After (The After Series) by Anna Todd


  “How do you not know? Have you been drinking?” His voice is louder now.

  “No, I just . . .”

  “You what!” he shouts and turns his body to face me. I can’t read the energy between us, and for a moment I sit there, trying to get a handle on it.

  “I-I just kept thinking of you!” I finally admit.

  His stone features soften tremendously and he brings his eyes to mine. “Let’s go inside,” he says and opens the passenger door.

  chapter sixty-seven

  Karen and Ken are sitting on the couch in the living room and both look up when we walk in.

  “Hardin! What happened?” his father asks, panicked. He jumps up and comes over to us, but Hardin brushes him off.

  “I’m fine,” Hardin grumbles.

  “What happened to him?” Ken turns to me.

  “He got in a fight, but he hasn’t told me with who or why.”

  “I am standing right here—and I just said I am fucking fine,” Hardin says angrily.

  “Don’t talk to your father like that!” I scold him and his eyes widen. Instead of screaming at me, he takes my wrist in his busted hand and pulls me out of the room. Ken and Karen discuss Hardin’s bloody appearance as he drags me upstairs, and I hear his dad openly wonder why Hardin keeps coming here when he never used to before.

  Once we reach his room, he turns me around, pinning both of my wrists to the wall and steps up close, leaving only a few inches between us.

  “Don’t ever do that again,” he says through his teeth.

  “Do what? Let go of me, right now,” I tell him.

  He rolls his eyes but does let me go and walks over to his bed. I stay close to the door.

  “Don’t tell me how to talk to my father. Worry about your own relationship with your own father before trying to meddle with mine.”

  As soon as the words come out of his mouth, Hardin registers what he says, and he immediately looks apologetic. “I’m sorry . . . I didn’t mean it like that . . . It just came out.” He takes a step toward me with outstretched arms, but I take a step backward into the doorway.

  “Yeah—it always just ‘comes out,’ doesn’t it?” I can’t help the tears pricking my eyes. Bringing my father into this is just way too much, even for Hardin.

  “Tess, I . . .” he begins but stops himself when I hold up one hand.

  What am I doing here? Why do I keep thinking he will stop the endless string of insults long enough to have an actual conversation with me? Because I am an idiot, that’s why.

  “It’s fine, really. That’s who you are; that’s what you do. You find people’s weakness and you exploit it. You use it to your advantage. How long have you been waiting to say something about my father? You’ve probably been waiting for an opening since you met me!” I shout.

  “Damn it! No I haven’t! I wasn’t thinking when I said that! You are not innocent here—you provoke me on purpose!” he yells, even louder than I did.

  “Provoke you? I provoke you! Please, do enlighten me!” I know everyone in the house can hear. But, for once, I don’t care.

  “You always push my buttons! You constantly fight with me! You go on dates with Zed—I mean, fuck! You think I like being this way? Do you think I like you having this control over me? I hate the way you get under my skin. I loathe the way I can’t seem to stop thinking about you! I hate you . . . I really do! You’re such a pretentious little . . .” He stops and looks at me. I force myself to look back at him, putting on the charade that he didn’t just tear me apart with every syllable.

  “This is what I am talking about!” He runs his hands over his hair as he paces back and forth across the room. “You . . . you make me crazy, literally fucking mental! And then you have the nerve to ask if I love you? Why would you even ask that? Because I said that one time, by accident? I told you already that I didn’t mean it, so why would you ask again? You like rejection—don’t you? That’s why you keep coming around me, isn’t it?”

  All I want to do is run, run out of this room and never, ever look back. I need to run, I need to flee.

  I try to stop it, but he has me in such a rage, I yell the thing I know will get to him, break his control: “No, I keep coming around because I love you!”

  I cover my mouth immediately, wishing I could push the words back in. He couldn’t possibly hurt me worse than he has, and I don’t want to be left wondering years from now what he would have said if I told him. I am okay with him not loving me. I got myself into this knowing how he was all along.

  He looks astonished. “You what?” He blinks rapidly as if trying to process the words.

  “Go on, tell me how much you hate me again. Go ahead and tell me how stupid I am for loving someone who can’t stand me,” I say, my voice coming out foreign and almost in a whine. I wipe my eyes and look at him again, feeling as if I’ve been gravely defeated and need to leave the scene to bandage my wounds. “I’ll be going now.”

  As I go to turn, he takes one long stride to close the gap between us. I refuse to look at him as he puts his hand on my shoulder. “Damn it, don’t go,” he says, his voice full of emotion.

  Which emotion is the question.

  “You love me?” he whispers and puts his busted hand under my chin to tilt my head to him. I dart my eyes away from his and nod slowly, waiting for him to laugh in my face.

  “Why?” His breath comes in a hot burst against my face.

  I finally bring my eyes to his and he looks . . . afraid? “What?” I ask softly.

  “Why do you love . . . how could you possibly love me?” His voice cracks and he stares at me, and I feel like the words I say next will determine my fate more than anything I’ve ever done before.

  “How could you not know that I love you?” I ask instead of answering him.

  He doesn’t think I could love him? I have no explanation except that I just do. He drives me crazy, makes me angrier than I have ever been, but somehow I fell for him, hard.

  “You told me you didn’t. And you went out with Zed. You always leave me; you left me on the porch earlier when I begged you for another chance. I told you I loved you, and you rejected me. Do you know how hard that was for me?” he says.

  I must be imagining the tears welling in the corners of his eyes, though I am too aware of his callused fingers under my chin.

  “You took it back before I could even process what you said. You’ve done a lot of things to hurt me, Hardin,” I tell him and he nods.

  “I know . . . I’m sorry. Let me make it up to you? I know I don’t deserve you. I don’t have the right to even be asking this . . . but please, just one chance. I am not promising not to fight with you, or get mad at you, but I am promising to give myself to you, completely. Please, just let me try to be what you need.” He sounds so unsure of himself, it turns my insides to liquid.

  “I want to think this can work, but I just don’t know how it could, so much damage has already been done.”

  But my eyes betray me as the tears fall. Hardin brings his fingers up from my chin and captures them, even as a single tear escapes down his own cheek.

  “Do you remember when you asked me who I love the most in the world?” he asks, his lips inches from mine.

  I nod, though it seems so long ago, and I didn’t think he was even paying attention.

  “It’s you. You’re the person that I love most in the world.”

  His words surprise me and dissolve the ache and the anger in my chest.

  Before I will let myself believe him and turn me to putty in his arms, I ask, “This isn’t part of your sick game, is it?”

  “No, Tessa. I’m done with the games. I just want you. I want to be with you, in a real relationship. You’ll have to teach me what in the hell that even means, of course.” He laughs nervously and I join him with earnest laughter of my own.

  “I have missed your laugh. I haven’t heard it enough. I want to be the one to make you laugh, not cry. I know I am a lot to handle—”
r />   I cut him off by pressing my lips against his. His kisses are rushed and I can taste blood from his cut. My knees want to buckle from the electricity shooting through me, it seems so long ago that I last felt his mouth on mine. I love this damaged, self-loathing asshole so much that I’m afraid it will crush me. He lifts me up and I wrap my thighs around him, tangling my fingers into his hair. He moans into my mouth and I gasp, pulling harder. My tongue runs over his bottom lip and when he winces, I pull away.

  “Who did you get in a fight with?” I ask and he laughs.

  “You’re asking that now?”

  “Yeah, I want to know.” I smile.

  “You always have so many questions. Can’t I answer them later?” He pouts.

  “No, tell me.”

  “Only if you’ll stay.” He holds me against him tighter. “Please?” he begs.

  “Okay,” I say and kiss him again, completely forgetting about my question.

  chapter sixty-eight

  Eventually we stop kissing and I go to sit at the foot of the bed, and Hardin follows me, sitting up by the headboard.

  “Okay, now tell me who you fought with; was it Zed?” I ask, afraid of his answer.

  “No. It was just a few random guys.”

  I’m relieved it wasn’t Zed, but then I register what he actually said. “Wait, a few? How many?”

  “Three . . . or four. I am not really sure.” He laughs.

  “It’s not funny—why were you fighting, anyway?”

  “I don’t know . . .” He shrugs. “I was pissed that you left with Zed and it seemed like a good idea at the time.”

  “Well, it’s not a good idea, and now look how busted up you are.” I frown and he cocks his head to the side with a puzzled expression. “What?”

  “Nothing . . . come here,” he says and holds his arms out to me. I move across the bed and lean back on him between his legs.

  “I am sorry for the way I treated . . . well, treat you,” he says quietly into my ear.

  A shiver runs through my body from his breath in my ear and his unforced apology. “It’s okay. Well, it’s not okay. But I am going to give you one more chance.”

  I hope he doesn’t make me regret it. I don’t think I can handle any more hot and cold from him.

  “Thank you, I know I don’t deserve it. But I am selfish enough to take it,” he says, his mouth against my hair. He wraps his arms around me, and sitting with him like this feels foreign and nostalgic at the same time.

  When I stay silent he turns my shoulders slightly to have me look at him. “What’s wrong?” he asks.

  “Nothing. I’m just afraid that you’ll change your mind again,” I say. I want to dive into this headfirst but am desperately afraid I will hit the bottom.

  “I won’t. I have never changed my mind. I’ve just fought my feelings for you. I know you can’t trust my words alone, but I want to earn your trust. I won’t hurt you again,” he promises and leans his forehead against mine.

  “Please don’t,” I beg. I don’t care how pathetic I sound.

  “I love you, Tessa,” he says and my heart leaps out of my chest. The words sound perfect coming off his lips and I would do anything to be able to hear them again.

  “I love you, Hardin.” This is the first time we have both openly said the words, and I fight down my urge to panic over the possibility that he could take them back again. Even if he does, I will always have the memory of how they sounded, how they made me feel.

  “Say it again,” he whispers and turns me around to face him. In his eyes I see more vulnerability than I had thought possible for him. I move to my knees and take his face in my hands, rubbing my thumbs over the light stubble on his perfect face. I can tell by his expression that he needs me to say it, over and over again. I will say it as many times as I have to until he believes that he is worthy of someone loving him.

  “I love you,” I repeat and cover his lips with my own. He hmms in appreciation as his tongue grazes gently over mine. Kissing Hardin feels new and different each time, and he is like a drug that I can’t get enough of. His hands press against the small of my back, bringing our chests together. My mind is telling me to take it slow, to kiss him gently and to savor each second of this gentle calm between us. But my body is telling me to grab a fistful of his hair and pull his shirt over his head. His lips travel down my jaw and attach themselves to my neck.

  That does it. I can’t control myself anymore. This is us, all anger and passion and now love. An involuntary moan escapes my lips and he groans against my neck, grabbing my waist and flipping us over so he is hovering over me.

  “I . . . have . . . missed you . . . so much,” he says in between sucking the skin on my neck. I can’t keep my eyes open; it feels too good. He unzips my jacket and looks down at me with hungry eyes. He doesn’t ask for my permission before tugging at the fabric, pulling my tank top up and over my head, and he sucks in a sharp breath as I arch my back so he can unclasp my bra.

  “I have missed your body . . . the way you fit perfectly in my hand,” he growls as he palms my breasts. I moan again and he presses his lower body against mine so I can feel his arousal pressed against my lower stomach. Our breathing is rapid and uncontrolled, and I have never wanted him more. It seems the admission of our feelings hasn’t lessened the overwhelming passion between us. I am glad. His hand glides down over my bare stomach and pops open the button on my jeans. As his fingers slide into my panties he gasps into my mouth. “I have missed how wet you always are for me.”

  His words do wicked things to me, and I lift my hips again, begging for contact.

  “What do you want, Tessa?” He breathes heavily into the crook of my neck.

  “You,” I answer before my mind can process what I just said. But I know it’s true: I want Hardin in the most primal, deep way possible. His finger slides easily into me and my head falls back against the pillow as he slips in and out.

  “I love to watch you, to see how good I make you feel,” he says and I moan in response. My hands fist his T-shirt at his back. He has too many clothes on, but I can’t form a coherent sentence to demand their removal. How do we go from “I hate you” to “I love you” to this? I don’t care for the answer, though—all I care about is the way he is making me feel, the way he always makes me feel. His body slides down mine and he removes his hand from my pants. I whine from the loss of contact and he smiles.

  As he pulls down my jeans and panties, I gesture at his fully clothed body. “Undress,” I say, and he chuckles.

  “Yes, ma’am.” He smirks and pulls his shirt over his head, revealing his inked skin. I want to run my tongue along every single line on every single tattoo. I love the way the infinity symbol above his wrist is so out of place among the flames inked below it.

  “Why did you get this?” I ask, running the pad of my index finger over the mark.

  “What?” He’s distracted, his eyes and hands focused on my breasts.

  “This tattoo. It’s so different than the rest. So much . . . softer, and sort of feminine?”

  His fingers roam across both breasts and he leans in, pressing his arousal against my leg. “Feminine, huh?” He smiles and traces his lips across mine before pulling away and cocking a brow.

  I no longer have interest in his tattoo or why he got it. I just want to touch him, to feel his mouth on mine.

  Before either of us can ruin the moment with more words, I grab hold of his hair and pull his face to mine. I kiss him briefly on his lips before moving to his neck. From my experience in pleasuring Hardin, I know that the spot on his neck just above his collarbone drives him crazy. I plant wet and warm kisses against there, feeling his body jerk and tense as I lift my hips to him again. The feeling of his bare body on top of mine is exquisite. All of our bare skin is already starting to shine a little with perspiration. If one small movement is made, this will be taken to another level. A level that I had never been ready to reach until now. The flexing of Hardin’s hard muscles as
he slowly rubs himself against me, moaning, is too much for me to resist.

  “Hardin . . .” I moan as he glides against me again.

  “Yes, baby?” He stops moving. I bring my heels to his thighs and force him to move again. His eyes flutter closed. “Fuck,” he moans.

  “I want to . . .” I say.

  “You want to what?” His breath is hot and heavy against my clammy skin.

  “I want to . . . you know . . .” I say, finding myself suddenly embarrassed despite our intimate position.

  “Oh,” he says. He stops moving again and stares into my eyes. He seems to be wagering some internal battle with himself. “I . . . I don’t know if that’s a good idea . . .”

  What? “Why?” I push him off me. Here we go again.

  “No . . . no, baby. I just mean for tonight.” He wraps his arms around me and puts me on my side, lying next to me. I can’t look at him, I’m too humiliated.

  “Listen, look at me,” he says, tilting my chin. “I want to, fuck do I want to. More than anything, trust me. I have wanted to feel you around me since I met you, but I . . . I just think after everything today and . . . I just want you to be ready. I mean all the way ready, because once we do this, it’s done. You can’t take it back.”

  My humiliation eases and I look at him. I know he is right, I know I need to think about this more, but I have a hard time believing that my answer will be any different tomorrow. I should think about it when I’m not under the influence of his naked body grinding against mine. He’s worse than alcohol running through my veins.

  “Don’t be upset with me, please, just think about it for a little while, and if you’re sure that’s what you want to do, I will gladly fuck you. Over and over, when and where you want. I want to—”

  “Okay! Okay!” I bring my hand up to cover his mouth. He laughs against my palm and shrugs his shoulders as if to say, “Just saying.”

  When I remove my hand from his mouth, he playfully bites my palm and pulls me to him. “I guess I should put some clothes on so you aren’t so tempted,” he teases and I blush.

 
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