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       Bound, p.40

         Part #1 of Mastered series by Lorelei James

  “I’m pitching the Okada project today. In a freakin’ hour.”

  “Amery, that’s great!”

  “No, it’s not because I’m not pitching it to Maggie. The VP of Okada is here and I’m meeting with her.”

  “The VP of the North American division?”

  “No, the big VP. She answers directly to the president of the entire company.”

  “Oh, man. What can I do?”

  “Pat yourself on the back that we finished by the skin of our teeth last night.” She pointed to the studio, where they’d spread the design paperwork on the floor. “Get everything together. Check it. Double-check it. Triple-check it. Then put it in my portfolio and type me up a list of what’s included. I have to change into a power suit and get my game face on.” She scaled the stairs to her loft two at a time.

  Amery tore through her closet. Where the hell were all of her dress clothes?

  Dirty. She’d been so tied up in the Okada project and pounding the pavement for new clients that she hadn’t done laundry in two weeks.

  Tied up. There was a play on words.

  Her gaze landed on the coil of black rope on the floor. Strange, Ronin never left his ropes behind. But last night had been . . . intense. Even more intense than usual. Maybe he’d been as scrambled as she’d been this morning. She looked around and smiled. But he had remembered to take his gift.

  Ronin had shown up late last night. After wrapping up the Okada project, she was wired. Like really wired. As soon as he’d ditched his overnight bag, she was on him. Kissing him crazily. Slipping her hands beneath his tank top and running her fingers all over his muscled torso. Biting and sucking on his neck with complete abandon.

  “I take it you’re happy to see me,” he said, pushing her face back into his neck when she stopped sucking on his favorite spot. “More and harder.”

  “I don’t want to leave a mark.”

  “With you this restless tonight? Baby, I don’t care. I’ll wear your mark as a gift.”

  She sucked on him until he hissed and she eased back. “Speaking of . . . I have a gift for you,” she whispered in his ear.

  “For me? What’s the occasion?”

  “Just because. Hang tight and I’ll get it.”

  She’d made it halfway across the living room when she heard him say, “Strip for me.”

  Amery turned and looked at him. “Don’t you want your present?”

  “Yes. But you’ll give it to me when you’re naked.”

  She whipped off her clothes. “Happy now?”

  “Yes. Seeing your bare ass jiggle is a gift in itself.” He grinned at her. “But yeah, go ahead.”

  She’d hidden the wrapped package in the linen closet. The brown paper wrapper wasn’t fancy, but she’d gone online and watched a video on how to tie decorative knots. So the twine was similar to the plain jute rope he used on her sometimes.

  For some reason she had a bout of shyness when she returned with the package. But Ronin’s uncharacteristic “Gimme” made her laugh.

  He studied the knot, as she’d hoped he would. When he looked up at her, pure pleasure shone in his eyes. “Someone has been studying up on knot-tying techniques.”

  She shrugged and smiled.

  He didn’t untie the knot; he said, “I’m keeping this as part of the gift,” and slipped the twine off. He tore the paper away and went motionless as the pieces fell to the floor.

  “Do you like it? I know it’s probably bigger than what you were expecting, but I figured that no one else is going to see it but you.” She’d enlarged the picture he’d declared as his from the bondage cover photo shoot and framed it in an Asian-inspired red-and-black lacquered frame. It’d taken her a few weeks to find the courage to take it to a printing shop. Even then she’d chosen a place on the outskirts of Denver, given the clerk a fake name, and paid in cash—not that she’d ever confess that to Ronin.

  The longer he stared at the explicit image without speaking, the bigger her fear became that he hadn’t really wanted a picture of her bound. “If you don’t want it . . .”

  Those golden eyes met hers. Must’ve been a trick of the light, because for a split second she swore she saw a shimmer of tears.

  Then he said something in Japanese.

  “What does that mean?”

  “It has no literal translation, which is an indication that I’ve got no words to give you for what this means to me, Amery.” Then he bowed to her deeply.

  Which was weird even when part of her realized he’d just paid her a high compliment.

  Ronin carefully wrapped the twine around the corner of the frame and carried it into her bedroom.

  After a minute or so when he hadn’t returned, she followed him.

  He stood beside the bed, bare-chested, wearing white gi pants. Even if she hadn’t seen the black rope in his hand, she recognized he’d slipped into rope master demeanor when he’d slipped on his uniform.

  “Beauty given from the heart should be rewarded.”

  Her entire body quivered.

  “Come here.”

  She took two steps, stopping next to the bed.

  “Stand still.”

  His body brushed against hers.

  Amery trembled harder.

  His hair tickled her cheek and her neck as he kissed her temple and nuzzled her jawline to the tip of her chin. Warm, soft lips followed the cords straining in her neck, down the hollow of her throat, over her breastbone, and between her breasts.

  “Sit on the bed.”

  She perched on the edge, knees open, never taking her eyes off the man before her. Ronin’s wicked mouth landed on her sternum and zigzagged down her belly, pausing to lightly skim the sensitive area between her hip bones. After gracefully dropping into a squat, he pressed kisses over her bare mound, softly suckling her clit. Then he dragged his tongue down the seam of her sex and plunged deep into her cunt. He made the growling noise that sent additional shivers through her.

  Her skin beaded, electrified by every touch of his lips, or his fingers, and even the soft lash of his hair.

  His hands were on the inside of her thighs pushing her wider open yet and pulling her forward until her lower back pressed against the edge of the mattress. Ronin’s liquid gold eyes were on hers. “Every part of you is sacred to me. Every. Part.” He swirled his tongue around her anus.

  Amery gasped even as she blushed. She never imagined that something so . . . dirty and forbidden could feel so good.

  “I will have you here. Every part of you is mine to worship.” He lapped at the rosebud several more times and pushed his thumb against the tight pink muscle. His teeth grazed the fleshy outer edge of her pussy and he soothed the sting with soft kisses.

  After more long drugging kisses from her clit to her anus, he set her feet back on the floor.

  “Stand up, spread your legs wide, and grab your ankles.” He toyed with the black rope as she got into position.

  Then he very calmly started binding her right wrist to her right ankle.

  With her hair hanging down, obscuring much of her vision, she couldn’t tell if it was an artistic wrap or merely a functional one. She basked in Ronin’s sexual energy. By the time he finished his handiwork, she was dripping wet.

  He took another length of rope and let it dangle through his fingers as he caressed her chest, preparing her for the next section of her body he intended to bind. When he finished the chest harness, she’d transitioned into shallow breaths, the white bliss of subspace teasing the edge of her awareness.

  Every time he bound her, he checked every strand of rope to ensure that it was properly placed and any pinching sensation was intentional.

  Ronin cupped her face in his hands, pushing her hair back to peer into her eyes, and straight into her soul. “Gorgeous. I would like a picture of you like this, black rope against your pearly skin. Showing your eyes as you struggle to understand why your being bound for me appeals to you.”

  She remained quiet, hoping to
find that dreamy space where she could hear Ronin’s broken breaths in the same tempo as her own. Where their blood pumped thick and hot and slow in perfect synchronicity. Where they were two entities bound together by one rope.

  Ronin stroked the inside of her thigh with his entire palm. “See how when I use my fingers here”—he lightly pinched the section of skin where her thigh curved into her butt—“how beautifully your skin quivers? It’s a drug, Amery, how perfectly you react to my touch. I want to feel that quiver against my lips. I want to feel it on the outside of my thighs as I’m fucking you.”

  His words settled in her like a seed and she knew he’d coax her to bloom beneath his hands.

  He turned her and lifted her onto the bed as if she weighed nothing. As if she were an object to be moved at his whim.

  She twisted her shoulders, trying to find a better balance point.

  “Stop.” Ronin was right there calming her, petting her. “The harder you struggle against the bonds, the higher the chance of marks.”

  “Don’t you want to mark me? Isn’t that part of the appeal for you tonight?”

  “I wanted a mark from you. I demanded one. And I’ll ask you before I leave marks where others can see.”

  The warmth filling her had nothing to do with his mastery with ropes, but how he’d mastered reading her.

  “Let your thoughts go. Give yourself over to me.”

  Ronin literally kept her balanced on the edge of the bed. He gripped the inside of her thighs as his mouth covered her pussy. Suckling her intimate flesh strongly, resting his teeth above her clit, almost as if he was about to take a big bite.

  Amery fought the urge to buck and writhe. She focused on her breathing. The delicious worship Ronin gifted to her cunt. She could feel the stickiness flowing from her sex and spreading across her inner thighs as Ronin ate at her like a juicy peach.

  Then Ronin began sweeping the pad of his thumb across her anus. Tender sweeps that heightened her arousal. So when his thumb pushed past the ring of muscle, she gasped.

  Did he plan to fuck her ass tonight as he’d warned her?

  The wet whip of his tongue on her clit brought her focus back to that buzzing tingle building at the base of her spine.

  He was persistent in pursuit of her orgasm. As soon as that first spasm hit, he thrust his thumb in and out of her ass in time to the blood pumping into her clit. Every swirling plunge of his thumb brought awareness to the nerve-rich tissues. The added sensation prolonged her orgasm—she cried out and lost herself in the moment of pleasure.

  Ronin drove his cock into her and she immediately felt another orgasm gathering steam. He wrapped his hands around the place where her ankles and wrists were bound together. The gentle caress of his fingers over hers while he was pounding into her so furiously was a perfect dichotomy—so perfectly Ronin. When he whispered, “Let go,” she did.

  The sweet, sweet throbbing took on a sharper edge with the violent movement of his pelvis. This time Ronin didn’t come in silence. He came with a roar, after demanding, “Look at me.”

  In that moment she knew his passion for her was the real beauty.

  And her passion for him had turned into love.

  Tell him.

  His mouth brushed her ear. “Tell me what?”

  She tried to remember if she’d blurted that out but her thoughts were still muzzy. “What are you talking about?”

  “You said, Tell him. Tell me what?”

  Her stomach had knotted with nerves. Instead of confessing her true feelings, she tossed off a breezy lie. “Just that I should give you gifts more often.”

  He’d laughed then. He’d laughed so hard the bed shook.

  But now she regretted that she hadn’t told him the truth.

  Amery snapped back to reality. Shit. What was wrong with her? She didn’t have time to moon dreamily over a coil of rope. She had a presentation to give in . . . fifty minutes.

  But that memory had kicked a memory of something else that Ronin had once told her about Japanese customs. Every time he trained in Japan, he brought a gift for his sensei. At the beginning of a business meeting, before any business discussions were done, the person who required the favor always presented a gift.

  Since she needed Okada to hire her, she needed to present VP Hirano with a gift.

  Dammit. Amery was fresh out of gifts with no time to buy one.

  Except . . . she had picked up a small token at the downtown Renaissance Faire a few weeks back. A small tintype of a Japanese Zen garden she’d planned to have mounted and framed for Ronin’s office.

  Sorry, Ronin, I’ll get you something better, I promise.

  She dug it out of her pajama drawer, hastily rewrapped it in a piece of brown paper, and tied it with twine. If she had time, she’d tie a better bow, but after her flashback to last night’s bondage games, she had ten minutes to make herself presentable.

  • • •

  HER courage from the pep talk she gave herself on the drive to the Ritz-Carlton vanished when she stepped foot into the hotel’s luxurious lobby.

  Uh, yeah, this opulent place was way out of her league. On so many levels.

  And she still hadn’t figured out how this pop pitch to the Okada Foods VP had come about, when she’d been dealing with Maggie Arnold in Seattle exclusively. But guaranteed she’d get to the bottom of it today—for better or for worse.

  She adjusted the strap on her leather portfolio as she waited at the front desk.

  “How may I assist you?” the clerk asked.

  “I’m Amery Hardwick and I’ve got an appointment with Okada Foods. I’m to ask which room we’re meeting in.”

  The clerk’s fingers clicked on her keyboard. “Yes, Ms. Hardwick. I’ll need to see a photo ID for security purposes.”

  Security? Amery dug out her wallet and flashed her driver’s license.

  “Thank you.” The young female clerk picked up the phone, poked a few buttons, and waited. “This is the front desk. Ms. Hardwick has arrived. I’ll tell her. You’re welcome.” The clerk smiled at Amery with a practiced hotelier smile. “They will meet you on the eleventh floor. The elevators are around the corner.”

  “Thank you.” Amery hoisted her heavy portfolio again.

  On the eleventh floor Amery didn’t have to guess who’d been tasked to escort her. The man standing just outside the elevator bay could’ve passed as a sumo wrestler.

  His eyes met hers and his face was devoid of expression. “Ms. Hardwick. She has requested you meet her in the penthouse suite.”

  Penthouse? Sweet. She kept cool. “That will be fine.”

  Sumo Guy punched the elevator button. Inside the car, he swiped his key card and poked the code for the top floor.

  Amery studied his thick neck and broad shoulders. For the sheer size of him, his body held that same stillness that surrounded Ronin. She wondered if eighth-degree black belt Master Black could take down a sumo wrestler in hand-to-hand fighting. She bit back a smile. Talk about an interesting conversation starter.

  Her escort didn’t face her when the elevator doors opened to the penthouse. He cut down a short hallway to a set of double doors, knocking twice before entering.

  She followed even when she wanted to gawk at the carved marble columns, vivid artwork adorning the linen-covered walls, and the domed glass ceiling over the entryway.

  “Jesus, Amery, don’t act like such a rube.”

  Nice timing for a memory of Tyler’s snotty voice, but it did the trick, snapping her professional persona back into place.

  They entered a small conference room with a large table in the center. The front wall was composed entirely of glass and faced the Rocky Mountains. A slender woman stood in front of the windows with her back to them.

  She appeared to be Amery’s height. Hair as glossy as polished ebony fell in a straight line to her hips.

  Sumo Guy said, “Do you require anything else, Madame Hirano?”

  “No. Thank you, Jenko.”

He left the room and closed the door behind him.

  Amery didn’t move. Didn’t speak. She definitely felt like a
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