After (The After Series) by Anna Todd


  “I’m right here,” he says and clicks on a desk lamp. I look around the large room, which reminds me of a hotel. A four-poster bed with dark linens is centered against the far wall and looks like a king-size with at least twenty pillows on top. The desk is oversize and made of cherrywood, and the computer sitting on it has a bigger monitor than the television in my dorm room. The bay window has a built-in bench while the other windows are masked with thick navy curtains that don’t allow the moon to shine through.

  “This is my . . . room,” he says and rubs the back of his neck with his hand. He looks almost embarrassed.

  “You have a room here?” I ask, but of course he does. It is his father’s house and Landon obviously lives here. Landon had mentioned that Hardin never comes here, so maybe that is why it looks so museum-like, untouched and impersonal.

  “Yeah . . . I haven’t ever actually slept in it . . . until tonight.” He sits on the chest placed at the foot of the bed and unties his boots. He pulls his socks off and tucks them into the shoes. My heart swells at the idea that I am part of a first for Hardin.

  “Oh. Why is that?” I am taking advantage of his drunken honesty.

  “Because I don’t want to. I hate it here,” he answers quietly and unbuttons his black pants and pulls them down his legs.

  “What are you doing?”

  “Getting undressed?” he says, stating the obvious.

  “I mean, why?” Even though part of me is dying to feel his hands on me again, I hope he doesn’t think I’m going to have sex with him.

  “Well, I am not sleeping in skinny jeans and boots,” he half laughs. His hand sweeps the hair off his forehead, making it stand straight up. Everything he does sends that wild feeling through my body.

  “Oh.”

  He pulls his shirt over his head, and I can’t look away. His tattooed stomach is flawless. He tosses the T-shirt at me, but I don’t catch it, letting it fall to the ground. I raise one eyebrow at him and he smiles.

  “You can sleep in that. I assume you won’t want to sleep in just your underwear. But of course, I am perfectly fine with it if you do.” He winks and I giggle.

  Why am I giggling? I can’t sleep in his T-shirt, I will feel too naked.

  “I’m fine sleeping in this,” I tell him

  He eyes my outfit. He hasn’t made a single rude comment about my long skirt or loose blue blouse, so I hope he doesn’t start now.

  “Fine. Suit yourself; if you want to be uncomfortable, go ahead.” He moves toward the bed in only his boxers and begins to toss the decorative pillows onto the floor.

  I walk over and open the chest, and just as I had thought, it is empty. “Oh, don’t throw those down. They go in here,” I tell him, but he just laughs and tosses another onto the floor.

  Groaning, I gather the pillows and stuff them into the chest. He again chuckles and pulls back the comforter before plopping down onto the bed. He crosses his arms behind his head, then crosses his feet and gives me a smile. The words tattooed on his ribs are stretched because of the position of his arms. His long, lean body looks exquisite.

  “You’re not going to whine about sleeping in the bed with me, are you?” he asks, and I roll my eyes. I actually wasn’t going to. I know it’s wrong, but I want to sleep in the bed with Hardin more than I think I have ever wanted anything.

  “No, the bed is big enough for both of us,” I say with a smile. I don’t know if it’s Hardin’s smile or the fact that he is wearing only boxers, but I’m in a much better mood than before.

  “Now that’s the Tessa I love,” he teases and my heart lurches at his choice of words. I know he doesn’t, and would never, mean it that way, but it sounded so nice coming off his lips.

  I climb onto the bed and scoot to the edge, as far away from Hardin’s body as I can. Any farther and I’ll fall off. I hear him chuckle and I roll over on my side to face him. “What is so funny?”

  “Nothing,” he lies, and bites his lip trying not to laugh. I like this playful Hardin; his humor is contagious.

  “Tell me!” I pout and pucker out my bottom lip. His eyes go straight to my mouth and he runs his tongue along his lips before hooking his lip ring between his teeth.

  “You’ve never slept in a bed with a guy before, have you?” He rolls onto his side and moves a little closer to me.

  “No,” I simply answer, and his smile grows. We are only a couple of feet apart, and before I know what I’m doing, my hand reaches out and pokes the little dimple on his cheek. His eyes dart to mine in surprise. I start to pull my hand away, but he grabs it and puts it back against his cheek, then moves it up and down his cheek slowly.

  “I don’t know why no one has fucked you yet; all that planning you do must help you put up a really good resistance,” he says, and I gulp.

  “I’ve never really had to resist anyone,” I admit. Guys in high school found me attractive and hit on me enough, but no one ever tried to actually have sex with me. They all knew I was with Noah; we were well liked and were both voted onto Homecoming Court every year.

  “That’s either a lie or you went to an all-blind high school. Your lips alone are enough to make me hard.”

  I gasp at his words and he chuckles. He brings my hand to his mouth and runs it along his wet lips. His breath is hot against my fingers, and I’m surprised when he bares his teeth and gently bites the pad of my index finger, somehow making me feel it in the pit of my stomach. He moves my hand down to his neck and my fingertips trace the swirl of an ivy branch tattoo on his neck. He watches me carefully but doesn’t stop me.

  “You like the way I talk to you, don’t you?” His expression is dark but so sexy. My breathing hitches and he smiles again. “I can see the blush in your cheeks and I can hear the way your breathing has changed. Answer me, Tessa, put those full lips of yours to use,” he says, and I giggle—I don’t know what else to do. I will never admit the way his words turn something on deep inside of me.

  He lets go of my hand but wraps his fingers around my wrist and closes the gap between us. I am hot, too hot. I need to cool down or I will start sweating soon.

  “Can you turn the fan on?” I ask and he furrows his brow. “Please.”

  He sighs but climbs off the bed. “If you are hot, why don’t you change out of those heavy clothes; that skirt looks itchy anyway.”

  I had been waiting on him to tease me for my clothes, but this only makes me smile, since I can see his true motive here.

  “You should dress for your body, Tessa. These clothes you wear hide all of your curves. If I hadn’t seen you in your bra and panties, I would never know how sexy and curvy your body actually is. That skirt literally looks like a potato sack.”

  I laugh, even though he is insulting me and somehow managing to compliment me at the same time. “What do you suggest I wear? Fishnets and tube tops?”

  “No, well, I might love to see that, but no. You can still cover yourself but wear clothes your size. That shirt hides your chest, too, and your tits are nothing you should be hiding.”

  “Will you stop using those words!” I scold him and he smiles.

  Rejoining me on the bed, he scoots his practically naked body close to mine. I am still hot, but Hardin’s odd way of complimenting me has given me a new wave of confidence. I climb out of bed.

  “Where are you going?” he slurs, his voice panicked.

  “To change,” I say, and walk over to grab his T-shirt from the floor. “Now turn around and don’t peek.” I put my hands on my hips.

  “No.”

  “What do you mean, ‘no’?” How can he be telling me no?

  “I won’t turn around. I want to see you.”

  “Oh, okay.” But I just smile, shake my head, and turn the light off.

  Hardin whines, and I smile to myself as I unzip my skirt. It pools at my feet when another light clicks on.

  “Hardin!” I hurry and pick the skirt back up. Hardin is leaning up on his elbows to look at me, and he isn’t shy about his ey
es moving up and down my body. He’s seen me in less clothing before, and I know he isn’t going to listen, so I take a deep breath and pull my shirt over my head. Not that I won’t admit that I’m enjoying this little game we have going right now. I know deep down I want him to look at me, that I want him to want me. I’m wearing a plain white bra and white panties, nothing fancy or special, but Hardin’s expression makes me feel sexy. I take his T-shirt and pull it over my head. It smells so good, just like Hardin.

  “Come here,” he whispers from where he lies. I ignore my subconscious telling me to run away as fast as I can, and walk toward the bed.

  chapter thirty-three

  Hardin’s blazing eyes don’t leave mine as I make my way to him. I prop my knee up on the bed and push myself onto it. At the same time, Hardin lifts himself up so his back is against the headboard and holds his hand out for mine. The second I place my small hand in his, he wraps his fingers around it and pulls me onto him. My knees go around his sides and I am straddling his lap. I’ve done this before with him, but never wearing so little clothing. I hold myself up using my knees so we aren’t touching, but Hardin isn’t having it. He positions his hands on my hips and gently pushes me down. His T-shirt bunches at my sides, baring my thighs completely, and I am suddenly glad that I shaved my legs this morning. The second our bodies touch my stomach begins to stir. I know this happiness that I feel isn’t going to last, and I feel like Cinderella, waiting for the clock to strike and end my blissful night.

  “Much better,” he says and gives me a crooked smile.

  I know he’s drunk and that’s why he is being so nice—well, nice for him—but right now I will take it. If this is truly my last time around him, then this is how I want to spend it. I keep telling myself that. I can behave however I want tonight with Hardin because when the daylight comes, I am going to tell him never to come near me again, and he will oblige. It’s for the best, and I know that is what he will want when he isn’t intoxicated. In my defense, I am just as intoxicated by Hardin as he is by the bottle of scotch he consumed. I keep telling myself that, too.

  As Hardin continues to stare into my eyes, I begin to feel nervous. What should I do next? I have no idea where he wants to take this and I don’t want to make a fool out of myself by trying to do something first.

  He seems to notice my uncomfortable expression.

  “What’s wrong?” he asks, and brings a hand to my face. His finger traces over my cheekbone and my eyes involuntarily close at his surprisingly gentle touch.

  “Nothing . . . I just don’t know what to do,” I admit and look down.

  “Do whatever you want to do, Tess. Don’t overthink it.”

  I lean back a little to create about a foot of space between our torsos and bring my hand up to his bare chest. I look at him for permission and he nods. I press both hands against his chest softly and he closes his eyes. My fingers trace the birds on his chest and down to the dead tree on his stomach. His eyelashes flutter as I trace the scripture on his ribs. His expression is so calm, but his chest is moving up and down quicker than it was a few moments ago. I’m unable to control myself as I bring my hand down and run my index finger along the waistband of his boxers. His eyes shoot open and he looks nervous. Hardin, nervous?

  “Can I . . . um . . . touch you?” I ask with the hope that he gets what I mean without me having to say it. I feel detached from myself. Who is this girl straddling this punk boy and asking to touch him . . . down there? I think back to what Hardin said earlier about me being my true self with him. Maybe he is right. I love the way I feel right now. I love the electricity shooting through my body when we’re like this.

  He nods. “Please.”

  So I lower my hand, keeping it on top of his boxers, and slowly I reach the slight bulge in the fabric. He sucks in a breath as I graze my hand over him. I don’t know what to do, so I just keep touching it, running my fingers up and down. I am too nervous to look up at him, so I keep my eyes on his growing crotch.

  “Do you want me to show you what to do?” he asks quietly, his voice shaky. The usual cocky demeanor has shifted into something mysterious.

  I nod and he puts his hand over mine, bringing it down to touch him again. He opens my hand and makes my fingers cup around his length. When he sucks a breath between his lips, I look up at him through my lashes. He takes his hand off mine, giving me full control.

  “Fuck, Tessa, don’t do that,” he growls. Confused, I still my hand and am about to jerk it away when he speaks up. “No, no, not that. Keep doing that—I mean don’t look at me that way.”

  “What way?”

  “That innocent way—that look that makes me want to do so many dirty things to you.”

  I want to throw myself back onto the bed and let him do whatever he wants. I want to be his—to be freed for a moment from whatever it is that makes me so scared sometimes. I give him a small smile and begin to move my hand again. I want to take his boxers off, but I’m afraid to. A moan escapes his lips and I tighten my grip; I want to hear that sound again. I don’t know if I should move my hand faster or not, so I keep my movements slow and tight, and he seems to like it. I lean in and press my lips against the clammy skin of his neck, causing him to moan again.

  “Fuck, Tess, your hand feels so good wrapped around me.” I give him a little tighter squeeze and he winces. “Not that hard, baby,” he says in a voice that’s soft and sounds like it could never be the same one that mocked me before.

  “Sorry,” I say and kiss his neck again. My tongue runs over the skin beneath his ear and his body jumps. His hands go to my chest and he cups my breasts beneath his hands.

  “Can I. Take. Off. Your . . . bra?”

  His voice is so uncontrolled and raspy; I’m amazed by the effect I am having on him. I nod and his eyes light up in excitement. His hands are shaky as he reaches under the shirt and up my back, unclasping my bra as soon as his fingers touch the strap with a dexterity that makes me think for a minute about how many times he has done this before. I force the thoughts to the back of my mind, and Hardin slides the straps down my arms, making me let go of him. Tossing my bra off the bed, he returns his hands up under my shirt and grabs hold of my breasts again. His fingers lightly pinch my nipples as he leans forward to kiss me. I moan into his mouth and reach down and grab his length again.

  “Oh, Tessa, I’m going to come,” he says, and I feel the wetness growing in my panties even though he is only touching my chest. I feel like I may come, too, from his moans and his gentle assault against my breasts alone. His legs tense under me and his kiss becomes sloppier. His hands drop down by his sides, and I feel a wetness spread through his boxers and pull my hand away. I have never made anyone else come before. My chest heats, filling with a strange new sense that I’m now one step closer to being a woman. Staring down at the wet spot on Hardin’s boxers, I love the control I feel over him. I love that I could bring his body pleasure the way he does mine.

  Hardin’s head rolls back and he takes a few deep breaths while I sit on his thighs, unsure what to do. After a moment, his eyes open and he lifts his head back up to look at me. A lazy smile crosses his face and he leans forward to kiss me on my forehead.

  “I have never come like that before,” he says, and I am back to being embarrassed.

  “It was that bad?” I ask and try to move off his legs. He stops me.

  “What? No, you were that good. It usually takes more than someone just grabbing me through my boxers.”

  A pang of jealousy hits me. I don’t want to think about all the other girls that have made Hardin feel this way. He takes in my silence and cups my cheek, brushing his thumb along my temple. I am comforted by the fact that the others had to do more than I did, but I still wish there weren’t any others. I don’t know why I bother to feel this way; Hardin and I are still unresolved. We are never going to date or be anything other than this, but right now, I just want to live in the moment, just the two of us. I laugh a little as the thought c
rosses my mind. I am not a “live in the moment” type of person at all.

  “What are you thinking?” he asks, but I shake my head. I don’t want to tell him about my jealous thoughts. It’s not fair, and I don’t want that conversation.

  “Oh come on, Tessa, just tell me,” he says, and I shake my head again. In a very un-Hardin move he grabs hold of my hips and begins to tickle me. I scream with laughter and fall off him and onto the soft bed. He continues to tickle me until I can’t breathe. His laughter booms through the room—and it’s the most beautiful sound I have ever heard. I have never heard him laugh this way, and something tells me hardly anyone has. Despite his flaws, his many flaws, I consider myself lucky to see him in this moment.

  “Okay . . . okay! I will tell you!” I screech and he stops.

  “Good choice,” he says. But looking down, he adds, “But hold that thought. I need to change my boxers.”

  I blush.

  chapter thirty-four

  Hardin goes over to his dresser and opens the top drawer, pulling out a pair of blue-and-white plaid boxers, and holds them up in the air with a disgusted look on his face.

  “What?” I ask, and prop my head up on my elbow and look at him.

  “These are hideous,” he says.

  I laugh, but I’m also pleased that the earlier secret about whether or not there were clothes in the dresser is now settled at least. Landon’s mother or Hardin’s father must have purchased all the clothes in the room for Hardin. Which is sad, really, that they would buy clothes and fill the dresser in hopes that Hardin would come around sometime.

  “They aren’t so bad,” I tell him, and he rolls his eyes. I doubt anything will look as good as Hardin’s usual black boxer briefs, but then again I can’t imagine anything looking actually bad on him.

  “Well, beggars can’t be choosers. Back in a minute,” he says and walks out of the room wearing only his wet boxers.

  Oh God, what if Landon sees him? I will be humiliated. I need to find Landon first thing in the morning to explain the turn of events. But, really, what am I going to say? It’s not what it looked like. We were just talking and then I agreed to stay the night, and somehow I ended up in my panties and a T-shirt, and then gave him the closest thing to a hand job that I know of? That sounds terrible.

 
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