After (The After Series) by Anna Todd


  “Those . . . um . . . are really sexy.”

  I flush. “Thanks.”

  “Much better than your fuzzy cloud pants,” he teases, and I laugh while taking a seat on the floor. I feel oddly comfortable in his room. Maybe it’s the books, or Hardin, I am not sure.

  “Did you mean it in the car when you said you barely know me?” he asks quietly. His question is very unexpected.

  “Sort of. You aren’t the easiest person to get to know.”

  “I feel like I know you,” he says, his eyes locked onto mine.

  “Yeah, because I let you. I tell you things about myself.”

  “I tell you things, too. It may not seem that way, but you know me better than anyone else does.” He looks down at the floor, then back into my eyes. He looks sad and vulnerable, such a difference from his usual angry intensity, but equally as captivating.

  I am not sure what to say to his confession; I feel like I do know Hardin on a very personal level, like somehow we connect much deeper than just knowing minuscule bits of information about each other, but it doesn’t feel like nearly enough. I need to know more.

  “You know me better than anyone, too,” I tell him. He knows me, the real Tessa. Not the Tessa that I have to pretend to be around my mother, or even Noah. I have told Hardin things about my father leaving, my mother’s criticism, and my fears that I never told anyone else. Hardin seems very pleased with this information; a smile covers his beautiful face as he stands from the chair and moves over to me. He takes my hands into his and pulls me up.

  “What do you want to know, Tessa?” he asks, and my heart warms. Hardin is finally willing to tell me more about himself. I am this much closer to figuring out this complicated and angry, yet sometimes lovely, man.

  Hardin and I both lie back on the bed, eyes on the ceiling as I ask him at least a hundred questions. He talks about the place he grew up, Hampstead, and how nice it was living there. He talks about the scar on his knee from the first time he learned to ride a bike with no training wheels, and how his mother passed out from the blood. His father was at the bar that day—all day long—so his mother was the one who taught him. He tells me about grade school and how he spent most of his time reading. He was never very social, and as he got older, his dad drank more and more and his parents fought more and more. He tells me about how he got kicked out of secondary school for fighting but his mother begged them to let him back. He began getting tattoos at sixteen; his friend would do them in his basement. His first tattoo was a star, and once he got one he wanted more and more. He tells me he doesn’t have a specific reason why he hasn’t tattooed his back; he just hasn’t gotten around to it yet. He hates birds, despite the two inked above his collarbones, and loves classic cars. The best day of his life was when he learned to drive, and the worst was when his parents divorced. His father stopped drinking when he was fourteen and has been trying to make up for all the terrible years, but Hardin isn’t having it.

  My head is swimming with all of this new information and I feel like I finally understand him. There are still many more things I would love to know about him, but he falls asleep while telling me about the playhouse made from cardboard boxes that he and his mother and her friend made when he was eight. As I watch him sleep, he appears so much younger now that I know about his childhood, which seems like it was mostly happy until his father’s alcoholism poisoned it, creating the angry Hardin of today. I lean over and give the proud rebel a kiss on his cheek before crawling into bed to sleep, too.

  I don’t want to wake him, so I pull the comforter sideways to cover myself up. That night, my dreams are clouded by a curly-haired little boy falling off a bicycle.

  “STOP!”

  I jolt awake at the pained sound of Hardin’s voice. I look around for him, then peer over the bed to see his body jerking on the floor. I hurry out of the bed to get down to him and gently shake his shoulders to try to wake him. I remember how difficult it was the last time, so I lean down on him and wrap my small arms around his shoulders as he tries to thrash away from me. A whimper escapes his perfect lips and then his eyes shoot open.

  “Tess,” he gasps and wraps his arms around me. He is panting, sweating. I should have asked him about the nightmares, but I didn’t want to be greedy; he told me much, much more than I had expected him to.

  “I’m here, I’m here,” I say to comfort him. I pull his arm, gesturing for him to get up and come to bed. When his eyes meet mine, the confusion and fear slowly fade out of them.

  “I thought you left,” he whispers. We lie down and he pulls me as close to him as possible. I run my fingers through his damp and unruly hair, and his eyes flutter closed.

  I don’t say anything. I just continue to rub his scalp to calm him.

  “Don’t ever leave me, Tess,” he whispers and falls back into sleep. My heart nearly explodes at his plea, and I know that as long as he wants me here, I’m here.

  chapter fifty-seven

  The next morning I wake up before Hardin and manage to roll him off me and untangle our legs without waking him. The memory of him saying my name in relief and all the secrets about himself he disclosed makes my stomach flutter. He was so unguarded and open last night, it made me care for him even more. The depth of my feelings for him scares me and I feel like I can tell they’re there, but I’m not really ready to face them yet. I get my curling iron and the small bag of Steph’s makeup I borrowed, with her permission, of course, and walk down to the bathroom.

  The hallway is empty, and no one knocks on the door while I get ready. I’m not as lucky as I make my way back to Hardin’s room. Three guys come down the hall in my direction, one of them Logan.

  “Hey, Tessa!” he chirps and flashes me his perfect smile.

  “Hey, how are you?” I feel awkward with the three of them staring at me.

  “Good, just on our way out. Are you like moving in here or something?” he says, and laughs.

  “No, definitely not. Just . . . um . . . visiting.” I have no clue what to say. The tall guy bends down and whispers something into Logan’s ear. I can’t make out what he says, but I look away. “Well, I will see you guys later,” I say.

  “Yeah, see you tonight at the party,” Logan says and walks away.

  What party? Why wouldn’t Hardin mention a party to me? Maybe he doesn’t plan on being there? Or maybe he doesn’t want you to come, my subconscious adds. Who throws a party on a Tuesday, anyway?

  When I reach Hardin’s door, it opens before I reach the handle.

  “Where were you?” he says and opens it wide enough for me to walk in.

  “Doing my hair. I wanted to let you sleep,” I tell him.

  “I told you not to be wandering the halls, Tessa,” he scolds.

  “And I told you not to boss me around, Hardin,” I add sarcastically, and his features soften.

  “Touché.” He laughs and steps closer to me. He places one of his hands on the small of my back and puts the other beneath my shirt and on my stomach. His fingers are rough with calluses but glide gently on my skin, moving higher and higher on my stomach.

  “However, you really should wear a bra when you’re roaming the halls of a fraternity house, Theresa.” He brings his mouth to my ear at the exact moment that his fingers find my breasts. He rubs over the sensitive area with his thumbs, making them harden under his touch. He sucks in a sharp breath, and I am frozen but my heart is racing. “You never know what kind of perverts are lurking in the halls,” he says softly into my ear.

  His thumbs swirl around my nipples, before he pinches them lightly. My head falls to his chest and I am unable to control my moans as his fingers continue their gentle assault.

  “I bet I could make you come just by doing this,” he says and applies more pressure.

  I had no idea that this could feel this . . . good. I nod and Hardin chuckles, his mouth against my ear. “Do you want me to do that? Make you come?” he asks and I nod again. Does he even have to ask? My heavy breathi
ng and shaky knees should give it away.

  “Good girl, now let’s move to the—” he begins when the alarm on my cell phone goes off.

  I snap to attention. “Oh God! We have to leave in ten minutes, Hardin, and you’re not even dressed. I’m not even dressed!”

  I pull away, but he shakes his head and pulls me back to him, this time pulling my pants and panties down my legs. He reaches over and shuts my phone off.

  “I only need two minutes; that leaves eight to get dressed.” He lifts me off the floor, taking me over to the bed. He sits me down on it, kneels in front of me, and pulls me by my ankles to the edge. “Spread your legs, baby,” he coos, and I oblige.

  I know this wasn’t on my schedule for this morning, but I can’t think of a better way to start my day. His long finger traces up my thighs and he holds me down with one hand. His head dips down and he licks up and down my core once before puckering his lips and sucking. It’s that spot again, oh Lord. My hips buck off the bed and he pushes me back down and continues to hold me down. Using his other hand, he inserts a finger into me, pumping faster than ever before. I can’t decide if his hands or his sucking feels better, but the combination is mind-blowing. Within seconds I feel that burn in the pit of my stomach and he pumps his finger faster.

  “I’m going to try two, okay?” he says and I moan in approval. The feeling is strange and a little uncomfortable, like the first time he slipped his one finger inside me, but when he places his lips back on me and sucks again, I forget about the subtle pain. I whimper as Hardin removes his mouth once more.

  “Shit, you’re so tight, baby.” His words alone are going to send me over the edge. “You okay?” he asks.

  I grab him by his curls and push his face down. He chuckles and then attaches his lips again. I moan his name and pull his hair as I experience my strongest orgasm ever. Not that I have had many, but this one was definitely the quickest and strongest. Hardin places a small kiss on my hipbone before standing and walking to the closet. I lift my head and try to catch my breath. He walks back over and wipes me off with a T-shirt, which might be more embarrassing if I were fully coherent.

  “I’ll be right back. I’m going to brush my teeth.” He smiles and exits the room. I stand up and get myself dressed and check the time. We have three minutes until we have to leave. When Hardin returns, he quickly gets dressed and we’re gone.

  “Do you know how to get there?” I ask as he pulls out of the driveway.

  “Yeah, my father’s best mate from university is Christian Vance,” he tells me. “I’ve been there a couple of times.”

  “Oh . . . wow.” I knew Ken had a connection there, but I didn’t know the CEO was his best friend.

  “Don’t worry, he’s a nice guy. A bit of a square but nice; you’ll fit right in.” His smile is contagious. “You look lovely, by the way.”

  “Thank you. You seem to be in a good mood this morning,” I say teasingly.

  “Yeah, having my head between your thighs this early in the morning seems like an omen for a good day.” He laughs and takes my hand in his.

  “Hardin!” I scold him, but he only laughs once more.

  The drive goes quickly, and in no time we’re pulling around back of a six-story building with mirrored glass sides and a large V placed on the front.

  “I’m nervous,” I admit as I check my makeup in the mirror.

  “Don’t be; you will do fine. You are so smart, and he’ll see that,” Hardin assures me.

  God, I love when he is nice like this.

  “Thank you,” I say and lean across to kiss him. It is a sweet and simple kiss.

  “I’ll be in the car waiting for you,” he says and kisses me again.

  The inside of the building is just as elegant as the outside. When I reach the front desk, I am given a day pass and instructed to go to the sixth floor. I reach the desk on the sixth floor and give the young man my name.

  He flashes his perfect white smile at me before walking me to a large office and saying, “Mr. Vance, Theresa Young is here,” to a middle-aged man with light patches of facial hair I can see through the doorway.

  Mr. Vance waves me in and walks toward me to shake my hand. His green eyes can be seen from across the room and his smile is comforting and relaxes me as he tells me to have a seat.

  “It’s very nice to meet you, Theresa. Thank you for coming,” he says.

  “Tessa, call me Tessa. Thank you for having me,” I say with a smile.

  “So, Tessa, you are a freshman English major?” he asks.

  “Yes, sir,” I say, nodding.

  “Ken Scott gave you a great recommendation, says I would be missing out if I didn’t give you an internship.”

  “Ken is a very kind man,” I say and he nods, rubbing his beard with his fingers.

  He asks me to tell him what I’ve been reading of late and who are my favorite and least favorite authors, and to explain why I feel that way. He nods and hmms through my explanation, and when I finish, he smiles.

  “Well, Tessa, when can you begin? Ken says with your courses it’s easy enough to condense your schedule so you can be here two days a week and take classes on campus the other three,” he says and my mouth falls open.

  “Really?” is all I can say. This is beyond my expectations. I had assumed I would have to take night classes and come here during the day, if I got the offer.

  “Yes, and you will also receive credit hours toward your degree for your time spent here.”

  “Thank you so much. This is such an amazing opportunity, thank you, thank you again.” I can’t believe how lucky I am.

  “We will discuss your pay Monday when you start.”

  “Pay?” I had assumed it would be an unpaid internship.

  “Yes, of course you will be paid for your time.” He smiles.

  I just nod, afraid that if I open my mouth I will thank him for the thousandth time.

  I PRACTICALLY RUN to the car and Hardin climbs out as I near it.

  “Well?” he asks and I squeal.

  “I got it! It’s paid and I will be here two days a week and in school three days—and I get college credit—and he was so nice—and your dad is wonderful for doing this for me—and you are, too, of course. I am just so excited and I . . . well . . . I guess that’s it.” I laugh and he wraps his arms around me, squeezing me tight and lifting me into the air.

  “I’m so happy for you,” he says and I bury my fingers in his hair.

  “Thank you,” I say and he puts me down. “Really, thank you for driving me and waiting in the car.”

  He assures me that it’s no problem, and as we both climb into the car he asks, “What do you want to do for the rest of the afternoon?”

  “Go back to school, of course; we can still make it to Literature.”

  “Really? I bet we could find something much more fun to do.”

  “No, I’ve already missed too many classes this week; I don’t want to miss any more. I’m going to Literature, and so should you.” I smile.

  He rolls his eyes but nods in agreement.

  We make it just in time for class and I gush to Landon about the internship. He congratulates me and gives me a tight hug. Hardin rudely makes gagging noises behind us and I kick back at his leg.

  After class Hardin walks out with Landon and me as we discuss the details of the bonfire this Friday. I agree to meet Landon at his house at five for dinner and then we’ll go to the bonfire at seven. Hardin stays quiet during our discussion, and I wonder if he will accompany me. He said at one point he would go, but I’m pretty sure that was only to compete with Zed. Landon says his goodbyes as we reach the parking lot and walks off, whistling.

  “Scott!” someone calls. We both turn around to see Nate and Molly walking toward us. Great, Molly. She is wearing a tank top and a red leather skirt. It’s only Tuesday and she’s already almost used up her skank quota for the week. She should save that stuff for the weekends.

  “Hey,” Hardin says and take
s a step away from me.

  “Hey, Tessa,” Molly says in return.

  I return her greeting and stand awkwardly as Hardin and Nate exchange hellos.

  “You’re ready, right?” Nate asks him, and it becomes clear that Hardin told them to meet him here. I don’t know why I had assumed we would hang out again; it’s not like we can spend every day together, but he could have said something.

  “Yeah, I’m ready,” Hardin tells them and looks at me. “See you around, Tessa,” he casually says and walks off with them. Molly looks back at me with a smirk on her makeup-covered face as she climbs into the passenger seat of Hardin’s car and Nate gets in back.

  And I stand on the pavement and wonder what the hell just happened.

  chapter fifty-eight

  During my walk back to my room I realize how foolish I have been, expecting Hardin to be different than before. I should have known better. I should have known that this was too good to be true. Hardin kissing me in front of Landon, Hardin being nice and wanting “more.” Hardin telling me about his childhood. I should have known that as soon as his friends came along he would go right back to the Hardin that up until two weeks ago I despised.

  “Hey, girl! You coming tonight?” Steph asks as I walk into our room. Tristan is sitting on her bed staring at her in the adoring way I wish Hardin would stare at me.

  “No, I’m going to study,” I say. It’s nice to know that everyone was invited, yet Hardin didn’t see fit to even mention the party to me. Probably so he could hang out with Molly without any distractions.

  “Oh come on! It will be fun. Hardin will be there.” She smiles and I force one back to her.

  “Really, it’s okay. I need to call my mother and catch up with her and plan my assignments for next week.”

  “Laaaame!” Steph teases and grabs her purse. “Suit yourself. I’ll be out all night, so if you need anything let me know,” she says and hugs me goodbye.

 
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