but I figure I’m doin’ hetero women a favor by secretly providing manscaping for these macho athletes who’d never set foot in a man salon.”

  Amery frowned. “But you have waxed women befor

  “I wax myself. I waxed Helena. In fact, I still wax her.”

  “Your ex?”

  “She hasn’t found anyone who’ll wax her better.” She waggled her eyebrows. “And you don’t need to worry I’ll be scheming ways to take a bite of your naked peach. While I’m sure it’s a pretty pussy . . . kitty-cat, you’re just too vanilla for me.”

  I’m not as vanilla as you think and I’ve got the rope marks to prove it.

  Amery just smiled and said, “Probably.”

  • • •

  WAXING hurt.

  Like really fucking hurt.

  Even after Amery followed all of Emmylou’s aftercare instructions, she felt too sensitized to spend the night with Ronin. Seeing him wasn’t in the cards because seeing Ronin meant fucking Ronin.

  In true Ronin form, he hadn’t demanded an explanation on why she’d canceled. He hadn’t been happy she’d backed out of their dinner plans, but he’d retreated to unflappable Master Black and ended the conversation.

  That caused a pang of . . . not sadness, but something she couldn’t put her finger on. Almost as if he didn’t care what she did when he wasn’t fucking her or binding her.

  Her acceptance of his kink and the shocking self-discovery that she liked it had intensified their connection when they were alone. Their foray into doing couple things had lasted barely a month. They rarely went out together in public.

  Although that wasn’t entirely his fault. Amery had been content to hang out with him in his penthouse. Whenever he showed up at her loft, they were all over each other and fell asleep afterward.

  How long had it been since she’d gone out for a drink just because she could? She’d also gotten out of the habit of trying a new restaurant every week.

  That’s when she realized she’d thrown herself into this affair with Ronin just as she’d done with Tyler. She’d adjusted her schedule to fit Ronin’s and he’d kept odd hours recently, but when pressed on his nocturnal activities, he’d said, “Business,” and ended the conversation.

  She reminded herself of how hard she’d worked to be independent. It’d been a point of pride the past few years that she’d learned to enjoy doing social things alone.

  So there was no reason to stay home and mope because she couldn’t see him. She’d dress up and head down to the Bistro. Listen to some light jazz, knock back a Moscow mule, nibble on a plate of bruschetta, partake of Denver’s nightlife for a few hours.

  Just as she stepped into the alley, she heard the whirring whine of Ronin’s motorcycle.

  He killed the engine and removed his helmet before dismounting from the bike. He dropped his gaze to the toes of her high-heeled boots; then his eyes wandered up her skinny jeans, over her dusty rose lace blouse, and stopped on her face. “Going somewhere?” he asked coolly.


  “Who are you meeting?”

  “No one.”

  “Bullshit. You’re dressed to go out. Did you cancel our plans tonight because you received a better offer?”

  Amery stomped over to him. “No. And fuck you for thinking so highly of me. I was headed to the Bistro, by myself, to grab some food, a drink, and take an hour to unwind.”

  “By yourself,” he repeated.

  “Yes. I used to do a lot of things by myself. I realized tonight since I’ve hooked up with you I stopped doing some of the things I used to enjoy.”

  “That’s why you didn’t come over? Because you need to prove you’ll be fine going it alone after we’re done hooking up?”

  He added a sneering tone to the words hooking up that set her on edge. “You’re taking this completely out of context.”

  “Then explain it to me.”

  “I don’t owe you an explanation. Good night, Ronin.” Amery slammed the back door and locked it.

  Then she found herself pushed up against the cold steel. Calm, cool, and collected Ronin? Gone.

  It boosted her confidence that she could rattle him outside the bedroom. “What?”

  “What is going on with you? You never play these games.”

  “Not a game. Tonight I wanted to go out. That’s it.”

  Ronin studied her in that unnerving manner of his. But she caught a rare flash of vulnerability, and her heart caught.

  She tried a less combative tactic. She curled her hands around his face. “Come with me to the Bistro. We’ll split an appetizer, have a drink, soak in the weeknight crowd in a Denver hipster bar. It’ll be fun.”

  His rigid stance relaxed. He rested his forehead to hers. “I’d like that.”

  “Let’s go.” She pecked him on the mouth and he stepped back. “It’s two blocks down.”

  Ronin took her hand and led her to his motorcycle. “I’ll drive slow since I didn’t bring your helmet.”

  Amery shook her head. “It’s a short walk.”

  “I like you on my bike. And that wild girl wants to feel the wind in her hair even if it’s only for two short blocks.” He traced the edge of her jaw. “Or are you saying no because it’s not cool to show up at a hipster bar on a Jap bike? We’d fit in better if we pulled up on a Vespa?”

  She laughed. “Fine. We’ll take the bike. Especially since you’re looking more badass than usual in this wifebeater.” Her finger followed the scoop neck of the skintight ribbed tank top. Her fingers migrated to the deep cut of muscle in his biceps. “I really like when you show off your impressive arms.”

  “Don’t get used to it. I was in such a hurry to get to you that I switched out my gi pants for jeans and forgot about my upper half.”

  “Why don’t you wear this kind of shirt more often?”

  “Because I feel exposed.” He kept stroking her jaw. “Sounds weird coming from a man who prefers his partners naked. But I grew up wearing a gi from morning until night. Having my body covered is natural to me. I only wear short-sleeved shirts when I know it’ll be hot or if I’m working out. I only strip off my shirt when . . .”

  We’re alone.

  Amery realized that’s how Ronin leveled the playing field when the ropes came out. He hadn’t removed his shirt during the scene at the club, but he always took his shirt off with her. And for him, that was akin to being as naked as she was. She turned her head and kissed his wrist. “Ronin.”

  “So now you know,” he said softly. “Let’s go.”

  Amery did like the wind tousling her hair. But not as much as she liked the feel of Ronin’s bare skin against her cheek as she wrapped herself around him on the back of his bike.

  No surprise they garnered attention—or rather Ronin received predatory looks from several women, despite the fact that he’d draped a possessive arm over Amery’s shoulder.

  They chose a table away from the jazz guitarist and his groupies. After ordering food and drink, Ronin was sweet and attentive. Almost as if it was a date.

  Lulled by the soft music and the ease of being together, they lingered. “This is nice.”

  “Told you. I—we haven’t done this in a while.”

  “So why’d you back out on me tonight?”

  “Why didn’t you ask me that when I called you?” she countered.

  “Too pissed off to form a coherent sentence.”

  Shocking that he’d admitted it. “That’s something you’ll have to work on, Master Black, because your curt response gave me the impression you didn’t care what I did.”

  Ronin locked his gaze to hers. “I cared too much. So quit hedging. Why’d you really call and cancel?”

  Amery stirred the dregs of her Moscow mule and drained it. “Because I got waxed today.”

  Pause. Then, “Come again?”

  “I got a full bikini wax today for the first time ever. And it might make me a pussy”—she smirked—“but I’m beyond tender around my lady bits. I knew body friction would irritate my skin, so I canceled our plans.”

  He leaned forward. “Why didn’t you just tell me that in the first place?”

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