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       Bound, p.37

         Part #1 of Mastered series by Lorelei James
 

  It’d kill her to see his disappointment when he witnessed proof of how unphotogenic she was.

  “I don’t want you deleting anything until we’ve gone through them all,” he warned. “It sounds as if you can’t be objective when it comes to photos of yourself, let alone half-naked photos.” He kissed her nose. “Grab the camera and let’s take a peek.”

  “What if they’re all bad? You’ve already untied me, so it isn’t like we can do a reshoot.”

  “First of all, I can have you retied in five minutes. Second of all, my fear is that you burned up the camera with your smoking hotness. Especially when I went down on you. If the image could capture the sex noises you made, tied up for my pleasure and coming on my tongue, the images would easily sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

  Amery wiggled out of his hold. “Now you’re just being ridiculous.”

  “Am I? Get dressed. I’ll be back.” He snagged his shirt off the floor and ducked out.

  She put her clothes on before she unhooked the camera from the tripod.

  Ronin rolled her office chair into the studio. He lowered into it and patted his lap. “That way we can both see.”

  Meaning he wouldn’t let her escape and he’d know if she tried to delete something.

  The camera had a decent-sized viewing screen. She selected the first shot of the session and held her breath as she enlarged it.

  The binding was intricate, making her body look delicate and malleable, yet strong in her submission.

  “Keep going.”

  Ronin didn’t comment . . . until the pictures where the angle of her head had changed. When he’d put his mouth on her.

  Holy. Shit. The arch of her back, the way her hands had tightened into fists, even the bend of her neck screamed woman in the throes of passion.

  Amery couldn’t believe that sexy woman was her.

  “Told you,” he said smugly. “I’ll bet they’re all like that.”

  So maybe she was a little more eager to view the remaining shots. The subtle changes toward the end when Ronin had taken advantage of her orgasm-scrambled brain suggested movement. When they reached the last three images, Ronin’s hands tightened around her biceps and his body went rigid.

  “What?”

  “That one.” He pointed to the picture of her glancing over her shoulder, her hair in motion, her eyes sultry, her lips parted. “Is mine.”

  “What?”

  “That look belongs to me because I put it there. It’s mine.”

  His possessive tone wrapped around her like a silken ribbon.

  “I want a copy of that one for myself. No one else will ever see it.”

  She leaned back, turning her head to kiss beneath his jaw. “You promise?”

  “Yes, baby, I promise.”

  CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

  “I cannot believe you talked me into an IKEA trip on a Saturday,” Ronin complained.

  Amery returned the green glass vase to the shelf. “I bet you’ve never been in this store, regardless of which day of the week it is.”

  “My place is furnished. Why would I need to add more to it?”

  “You can go into a store and just look at things without buying them.”

  With a perfectly straight face he said, “If I need an item, I go into the store and buy it. Why would I waste time going into a store if I didn’t need to buy anything?”

  “For sheer shopping pleasure? The joy of being a consumer?” she offered.

  Ronin continued to give her a blank stare.

  No wonder his apartment was so minimalist.

  “Do you even know what you’re shopping for?”

  “Yes.” She smiled and said, “Doodads.”

  That earned her a sigh. But he did follow her to the next room display. Everything looked so hip and put-together. Amery had the pang of self-awareness that any funky cool vibe in her loft was strictly by accident.

  Ronin asked, “Do you like this?”

  “Yes. I wish I could create a room this chic and modern. My decorating style is castoffs, garage sales, and the occasional piece headed for the Dumpster. I can spend hours looking in here and leave without purchasing a single thing.”

  “Hours?” he repeated.

  She couldn’t help laughing. “I won’t torture you today. Spending hours in IKEA is something you work up to.”

  “For the first time ever I hope to have zero stamina.”

  “Come along. Let Master Hardwick teach you all the tricks about being a ninja shopper.”

  They stopped at the next display and were discussing form and color when a female voice said, “Sensei Black?”

  Immediately his posture changed and that blank mask slid onto his face before he turned toward the woman.

  “I thought it was you, but I never thought I’d see Sensei out shopping.”

  Amery scrutinized the Asian woman who spoke in heavily accented English. She in turn scrutinized Amery.

  And Ronin didn’t seem inclined to introduce them.

  Then she refocused on Ronin. “Is this your new girl?”

  Ronin switched to Japanese. His tone seemed sharp, but the language inflections were so different that Amery couldn’t be sure.

  The woman snapped back in Japanese, her eyes flinty, her gestures choppy.

  Definitely an angry reaction. Which got her no reaction from Ronin besides a shrug.

  She attempted to get in Ronin’s face.

  All he had to do was hold up his hand; she stopped in her tracks. But her mouth kept running as she rattled off something that sounded like a verbal smack-down.

  His response was clipped.

  Which didn’t deter her. Her voice took on a low, almost seductive bent. When she didn’t get the response from Ronin she expected, she switched to a one-sided diatribe and the words came much faster. When she finally quit speaking, she gave Amery a once-over and sniffed.

  Ronin had struck the defensive stance Amery recognized from class. He leaned closer to the woman and spoke so quietly Amery could hardly hear him. But she did make out one word loud and clear: Naomi.

  Holy shit. She knew Naomi was Japanese and this woman’s pouting tone suggested she and Ronin had shared an intimate relationship at one time.

  The woman walked away without looking back.

  Ronin stared after her, his face still blank. But when the interloper disappeared into the crowd and Ronin’s eyes met Amery’s, she saw the anger burning there before he banked it. “If you’re done browsing I’d like to go now.”

  “Ah, sure.”

  Amery swore IKEA changed the exit point every time she was in the store, so it took ten minutes to escape.

  They were zipping downtown when she couldn’t stand the silence a moment longer. “So, that woman you had words with . . . was that Naomi?”

  “No.”

  That was all she got for an answer? Bull. “Then who was she?”

  “Naomi’s friend Kiki.”

  Silence.

  “What did Kiki say?”

  “She blathered on with a Naomi update, which I warned her I didn’t want.”

  “What was the update?”

  Ronin said nothing. He just cut in and out of traffic as if they’d jumped onto the autobahn.

  “Ronin?”

  “That Naomi was coming to Denver.”

  “When? Does she want to see you?”

  “Doesn’t matter. I won’t see her.”

  Her mouth opened. Closed. When she opened it again to ask him a question, Ronin shook his head. “End of discussion.”

  That was a little high-handed. And another example of him holding back on her and just expecting her to accept it.

  Why are you surprised?

  “Where to now?” Ronin asked.

  “Home.”

  “I thought you had more errands.”

  “Nothing that won’t keep.”

  Ronin frowned. “You sure?”

  “Positive.” Amery didn’t fill the void with chatte
r. In fact, she didn’t look at him at all.

  He pulled into the alley. “I’ll find a parking place and be right up.”

  “Actually, I’m tired and I know you’re exhausted after your mysterious all-nighter, so let’s call it a day.”

  “It’s only two o’clock in the afternoon.”

  “Just means you can nap longer.”

  “I don’t nap,” he said curtly.

  Maybe you need one. “Whatever. Later.” She started to open the door, but Ronin stopped her.

  “Tell me what’s wrong.”

  “Think about it, Sensei.”

  “Jesus. Don’t act like this.”

  “Like what? Pissed off you pull that end of discussion bullshit and expect me to accept it?”

  “I tried to head off a pointless argument, which obviously was a waste of breath because you want to fight with me today.”

  “Wrong. I wanted to talk. You refused.”

  “That’s it?”

  “Isn’t that enough?”

  “No. Why didn’t you introduce me to Kiki?” Are you ashamed of me?

  “She’s a snake and you’re better off if she doesn’t know who you are.”

  “Or maybe you don’t want her blabbing about me because you still have feelings for Naomi and that’s why you won’t talk about her.”

  “That’s laughable. You should know—”

  “I don’t know anything about Naomi or your relationship with her besides the bare bones. Anytime I ask questions, you shut me down. I’m tired of you making me feel like a jealous hag about it, especially when it’s clearly not my issue, just because I had the audacity to ask a question about her.” Amery inhaled a calming breath. “So I finally get it, okay?”

  “Get what?”

  “You’ve proven to me time and time again that you want to keep this casual. We’re hookup buddies. Hot sex with a few bondage games thrown in. That’s it.”

  Ronin pinned her with his hard stare.

  Amery wouldn’t back down. “So, call me if you literally want to tie one on. But not tonight. I’ve got plans.”

  “With who?”

  “Chaz and his friends.”

  “Why didn’t I know about this?”

  “Because you didn’t ask.” Amery opened the door and slid out. “And that right there is the difference between us, Ronin. I ask you a question and you don’t answer. But you can’t even be bothered to ask me any questions in the first place.”

  • • •

  SOMEHOW Amery got everyone’s attention over the deafening noise in the restaurant. “Tonight we’re celebrating a milestone in our beloved friend Chaz’s career; his glorious artistic work will be showcased in the launch of a groundbreaking new series in the U.S, graphic novels featuring homoerotic story lines.”

  Clapping and wolf whistles followed.

  “So let’s toast.” She lifted her martini glass. “Chaz, may the contracts keep rolling in, brother. We’re all proud of you and no one deserves this success more than you.”

  Hugs, congrats, and a few tears were shared among the dozen friends gathered at the table. Then the wait staff cleared the plates and passed out glasses of champagne at Chaz’s request.

  Champagne reminded Amery of the night at the sports gala with Ronin.

  Everything reminded her of Ronin.

  But nothing about that realization made her happy.

  “Why the sad face, doll?” Vincent asked when he reached across her for the coffee creamer.

  “I’m not sad. Why? Do I look it?”

  “A little.” He squeezed her forearm. “You okay?”

  “I’m fine. Just thinking about the last time I had champagne. I made a few questionable choices.”

  “Is this a juicy story?”

  Amery laughed. “Not really.”

  “Pity. I had perverted hopes you’d dish out a sexy story about you and the scrumptious Ronin Black.” He leaned closer. “Is it true what I’ve heard about him?”

  “Depends on what you’ve heard.”

  “That he’s into . . . all sorts of . . . things.”

  She sipped her champagne and studied Vincent, Chaz’s tailor and longtime friend. “Can you be more specific?”

  Vincent fussed with the sleeve of his shirt. “Just that Mr. Black doesn’t list all his services on his dojo’s Web site. But if you know who to ask, what to ask, and have the means, he’s available for hire.”

  “For what? As a clown at kids’ birthday parties?”

  “Hilarious. No, silly. For personal protection. Yes, he offers training, but for the right price he’ll also sign on as a bodyguard.”

  She relaxed, relieved Ronin’s real proclivities weren’t the subject of rumors. “Now, where did you pick up that information, Vincent?”

  He waved his hand. “I’m tailor to Denver’s elite. It’s amazing what one overhears when customers consider you part of the furniture. I’d forgotten a conversation I’d overheard until Chaz mentioned his concern about your involvement with Mr. Black.”

  Why had Chaz talked to Vincent about Ronin?

  “I can see Chaz didn’t share the information I shared with him with you.”

  “Probably because it wouldn’t surprise me that Ronin hired out his services. He’s an advocate for self-protection and he’s highly trained in all areas. If I needed a man to guard my back, he’d be first on the list.”

  “But doesn’t that scare you?” Vincent pressed. “That he might hurt you without meaning to?”

  “Ronin would never hurt me. The man has unparalleled control in any and all situations.” Amery remembered Ronin’s icy coolness the night they were attacked—both during and after. Then her mind went back to how much he knew about stripping down and discarding a gun.

  “Interesting.” Vincent stirred his piña colada. “Well, I’m glad
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