NAL Trade / March 25, 2014 / $15.00 print / $9.99 digital
When sensei Ronin Black first encounters Amery Hardwick, the fire in her eyes ignites a sexual spark a thousand times better than the primal rush he used to get from mixed martial arts matches. She accepts his darker edges and admits to him that her desires aren’t as wholesome as he believed. And before long Ronin is grappling with emotions he’s never felt before….
Yet despite demanding Amery bare her body and soul to him, Ronin holds a part of himself back. When she learns Ronin’s secret and walks out, his life begins to unravel. To regain her trust he must let go of his pride and prove to her that it’s more than passion binding them together.
The first part of Lorelei James's BDSM rope bondage series introduces Ronin and Amery and the world inside the Denver dojo where they work and play, and ultimately learn that the best things come to those who work for it. The challenges they faced in Bound are alive and kicking as they pick up right where they left off—when Ronin's secrets became one too many and he had to wonder if the consequences would be losing Amery entirely.
The way he deals with it—getting back into the down-and-dirty, self-destructive fighting he hasn't really participated in at this level in years—seems very much in line with what we've come to know about Ronin. He feels deeply and wants fiercely, but his solitary existence has led him to a place where a healthy relationship of mutual dependence, an equal giving and taking, isn't something he knows. Amery hasn't fared very well either throughout the brief separation, but it's not long before it comes to a head.
“You think I'm scary when I'm trying to maintain control? Wrong. I'm scary when I lose it.”
“After you walked out? I. Lost. My. Fucking. Mind.”
Ronin and Amery come back together in a way that addresses their major issues—letting each other in completely, building a life together that reflects the depth of the sexual and spiritual connection they achieve through the intimate art of the rope bindings, and learning to share their internal and external struggles with each other instead of going at everything alone. They've never done anything halfway, and they don't here either.
“I wouldn't have let this break between us go on much longer.”
“Let?” she repeated.
Ronin caged her against the back of the couch. “Yes, let. This is not a temporary thing between us. Never has been, never will be. So I'll let you try to push me away. I'll let you try to convince yourself that you're holding back from fucking me blind because I don't understand intimacy. But we both know differently. And I'll do everything in my power to prove you wrong.” He dipped his head and ran his lips along the edge of her jaw and down her throat until she shivered. “I want you. I need you. And in the end, baby, I am going to have you. All of you.”
The best part, and one of the elements more unique to this book, is the shift to Ronin's perspective to deliver the story. Finally we have the chance to get into the hero's head, and there couldn't be a more iconic hero to explore. He delivers lines guaranteed to cause a shiver. He's vulnerable in ways we might not have guessed. And his code of honor and personal discipline are to be admired. It's really lovely to see, perhaps unexpectedly, Ronin laying everything on the line first to show Amery how she's different, how they're different, and that this time he's open to her. If you weren't in love with Ronin before, you definitely will be now.
“You're always asking me to share my feelings? Well, here it is. I'm pissed off at you. I don't even rate the courtesy of you telling me that you're working for my family's company. I'm pissed off that you were concerned enough about my health to snoop around for answers but not ask me directly. I'm pissed off that you've been goddamn hedging about moving in with me. I'm pissed off you still haven't told me that you love me even when we both fucking know you do. This has become a one-sided fucking relationship, and you know it.”
Dammit. Don't cry. He's right, and your tears will just aggravate him further and come across as manipulative.
“So either accept that I want a long-term, open and honest intimate relationship with you on every level, or don't. Your choice.”
To see a powerful but damaged hero really come full circle always gives a measure of satisfaction, especially so here. And of course, the rope scenes are still a crucial center to the story, as they escalate in degrees parallel to the emotional progress Ronin and Amery make together. One particularly striking scene that shows how far Amery is willing to come to take them to the next level is so vibrant and visual, it's nothing short of art.
Everything comes together so beautifully here. Ronin and Amery achieve that elusive, unexplainable seal, a higher bond, and the story continually pushes forward in a really organic way that polishes any rough edges from the first book. New series are always a gamble, but this one has two things weighing heavily in its favor: Ronin Black and a supporting cast that will allow for many stories to come, full of the same provocative combination of sex and bondage and a fine thread of suspense that keeps it on the edge. We're sure to see Ronin at the helm with Amery strongly at his side, and with any luck—and James's sure skill—heroes that are just as memorable and women who are bold enough to claim them.
Learn more or order a copy of Unwound by Lorelei James, out March 25:
Tiffany Tyer is a writer and editor who loves reading and analyzing all things romance. She also works as a vocalist, a tutor, and a non-profit ministry assistant, and she loves it that way. Her book reviews can be found at Happy Endings Reviews, a blog she co-founded.