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       Bound, p.4

         Part #1 of Mastered series by Lorelei James

  She opened her mouth to answer, but instead she yawned so widely her jaw cracked. All of a sudden everything went fuzzy and she swayed.

  “Sit down before you fall down.” He rolled Molly’s wheeled office chair over and held it steady as she dropped into it. Then he crouched in front of her. “You’re fading fast.”

  “I just need more coffee.” Amery started to stand, but two strong hands on her thighs kept her in place.

  “You need sleep, not coffee.”

  “But that one guy is here, doing that one thing.” She frowned because she couldn’t remember. “What’s his name?”

  “Harris,” the man said from somewhere. “I’ve finished.”

  “Already? That was fast.”

  “Expediency is our motto.” He handed her a clipboard. “So I’ll just need you to sign off on this and I’ll get it filed.”

  Amery held the pen poised at the bottom of the paper, and then the next second the clipboard was gone. She glared up at Master Black, who’d gotten way too close. “Hey, what’re you doing?”

  “You’re just signing this without reading it?”

  She fought another yawn and the temptation to rest her head on his broad shoulder. She muttered, “I’m exhausted and just want to be done with this.”

  “Which is all the more reason for you to wait until you’re coherent to sign a legally binding document.” He shoved the clipboard back at the agent. “You’ve done the preliminary work. She’ll be in touch about finalizing it.”

  “She’s already called the window replacement company. We won’t pay the claim without her signature. And most of the companies expect COD in these situations.”

  “Amery, which glass company did you call?”

  Her fuzzy brain rallied and she said, “Bet Your Glass, on Colfax.”

  “I’ve dealt with them. They owe me a favor. They’ll waive the COD fee and I can get them here within the hour.”

  More male bickering. Amery closed her eyes and tuned them out.

  That wonderful darkness beckoned only to be yanked away when someone poked her shoulder. “What?”

  “Chaz is taking me home. I have class in an hour.”

  She opened a bleary eye and squinted at Molly. “But I thought you were going to stay until the glass guys were done?”

  Molly’s gaze darted to the right. “Master Black said he’d be happy to handle it for you. That’s okay, isn’t it?”

  “Of course it’s okay,” Chaz inserted. He squeezed Amery’s shoulder. “She’s exhausted and who better to trust her safety with than her self-defense instructor?”

  Ronin flashed Amery a wolfish grin that no one else saw.

  “Besides, Emmylou is here and she promised to lock up after the new windows are installed. So we’re heading out, okay, sweets?”

  Amery was too tired to argue. She closed her eyes when Chaz kissed her forehead. Her mind blanked out the hushed voices until they faded completely and sleep teased the edges of her consciousness.

  Ronin’s deep voice roused her again. “You can’t sleep in the chair.”

  Dammit. Why wouldn’t everyone just leave her alone? “Fine. I’ll go sleep in my bed.” She mustered the will to push upright. Her feet seemed to be encased in cement blocks as she trudged to the back door that led to her loft. After nearly tripping, she slapped herself in the face to stay focused. Seeing the twisty metal staircase leading to her living space put an extra spring in her step.

  A hard hand landed on her shoulder. “Slow down. Don’t want this pretty face of yours smacking into the concrete.”

  She wheeled around. “What are you still doing here?”

  “Helping you.”


  “I don’t know.”


  “Seriously. I don’t know.” He encroached on her space, coming chest-to-chest with her. “So will you please cut me a break and let me make sure you fall face-first in your bed and not on the floor?”

  Something . . . oddly sweet flickered in his penetrating stare, and her flip comment dried up. “Thank you, Ronin.”

  He smoothed her hair from her cheek. “My pleasure.”

  Why didn’t it bother her that he touched her with such familiarity? Amery turned away before she did something stupid like face-plant into that amazing chest of his.

  He followed her closely up the stairs. That breathing-down-her-neck proximity didn’t change when she cut toward her bedroom. She crawled into the unmade bed and wrapped her arms around the closest pillow with an enormous sigh.

  A soft laugh sounded behind her.

  Then she felt him unzipping her boots. She wiggled her toes and sighed again.

  “Need my help with the rest of your clothes?”

  She cracked one eye open and looked at him. “Nice try.”

  “I could point out half of what you’re wearing belongs to me and it’s within my rights to demand you return it.”

  “Go away, Ronin.”

  “I will.” He covered her with her comforter. “But I’ll be back.”

  That’s the last thing Amery remembered.


  THE following day Amery felt Ronin Black’s eyes on her before she knew he’d entered her office. No lie, the man had that stealthy approach down. She spun her chair toward him and her belly cartwheeled at the heated way he looked at her.

  She continued her phone conversation, but her focus remained on him. “No. That isn’t a problem at all. Absolutely. I can have the changes to you by tomorrow. Thank you.” She hung up. “I assume Molly sent you back?”

  Ronin leaned against the doorjamb, looking delectable and dangerous in a short-sleeved black polo, dark jeans, and modified combat boots. “Yes. She said to tell you she was going to lunch.”

  “So, Master Black, why are you here?”

  “Ronin,” he corrected.

  “Okay, Ronin. What brings you by today?”

  “I want to hire you.”

  She hadn’t been expecting that—and maybe she felt a tiny kernel of disappointment that he wasn’t here because he intended to act on this undeniable attraction between them.

  Maybe he’s disappointed that you haven’t acknowledged how much he helped you out yesterday.

  Guilt for her oversight caused her to blurt out, “Thank you for sticking around and dealing with the glass installers yesterday morning after I went comatose.”

  “You’re welcome. The workers didn’t milk the installation time with me watching them.”

  She suspected Master Black’s displeased glare was hot enough to melt glass.

  “Besides, it gave me a chance to look at your graphic art work more closely and decide to hire you.”

  “Hire me for what?”

  “To create a new logo for Black Arts. I’d like to scrap what we’ve got and start from scratch. Is that a project you’d be interested in tackling?”

  I’d rather tackle you.

  She fought the pull of this man’s incredible magnetism and put a lid on those I want to jump you thoughts that were so unlike her. “I’m always interested in taking on new projects.”

  “Good. Because I brought this.” Ronin sauntered into her office and handed her a rolled-up sheaf of papers. “Our current logo. Black Arts has always kept a low profile, which suits me. But my instructors have pointed out that we need an updated official logo that can be screen-printed on the back of gis and used for patches so Black Arts students are more recognizable when they compete in tournaments.”

  “You don’t seem very enthusiastic about that prospect.”

  His eyes never strayed from her face. “I’m enthusiastic about the prospect of working with you.”

  Amery’s pulse leaped.

  “Are you free so we can discuss it over lunch?”



  She didn’t have anything scheduled, but part of her wanted to lie and claim she did. Lunch with the sexy sensei . . . she wasn’t sure she’d h
oned the feminine skills to cope with a man like him. But if she kept it focused on business? Business she could do. Amery smiled. “I’d love to have lunch with you. There’s a great bistro a few blocks away.”

  “Maybe next time. I’ve already made reservations for us at Dillinger’s.”

  Normally she’d bristle at such presumptive behavior. But Amery liked that he hadn’t stopped by as an afterthought, that he’d planned it. “Sounds good.”

  “I’ll drive. I’m parked out front.”

  “I’ll grab my purse and meet you.”

  She quickly peeked in the bathroom mirror to check her hair and makeup. Thankfully her meeting with a new client earlier meant she’d put extra effort into her appearance today. One thing she loved about her job and owning her business? She didn’t have to dress to the nines every day. So donning a feminine business suit always bolstered her self-confidence. She’d need an extra boost in dealing with an enigmatic man like Ronin Black.

  After locking the front door, she scanned the cars parallel-parked on the tree-lined block. No sign of him. She turned and her heart stopped. Ronin stood in front of a motorcycle.

  His gaze moved over her, from the tips of her gray peep-toe pumps to the hem of her pink and gray tweed pencil skirt. His lips quirked. “Nice suit. Good thing the restaurant is only twelve blocks from here.”

  “You don’t seriously expect me to climb on the back of that thing in this outfit?”

  “Of course. I even brought you a helmet.”

  “I don’t see how a helmet will keep my skirt from riding up and showing everyone in downtown Denver the color of my panties.”

  “Then I guess you’d better sit real close to me to keep it a secret.”

  “Maybe I should—”

  He loomed over her. “It’s twelve blocks. If you hate the ride over, I’ll call a cab to bring you back here after lunch. But you’ve got to at least try it. You know you want to.”

  How had he known that? “I’m putting myself in your hands, Ronin.”

  “You have no idea how much that appeals to me,” he murmured.

  His words flowed across her as potent as a caress.

  “Hold still.” He slipped the helmet on and flipped the visor up. “Is it pinching anywhere?”


  Ronin swept her hair over her shoulders. He draped her long purse strap over her head, positioning her purse against her hip. “Let’s go.” He closed the visor and dug the keys out of his pocket before he climbed onto the bike.

  Talk about a nice butt. Good thing the visor hid her lustful eyes—not good to be drooling over a new client.

  And she might’ve pulled off her silent reminder to keep it professional, if she hadn’t been forced to sit so close to him on the bike seat that angled down, smashing her crotch against that nice ass. All professional thoughts vanished when she wrapped her arms around his hard muscular core as they zoomed through city traffic.

  The ride didn’t take long and Amery was sort of sad to see it end.

  Ronin held the bike steady as she quickly dismounted. She pulled the helmet off, shaking her hair free before she straightened her skirt.

  “Want me to carry your helmet?” he asked.

  “Nope. Holding it makes me feel a like a badass biker chick.”

  “You’re a little too wholesome looking to pull that off.”

  Amery faced him. “Did you mean wholesome as an insult?”

  Ronin invaded her space. “Not at all. It just requires more patience convincing a wholesome woman like you to take a walk on the wild side. But once you’re there . . .” His eyes were glued to her mouth. “I bet you’d put badass biker chicks to shame.”

  Her entire body heated, but she managed a droll, “I’m wondering who you see when you’re looking at me, because I don’t see that at all.”

  “You should look deeper, because it’s right there in your eyes.”

  Amery placed her hand on his chest and leaned in, catching a whiff of his exotic cologne. “You are dangerous, and not because you’ve got mad martial arts skills.”


  “Because you almost make me believe you can read me that well.” Amery sidestepped him and walked through the open door to the restaurant. She paused at the hostess stand, inhaling several deep breaths to try and calm down.

  A warm body pressed against her back, and soft lips brushed her ear. “Pink.”

  She turned her head and his lips moved to her cheek. “What?”

  “The only person who saw your underwear was me. And they’re pink.”

  The host approached and bowed. “Master Black.”

  Ronin returned the bow. “Michael. You’re looking good. How’s the family?”

  “Wonderful. Angelina and I are so proud our Christina graduated with honors in May.”

  “Congratulations. You have every right to be proud.”

  “If not for your help . . . our Christina might not be . . .”

  “Please.” Ronin held up his hand in a say no more gesture. “Give my best to your wife and daughter.”

  “I will. Francis will show you to your table.”

  After they were seated upstairs on the patio, in the corner table with an amazing view, Amery said, “Best seat in the house, Master Black. I’m impressed.”

  “Don’t be. Michael is too shrewd a businessman to hold a special table for me during lunch rush. I chalk it up to my good luck today.”

  Amery didn’t buy that, but she let it go. She scanned the menu. “I’ve heard the food is fantastic. What do you recommend?”

  “The salmon quinoa salad. Or the roasted vegetable pasta.” She must’ve frowned because he said, “Is something wrong?”

  “Just wondering if you’re a vegetarian.”

  “Because I suggested vegetarian dishes? No. I’m very much a carnivore. In fact, I’ve decided on the buffalo burger.”

  “I was looking at that too.”

  Once the waiter took their order, Amery handed over the menu and felt Ronin’s eyes on her again. “You’re staring at me. Do I have helmet hair or something?”

  “No. I just like looking at you.”

  “Well, it makes me uncomfortable.”

  He shrugged, as if to say too bad.

  “So that guy you talked to up front. What did he mean when he said if not for you? Did you save his daughter’s life or something?”

  The change in his face was subtle, from relaxed to guarded, but she caught it. By the stiff way he held himself, she suspected he wouldn’t answer. Finally he said, “His only daughter was attacked at college her freshman year. She closed herself off from everyone and was failing all her classes. Michael signed her up for a self-defense class with me at the dojo and she worked through her issues.”

  “Do you teach self-defenses often?”

  “Almost never anymore.” He took a long drink of water. “Your
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