Intense, heartbreaking and emotionally charged.
This is a raw and poignant look at addiction and a riveting story about finding love when you need it the most.
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In this dangerously sexy novel from the New York Times bestselling author of Find You in the Dark, a straight-laced college student meets a handsome but enigmatic stranger who lures her into an underground club scene, where she finds it difficult to resist temptation
Aubrey Duncan understands loss. She knows what rock bottom looks like, and she is determined to crawl back up to the top after the sudden death of her younger sister. She blames herself for her part in the tragedy, convinced that she could have done something, anything, to help her.
In her effort to gain redemption, Aubrey starts fresh at Longwood University and facilitates an addiction support group, hoping she can support someone else in the way she failed her sister. But what she doesn’t count on is an all-consuming fascination with group member Maxx Demelo, a gorgeous, blond, blue-eyed enigma who hides dark secrets behind a carefully constructed mask. He only reveals what he wants others to see. But Aubrey glimpses another Maxx hidden below the surface—a Maxx who is drowning in his own personal hell.
As Aubrey and Maxx develop an attraction too intense to ignore, he pulls her into the dark underbelly of the city club scene, where she is torn by her desire to save him and an inexplicable urge to join him in his downward spiral. Worst of all, she is beginning to love everything she should run away from—a man who threatens to ignite in her a fire that could burn her alive…
“Addiction was messy. It was consuming. Addiction whispered in your ear, telling you that she’s the only one. She’s all you need.”
This book is emotionally intense, sharing the kind of story that makes your heart hurt, your thoughts circle endlessly, your emotions befuddled and impossibly murky. It’s a story of grief and addiction, love and redemption… hope and hopelessness. Aubrey and Maxx’s tale is heartbreaking because we get to see these two people that grow to love each other deeply, fall apart over and over again. We see the ribbons of dependency coil them tighter to their own sin, tethering them to their addiction of choice. It’s a gradual fall to rock bottom and I felt so invested in both, in the experiences that shaped them and the choices that would define their future.
After the tragic death of her sister, Aubrey carried a great deal of guilt. She longed to start fresh. To learn from her mistakes. Hoping that her enrollment in Longwood University’s addiction support group, Aubrey hoped she could make a difference for others, given that she wasn’t able to make a difference to one of the people she loved the most. Unfortunately her roommate and best friend finds herself in an unhealthy relationship, marching down the same path as her sister. And when Aubrey meets enigmatic Maxx Demelo, she is caught up in his one-of-a-kind charisma that consumes everything and everyone in his perimeter. Before too long, Aubrey is led down a familiar path she worked hard to escape from.
“Maxx was the man your mother warned you about. He was sex and danger and secrets. He was the very worst kind of temptation and the very best kind of distraction.”
Maxx was caught in a downward spiral fueled by guilt, shame, responsibility, addiction and hopelessness. He lived a duplicitous life. On one hand, there was a boy with immense talent, heart, loyalty who wanted to overcome his painful past, to rise above it and be a man he could be proud of. On the other hand, you had X… the Maxx that thrived on feeling wanted, desired among the throngs of the nameless faces, numb to the reality of his struggles, oblivious to what he was doing to himself. With each passing day, with each bitter little pill swallowed, Maxx became more of the latter. More of the Maxx that felt he could conquer the world, fooling himself that he had everything under control. And when he met Aubrey, this girl seemed to make him want to be better again. And perhaps, a new addiction took root.
“The dynamic we fell into seemed to pit anger and distrust against lust and longing. Frustration warred with contentment. Irritation and wariness were at odds with vulnerability and sincerity.”
As Maxx and Aubrey get to know each and begin to fall for each other, their dynamic swings between the good and the healthy, and the deceptive and the ugly. Maxx hides a world so brutal and dark, drawing Aubrey in with a dangerous combination of sincerity and need. Because the more Maxx needs her, the more Aubrey is hooked on being needed. She’s fallen for Maxx and despite the ugly world he lives in, she sees the guy that loves her, needs her, wants to get better. And being needed in that real, raw and profound way, breaks her resolve… muddles the possibility of clear thinking. Because the truth of the matter was that Aubrey was compromising her own future, falling into the abyss right along with Maxx. Her desire to forget her own pain, her desire to be needed, and her desire to be fun, wild and free Aubrey blinded her own reality.
“… he needed me. And I lived for being needed. It was an addiction just as powerful as his. And it had the potential to be just as destructive.”
Lead Me Not is a story told entirely in shades of gray. I felt like I was confronted with decisions that were difficult and monumental for me to process, just as the characters worked through the same issues themselves… especially Aubrey. We got to see how addiction affects everything and everyone. Not only those who are addicted to the actual high of drugs, but the ones who love them. We wondered, through the turbulent ups and downs of this poignant story, could Aubrey be enough to stave Maxx’s addiction to drugs? Could she love him enough to break the cycle? Or would she be swept into the dark oblivion of addiction herself?
This was my first A. Meredith Walters novel and I loved how the characters made me feel so much, how the story unfurled so realistically and raw. There were times where my heart broke and times where I truthfully felt upset, at Aubrey AND Maxx, but I think therein lies the reality of addiction. Behaviors don’t make sense in the grip of dependancy. There will be another book to continue Maxx and Aubrey’s story and I can’t wait to see what happens.
“Love made us stupid. Love made us blind. Love could incapacitate us and leave us powerless. And love could also make everything better.”
Maxx put his hand first in one pocket and then the other. “Where are they?” he asked, getting unsteadily to his feet and digging farther into his pockets.
“Where are what?” I asked, bewildered by the sudden change in his mood.
“I need them!” he yelled, pushing past me and lumbering into the kitchen, where he started taking things out of the cabinets and throwing them on the floor. When he didn’t find what he was looking for there, he let out a howl and practically ran down the hallway to his bedroom.
I followed him at a distance. I thought about trying to stop him, but a desire for self-preservation held me back.
He ripped his room apart, dumping clothes on the floor. He gathered the empty baggies and ripped them open.
“Where are they?” His scream was desperate. He tipped over his bedside table and fell to his knees, looking through the stuff that had fallen out. He picked up a bottle and shook it. It rattled, and the look of euphoria that replaced the hopelessness on his face made me cold. I knew exactly what he had been looking for.
“No, Maxx!” You don’t need that,” I cried, falling down beside him and trying to pry the bottle from his hands. Maxx yanked it away from me and scooted backwards on his knees. He popped the top off, and before I could do anything, he dropped the white pill into his mouth.
He crunched it between his teeth. His mouth went slack, and he leaned back against the wall.
“Maxx,” I said with bone-weary regret. Maxx looked at me, his normally beautiful lips stretching into a lazy smile that was all too familiar. I used to think that smile was sexy and mysterious. Now it was just sad and pathetic. Now I knew exactly why he smiled that way.
I hated that smile.