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       Bound, p.43

         Part #1 of Mastered series by Lorelei James

  needed more kink than you could provide. I had no idea she was an international businesswoman you met at a social club.”

  “She wasn’t an international businesswoman when I had her bound. And how did the subject of Naomi come up?”

  “I figured out the meeting with the Okada VP was a setup when the exotic Asian woman started asking me personal things. I thought she might be your ex trying to get to you, given the hush-hush nature of the project and the last-minute meeting. Plus, the woman wore sunglasses until I asked her to take them off. When I saw her eyes I knew.”

  “That’s the only way you’d know, because my connection to Okada is not common knowledge. And yes, that is intentional.”

  “In this day and age where information can be at your fingertips in a nanosecond . . . why doesn’t everyone on the planet know who you are?”

  “Who’d care? I’m not a celebrity.”

  “So there’d be no interest in a story about Denver’s hidden Japanese billionaire?” she taunted.

  That’s when he cracked. “You plan to out me in the Denver Post? Or is this just the threat of exposing me where the real money is?” he snapped. “Think I’ll pay you to keep quiet about my family ties and my kink? Think again.”

  Once again she felt as if he’d kicked her in the teeth. Once again she looked at the man in front of her, the man she thought she’d loved and she saw a stranger. “You actually believe I’d try and extort money from you? Wow. I’ve already been lumped in with Naomi as a total backstabbing bitch. Now that I know what you really think of me, I’ll go.”

  Ronin laughed harshly and it was an ugly sound. “You’re leaving now? Bullshit.”

  “I’ve said everything I needed to.”

  “Except for one very important thing.”

  Yes, I fell in love with you. Yes, I’m going to suffer for that for the rest of my life. “What?”

  “Did Okada offer you the project today?”

  “That would get you off the hook, wouldn’t it? You had your fun and games with me and you’re throwing me a bone to alleviate your guilt.”

  “That’s not an answer.”

  How’s it feel, asshole?

  “It doesn’t matter what my sister said to you. One phone call to my grandfather and you’ll have the Okada project.” He angled forward. “Because yes, I do have that much power. I’m just selective on when I choose to use it.”

  “Save yourself a phone call and don’t waste your power on me. There’s no way I’d ever take the job after this. No fucking way.”

  “That right? A struggling company like yours turning down a contract worth several million dollars? One job with Okada could put you on the map for the rest of your career.”

  “I don’t care.”

  “Don’t be stupid.”

  She hated being called stupid. “You don’t know me at all if you think I’ll stand here and take your insults just because you have—”

  “Money?” he supplied. “That’s what it always boils down to, which is why I never goddamn talk about money.” Ronin stared at her, the anger pulsing off him. “So you really want to punish yourself by saying no? You’d be losing a lot.”

  “If not for us hooking up, Hardwick Designs wouldn’t be on Okada’s radar at all. So I haven’t lost anything, because I never truly had it.”

  “I thought you were a smart businesswoman.” He looked at her as impassively as a bug. “Apparently I was wrong.”

  That stung. “Apparently I was too. About a lot of things.”

  “You don’t know what’s really going on. You only have half of the story.”

  “Doesn’t matter. I never knew what was going on with you and that’s the way I’ll leave it—as clueless about who you really are as I was when we met months ago.”

  “You know who I am.”

  “No, I don’t. Is this where you promise to explain everything to me if I just trust you?”

  “Is this where you storm off?” he countered. “And expect me to run after you with apologies and explanations?”

  Another direct hit. “When have you ever done that?”

  “Every single time we’ve had a problem,” he bit off.

  “Wrong. And it’s just another example that we’ve never seen things the same way.”

  “That’s because you only see what you want to see.”

  Goddammit, she wouldn’t cry in front of this man. She grabbed the door handle.

  “You don’t get to walk out on me, Amery.”

  “Watch me.”

  “I mean it,” he warned. “Don’t you walk out that door.”

  Amery turned and looked at him, her heart heavy, her nerves shot, feeling as though part of her world had caved in. But she didn’t cave in. She met his golden-eyed gaze with as much dispassion as she could muster. “Or what? Are you going to tie me up to make me stay?”

  Raw vulnerability flashed in his eyes and he flinched as if she’d slapped him.

  Don’t fall for it; next he’ll close himself off like he always does.

  Then it happened, the mask dropped back into place.

  “That’s what I thought. Don’t bother running after me with the excuses you consider apologies or offering more lies masquerading as explanations because we’re done this time. Done.”



  The door slammed hard enough to rattle the glass.

  Ronin remained frozen in place as if staring at the door would make her walk back through it.

  Go after her.

  But his feet didn’t move even when everything inside him was screaming at him to chase her down, and yes—tie her up if he had to. She had to listen to him. He had to make her understand. . . .

  Why you lied to her? You brought her into this fucked-up family situation without any warning—that is all on you.

  He was such a cruel, arrogant bastard. Twisting her words around and forcing her to defend herself because he had no other offensive position.

  So go after her.

  It wasn’t pride that kept him in place but fear. Debilitating fear. His years of defensive training tamped down anything resembling real emotion as the don’t show fear mantra he’d lived by his entire life echoed in his head until he felt as if it would explode.

  Find the eye of the storm and center yourself against it.

  Ronin counted to sixty.

  No change. His rage still fought to get free.

  Again. Look deeper for the calm.

  He counted off sixty more clicks on the clock.

  Then sixty more.

  And sixty more after that.

  When he reached the three hundred mark, he’d lost any semblance of control.

  Ronin picked up the closest chair and hurled it against the window. Glass shattered and the wall shook from the force of impact. But the explosion of sound quieted the fury that’d overtaken him.

  Good. He’d found a coping mechanism. He grabbed another chair and threw it into the wall. Harder than before. It bounced off the counter, sending the coffeepot crashing to the floor.

  He’d reached for the next chair when the door behind him opened.

  Knox said, “Jesus, Ronin. What is going on?”

  “Get. The. Fuck. Out.”

  The next thing he knew, Knox had broken his grip on the chair and had shoved him against the wall, wrapping his hand around Ronin’s neck in a submission hold.

  For once, Ronin didn’t bother to fight back.

  Knox snarled, “There’s nothing to see here,” to someone who’d entered the room. “Get back to class and shut the goddamn door.”

  Normally Ronin would worry that one of his students had seen his loss of control, but right now he didn’t give a shit.

  After the door closed, Knox hissed, “What the fuck is wrong with you?”

  “If you ever want to use this hand again, you’ll remove it from my throat right fucking now, Shihan,” Ronin snarled.

  “Convince me you won’t go on a
rampage, Sensei, and I’ll back off.”

  “I can’t. So why don’t you just beat the hell out of me?” Ronin grabbed Knox’s wrist, forcing more pressure against his own throat. “And you’d better make it count because I won’t go down quietly.”

  Knox didn’t back off. In fact, he increased his choke hold. “Don’t tempt me. But since I know your preferred method of dealing with pain is to get the shit kicked out of yourself, I’m gonna pass.” He let go of Ronin and stepped back, but blocked him against the wall. “The better torture for you is to make you talk. So what happened?”


  “What about her?”

  “She walked out.”


  “She found out . . .” Jesus, he needed to get some modicum of control. He inhaled and let the air out slowly. “My sister set up a private meeting with Amery and revealed my family connections to Okada Foods.”

  “Your sister is here in Denver?”

  “Apparently. I’d like to wring her neck. Send her back to Japan with a clear message for my grandfather.”

  Knox opened his mouth. Shut it.


  “You’re blaming your sister for Amery leaving?”

  “Who else am I supposed to blame?”

  Knox raised his eyebrows. “Yourself? Since you should’ve told Amery months ago about your family? Then it wouldn’t have been such a huge shock.”

  “Fuck off.” Ronin jammed his hand through his hair, dislodging the elastic band holding it back. “For three and a half years I’ve refused any direct contact with my family’s business. Three and a half years,” he repeated. “And the first time I tried to do something to help someone, they immediately start meddling in my goddamn life again.”

  “Then fix it. Track Amery down and talk to her. Then deal with your family shit. You’ve been avoiding it for too long.”

  “I can’t go to Amery now.”

  “Christ, Ronin, you are the most stubborn—”

  “Look at me.” Ronin held out his hands. Normally so steady, even after hours of working out, but right now he shook violently. “I can’t trust myself around her when I’m like this. I don’t have any control. The last time I felt this way and I ignored it?” He finally met Knox’s gaze. “I ended up hurting her. I don’t leave a fucking mark on her when she’s bound, but the one time . . .”

  “After the match in Fort Collins?” Knox finished for him.

  He nodded. “So I can’t even be in the same room with her until I’m calmer.”

  Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing, showing Amery how her leaving affected you.

  “Along those same lines, you’re done teaching today.” Knox pointed to the destruction in the room. “Clean up your mess. Before you do anything else.”

  “I plan on it.”

  But Ronin wasn’t talking about broken windows and dented walls. He’d fix this mess with Amery—no matter what it took, no matter what it cost him.

  And don’t miss the conclusion to the Mastered series by New York Times bestselling author Lorelei James . . . .

  UNWOUND will be available in late March!

  One man’s need for control is tested by the woman he’ll risk everything for . . . .

  WHEN sensei Ronin Black first encounters Amery Hardwick, the fire in her eyes ignites a sexual spark a thousand times better than the primal rush he used to get from mixed martial arts matches. She accepts his darker edges and admits to him that her desires aren’t as wholesome as he believed. And before long, Ronin is grappling with emotions he’s never felt before . . . .

  Yet despite demanding Amery bare her body and soul to him, Ronin holds a part of himself back. When she learns Ronin’s secret and walks out, his life begins to unravel. To regain her trust, he must let go of his pride and prove to her that it’s more than passion binding them together.

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