“Missing me? Sounds like you were cursing me.”

“Maybe a little.” Molly paused. “Good god, woman, what time is it there?”

“Seven in the morning. Tomorrow.”

“Why would you get up that early when you’re on vacation?”

“I’m not really on vacation.” She paused. “But Ronin has to get up . . . so then I’m up.”

“Sounds . . . challenging. Are you okay?”

“Yeah. No. Maybe.” She sighed. “I don’t know what I’m doing here right now, Mol.” Hearing the squeak of Molly’s office chair, she had a serious wave of homesickness.

“Hang on.” Footsteps, then, “Hey, Presley, you wanna get us some snacks? Great. Thanks.” Another pause. “Okay. Now I can talk. What’s going on?”

“I’m at loose ends. We’ve been in Japan for three and a half weeks. The first week was amazing. These last few weeks have sucked ass. So when I think about spending the next five weeks bouncing around, I want to jump on the next flight home.”

“Because you’re bored?”

“I don’t know if it’s boredom. Since I haven’t taken a break from working since I graduated from college, I don’t know what to do with myself when I don’t have a regimented schedule. I’ve exhausted all of my options already. I’ve taken a bazillion pictures. I’ve wandered around the village—which takes like four minutes. A tutor comes twice a week to teach me Japanese and I’ve mastered oh, maybe ten more words. I’ve caught up on all the industry magazines and articles that I brought along for reading. I’ve even managed to finish a few books on my ereader. I practice yoga for an hour every day. I cook dinner for Ronin every night.”

“And?”

Amery walked over to the pot for a refill. “And I hear myself sounding like a fucking whiner and I want to kick my own ass. For christsake, I’m in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been and I’m—”

“Lonely,” Molly finished softly.

“Yeah, I am. But I knew going into this trip that I’d be spending a bunch of time by myself. I didn’t think it would be an issue. I’ve never minded doing things alone. It’s not like Ronin and I are joined at the hip when we’re at home.”

“But if you were at home you’d call up your friends to hang out, or you’d work in the office, or you’d pound the pavement drumming up more business. You can’t do any of that there.”

“True.”

“Have you said anything to Ronin about how you’re feeling?”

She’d imagined the conversation a half a dozen times but it always ended badly, with her coming across like a fishwife. Anytime she’d asked him if he was pushing himself too much he gave her that hard stare that indicated the topic was not up for discussion.

“Amery?”

“No. He’s preoccupied with training. It seems like a bitchy thing to bring up, especially since we’re flying to the Ryukyu Islands in a few days. So I’ll suck it up. I just needed to vent and you’re lucky enough to be on my speed dial.” She sipped her coffee. “What’s new at the office?”

“Just the usual. Kinky, corny, kitschy, classy projects that showcase our diverse graphic art abilities.”

“Kinky? Do tell what dirty things you’ve been doing.”

Molly snorted. “Nice deflection. Is having a predisposition for kink a prerequisite when you get involved with the guys at Black Arts?”

“What makes you say that?”

“I overheard Deacon and Knox arguing about some place called Twisted, and I don’t think it’s a strip club because Shiori’s name came up. Then there are the covers you did for Cherry Starr. After you started seeing Ronin you just happened to know someone who’s into rope bondage? And they just happened to allow you to do a photo shoot with them? Bull. I think we both know who’s really on those covers.”

“Are you trying to tell me those types of projects bother you?”

“No, I’m trying to tell you that I’m not some little innocent you need to protect. By you, I mean the whole kinky crew at Black Arts. Feel free to pass that along.”

Amery grinned. About damn time her friend came out of her shell. “So noted. Did you finish the Archer project I emailed you about?”

“We’re still working on it. I told Presley it was okay to use stock photos, because when she puts the finishing touches on them they don’t look stock.”

At first Amery had been wary about interviewing Presley Quinn since Molly had met her at a roller derby match-up. But after seeing the woman’s portfolio, she’d hired her on the spot. Presley had mad artistic skills across the board—even if she looked a hot mess; tats and piercings and her thrift-store-Goth-meets-Bettie-Page clothing. But she fit in personality wise with her and Molly, plus she brought a fresh perspective, which had proved good for business.

“We miss you, Amery, but things are going well here, so try to enjoy yourself there. Talk to Ronin. Things always go to hell between you two when you’re giving each other space and being all polite and shit. Oops. The other line is ringing. I’ve gotta go.”

***

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.




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