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       Bound, p.6

         Part #1 of Mastered series by Lorelei James
 

  “Amery? It’s Will Aberle. Do you remember me? I’m friends with Chaz.”

  “Will! Of course I remember you. Chaz dragged us to that laser tag place last fall. We froze our butts off.”

  “I haven’t seen Chaz for a while. How is he?”

  “Good. He’s in a relationship now. Well, as much as Chaz can be in a relationship, which means—”

  “He’s still on the prowl,” Will finished.

  “God, don’t we sound like bitchy queens dissing on our friend?”

  “That’s the problem with always being the straight man.”

  She laughed. Will was funny and had the blond-haired, blue-eyed look Amery found so appealing. So why hadn’t she ever let him know she was available?

  Because no matter how nice he seems, he reminds you of your ex.

  “How’ve you been?” Will asked.

  “I can’t complain. I’ve kept up with new business and haven’t lost much of my old business. What about you? You’re in insurance, right?”

  “Yes, I’m in the actuary department, which sounds incredibly stuffy every time I say it.”

  “So, is this your usual hangout?”

  “I’m usually in one night a week. I never see you here.”

  “My first time.”

  “I ought to buy you a drink to celebrate.”

  A hand landed on her shoulder and Ronin’s smooth cheek brushed hers as he inserted himself between them. “Sorry I’m late. I know how much you hate waiting.” Then he offered his hand to Will. “Ronin. And you are?”

  “Will.”

  “Thanks, Will, for keeping my girl company.”

  What was up with Ronin acting as if they were a couple?

  “My pleasure.” Will smiled at Amery. “Good seeing you again.” Then he moved to the other side of the bar.

  “You ready?” Ronin asked.

  “For you to explain to me exactly what the hell that was? Yes. Start talking.”

  Ronin squeezed her shoulder. “A friendly reminder that you’re off the market.”

  “Like I’m a slab of meat?” she asked sharply.

  “You are Grade-A prime cut all the way, baby.”

  “Ronin. That’s not funny.”

  “No, it’s not.”

  His eyes were so . . . penetrating that her heart sped up. “What’s wrong?”

  “You’re a beautiful woman, who just rejected eight offers from strangers who wanted to buy you drinks.” He traced the edge of her cheek and tipped her chin up. “Watching you was a special kind of torture for me because I willingly devised it.”

  “Why?”

  “I wanted you to see the truth about yourself. Then I realized you would’ve let some of those guys buy you a drink or maybe even left with them had the situation been different.”

  “Do you want me to admit you were right?”

  “About letting any one of them buy you a drink? No.” Ronin’s thumb slowly followed the curve of her lower lip. When she trembled, he seemed to take great pleasure in treating her to another leisurely pass, ensuring that she trembled from his touch again. “Was I right about you being the sexiest woman in this bar? Yes. So say I’m unaware of my own beauty and you were irrevocably right, Ronin.”

  Somehow Amery eased back from his enthralling touch. “Fat chance. So, where were you sitting while I was proving your point?”

  “In the corner.”

  “Watching my back?”

  He gestured to the front of the bar. “I didn’t want to watch your back; I wanted to watch your face.” He plucked up her restless hand. “Since I won, I get to pick what we do tonight. Have any idea what that might be?”

  Please say hours of hot, raunchy sex.

  Ronin’s eyes narrowed. “Did you say something?”

  “Uh. No.” Thank god she hadn’t said that out loud, but she half suspected he’d read her mind. “What are we doing?” she asked quickly. “I hope it involves food.”

  “Isn’t it fortunate I planned to cook for you at my place?”

  So maybe hot sex was on the menu for tonight. She smiled. “Sounds delicious.”

  “Let’s go.”

  Amery upended her drink and took his hand as he led her outside. No worries about driving since she’d walked to the bar. She’d even worn jeans in case Ronin had driven his motorcycle.

  But out on the street he stopped beside a black Lexus SUV. He opened the passenger door. “You look disappointed.”

  “I kind of like the bike.”

  “Next time.”

  Once they were tooling down the road, she said, “I don’t know where you live.”

  “Same as you: where I work.”

  She frowned. “You live in the dojo?”

  “On the top floor. And also like you, I own the building.”

  “What else is in the building?”

  “Dojo offices and additional training areas take up the second and part of the third floor. I rent out the fourth floor to businesses that don’t have much walk-in traffic but needed office space.”

  “How long have you owned the building?”

  “Bought it ten years ago. Needed a ton of work. My priority was the dojo. Then my living space. It’s just in the last six years the middle floors were updated and ready to rent out.”

  “So, do you have instructors and students just pop into your place to say howdy?”

  Ronin shook his head. “It’s no secret I live on the top floor, but access is limited.” He circled the area twice. “The downside to this area is the lack of parking.”

  “Sucks when you have to haul groceries, doesn’t it?”

  “That’s why I don’t have a membership at Costco.”

  He had a better sense of humor than Amery had credited him for. She headed for the front entrance, but he snagged her hand and led her to the alley. “Back door.”

  “Afraid you’ll get waylaid and need to show a technique or ten to some poor struggling white belt?” she teased.

  “No.” They stopped in front of a rusty steel door. He unlocked a small metal box, which housed a keypad, punched in a code, and the locks popped.

  “Fancy.”

  “Safe,” he corrected.

  Amery could hear the sounds of the dojo as they cut down a narrow hallway. They stopped at another door, which also required a key card for the code box. Through that door was an elevator bay with two elevators. They rode in silence to the fifth floor and got off.

  She followed him down a short carpeted hallway and he stopped in front of a set of double doors. Another swipe of the key card, another code.

  “I’m starting to feel like I’m in a spy movie.”

  Ronin held the door open for her. “Almost there.”

  Before her was another elevator. She faced him, her mouth open. “You have a private elevator to your apartment?”

  “Keeps the riffraff out.”

  She laughed.

  “It’s no different than standard high-rises. The top floor always has a separate elevator.”

  With all the security measures, how would she get out if she had to? Her heart raced at the sudden thought and she studied the pattern in the fake-wood paneling as Ronin messed with another keypad.

  The elevator started to go up.

  He didn’t speak until the door opened. “After you.”

  Amery stepped onto a tiled entryway and stopped.

  Then Ronin was in her face. “What’s wrong?”

  “This . . . private elevator, super-secret security stuff. What if there’s a fire and I can’t get out because I don’t have the key card or the codes? Or what if I just want to leave?”

  His rapt gaze remained on hers. “If you want to leave, I’ll take you home right now. No questions asked.”

  That mollified her some.

  “This is a no-pressure situation, Amery. I won’t drag you into my bedroom and tie you to my bed.” He smiled devilishly. “Well, not at first.”

  Her quick laugh held a trace of nerves.
r />   “We’ll have dinner, conversation, see if there’s something between us worth pursuing.”

  “And if there isn’t?”

  The look on his face said he didn’t believe that was a possibility. “Do you want to be here?”

  “Yes.”

  “Good.” Ronin crowded her against the wall and curled his hands around her face. “I’ve wanted to kiss you since the moment you threw your pants at me.”

  Amery couldn’t think of a witty retort; she couldn’t think period. Then he teased her mouth with his. A glide of his lips, followed by an exchange of heated breath. She trembled with heart-pounding, body-tingling anticipation.

  His tongue lightly swept across the seam of her lips and she automatically opened her mouth wider. Wanting more.

  Ronin slowly licked his way inside. First a taste. Another lick. A soft suck. His thumbs feathered across her cheeks as he held her face. Then he angled her head and consumed her mouth in a blistering kiss.

  Oh god. Could the man kiss. No holds barred, he poured passion and skill and need into the kiss until Amery returned his fire with her own. She closed her eyes and her fingers curled into his chest, holding on to him even as she gave him control.

  He took it as if it were his due.

  By the time he ended the kiss, her body vibrated. Her head was muzzy and her lips buzzed.

  “Still want to go?” he murmured.

  “No.”

  “You sure?” he asked, his lips trilling down her throat.

  “Yes, I’m sure.”

  “I’m glad. Do you want a tour? Or are you starved?”

  “A tour would be good.”

  Ronin placed one last, lingering kiss on her lips and took her hand. He led her through a curved archway. “This is the living room. Feel free to look around while I see to dinner.”

  Maybe austere was a Japanese thing. Or maybe his décor choice reflected his bachelor status. The furnishings weren’t scaled to the size of the room. Just two simple couches, long and low-backed, covered in plain neutral brown fabric. Two tan chairs sat opposite each other in front of a fireplace. A coffee table, end tables, a leather bench, and several floor lamps finished the space.

  He hadn’t scattered personal items on the horizontal surfaces. No family pictures. No accolades from his jujitsu career.

  Art hung here and there. One picture contained a graphic scene—a fat Japanese man opened his robe, exposing his exaggerated genitalia to a disheveled geisha cowering on the ground. Two more similar in theme hung next to it. One with a long-haired samurai wielding a sword at a snarling tiger standing in front of massacred bodies. The last picture featured a crouching Japanese man, naked, his oversized genitalia resting on the ground. In front of him was a half-clothed woman, tied to a post in some fancy rope configuration, and the man held her foot, licking the sole with an enlarged tongue.

  From behind her, Ronin said, “Those are shunga prints.”

  “Interesting decorating choice.”

  “They’re heavy with symbolism, not at all what they appear to be on the surface.”

  Ironic that description could also be applied to him?

  They skirted a wall that divided the living spaces but didn’t reach the ceiling or the other two walls and left a large gap by the floor. Gave the illusion of a floating wall, which was cool.

  A dining room and kitchen area took up the entire side.

  She frowned. For the size of the building, the main living spaces seemed off.

  “Something wrong?” Ronin asked in that deep and sexy voice.

  “I just was trying to grasp the area spatially. The dojo, for being divided into smaller training areas, seems much bigger than this open space. Since I know the building is the same dimension on the bottom as it is on the top, it’s throwing me off.”

  Ronin took her hand. “Very astute observation. As a single man, I don’t need seven thousand square feet of living space. The remodel chopped the top floor in half. So this is roughly four thousand square feet.”

  “So you don’t use the other half of this floor for offices or anything?”

  “No.” He skirted another long floating wall that created a corridor between the living areas. He opened the first door. “Guest bedroom.”

  Amery wasn’t sure if he expected her to nod and move on, but she wanted to see the space because it actually had personality. Two bright red club-type chairs were arranged in front of a window, creating a small sitting area. A queen-sized bed with an ornately carved headboard with red lacquered accents took up the far wall. The floors were wood. Sisal rugs with red borders were scattered throughout. She wandered to the open doorway in the corner and stepped into a large bathroom. The shower stall walls looked like rice paper; the bathroom sink was a polished teak bowl atop a black lacquered cabinet. All the accents were red. “Great room, but does it make your guests want to stay longer?”

  “I discourage that.”

  She laughed.

  Between the guest bedroom and the next room was the main bathroom, which also carried the wood, black, and red theme. The next room housed an enormous blank wall for what looked like a projection-screen TV, a pool table, and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves on one wall that were filled with DVDs and CDs. No snapshots or funky kitschy things either. Just out of curiosity she approached the shelf. Yep. The titles were alphabetized. That made her smile.

  “Do you spend much time in here?” she asked.

  “Not as much as one would think.”

  Cryptic.

  Ronin took her hand and she knew the next stop would be his bedroom. He bypassed the next door, which had a lock on it.

  “What’s that room?”

  “Storage.”

  “Got valuables locked up in there?”

  “A few things.” Ronin opened the last door. “This is my bedroom.”

  Her face flushed.

  He led her inside and released her hand.

  The white carpet in this room was so plush she swore she sank to her ankles. The focal point of the room was a king-sized bed on a raised platform with two steps leading to the mattress. The headboard, easily ten feet tall, had been crafted out of twisted black metal and smooth chunks of thick wood. A beautiful, luxurious-looking turquoise silk covered the bed. Were his sheets silk too? Or simple cotton?

  Why don’t you dive in and find out?

  Ronin came up behind her. She closed her eyes against the surge of want when the hard wall of his chest connected with her shoulders. She breathed in his intoxicating scent.

  “What are you thinking about?”

  You and me naked, rolling around in silk. “How much I want to jump on your bed to see if it’s as puffy as it looks.”

 
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