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       Bound, p.7

         Part #1 of Mastered series by Lorelei James
 

  “Know what I was thinking about?” His warm lips moved down the side of her neck.

  She sighed and angled her head, giving him full access to wherever he wanted. “What?”

  He lifted her hair, wrapping it in his fist as he kissed the sweep of her shoulder. “I want to see how you’ll look spread out on my bed.” His mouth stopped at the ball of her shoulder and he lightly sank his teeth down. “Will you indulge me?”

  Amery twisted away from him and climbed up the platform, facing him. Something spiked her daring side and she taunted him. “How were you imagining me in your bed, Ronin? Like this?” She fell back onto the mattress and threw her arms above her head.

  Was it her imagination or had Ronin just . . . growled? She lifted her head. Wasn’t her imagination that he’d inched closer.

  “Or maybe you want me like this.” She turned and dropped to her hands and knees. She arched her back, canted her hips, and wiggled her ass, emitting a soft moan.

  The bed dipped and Ronin was on her. His big, hard body caging hers, his mouth at her ear. “I definitely want you like this. Not for the first go-round, though. For that, we’ll be like this.” Ronin smoothly flipped her onto her back and pinned her arms above her head, settling his groin against hers. His mouth landed on hers hard. His tongue plunged into her mouth and he turned her inside out with a kiss that wasn’t careful and exploratory but packed with pure hunger. He rocked his hips, transferring her wrists to one hand, and followed the outside curve of her body from her forearm down to her hip.

  Amery arched into him, lost in him.

  But Ronin slowed the kiss. He released her wrist and offered that side of her body a thorough caress before he rolled to his knees and gazed down at her.

  She pushed up on her elbows, trying to play it cool even though her body had gone haywire. Her chest was heaving; her panties were damp. Her breasts ached for his touch—his mouth, his hand, his chest, she didn’t care. She also tuned out the voice in her head warning her not to sleep with him on the first date. She’d played it safe, always been a good girl—yet something about Ronin Black made her want to throw caution to the wind for the first time . . . ever.

  Ronin stared at her. His breathing was equally labored. “As much as I’d like to strip you and fuck you until we knock this mattress off the platform, I didn’t bring you into my home for this.” He angled close enough to curl his hands around her face. “This will happen between us, but not now. Not even tonight.” Then he kissed her once more.

  His kiss was a promise, a tease and completely . . . sweet.

  Ronin Black . . . sweet? Totally unexpected.

  He stood and waited for her at the edge of the platform.

  Feeling free, she laughed and leaped to her feet, bouncing in the center of the bed. “This is a springy mattress. I bet when I’m under you I won’t even feel the mattress coils digging into my spine.”

  Another growling noise. “Tempting the beast while still in the cage might not be the wisest course of action for you.”

  Ooh. A philosophical threat. “I’ll stop.” Amery bounced once more before landing on her feet.

  “Let’s eat.” Ronin held her hand and towed her back to the kitchen.

  “So, did you really cook for me?”

  “I really did.” He pointed to the place settings at the counter. “Have a seat.”

  Amery studied the space. The kitchen, like every other area in this enormous loft, was spacious and uncluttered. But he did have a few whimsical pieces in here. Ceramic salt and pepper shakers shaped like samurai warriors. A fruit bowl entwined with dragons.

  Ronin poured her a glass of white wine. “Poached salmon okay?”

  “Sounds perfect.” She squinted at the double oven. “Are you cooking it right now?”

  “It’s done. Why?”

  “It doesn’t reek like fish in here. That’s the thing I hate about cooking fish at home. Takes a day to get the smell out.”

  “These ovens have exceptional ventilation, or like you, I’d rarely cook fish.”

  She sipped the wine. Very dry. Maybe she could choke down one glass. She’d seem unsophisticated if she admitted she preferred wine coolers to actual wine.

  Ronin didn’t bustle around the kitchen. No wasted movements as he removed the pan from the oven. He scooped out a piece of salmon, arranged it on a square red plate, and doused it with a spoonful of yellow sauce. He added a scoop of risotto from a pan on the stove and slid the plate onto the bamboo place mat. He plated his own food before he grabbed two bowls from the fridge and set one beside her.

  “Ronin. This is amazing.”

  “Maybe you should taste it first before you say that,” he said dryly.

  Amery sliced a chunk of the flaky fish and popped it into her mouth. The sauce wasn’t lemony as she’d expected, but orange and mint. “I stand by what I said. This is amazing.”

  He nudged the bowl of greens toward her. “Spinach, kale, and bok choy salad with a spicy peanut yogurt dressing.”

  She bumped her shoulder into his. “This is an incredibly healthy meal, isn’t it?”

  “It’s a staple in my cooking repertoire.”

  “Good. I was afraid maybe this was your way of telling me to lay off the Keebler fudge-striped cookies.”

  Then her chin was in his hand and Ronin was right in her face. “You are beautiful. Every inch of you. I’d never presume to change you, Amery, only enhance what I know is already there. And if eating Keebler fudge-striped cookies makes you happy, eat them.”

  Okay. His intensity even when he was trying to be cute was a little scary. So why was she tempted to kiss him? Nibble on his lips, wanting his flavor on her tongue along with the food?

  “You are trouble,” he murmured, “although I do like that you look as if you’d rather take a bite out of me than the food.”

  “You caught me.”

  Ronin lightly kissed her lips and returned to his meal.

  The silence lingering between them wasn’t awkward. If Ronin had something to say, he’d say it; she appreciated that he wasn’t the type of guy who yammered on because he had a wealth of knowledge to share. Besides, she preferred a quiet dinner to the dinners she’d suffered through growing up, where her parents grilled her about everything and would lecture her endlessly on mistakes that would put a mark against the entire family.

  “You’re picking at the salad. My feelings won’t be hurt if you don’t like it.”

  “No, it’s not that. This is delicious. I was just thinking it’s refreshing we don’t have to talk all the time. It’s like people are afraid of silence.”

  “And you’re not?” he asked.

  Amery shrugged and swigged her wine. “I work alone seventy percent of the time. I don’t have music playing in the background. I don’t call people and spend hours on the phone. To be honest, I think being content with silence is out of the norm. Chaz can’t work without his iPod blaring in his ears. Every thirty minutes he has to wander around and see what everyone else is doing. Even Molly wears earbuds most of the time she’s in the office.”

  “What about Emmylou?”

  “She has soothing music playing, and she only holds a minimal amount of conversation with her clients during her sessions. But as soon as she’s done, she’s talking a mile a minute on her cell or surfing online.” Amery shrugged. “Or maybe there’s something wrong with me.”

  “Then it’s wrong with me also. I’d prefer a quiet dojo with students working on mastering techniques without distractions. But my supervisory belts disagree with me. They claim music inspires the students to work harder. And since I trust their judgment, I’ve left it their choice on how to run their classes. But if I’m teaching? No music.”

  “Did your stance on that come from your monastery years?”

  “I learned many skills there, including finding the balance between what I need and what the world requires from me.”

  Amery sighed. When he said Zen stuff like that, she wanted to curl
into him and absorb his strength and wisdom, while surrounding herself with his enticing scent.

  She managed to eat half of her meal and felt guilty when Ronin asked, “Are you finished?”

  “Yes. Thank you. It was delicious.” She excused herself to freshen up in the bathroom. After rinsing her mouth and popping a mint, she ran her fingers through her hair and double-checked her makeup. Then she turned away from the mirror—it was a rare day when she was happy with the reflection.

  Ronin was staring out the windows in the space separating the living area from the kitchen. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to his mood changes. He could switch from hot to cold literally in the blink of an eye.

  Maybe he’s decided this isn’t worth pursuing after all.

  She approached him cautiously. “Ronin?”

  He didn’t turn around.

  “Is everything all right?”

  “Not really.”

  “What’s wrong?”

  “I’m a liar.”

  She froze. “About what?”

  “I told you I didn’t invite you here for dinner because I intended to take you to bed. But that’s a total fucking lie. I want you in my bed in the worst way, Amery. All I can think about is stripping you bare and feasting on every part of you before I bend you over the back of the couch and fuck you. Then I’d fuck you on the chair or on the rug before dragging you to my bed and starting all over again.”

  That was his I’m a liar confession? Amery nestled her cheek against the heat and hardness between his shoulder blades. She couldn’t help it; she smiled against his back.

  “You find that amusing?” he said a bit testily.

  “Somewhat.” She snaked her arms around his waist. “Because when I saw you standing in front of this window, I half expected to see your keys in your hand. Like you’d changed your mind and couldn’t wait to get rid of me.”

  “Why would you think that?”

  “Maybe I’m not what you expected? We’re different when it’s just you and me, rather than in the dojo, or talking business, or when we’re having lunch in a crowded restaurant or a drink in a crowded bar.”

  He spun around and cradled her head in his hands, keeping their bodies close. “No, baby, it’s better when we’re alone like this. I’m the one who feels like . . .” He pressed his lips to her forehead. “I don’t want to go fast, and yet everything inside me races when I see you.”

  The man had all the right words. “So take the pressure off yourself and off me. I didn’t come here tonight expecting to get laid.” Amery turned her head, letting her mouth whisper across his jaw. “In fact, I wore crappy, mismatched lingerie so I’d be too embarrassed to take my clothes off in front of you.”

  He laughed softly. “You are such a breath of fresh air in my life.”

  Amery looked at him. “I don’t want to scare you off, but I haven’t done the whole dating thing in quite a while.”

  “I know that.”

  “How?”

  “Because you’re not completely jaded. You weren’t sizing up my assets.”

  “Well, yes, actually I was sizing up one asset in particular.” Her palms slid up his chest. So firm and defined. She wished she could feel the warmth of his solid muscles beneath her hands.

  “Amery,” he warned. “I’m a little on edge, so tread lightly.”

  “That commanding tone is so sexy.”

  “It’s who I am.” He fastened his mouth to hers. The kiss started out slow but didn’t stay that way for long. His heat, his passion bowled her over. His hot, wet, demanding tongue warred with hers. He gathered her hair in his hand, pulling until she angled her neck exactly how he wanted it.

  Her skin was electrified from his openmouthed kisses. Each nuzzle, below her ear, on the pulse point of her throat, the arc of her shoulder, the underside of her jaw, sent her senses reeling. “Ronin.”

  “Your skin is like a drug.” He planted kisses to the top button on her shirt. He released her hair and ran his hands down the sides of her face and her neck. His fingers circled her wrists and he brushed his mouth across her ear. “Beautiful girl, I’d better get you home before I come up with one hundred more reasons why I shouldn’t take you home.”

  Ronin placed another kiss on her temple and stepped back.

  Amery noticed the bulge in the crotch of his jeans.

  His rough-tipped fingers were under her chin, forcing her focus higher. “Eyes off my asset.”

  After he’d driven her home, he insisted on walking her to the door in the alley she used to reach her loft. “I had an amazing time tonight, Ronin.”

  “Same here.” He kissed her fingertips. “Unfortunately I’ve got things scheduled, so we can’t do it again this weekend.”

  She masked her disappointment and chastised herself for expecting to spend more time with him over the weekend anyway. They’d had one date. One. She needed to keep her enthusiasm in check. “I’ve got plans myself.”

  “Doing what?”

  “Catching up on work. Dinner with friends. Hitting the movies. The usual. How about you?”

  “Nothing as enticing as what you’re doing,” he said with a smile. “Would that work have anything to do with designing a new logo for Black Arts?”

  “Could be. A few drafts are almost done and ready for you to look at.”

  “Would Monday work for you to meet with me and a couple instructors to show us what you’ve got?”

  She did a mental check of her schedule next week. “Sure. What time?”

  “Ten. The dojo offices are on the second floor.”

  “Any crazy security measures I need to be aware of?”

  “No.” His mouth landed on hers hard for a quick kiss. “See you Monday.”

  CHAPTER FIVE

  “SO, you’re having a nooner with Master Black?” Chaz asked with a straight face.

  “Why are you here bugging me? You never work on Mondays.”

  “Because you didn’t fill me in on what happened over the weekend. I knew if I asked you about it over the phone, and something did happen, you could lie and I wouldn’t know. Face-to-face, I can always tell when you’re lying, so spill the deets, ma chérie.”

  Amery refilled her coffee. “We went to a bar after work Friday night, he fixed me dinner at his place, and I came home. No mattress mambo for us, if you’re wondering—but not because the chemistry’s not there. I worked on Saturday until Emmylou dragged me to this truly horrible piece of performance art at some dive bar.” She shuddered.

  Chaz tsk-tsked. “I warned you about that weird shit she’s into. I won’t be surprised the day she comes in here wearing a collar and chains. She’s destined to be somebody’s bitch.”

  “Funny, Emmylou said the same thing about you,” Amery shot back.

  “Please. I own up to being anyone’s bitch, anytime, anyplace. I’m not in denial.” He wandered back to his work area.

  Amery followed him. “What masterpieces are you creating now?”

  “Three actually. This one is for a gay manga collection.” He shuffled through the papers and pulled out a sheet.

  She examined it closely. Yes, it was over-the-top erotic, but the artwork was phenomenal and incredibly detailed. “This is fabulous.”

  “I know. Which is why they’re in negotiations with my agent for another big project.”

  “Why didn’t you tell me? I’m so proud of you!” She hugged him. “What else?”

  “In addition to the straight manga contracts I already have? This guy I know has written a gay superhero series and he’s asked me to illustrate it. He wants to present the finished package to a new, edgier comic book line that’s building some good buzz.”

  “This guy . . . do I know him?”

  Chaz spun in his chair. “Nope.”

 
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