Author: AL Jackson
Release Date: February 24, 2011
Genre: New Adult
More Info: Goodreads
Purchase: Amazon US
Purchase: Barnes & Noble
Melanie Winters and Daniel Montgomery shared a love most only dream of, a love they believed bonded them together for life.
When their world is shattered by the tragic loss of their daughter, overwhelming grief and misguided guilt distorts the truth, and their relationship ends in uncertainty and unanswered questions.
For nine years, they drift through life, each unable to forget the one who holds the strings to their heart. In an attempt to escape the pain of her past, Melanie finds herself trapped in a loveless marriage, while Daniel loses himself in a career that means nothing without Melanie by his side.
Now, when their lives again intersect, neither can deny the connection they felt so long ago. But will the power that drew them together be enough to heal the wounds from their past, and will they have the courage to overcome the insecurities and fears that threaten to keep them apart?
Pulled is a story of attraction and separation, of destiny and duty, of a love so strong it refuses to give up even when all others have.
I glanced at the clock.
Shit—nearly six o’clock. I needed to hurry. I’d lost track of time and Nicholas would be home soon. I wiped the tears from my face before carefully gathering the pictures from the bedroom floor. My chest weighed heavy as I collected each one, cherishing the memories a moment longer as I tucked them away in the envelope.
The memories were all I had and I clung to them as if they were my last breath, knowing that once they faded, there would truly be no reason to go on. I hid the envelope at the bottom of the large jewelry box in the back of the closet, mindful to spread the necklaces out over the hidden compartment. Nicholas had never found them, but I was certain he would destroy them if he ever did.
Drawing in a deep breath, I ran my hands through my hair and dragged myself from the past I had immersed myself in for the last two hours and forced myself downstairs.
My footsteps echoed against the marble floor, each an accent of emptiness. I entered the kitchen, the only sanctuary I had. Every room of this house was gaudy and overdone, designed by the pompous for the pompous, except for this haven. It was no less extravagant, but held a warmth missing from all of the others.
As I worked, my thoughts inevitably wandered back to those beloved pictures hidden away in the back of my closet, but even they weren’t enough to ward off the anxiety steadily building within me as the passing minutes warned of Nicholas’s arrival. At six thirty-one, I heard the garage door open. Bile rose in my throat.
“Melanie?” Nicholas called from the entryway.
“In the kitchen,” I called weakly. Maybe he would go upstairs and spare me a few more minutes, but of course, I never had that kind of luck. I heard his footsteps approaching and prepared myself.
“Dinner ready?” He yanked at his tie as he came through the door.
“Um, not quite, just a couple more minutes,” I said, not meeting his face.
I felt him pause, though I refused to look up. I’d learned a long time ago how to survive in hell. The less I interacted with him the better.
He snorted through his nose, muttering, “Worthless whore,” under his breath.
I gritted my teeth, holding in the anger his accusation triggered.
He set his briefcase on the island next to me and tossed his tie over the top of it. “What time do I get home from work, Melanie?” Nicholas dipped his head, forcing me to look at him.
“Is it too much to ask that dinner is ready when I get home?” he said, “or do you have something better to do with your useless life?”
I cringed but said nothing. He was the one who didn’t want me to work.
“I didn’t think so.” He leaned in closer, his words a low warning. “When I tell you dinner needs to be ready at six-thirty, it means dinner is to be ready at six-thirty. Do you understand?”
I saw the threat in his eyes. He had never hurt me physically, but he made sure I knew who was in charge. I’d given up any control nine years ago when I’d followed him here to Chicago, looking for an escape from the pain.
I knew then what this life would be like. I’d met him at the airport when I’d fled Colorado that final time, the trip that severed the last thread holding my heart together.
Nicholas hadn’t seen the broken girl who sat numb with nothing but pain swimming in her eyes. He saw the young, beautiful girl, the one who said nothing at all but seemed to be willing to do whatever he said.
I wasn’t stupid. I had known exactly what he wanted, but I could never go back to Colorado Springs to face what I could no longer have, and I refused to stay with my mother in Dallas.
So I left all of it behind, moving with Nicholas to Chicago just days after I returned from Colorado.
I knew then Nicholas would never bring me happiness. That had never been the point. My heart belonged to another and would never be his. All I wanted was a way out, while Nicholas got the trophy wife he thought he deserved. The only thing I hadn’t anticipated was how the numbness I felt for him would evolve over nine years into bitterness and loathing.
“I’m going upstairs to change, and I expect dinner to be on the table when I get back down here.” He had been this way since the first day I arrived; I had a role to play, and he expected me to play it well.
When he left the room, I gathered our plates and took them into the dining room. I wasn’t really afraid of Nicholas, but I didn’t want to fight. It was exhausting and got me nowhere, and even if it did, I still wouldn’t be happy, so it really didn’t matter anyway. It was just easier to do what he said.
Ten minutes later, I heard him returning. Just the sound of his heavy steps made my stomach turn. It still shocked me that I could feel so much hatred for one person. I watched him bound down the stairs, his tall body well muscled and agile for his forty-four years. His black hair hadn’t thinned and it was usually meticulously styled, though he obviously had run his hands through it. His eyes were nearly as dark as his hair and filled with unmerited pride. He may have been attractive, though that was something I could never see. His mere presence warned my instincts to escape, always smarter than my head.
“About fucking time,” he spat, letting me know just how disappointing I was.
Taking a seat across from me, he lifted his fork and began to eat. I picked at my chicken, pushing it around my plate. I could rarely stomach anything when he was around.
As he ate, I lost myself in the silence, my mind drawn back to Colorado.
“We have a dinner Thursday,” he abruptly broke through the quiet, pulling me from my daydream. I had to run his words through my mind again before I realized what he had said.
I closed my eyes, suppressing a sigh. Great. Another business dinner. It was the perfect time for me to play my part—the perfect wife with her perfect smile plastered across her perfect face, nodding mindlessly while her husband gave his proposal as if her presence would somehow change the outcome. The whole thing was ridiculous. It was part of my job though, so I nodded that I’d heard him and looked back to my plate.
“This is a huge account, Melanie.” He sat back, eyeing me critically as if I didn’t already understand my role in this little charade. “It’s a medical complex that’ll bring in a couple million in profit, so I don’t want you fucking this up for me.”
I almost laughed. Did he really think that my presence would sway the decision?
Nicholas went on about details I really didn’t care to know, about how much money he would make and how much recognition his company would gain if they built this complex.
The only comfort I found was in knowing Shane would be at the dinner. Shane Preston was Nicholas’s business partner and the nicest guy I knew. While Nicholas was cocky and arrogant and felt the world owed him, Shane was modest and thankful for all he had. He continually cleaned up the messes Nicholas caused, soothing clients’ nerves and regaining their trust after Nicholas had done something unethical.
The dinner also meant that Katie, Shane’s wife, would be there. She was the one friend I had in this world. She knew the real me and was the only one I had ever taken into my confidence since I’d married Nicholas. Shane and Katie’s presence there would at least make the evening bearable.
Nicholas finished his food, while I cleared the table and took the dishes into the kitchen. I was exhausted. I wondered how much more of this I could take. Surely, I would never survive this life sentence I’d imposed on myself. I loaded the dishwasher and went upstairs to take a bath.
Turning the hot water valve full blast, I let it run, anxious to feel the heat relax my muscles. I unbuttoned my pants and slid them down, shrugging them off my feet. As I pulled my shirt over my head, my gaze reflexively dropped to my stomach as I caught my reflection in the mirror, my first instinct to seek out the marred skin that bore her wounds.
I caressed along the puckered, angry scar that slanted in a long, jagged line across my lower abdomen, wishing she could somehow find comfort in my touch. Chills shook my body as I ran my fingers over the still sensitive skin and, just like every night, the bitterness and anger I found myself feeling faded away into sadness as I lost myself in this tangible reminder of my child. I loved her so much.
Steam filled the room, and I eased myself into the water and allowed myself to drift back to Daniel. I missed him, almost more than I could bear. This was never supposed to have happened to us. We were supposed to make it—we should have made it.
“Melanie, hurry up and get in here!” I cringed as Nicholas yelled from the bedroom.
Shit. I’d hoped he’d be asleep by now.
Reluctantly, I rose and pushed the memories aside. I wrapped myself in my robe, slow to finish my normal routine. I shouldn’t have been stalling; he’d wait. Still, I took my time as I brushed my teeth and ran a brush through my long brown curls. I inhaled deeply and took one last look at myself before going into the bedroom.
“Don’t keep me waiting like that,” Nicholas rebuked from his place under the covers.
This was by far the worst part of our arrangement. I couldn’t help but feel like a prostitute, cheating on my own heart, when I lay beneath this man. I crawled into bed next to him, praying he would at least have the decency to turn off the light.
He untied the belt on my robe and groped my breast with his callused hand. My body roiled with disgust that he mistook as anticipation. “You like that, don’t you,” he growled as his foulness spread across my face. I fought against my instinct to flee and, instead, reached over to the bedside table and flicked off the lamp.
The blackness enveloped the room, allowing me to remove myself mentally from the sick situation. I closed my eyes to find an image of Daniel—a flash of messy blond hair.
“You’re mine.” Nicholas’s voice jerked me back into reality, making me acutely aware of his sweaty panting body hovering above me. I closed my eyes tighter, willing my mind away.
“Melanie, my love. You’re so beautiful,” he said as he held my body against his, tender caresses igniting a fire deep within me.
“Daniel,” was all I could manage as he made love to me, each touch a whisper across my skin. He gently kissed my neck as he moved against me, and I felt the pressure build with each stroke of his body.
“Melanie, you feel so good,” he ground out, his voice rough with emotion.
I couldn’t help the little moan that escaped my lips, the flash of desire that washed over my body as it remembered the way only Daniel could make me feel.
“That’s right. I feel good, don’t I?” Nicholas grunted as he finished and collapsed with all of his weight on me.
The nausea swept through me, and I pushed Nicholas away. “I need to clean up,” I choked over my standard excuse as I rushed to the bathroom. I fell to my knees at the toilet, desperate to purge away the hate I had for myself. The act only left me feeling more empty and alone.
Holding onto the vanity for support, I pulled myself up to stand. I rinsed my mouth and splashed water on my face—anything to make me feel clean again—but there was nothing that could wash away the shame.
I stared at myself in the mirror, the reflection no longer one I recognized. The girl I remembered was seventeen—full of life and love. The one staring back at me may as well have been dead. The only life left flickered in the periphery of my consciousness where a familiar comfort waited in the darkness. As I climbed into bed, I grasped for it, desperate to feel him for one moment more.