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       Bound, p.9

         Part #1 of Mastered series by Lorelei James

  “You think it’s a good idea for us to be alone in your penthouse?”

  “Yes. Because the first time I fuck you I’ll need more than an hour.”

  Oh. My. God. Amery just about came right then.

  “Come on. Let’s eat.”

  Once they were on the elevator, she said, “I don’t want to seem obsessed, but I’ve never known anyone with a private elevator. My inner eight-year-old girl is squealing with happiness at being in a real-life Barbie Dreamhouse.”

  He laughed softly. “It was a cargo elevator at one time and I had it revamped. It’s key-coded after the second floor since it’s mostly used for the students to get to the gym.”

  Inside Ronin’s apartment, first thing she did was ditch her heels—she noticed he didn’t wear shoes in his place. They trooped into the kitchen and he emptied the contents of the deli bag. “The plates are directly behind me. If you’d grab two small bowls too, that’d be great.”

  He sliced the sandwich and put half on each plate. He divided up a container of salad into the two square bowls. Then he grabbed a fruit plate from the fridge and set it on the counter. “What would you like to drink?”

  “Water is fine.”

  “Sit. I’ll get it.”

  This domestic side of Ronin surprised her. And pleased her because she doubted he showed this side to many people.

  As she checked out the food, Ronin said, “It’s Thai chicken salad on rye. The salad is quinoa, lentils, and alfalfa sprouts in balsamic lime vinaigrette.”

  “Looks delicious. And healthy.”

  Ronin shrugged. “It’s how I eat.”

  Amery scooped strawberries, honeydew melon, and cantaloupe onto her plate. “Is there any food you won’t eat?”


  That floored her. “But . . . isn’t it, like, a law in Japan you have to love sushi?”

  “I can’t stomach the stuff. And to further alienate my kind, I don’t drink tea either. Doesn’t matter if it’s hot, cold, green, orange, or some flowery shit. I pass.”


  “Sometimes. Has to be good sake, and there is a difference. We’ll do a taste test sometime.”

  “It’d probably be wasted on me. I’m not much of a wine drinker.” Amery tucked in to her sandwich, which was probably the best chicken salad she’d ever had. And she must’ve been starving because she finished it in record time. She shot Ronin a sideways glance; he’d finished his and had moved on to his salad.

  “What about you? Any ethnic type foods you won’t eat?”

  “Lutefisk, which is a nasty dish that’s served around Christmastime. My dad is Norwegian, so we had it every year. My mother is of Scottish descent, so we had haggis. If I had to pick the lesser of two evils? I’d say the stuffed sheep’s intestine.”

  “Haven’t had the pleasure of either and I’ll avoid such delicacies in the future.”

  “Wise choice.”

  Amery finished her salad and decided this healthy eating wasn’t all bad. She forked in a couple of bites of fruit and wondered how often Ronin brought women to his penthouse for meals. Had he brought Naomi here?

  “Something on your mind?”

  “Yeah. Who’s Naomi?” She glanced up to catch his reaction as soon as she’d said it.

  Not a single change in his demeanor. “Where’d you hear that name?”

  “I overheard part of your conversation with Knox. He indicated I’m like Naomi—or at least the situation between us is similar? So I think I have a right to know who she is, especially since it sounded bad.”

  “You are nothing like Naomi. Knox was talking out of turn and talking out his ass.”

  Amery took a drink of water. “Which is fine, but who was she to you?”

  Ronin picked up the plates and carried them to the sink. After he took a long time rinsing them, he stared out the window and Amery thought she’d stepped over the line.

  When he skirted the island, she wondered if he was headed to the bar and what it meant if he needed a drink to talk about Naomi. But Ronin detoured to the windows in the living area and opened them, letting the breeze wash over him.

  She studied his profile. His stiff stance. Everything about this man screamed back off, but she couldn’t seem to stay away from him. She moved in behind him, wrapping her arms around his waist and nestling her cheek between his shoulder blades. “We haven’t talked about exes, have we?”


  “I’ll tell you about mine if you tell me about yours. And just think, this can’t drag on for hours because we have limited time today.”

  “There’s a silver lining.”

  “So tell me about her.”

  His voice was tinged with reluctance. “Naomi and I met at a . . . club. We seemed to have a lot in common. We dated. It became serious, meaning exclusive. Then things went to hell, like really went to hell, and it ended.”

  Talk about a short and not sweet explanation. “How long were you together?”

  “Almost three years.”

  “How long ago did it end?”

  “About that long ago.”

  Ronin turned around and held her face in his hands. “You’re only the second woman I’ve brought up here, Amery. No other women have been here since Naomi.”

  Was that his way of telling her she was special?

  He must’ve read the question in her eyes, because he said, “Yes, that makes you—that makes this—different.” Then Ronin kissed her with bone-melting intensity, as if kissing her, giving her pleasure was his sole purpose. It was a kiss unlike any she’d ever experienced. Thrilling, scary, consuming. She wound up twisting her hands in his T-shirt, needing something to hold on to.

  Ronin slowed the kiss to a soft glide of wet lips and soft smooches before releasing her. “She’s in my past.”

  “I get that. But our past can seriously fuck up the present.”

  His mouth brushed hers again. “Your turn. Your ex . . . ?”

  “Tyler,” she supplied.

  “He still live around here?”

  “I’m not sure. After he dumped me four years ago, there was no further communication. I blocked him from social media. Any of our so-called friends were his friends. So it’s not like I’m having drinks with them getting status updates on his life.” Thank god.

  Ronin led her to the couch. But when she tried to sit beside him, he settled her on his lap.

  “Whoa. What’s this?”

  “We have twenty minutes left of our lunch. I want my hands on you while you’re telling me about the douche bag dumb enough to dump you.”

  Amery ran her hands through Ronin’s hair. “Fine. As long as you keep it PG. No touching below the waist.”

  His hands slid to her ass. “So I can’t do this?”

  She said, “No,” primarily because if Ronin kept doing that she’d end up pantsless. “You didn’t look me in the face when we talked about Naomi, so this is highly unfair.”

  “I’ve got a solution.” He started kissing her neck. Soft nibbles and sucks, rubbing his smooth cheeks across her skin. “I’ll do this. You talk.”

  As if she’d be able to concentrate now. When his warm mouth connected with the skin below her ear, she broke out in goose bumps and released a soft moan.

  “This won’t work.” Ronin spun her around, facing her forward. “You make that sexy noise again and I’ll have you naked in less than three seconds,” he growled in her ear.

  Amery couldn’t resist wiggling her ass against his erection.

  Ronin pulled her hair. “Stop that and talk.”

  “I met Tyler at a frat party our junior year in college. We were the only sober ones and hid out in the kitchen, talking all night.” She would stick to the basics, just as he did. “We dated, and he said he wanted to marry me after college once his baseball career was on track. When he got a tryout with the Rockies and ended up on the farm team, I decided to move to Denver.”

  “Did you live with him?” Ronin brushed his fingers
up and down her bare arms.

  “No. At the time it was too ingrained that I’d be living in sin. If I had a ring on my finger, it would’ve been different. So we lived in the same apartment complex. Not quite a year after I moved here, I caught him screwing some skank. He said a bunch of horrible stuff, blamed his cheating on me, and I broke it off. I moved in with Chaz. Focused on my career.”

  “Any other men?”

  Her face flamed. “I’ve been out on a few dates, but it hasn’t progressed past that.”

  Ronin kissed her neck. “He did a number on you, didn’t he?”

  “Between him and my parents . . . I wonder if I’ll ever have a normal relationship.”

  His hands slid up to her shoulders. The deep timbre of his voice caused her skin to vibrate when he spoke into her ear. “No such thing as normal, baby.”

  Baby. Why did she like that he called her baby? Why did she get the sense he wasn’t the guy who called every woman babe or baby? Why did it make her feel special?

  His hand coasted over her breasts, stopping to cup them, weigh the heft in his palms as his thumbs stroked her nipples.

  Even through the cotton shirt and bra, her nipples responded. Puckering into rigid points. Making her ache.

  His hot mouth skimmed over the side of her neck. “How many guys have touched you like this?”

  None. But that wasn’t what he wanted to know. The demand made her bristle. “Are you willing to give me a running tally of the number of woman you’ve touched like this?”

  Ronin lightly bit her neck. “Answer. The. Question.”

  Amery shuddered at the eroticism of his teeth. She’d never considered biting sexy, but everything seemed new and exciting when Ronin did it to her.

  “Stubborn,” he whispered in her ear. “I don’t have a scorecard. But I do have ten years agewise on you, so my tally of past dalliances will be higher by default.” He licked the shell of her ear while his hands teased her breasts. “Tell. Me.”

  “Four guys,” she breathed. “Guy in my hometown who popped my cherry, a random hookup at a party my sophomore year in college, Tyler, and another random hookup last year. Happy now?”

  “Very. Because with that few it’ll be easier erasing the memory of any man’s touch but mine.”

  She groaned. “If you’re trying to turn me into a pile of goo, it’s working.”

  “Not goo, baby. Just want you trembling in my arms.”

  “I already am.”

  Ronin ran his hands down her abdomen and thighs, stopping at her knees. “So you are.” He nuzzled the back of her head. “Will you come over tomorrow night? I’ll have a surprise to show you. And no, it’s not what’s in my pants.”

  “I wasn’t thinking that.”

  He bumped his hips up. “Our lunch hour is running out.”

  Amery set her feet on the floor and stood. Then she offered him her hand to help him up. She grabbed her laptop bag and slipped on her shoes before they got onto the elevator.

  Once they reached the main entrance, Ronin said, “I’m done tomorrow about eight. Can you come by?”

  “Sure. I’ll text you if something changes.”

  “Same goes.” Then Ronin pushed her against the wall and kissed the holy hell out of her. By the time he let her go, her mind was scrambled and she wondered if she could walk.

  All that. From just a kiss.

  He murmured something in Japanese to her and retreated.

  Before she asked what it meant, Knox strode down the corridor. “We’ve got an issue. You able to handle this now?”

  “Yes.” Ronin offered Amery a quick bow and then he was gone.


  THE next night Ronin whisked Amery into the elevator within thirty seconds of her walking in the building.

  He didn’t touch her until they were in his penthouse, herding her against the wall with the soft command “Hold still.”

  Not only did she hold still, but Amery held her breath.

  Ronin’s lips glided across hers. His mouth imparted softness and heat. And patience. Lord, he had such patience. He didn’t dive in. His lips moved with erotic precision, as if memorizing the shape of her mouth.

  One of Ronin’s hands cradled the back of her head; the other lightly circled her neck. He held her entirely in his thrall: her body and her will.

  “So warm. So soft. I could eat at his mouth for hours,” he murmured, taking his own sweet time.

  Amery clenched her fists by her sides, wanting so much to touch him. To feel the hard planes and the curves of his muscles beneath her hands. But she wanted his kiss—his whole kiss. Wanted to feel his tongue invade her mouth. Wanted him to consume her however aggressively or sweetly he desired.

  His thumb swept across the pulse point at the base of her jaw—a lazy counterpoint to how fast her heart beat. And still he teased. Stealing her breath with every leisurely slide of his lower lip over hers.

  Finally he said, “Open and let me taste you, Amery.”

  Her lips parted and he sealed his mouth to hers. His tongue slipping past her teeth to stroke and lick.

  The man knew how to kiss. Gradually cranking the power until she felt the change in him and his passion, his hunger rolling over her in a storm of need.

  Amery returned his kiss with equal greed. Losing herself in his taste, letting him lead, but also showing him she’d follow wherever he opted to take them.

  The kiss reached the combustible stage. She wanted to claw at his clothes to get to bare skin, reach down and undo his fly.

  Ronin broke the kiss and pressed his cheek to hers, murmuring, “Hands at your sides.”

  She let her hands fall down.

  His ragged breathing ruffled her hair. He remained like that until she relaxed. Then his fingers started caressing her neck. He rubbed his lips across the top of her ear. “It’s humbling the way you just hand yourself over to me without question. That act of trust is a drug to someone like me.”

  “Someone like you?” she repeated.

  “Someone who not only wants a beautiful woman on his arm and in his bed, but a woman who can truly surrender herself to a man who will give her what she wants.”

  “Which is what?”

  “Pleasure without apology.”

  Amery found herself leaning into him again. “Are you taking me to bed, Ronin?”

  “Soon, but not tonight.”

  She knew he sensed her disappointment.

  “While I want you twined around me in every possible config- uration, there’s no rush.” Ronin kissed her temple, then her forehead, and placed a chaste kiss on her lips. His hands fell away. “I promised you a drink.”

  “You said you had a surprise for me.”

  “I do. Let’s figure out what we’re drinking first.” Ronin threaded their fingers together and led her to the bar in the corner of the dining room.

  She loved the mix of old and new in this cozy corner bar. It had such personality she didn’t know how she’d missed it the night
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