Book 2.5 of the Mastered Series

When Amery Hardwick first met martial arts master Ronin Black, she wasn’t ready for the primal urges his sensual rope artistry released in her. As it turned out Amery and Ronin were made for each other. But when they head to Japan for a delayed honeymoon and Ronin’s annual training with his sensei, Amery struggles to adapt to the foreign customs as well as running her burgeoning business from afar. But culture shock is the least of her worries when faced with the changes in Ronin—it feels as if she’s married a stranger.

Caught between his sensei’s demands and pleasing his wife, Ronin is at war with himself over choosing advancement in his jujitsu training, or staying at home with the woman who owns his heart and soul. As the limits of their relationship are tested once again, Ronin and Amery discover that they both have a lot to learn about each other….and what it takes to build a love that’ll pass all life’s little tests.

(December 2, 2014)
113 pages

Excerpt »

Later in the morning Amery wandered down to the village. After growing up with supermarkets that carried everything a customer could want, the simplicity of the food choices surprised her. She suspected this was where Ronin had picked up his good dietary habits. There wasn’t much room in their small refrigerator and freezer, so she had to shop every other day. On tonight’s menu was miso soup and steamed bluefin tuna on red quinoa with fresh vegetables. Amery paid careful attention to make sure Ronin ate enough protein and complex carbohydrates since his body burned so many calories during his fourteen-hour training sessions.

Ronin came home that evening at eight thirty. He’d gotten into a routine. First, he kissed her hello and headed to their bedroom to shower. Then they sat down to dinner. After dinner, while she washed the dishes, he tossed his sweat-soaked gi in the washer. Then he adjourned to the onsen-the natural hot spring down by the creek. The water was almost too hot for her, but soaking in the mineral-rich water did wonders for Ronin’s aching muscles.

He kissed her as he passed her in the kitchen on his way outside.

Annoyed by Ronin’s distraction-the man had barely said two words since he’d walked through the door-Amery poured herself another glass of sake. She’d grown to like it, but only the high-end stuff Ronin bought. No sake equivalent of box wine for him.

He’d left the door open to the deck, which meant he expected her to follow him.

Feeling contrary, she wandered over and closed the door before she stretched out on the couch to watch TV. Not that she could follow any of the shows since all two hundred channels were in Japanese.

Maybe five minutes passed before Ronin opened the door and stepped inside. “Amery? Aren’t you coming out?”

She kept her gaze glued to the TV-hard as it was when her husband was freakin’ naked. “Nope.”

“Why not?”

She shrugged.

“Baby, can you look at me, please?”

She glanced over her shoulder, then craned her neck to peer around the room divider before meeting his gaze. “Oh. You’re talking to me?”

“Who else would I be talking to?”

“Gosh, I don’t know because those are about the first words you’ve spoken to me since you got home over an hour ago. So I’ll pass on joining you and let you do your little soaking thingy alone. I know my chattering disturbs your reflective time.” Amery flicked her focus back to the screen and drained her sake.

The next thing she knew Ronin was in her face, his hands braced on the back of the couch. “Get in the onsen or I’ll toss you in. Your choice.”

“At least if you tossed me in your hands would be on me,” she grumbled.

“How much sake have you had?”

“Not enough, since I’ll be having another glass while I’m out there.” She ducked under his arm. “Yeah, yeah, I know, put it in a plastic cup.”

Ronin spun her around and kissed her with enough patience and passion to cool her temper down and heat her body up.

Damn him.

When he finally released her mouth, his erection poked into her belly. He murmured, “Don’t be long,” and nuzzled her cheek before walking away.

Amery eyeballed that amazing ass of his as he meandered out the door. Then she ditched her clothes where she stood. She dumped more sake into a plastic tumbler and headed outside.

The cold air hit her naked skin and she shivered as she walked across the wooden plank. Steam billowed up from the rock-lined pool so she had to blink several times to make sure Ronin was really in there. The man could be as stealthy as a ninja.

She slowly entered the onsen, letting the hot water engulf her a little at a time. Thankfully this property had a private onsen because she couldn’t grasp the Japanese concept of public bathing with strangers.

Ronin’s hooded gaze remained on her body until she was submerged up to her neck. “Come here and sit by me.”

“I’m fine across from you.”

“Come. Here.”

“Bossy much?”

“Like that’s a surprise.”

“No funny business in the sacred onsen,” she reminded him as she crossed the smooth-bottomed surface.

“What gave you the impression this was a sacred space?” he asked, reaching for her and settling her on his lap, her back to his chest.

“You don’t talk much when we’re out here. I figured it made this some sacred-water Zen-type place.”

His soft laughter drifted across her bare shoulder.

Amery closed her eyes. When was the last time she’d heard him laugh? Right. Two and a half weeks ago in Kyoto. “So you’re just quiet when you’re out here because you’re tired from training?”

Ronin’s arm tightened against her midsection. “Partially.”

She sipped her sake, waiting, wondering if he’d open up to her. Deciding if he didn’t do it willingly she needed to push him.

“Maybe I am reflective when I’m out here. I try to listen to what my body is telling me and shut down the voices in my head.”

“Whose voices?”

His lips brushed her shoulder. “Not yours. The hottest thing in my world is hearing your voice in my ear when I’m inside you, because it echoes inside me, filling the spaces that belong only to you.”

“That’s sweet, but it still doesn’t tell me whose voice is making you draw into yourself and away from me.” The way the water swirled across her skin as his fingers lightly stroked her stomach caused her belly to ripple.

“Daichi,” he said softly. “His voice is in my head.”

“Even when you’re not training with him?” She wanted to ask if this was the norm. If Ronin’s sensei’s words were so powerful they haunted him after the sessions ended.

“When I’m training it’s physical and mental. I’m focused on the technique and how it relates to the philosophy. After the session ends, Sensei critiques my training efforts. I’ve been working with Master Daichi so long that I’m immune to his harsher criticisms. But this time . . .”


“I don’t want to sound like a fucking pussy, but this session feels less focused on my technical errors and more critical of my personal struggles and choices.”

“Master Daichi is giving you the smackdown for getting sucked into the underground fighting world?”

“Some. And he’s right. Those were impulsive decisions that affected people other than my stupid self.”

“So he’s pissed that you had three concussions and had to wait for medical clearance before you could come here to train?” she said sharply.

“Sounds ridiculous when you put it like that. But yeah. He’s not happy with me.”

“But he’s pushing you to the absolute limit anyway, knowing that you’ve been on medical restrictions? Does he even care that his training demands might be further injuring you?”

“In his mind as long as I’ve been medically cleared there’s no reason to take it easy on me.”

Amery counted to twenty. Then thirty. She had to temper her reaction because she knew how much Ronin respected his sensei and he’d excuse his mentor’s behavior.

“Say something.”

“It hurts me to see you like this, Ronin. Withdrawn, exhausted, defensive. Master Daichi may know you as a fearless jujitsu master, but he didn’t see you struggling to define yourself as more than just that when you were on medical restrictions.”

“That’s part of his issue. He’s says I’m too distracted to train properly.” He rubbed his cheek on the back of her head. “Sensei is convinced I’ve lost my edge because I’m-”

“Married?” she snapped.

“No, baby. He claims I’m distracted because I’m happy.”

Amery angled her head to gape at him, knowing her mouth hung open in shock.

“He’s right. I am happy. He’ll be waiting a long damn time if he expects me to apologize for that.” He closed his eyes. “He just seems . . . older. Some of the shit he spews makes me wonder if he’s going senile. One moment he mocks me, accusing me of getting soft and complacent; in the next moment he’s praising me as how the ‘old’ Ronin would’ve done it. Nothing I do pleases him. So I end up reworking techniques I’ve had mastered for years instead of him teaching me new ones.”

“I don’t suppose you can have a rational discussion with him about this?”

“In the past, after we’ve been out of the formal training session, we’d talk. These past two and a half weeks he just drills me from dawn to dusk. Then he tells me to go home, sleep in my soft bed, next to your soft body and reflect on why I’m no longer the hard man he’d trained me to be.”

“In the past, after we’ve been out of the formal training session, we’d talk. These past two and a half weeks he just drills me from dawn to dusk. Then he tells me to go home, sleep in my soft bed, next to your soft body and reflect on why I’m no longer the hard man he’d trained me to be.”

“You may be right.” Ronin maneuvered her around until they were face to face. He teased her lips with his. A nibble. A lick. A feather-light brush of mouth on mouth. “Take a drink of your sake.”

“I thought we were talking?”

“We’re done. And I feel a whole lot better, baby. Now take a drink.”

She tipped the rest of her drink into her mouth. Before she could swallow, Ronin fit his lips over hers and sucked the rice wine into his mouth.

“Mmm,” he said as he swallowed it down. Then his smile broke the seal of their kiss. “I like sake better when it’s warm and it’s so much sweeter when I drink it from you.”


He cut her off with a kiss and then pressed his forehead to hers. “I’m sorry I’ve been distant.”

She breathed a sigh of relief that her pushing him to talk hadn’t pushed him away. “Thanks for talking to me about what’s going on. Even if it did take you two weeks.”

“I’ll do better next time.”

“You’d better.”

He dropped his hand into the water and moved her arm out of his way. “I’ve missed touching you.”

“What a coincidence,” she murmured, “I’ve missed you touching me too.”

His hand followed the outside curve of her body to her hip. “Let’s do something about that.”

“Right here in the sacred onsen?” she teased.

“I need to be up in that sacred pussy, baby, so straddle me on your knees and prop your hands on the ledge behind me.”

There was her take-charge man. His words sent her heart racing. Her blood pumping. The extra blast of heat in her body owed nothing to the steamy water surrounding them.

(December 2, 2014)
113 pages

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