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Bound (Mastered #1)

By´╝ÜLorelei James

Bound (Mastered #1)
        Author: Lorelei James

       
         
       
        
CHAPTER ONE




"SO this is where you're learning to kick some ass."

Amery scrutinized the front of the restored historic brick building. At six stories it was the tallest structure on this end of the block. On the street level, iron bars covered the few windows that hadn't been bricked over. The signage on the glass door read BLACK ARTS with a phone number below it.

She craned her neck to look up. Had to be a killer view of the river and the city from the top floor.

"Uh, Amery? What are we waiting for?"

"A welcoming party of ninjas to rappel down from the roof? Any less than a dozen masked killers brandishing swords and I'll be sorely disappointed."

Molly laughed nervously. "Um . . . well, maybe next time. But we should go in. Class starts in five minutes and we were warned to be on time."

Amery bit back a sigh. She really didn't want to be here, but she'd suck it up and do it, even if only out of solidarity.

Her stomach twisted into a vicious knot every time she remembered the phone call from the police last month, after her sweet-natured employee, Molly, had been attacked by homeless guys in downtown Denver. Poor Molly had defined introverted even before the incident; the attack had pushed her further into her shell. So when Molly asked Amery to accompany her to a women's self-defense class, Amery had agreed.

But looking around this sketchy neighborhood, she'd be surprised if they weren't jumped after class. Maybe that was part of the training. Seeing if students put the moves they learned to good use as they fought their way back to their car after dark.

Amery must've seemed reluctant, because Molly said, "If you don't want to do this . . ."

She plastered on a smile. "I don't know about you, but I can't wait to be in an enclosed space with a bunch of macho martial arts guys who like to beat the crap out of each other for fun."

Molly's eyes narrowed.

"Kidding, Mol. Let's hit it. Wouldn't want you to be late for your first day."

Inside the building, the entryway split into two hallways, one that pointed to the men's and women's locker rooms and the other to the classrooms. They headed to the main entrance.

A bald-headed, heavily tattooed guy in what resembled white pajamas manned a small cubby that looked like a cross between a ticket booth and a coat check.

"Good evening, ladies. How may I help you?" 

Molly cleared her throat. "I'm here for the women's self-defense class."

He picked up a clipboard. "Name?"

"Molly Calloway."

Mr. Tattoos had to be bald by choice since he appeared to be under twenty-five. He checked the list, marked off Molly's name, and looked at Amery. "Ma'am? Your name?"

"Amery Hardwick."

He frowned. "You're not on the list. You signed up for the class?"

"Technically? No. I'm here as a bench warmer to support my buddy Molly."

"I'm sorry, that's against our policy."

"Excuse me?"

"You're only allowed into the dojo if you're a participant in the classes. We do not allow spectators. Or supporters."

"Ever?"

"Ever."

Amery looked at Molly. The poor girl blushed crimson. Then Amery focused on the bald-headed gatekeeper. "You don't allow parents or guardians inside to watch their kids beat each other to a pulp?"

"No, ma'am."

Well, that was stupid. And she said so.

"It's all right, Amery," Molly whispered. "This was a dumb idea. We can just go." She grabbed on to Amery's arm.

"Hang on a second." Amery pulled her black-and-white cowhide wallet out of her purse. "How much is the class?"

"This isn't a movie theater where you can just show up and buy tickets at the door. You have to be approved in advance before you can even register for the class. Those are the rules. I don't make them. I just enforce them."

Amery tapped her fingers on the counter. "I understand. But these are extenuating circumstances."

He scowled.

"Maybe you oughta just get your supervisor, because I'm not leaving."

He hesitated about ten seconds before he reached for the phone. He turned his back so they couldn't hear the conversation. Then he faced them again. "If you'll have a seat, someone will be right out."

Molly looked mortified, which made Amery more determined to make sure she took this class.

Less than two minutes later a big blond guy, about mid-thirties, dressed in what resembled black pajamas, stopped in front of them. He offered Amery his hand. "I'm Knox Lofgren, the dojo general manager. How can I help you?"

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