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       Bound, p.39

         Part #1 of Mastered series by Lorelei James
 

  “The only reason I’m telling you this is that the kick to the head scrambled my brain. I hope you know I never would’ve done what I did this morning if I’d been in my right mind.” He curled his hand over her cheek. “I shouldn’t have shown up last night, but I can’t stay away from you.”

  Somehow that didn’t bring the relief she thought it would.

  “I’m sorry I hurt you.”

  “I know you are.”

  Ronin stretched out beside her and snugged his body behind hers. “I could use a nap.”

  Even before she could jokingly warn Mr. I Don’t Nap not to sleep-fuck her again, he’d fallen asleep.

  • • •

  FOUR hours later they sat at the kitchen counter finishing the salmon salad Ronin had made for lunch. Things had seemed normal between them after he’d tended to her, and she didn’t want to wreck the moment. But she had questions that couldn’t wait any longer. “We need to talk.”

  “I know.”

  “What happened between you and Naomi? Just talking about her yesterday affected you and now that’s spilled over onto me, so I have a right to know.”

  He shoved his plate aside and ran his hand through his hair. “I met Naomi six years ago at a club.”

  She didn’t have to pussyfoot around and ask what kind of club. “Did you use bondage on her?”

  “Yes.”

  “Right away after you met her?”

  “Yes.”

  So he hadn’t sprung it on Naomi as he had on her. “Did you demonstrate erotic bondage on her and then fuck her in front of a roomful of people?”

  Ronin gently wrapped his fingers around her jaw. “Are we going to talk about this, or are you just going to hurl jealous accusations at me?”

  Amery closed her eyes. “I’m sorry.”

  “I am too. Can you please look at me?”

  She shook her head, but she didn’t shake his hand off.

  “Why not?”

  “I know you cared about her and I can’t look into your eyes when you tell me about her. Even though I’m the one who’s making you do it.”

  “Sweet baby.” He softly kissed her lips. “Come here.” He led her to the couch and settled her between his legs with her back resting on his chest. He strapped one arm over her belly, holding her in place.

  Why did his tight hold on her make her feel . . . secure?

  “When I met Naomi she told me she was thirty when in fact she was twenty-six. That’s just the first of many lies. She claimed to be familiar with shibari and kinbaku—also a lie, but she convinced me she’d be willing to try it. Within a few weeks we became involved outside of the club.

  “We’d been together two years, in a relationship and she was my exclusive rope partner, when she asked if instead of adjourning to a private room after a kinbaku scene to have sex, we could add it to the scene.”

  “So you had her naked, tied up in provocative poses, and never fucked her during a demo? Not once in two years?”

  “No, because we were in public.”

  “You never had sex in public? With any of your bondage partners?”

  “No.” Ronin bent closer and brushed a kiss across her temple. “I’m a private man, Amery. For me sex is as private as it gets. But I’m a foolish man sometimes because I agreed to try it.”

  His voice was filled with so much regret she squeezed his forearm.

  “Took me a month to map out a new complicated suspension scene—mostly because I didn’t want to do it. At the end of the demonstration, I fucked her.”

  The harshness of his response meant it hadn’t gone well.

  “Afterward . . . it didn’t leave me in a good place. I went home and downed a fifth of scotch.”

  “Did Naomi come with you?”

  He absentmindedly stroked the inside of her wrist. “No. Should’ve been my first indication things were wrong. She wanted a repeat performance at the club the next time and I said no. She threw a tantrum. No one undermines my authority at the dojo, or during a demo or at the club, so I forced her into a hojojutsu punishment scene.”

  Amery’s pulse jumped. “What happened?”

  “No matter how much she begged and cried, I refused to punish her in private. I bound her in a pose called humiliation, which includes neck ropes. Then I gagged her and used a paddle on her. After I’d broken her, I fucked her but didn’t allow her to come.”

  She turned her head away. That didn’t sound like him at all.

  “Rather than it upsetting her, she got off on it. I rarely use humiliation in the dojo as a teaching tool, because it doesn’t work. I was completely unprepared for her reaction and my disgust with myself. I quit going to the club.”

  “Ronin.”

  “Then Naomi stopped showing up at my place, unless she was drunk, crying, and a mess. I always took her in. At the time I hadn’t known she’d still been going to the club and she’d become a submissive to several Doms. A few months later the club owner asked me to come back and give a shibari demo, but Naomi refused to be involved unless I fucked her during the scene. I found another rope model. Naomi went a little psycho after the demo and started threatening me. So I had her banned from the club.” He set his chin on top of her head. “She told everyone I ruined her life and she returned to Japan.”

  Amery let that sink in before she spoke. “She was responsible for her choices. You did what you had to, to protect yourself and your reputation.”

  “It is my fault. She was young and I pushed her to the edge and she liked it.”

  “And you ended up at war with yourself for giving her what she wanted.”

  “Yes.”

  Amery turned and kissed his jaw.

  “Needless to say I joined a new club—the same one Knox belongs to. The women who agree to be bound by me know my rules. I rarely deviate from them.”

  “So the woman at the club who ended up with Knox . . . ?”

  “The club auctioned off a rope session with me for charity. The woman’s husband gave it to her as a birthday gift. They requested Knox as the demonstration closer.”

  “I didn’t stay for that part.”

  “Good. You should know that Naomi is also the reason I built the practice room. I thought if we had a designated place she wouldn’t need to go to the club. It didn’t change anything. And that room has been unused since then, until I met you.”

  She closed her eyes. She’d heard men talking about being fucked up by an ex. But what Ronin had dealt with Naomi? Epically fucked up. And she suspected he hadn’t told her everything. Maybe he never would. It scared her to think Naomi had damaged him to the point he’d never trust her enough to open up completely.

  • • •

  THE next morning Amery scrutinized the marks on her body. Some had started to fade, but makeup wouldn’t cover the hickeys and scrapes on her neck. Was it ironic she chose a scarf that Ronin used to bind her to cover up the marks?

  She opened the office, started coffee, and got to work.

  Molly dragged in an hour late. The girl looked horrible.

  “Are you all right?”

  “Not really.” Molly bit her lip as if trying to hold back tears.

  “You want to talk about it?”

  “Not yet. It’ll help if I focus on work.”

  “Being the über-organized boss I am, I e-mailed the updated daily task lists first thing.”

  That earned her a smile. “Über-organized. That ages you, boss. No one says über anymore.”

  “Get to work, whippersnapper.”

  At lunchtime, Molly came into her office and shut the door.

  Looked as though she’d decided to talk. They’d gotten a lot closer in the past few months. Whether it was because they’d passed the martial arts class together, or was due to Molly’s newfound confidence—either way, she’d opened up. They’d gone out for dinner and drinks several times, and their conversations hadn’t revolved around work. Amery had hung out with Molly more often than Chaz or Emmylou. “What’s
up?”

  Molly slid into the chair in front of the desk. She stared at her hands for a moment and blurted, “I cheated on Zach last night.”

  Not what she’d expected. “Okay. How’d it happen?”

  “Zach and I were supposed to go to a movie last night, but he called and canceled again. It’s happened so many times because Master Black makes Zach do jobs outside the dojo. Jobs he can’t talk about and he’s keeping really weird hours.”

  Amery frowned. Ronin had been keeping odd hours too and hadn’t been forthcoming about what he’d been doing either—except he had come clean about jumping into the ring. But prior to that, when she’d asked why she couldn’t get a hold of him, he’d given her that scary “back off” vibe, so she hadn’t brought it up again.

  “Anyway, this has been going on for weeks and last night I’d had enough. I went to a sports bar with my new friend Nina and she introduced me to one of her guy friends.” She sighed. “A really cute guy friend, who was funny and charming and he was way into me. One thing led to another and I went home with him.” Her cheeks turned crimson.

  “Have you ever had a one-night stand before?”

  Molly peeked up at her. “It’s probably hard to believe because I come across as shy, but yeah, I’ve done the walk of shame a couple of times. I like this guy, we had fun, and he wants to see me again.”

  “So what’s the problem?”

  “What if the only reason he wants to see me is that he thinks I’m a slut? And what about Zach? He’s really sweet and I like hanging out with him, but he’s taking things so slow. I don’t know if it’s because he thinks I’d have anxiety during sex because I was attacked or what, but we’ve never done anything more than kiss. Even when I let him know I want more, he says stuff like no rush. So I’m back to the same worry that I’m some kind of slut for wanting sex from one guy one day, and another guy the next day.”

  “Molly, as long as you’re having safe sex and your partner or partners are enjoying it too doesn’t mean you’re a slut. It means you’re a normal college girl with a healthy sex drive. And that’s not something to be ashamed of; that’s something to be proud of.”

  “Really?”

  “Really. I’ve struggled to reconcile my feelings of guilt about sex, wanting it and having it, since I was in my teens. The way I was raised is a pretty powerful deterrent to accepting and embracing my sexuality.”

  “Even now?”

  Especially now that she was involved with Ronin and all the layers of kink he’d added to the mix—kink that didn’t seem dirty, bad, or wrong when she was in the moment with him. But she still had an uneasy feeling if she thought too much about how other people would react if they ever found out what she liked and what she did behind closed bedroom doors.

  “Amery?”

  She glanced up. “Yes, even now.”

  “I’m not glad to hear that, because those feelings suck, but I sort of am because it lets me know I’m not alone with some of these hang-ups.” She smiled sheepishly. “So thanks.”

  “Anytime.”

  “So what do you think I should do about Zach?”

  “Break it off with him. He had his chance; he blew it. Hang out with the guy who wants to spend time with you. No pressure. Just have fun.” Amery grinned. “And if he’s good? Girl, hit that hard every chance you can.”

  Molly smirked. “Now that the woman who’s banging the hottie known as Master Black has given me sex advice . . . I plan to.”

  “Good.”

  “And there’s one other thing I need to talk to you about.” She threw her shoulders back and lifted her chin. “Are you planning to let me go because business has dropped off?”

  She’d hoped to have this conversation later, possibly even never. “I won’t lie. It’s not looking good. The new clients I’ve picked up still aren’t making up for the loss of income from Townsend’s. And I’ve been out on every call, no matter how small the job . . .”

  “What about the secret project you’ve been working on? Does that have potential?”

  Amery’s eyes narrowed.

  Molly rolled her eyes in response. “Come on, Amery, I work here. I’d have to be blind and stupid not to notice the packages and phone calls from Seattle. Why is it so top secret?”

  “I signed a nondisclosure agreement with them. And I’ve got that don’t talk about it and jinx it superstition too—I’m not sure anything will come from it.” Which would be too bad because she’d really enjoyed the challenge and the creative freedom of working on something completely different. The client had assured Amery she’d welcome all ideas and designs that focused on thinking outside the normal frozen food box. So she’d worked up several concepts after-hours while Ronin was torturing his jujitsu students and doing his mysterious nocturnal things. Maggie said she’d hear Amery’s full pitch in Denver sometime in the next month, which put extra pressure on Amery to have it ready soon.

  “Earth to Amery.”

  She looked up from the doodle she’d drawn on her printout. “Sorry, I’m zoning out today.”

  Molly leaned forward. “Let me help you work on this project.”

  “While that’s sweet—”

  “Hear me out. I’ll work on this project for free.”

  “Why?”

  “Because if Hardwick Designs doesn’t get new business soon, I’m going to be out of a job anyway. So there’s an incentive for me to bring my best. And I’ve already signed a nondisclosure with you, so if you bring me onboard I can’t discuss it with anyone.”

  Amery tapped her pen on her desk, studying her eager employee. “Extra work for no pay won’t put you in a bind?”

  “No. Look, my grandma is so elated I finished college and I’m pursing an MBA that she’s funding my living expenses. What I earn here goes into my savings account. Besides, a lot of students in the grad program spend their summers and even part of the school year in unpaid internships. At least you pay me. If it makes you feel better, we can call this an apprenticeship because I’ll bet you’re not getting paid either unless you land the project. What company is this?”

  “Okada Foods. They have roughly thirty percent of the overseas market in Asian food and they’re looking to expand here in the U.S.”

  Molly’s eyes nearly bugged out of her head. “Are you fucking kidding me? No offense, but how did that happen? They’re huge.”

  No idea. “I guess they saw my ad work with my other organicfood–based clients. Maybe lady luck is finally smiling on me.”

  “You have to let me work on this project with you. Please.”

  “You sure you want to do this now, Mol? The extra hours will cut into your social life.”

  “The reason I love this job is that I get to use the creative side of my brain, not only my business side. It balances me.”

  That tipped Amery into the yes camp of bringing Molly onboard. Ronin had mentioned the same type of thing: a need to express himself creatively outside of his normal routine. Who was she to deny Molly that chance?

  Plus, she loved that she’d have someone to talk to and bounce ideas off for this opportunity.

  She grinned. “Order us some Jimmy Johns and I’ll bring you up to speed over lunch.”

  CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

  One month later

  “AN hour?” Take a deep breath. “Absolutely I can be there. I’ll be meeting with Maggie?” She felt her hopes plummeting. “No. I understand. Of course. Please tell her I’m looking forward to it. Thank you.” She hung up the receiver and said, “Fuck.”

  Molly poked her head in. “What’s wrong?”

 
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