Persuasion (Temptation, #2) by T.K. Leigh



As I stared at Lachlan’s sister, her eyes the same vivid blue as his, one thing I’d learned about Nick screamed at me.

When it came to him, there was no such thing as a coincidence.





One





Julia


Ten Years Ago


The crunching of tires on pavement cut through the kitchen like a shotgun, unease and trepidation filling me.

In my mind, this was just as bad as a gun going off.

Just as petrifying.

My hands grew clammy. The hairs on my nape stood on end. My pulse steadily increased, the world seeming to spin around me as I desperately tried to maintain some sort of grip on myself.

I needed to.

It was the only way to survive.

“Daddy’s home,” Imogene squealed, jumping up from the couch where she was surrounded by all things important to a four-year-old girl. Stuffed animals. Barbies. Coloring books. Even some play food she’d been pretending to make in her kitchen so she could grow up to be “just like Mama”, as she repeatedly told me.

God, how I prayed she wouldn’t. That she’d be stronger than me.

That she’d be freer than me.

Drawing in a deep, fortifying breath, I followed Imogene from the kitchen in our house on the outskirts of Charleston, glancing at the mirror by the entryway to take in my appearance. I knew Nick would be home today. Had hours to prepare for this inevitability.

It never got easier, though.

Whenever he disappeared for weeks on one of these business trips, I fantasized about vanishing myself. Taking Imogene and leaving this life behind.

Leaving Nick behind.

But as he reminded me every time he felt me slipping away, there was no escaping him. No matter where I’d go, he’d find me. Find us.

And he’d take Imogene from me.

So I stayed…for her.

I suffered…for her.

I died a little more every day… All for her.

When the door opened, I snapped my head toward it as Nick’s frame, striking and ominous, filled the entryway.

To most, he was handsome, sexy. When I first laid eyes on him during my English 101 class my freshman year of college, I definitely thought so. Silky, blond hair. Chiseled jawline. Chestnut eyes with flecks of gold. And a smile that charmed everyone.

But there was a darkness lurking beneath his attractive exterior. I sensed it in my bones, even if I couldn’t quite explain what caused it. Couldn’t pinpoint my unease to one precise incident or occurrence. Instead, it was a collective premonition.

But a collective premonition, a feeling in my gut, wasn’t concrete evidence.

“How are my two best girls?” he asked in his refined, Southern drawl that was as smooth as butter…and as shrewd as a snake.

It was a voice that once gave me comfort. Now all I heard was his condescension. His control.

His reminder that I belonged to him.

But was he really so bad?

Or was I simply self-sabotaging, as my therapist often suggested?

I’d heard horror stories about women who’d married controlling spouses. They weren’t allowed to go out with friends. Weren’t allowed to work. Weren’t allowed access to their finances.

That wasn’t the case with us. Nick encouraged me to spend time with my friends. That way, he wouldn’t feel so bad leaving me for as long as he had to.

As far as working went, Nick had never been anything short of amazing when it came to supporting my dreams. He’d even put his own teaching and research career on hold, started working for a PR firm that dealt with educating the public on various museums, so I could start my own business.

If he were the manipulative man I often felt he was, he wouldn’t do all that. Would he?

“I’m so glad you’re home, Daddy!” Imogene reached her little arms toward him.

Face lighting up, Nick swooped her into his embrace, her body tiny compared to his.

I couldn’t stop the smile from tugging on my lips as I watched him shower her with affection. If he were such a bad person, he wouldn’t dote on our little girl the way he did.

These were the types of arguments I often had with myself, constantly at war with my thoughts. Just when I was certain there was something off about Nick, he’d do something that contradicted everything I convinced myself had to be true.

Like the time he designed a website so I could take online orders for all the baked goods I’d been making and delivering to friends up until that point, the first step in realizing my dreams of having my own bakery.