After (The After Series) by Anna Todd

  I move his hands off his knees and pull them, bringing him to me. He hovers over me, uncertainty clear in his green eyes. I hook my finger into the collar of his shirt and pull him down to me. Eye to eye. He rests his knee beside my thighs on the bench and I look up at him again. He takes a few breaths, his eyes shifting from my lips back to my eyes. His tongue swipes over his lower lip and I inch closer. I expected him to kiss me by now.

  “Kiss me,” I beg.

  And he moves his head closer, leaning into me. He snakes his arm around my back and guides me down so my back is lying flat on the cushioned bench. I open my legs for him, for the second time today, and he lays his body between them. His face is inches away from mine when I lift my head up to kiss him. I can’t wait any longer. As our lips brush, he gently pulls away, nuzzles his head in my neck, planting a small kiss there, then slowly brings his lips back up. He kisses the corner of my mouth, then my jaw, sending shivers of pleasure through me. His lips brush over mine once more and he runs his tongue over my bottom lip before closing his lips around mine and opening them again. The kiss is gentle and slow, as he laps his tongue around mine. One of his hands rests on my hip, fisted around the material of my dress where it has bunched up at my thighs. The other hand caresses my cheek as he kisses me; my arms wrap around his back, hugging him tightly to me. Every fiber of me wants to bite his lip, to pull his shirt over his head, but the soft and gentle way he is kissing me feels even better than the usual burn of fire.

  Hardin’s lips mold to mine, and my hands travel up his back. His narrow hips grind down on mine, and a whimper escapes my lips. He swallows my gasps as his lips trace mine, movement for movement.

  “Oh, Tessa, the things you do to me . . . the way you make me feel,” he whispers into my mouth. His words unravel me and I reach for the hem of his shirt. His hand travels down from my cheek, to my chest, and down my stomach, where goose bumps are forming on my skin. His hand moves to the small space between our bodies where my legs are parted, and I gasp as he rubs gently over the lace of my tights. He applies a little more pressure and I groan and arch my back off the bench.

  No matter how angry or upset he makes me, one touch from him and I am under his control. But his calm and control seem to be faltering; he is trying to hold on to them, but I can see his resolve crumbling. He brushes his nose against my cheek as I pull his shirt up and over his head. It strains to get over his hair, but he reaches one hand up and tugs it as he lifts off me. He tosses the shirt and immediately dips his head back down and finds my lips once more. I grab his hand and move it back between my thighs; a small chuckle vibrates through him and he looks down at me.

  “What do you want to do, Tessa?” His voice is hoarse.

  “Anything,” I tell him and mean it. I will do anything with him, and I don’t care about the consequences that might come tomorrow. He said he wants me, and I am his to take. I have been since I kissed him that first time.

  “Don’t say anything, because there are a lot of things I can do to you,” he groans and pushes his thumb against my tights and panties. My imagination runs wild with ideas.

  “You decide,” I moan as he moves his thumb in a circle.

  “You’re so wet for me I can feel you through the tights.” He licks his lips and I moan again. “Let’s get these tights off, okay?” he asks, but before I answer he moves off me. His hands slide up my dress and grab the tights, pulling them down, along with my panties at the same time. The cool air hits me and I buck my hips involuntarily.

  “Fuck,” he mutters as his eyes rake my body and stop between my legs. Unable to stop himself, he reaches down and slides his finger down my spot. Then he brings his finger to his lips and he sucks on it with hooded eyes. Oh. Watching him sends heat through my whole body.

  “Remember when I said I wanted to taste you?” he asks, and I nod. “Well, I want to now. Okay?” His expression is eager. I am a little embarrassed by the idea, but if it feels as good as him rubbing me at the stream, I want him to. He licks his lips again and bores his eyes into mine. The last time I was going to let him do this, we ended up fighting because he was being cruel. I hope he doesn’t ruin it again.

  “Do you want me to?” he asks, and I groan.

  “Please, Hardin, don’t make me say it,” I beg.

  He brings his hand back down to me and runs his fingers along my hips in wide circles. “I won’t,” he promises. I am relieved. I nod my head and he lets out a breath.

  “We should move to the bed so you have more room,” he suggests and reaches for my hand. I pull my dress down once I stand up and he smirks at me. He walks to the side of the bay window and pulls a string, setting free thick blue curtains, making the room much darker.

  “Take it off,” he demands quietly and I do as I am told. The dress pools at my feet and I am left in just my bra. My bra is plain white, with a small bow on the dip between the cups. His eyes go wide and loiter on my chest, and he reaches out and takes the small bow between his long fingers.

  “Cute.” He smiles and I cringe. I need to invest in some new underthings if Hardin is going to keep seeing me in them. I try to cover my naked body from him. I am more comfortable with Hardin than I have ever been with anyone, but I am still shy standing here clad in only a bra. I glance toward the door and he pads over to make sure it’s locked.

  “Are you smirking at me?” I scold and he shakes his head.

  “Never.” He chuckles and leads me to the bed. “Lie down at the edge of the bed, with your feet on the ground so I can kneel in front of you,” he instructs.

  I lay back on the large bed and he slides me down by my thighs. My feet dangle but don’t reach the floor.

  “I never realized how tall the bed is,” he says and laughs. “So maybe lie toward the top.” I scoot toward the top of the bed and Hardin follows behind. He hooks his arms around my thighs and bends his knees slightly so he is crouched in front of me, between my legs. The anticipation of how this will feel is driving me wild. I wish I had more experience so I would know what to expect.

  Hardin’s curls tickle my thighs as he lowers his head.

  “I’m going to make you feel so good,” he mutters against my stomach. My pulse is thrumming through my ears, and I temporarily forget we’re in the house with other people.

  “Spread your legs, baby,” he whispers and I oblige. He gives me a dazed smile and brings his mouth down and kisses just under my belly button. His tongue swirls around my creamy skin and my eyes flutter closed. He nips at the soft skin covering my hip and I yelp in surprise. He sucks the skin between his lips. It stings, but there is something so sensual about it that I don’t mind the pain.

  “Hardin, please,” I breathe. I need some sort of relief from his slow, teasing torture.

  Then, without warning his tongue presses flat against my center, making me cry out in pleasure. He makes small strokes with his tongue, and my hands grip the comforter on the bed. I wriggle underneath his skillful tongue and he wraps his arms tighter, holding me in place. I feel Hardin’s finger rubbing along with his tongue’s caresses and the burn begins to build in my stomach. I feel the cool metal of his lip ring, which adds a different texture and temperature to the sensation.

  Without my permission, Hardin slowly slides a finger inside me, gently easing it in. I clench my eyes closed, waiting for the uncomfortable sting to go away.

  “Are you okay?” He lifts his head up slightly, his plump lips glistening from me. I nod, unable to find the words, and he withdraws his finger slowly and slides it back in. It feels incredible in combination with his tongue. I groan and move a hand to his soft hair, threading my fingers through and tugging. His finger keeps entering me and drawing out slowly. Thunder booms throughout the house, echoing off the walls and all around, but I am too distracted to care.

  “Hardin,” I moan as his tongue finds that overly sensitive spot and he gently sucks. I never knew that anything could feel this way, this good. My body is overtaken by sensation and pleasure,
and I sneak a peak down at Hardin, who looks incredibly sexy between my legs, the hard muscles under his skin contracting as he pumps his finger in and out.

  “Should I make you come this way?” he asks. I whimper at the loss of his tongue and nod frantically. He smirks and touches his tongue to me again, this time in flicking motions against that spot that I have come to love, literally.

  “Oh, Hardin,” I breathe and he groans against me, sending the vibrations straight through my center. My legs stiffen, and I mutter his name repeatedly while I come undone. My vision blurs and I screw my eyes shut. Hardin holds me and flicks his tongue faster. I take one hand from his hair and cover my mouth with it, biting down to ensure I won’t scream. Seconds later, my head hits the pillow and my chest is heaving up and down as I try to catch my breath. My body is still tingling from the euphoric state I was just in.

  I am barely aware of Hardin’s body moving up on the bed and lying next to me. He props himself on his elbow and brings his thumb up to caress my cheek. He lets me come back to reality before trying to make me speak.

  “How was that?” he asks, his voice holding a hint of uncertainty as I roll my head to look at him.

  “Mmm-hmm.” I nod and he chuckles. It was incredible, beyond incredible. Now I know why everyone does this type of stuff.

  “That sedated, huh?” he teases. The pad of his thumb brushes my lower lip. I bring my tongue out to wet my lips, and it touches Hardin’s thumb.

  “Thank you.” I smile shyly. I don’t know why I feel shy after what we just did, but I do. Hardin has seen me in my most vulnerable state, a state that no one else has, and that terrifies me as much as it excites me.

  “I should have warned you before using my fingers. I tried to be gentle,” he says in apology.

  I shake my head. “It’s okay, it felt good.” I blush.

  He smiles and tucks my hair behind my ear. A small shiver runs down my spine, and Hardin’s brows lower. “Are you cold?” he asks and I nod. He surprises me by pulling the side of the comforter over and covering my almost naked body.

  Bravery brings me to scoot closer to him. His eyes regard me carefully as I curl my body and lay my head against the hard surface of his stomach. His skin is colder than I expected, though the breeze is still floating through the room from the storm. I pull the sheets up and cover his chest, hiding my head underneath. He lifts them up, revealing my face, and I duck away from him, laughing lightly at our little game of hide-and-seek.

  I wish I could just lay here with him for hours, feeling his heartbeat against my cheek. “How much longer until we have to go back downstairs?” I ask.

  He shrugs. “We should probably go down now before they think we are fucking up here,” he jokes and we both laugh a little. I’m getting more and more used to his foul mouth, but it’s still a little shocking to hear him say those words so casually. The thing that shocks me the most is the way my skin tingles when he says them.

  I groan and climb out of bed. I feel Hardin’s eyes on me as I bend down to retrieve my clothes. I toss him his shirt and he pulls it over his head, then ruffles his messy hair. I step into my panties and shimmy them on under his gaze. The tights are next and I almost trip over them as I step into them.

  “Stop watching me; it’s making me nervous,” I tell him, and he smiles, his dimples as prominent as ever.

  His hands slide into his pocket and he looks up at the ceiling. I giggle and finally get the tights up.

  “Can you zip my dress once I get it on?” I ask him. His eyes scan my body and I can see his pupils dilate from three feet away. I glance down and I see why. My breasts are spilling out of my bra and the lace tights hang just above my hips; I suddenly feel like a pinup girl.

  “Y-yeah. I. Will help,” he says, gulping. It is astounding that someone as handsome—well, as sexy—as Hardin would be as affected by me as he is. I know I’m considered attractive, but I am nothing like the girls he usually messes with. I have no tattoos, no piercings, and I dress conservatively.

  I put the dress on and turn away from him, exposing my back to him, waiting for him to zip it up. I lift my hair up and hold it above my head. His finger grazes along my spine, skipping over my bra strap before he zips the dress. I shiver and lean back against him. I purposely push my behind against him and hear him suck in a breath. His hands move down to my hips and he squeezes gently. I feel him hardening against me, sending electricity through me for what feels like the hundredth time today.

  “Hardin?” Karen’s voice calls from the hall as a delicate tapping hits the door, and I become extremely thankful we’re both dressed.

  Hardin rolls his eyes and brings his lips to my ear. “Later,” he promises and walks to the door. He switches on the light before opening it, revealing Karen.

  “I am so sorry for intruding, but I made some desserts as well, and thought maybe you two would like some?” she offers sweetly. Hardin doesn’t answer her but he looks back at me, waiting for my reply.

  “Yes, that would be lovely,” I say with a smile and she grins back.

  “Great! I will see you downstairs,” she tells us and turns to walk away.

  “I’ve already had my dessert,” Hardin says mischievously, and I swat his arm.

  chapter forty-nine

  Karen has made lots of sweets for us to eat. I eat a few while she and I discuss her love for baking. Landon doesn’t join us in the dining room but it doesn’t seem to cause any suspicion. I look over to where he just sits on the couch with his book on his lap and remind myself that I need to make sure I talk to him soon. I don’t want to lose his friendship.

  “I love baking as well, I am just no good at it,” I tell Karen, and she laughs.

  “I would love to teach you,” she says. Hope is evident in her brown eyes and I nod.

  “That would be great.” I don’t have the heart to say no. I feel for her; she is really trying to make an effort to get to know me. She believes me to be Hardin’s girlfriend and I can’t tell her otherwise. Hardin has made no move to tell her or his father, either, which gives me a swell of hope. I wish this night was how my life could always be, enjoying spending time with Hardin, his eyes constantly meeting mine as I converse with his father and future stepmother. He is being nice, for the last hour at least, and his thumb rubs over my knuckles in a gentle gesture that gives me a constant string of butterflies. The rain continues to pour outside and the wind howls.

  After we finish the desserts, Hardin gets up from the table. I look at him questionably and he leans down to whisper in my ear.

  “Be right back, just going to the loo,” he says, and I watch him disappear down the hall.

  “We both cannot thank you enough. It is so wonderful having Hardin here, even if it’s only one dinner,” Karen says and Ken takes her hand above the table.

  “She’s right. It is wonderful, as his father, to see my only son in love. I had always worried he wouldn’t be capable . . . he was an . . . angry child,” Ken mutters and looks at me. He must notice how I shift uncomfortably in my seat, because he follows up with “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable, we just love to see him happy.”

  Happy? Love? I choke on my breath and break into a heap of coughs; the cool water in my glass slides down my throat, calming it, and I look back at them. They think Hardin is in love with me? It would be incredibly rude to laugh at them, but he obviously doesn’t know his son.

  Before I can respond, Hardin returns and I thank the heavens that I didn’t have to respond to their sweet, but false, assumptions. Hardin doesn’t sit down, but rather stands behind me with his hands on the back of the chair.

  “We really should get going. I have to take Tessa back to the dorms,” he says.

  “Oh, don’t be silly. You two should stay tonight. It’s storming outside and we have plenty of room. Right, Ken?”

  Hardin’s father nods. “Of course, you’re both welcome to stay.”

  Hardin looks at me. I want to stay. To extend my time w
ith Hardin in what feels like a world away from the world, especially when he is in such a good mood.

  “I don’t mind,” I answer. But I don’t want to upset him by wanting to stay here any longer. His eyes are unreadable, but he doesn’t seem to be angry.

  “Great! Then it’s settled. I’ll show Tessa to a room . . . unless you’ll be staying with Hardin in his?” she asks. There is no judgment behind her voice, only kindness.

  “No, I’d like my own room, please. If that’s okay?”

  Hardin glares at me.

  So he wanted me in his room with him? The thought excites me, but I don’t feel comfortable with them knowing Hardin and I are at that point yet. My snarky subconscious reminds me that we aren’t dating at all, or even close to it, so being at a “point” isn’t possible. That I have a boyfriend who is not Hardin. I ignore her as usual and follow Karen upstairs. I wonder why she’s sending us straight to bed, but I’m not comfortable enough to ask.

  She shows me to a room directly across from Hardin’s. It isn’t quite as large, but it’s decorated just as beautifully. The bed is a little smaller and sits on a white frame against the wall. There are pictures of boats and anchors scattered through the room. I thank her multiple times and she hugs me again before leaving me to my room.

  I walk around the room and find myself at the window. The backyard is much bigger than I had thought; I had only seen the deck and the trees on the left side. On the right side there is a small building that looks like a greenhouse, but I can’t tell through the heavy rain.

  As I stare at the rain, my thoughts begin to run wild. Today has been the best time I have ever had with Hardin, despite his multiple outbursts. He has held my hand, which he never does; he put his hand on my back as we walked, and he did his best to comfort me when I was worried about Landon. This is the furthest we have gone in our . . . friendship, or whatever this is. That’s the confusing part: I know we can’t and never will actually date, but maybe whatever we are doing now will be good enough? I have never imagined being someone’s friend with benefits, but I know I won’t be able to stay away from him. I have tried many times now, and it never works.

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