After (The After Series) by Anna Todd

  I can’t decide which aspect of this is more surprising: the fact that I just suggested we have sex, or the fact that he actually has enough respect for me to turn me down.

  “But first, let me make you feel good,” he mutters and flips me onto my back in one swift motion. His mouth ducks down between my legs, and within minutes my legs are shaking and I’m covering my mouth with my hand to keep from screaming his name for everyone to hear.

  chapter sixty-nine

  I wake up to Hardin snoring lightly, his lips pressed to my ear. My back is tight against his chest and his legs are hooked around mine. Memories from last night bring a smile to my lips, before the euphoric feeling is replaced by panic.

  Will he feel the same in the light of day? Or will he torture and taunt me for offering myself to him? I roll over slowly to face him, to examine his perfect features while his permanent frown is smoothed by sleep. I reach out and run my index finger over his eyebrow ring, then down to the bruise on his cheek. His lip looks better, as do his knuckles, since he finally agreed to let me help him wash them off last night.

  His eyes snap open as my finger greedily traces his lips. “What are you doing?” he asks. I can’t decipher his tone, which makes me uneasy.

  “Sorry . . . I was just . . .” I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what type of mood he will be in after we fall asleep in each other’s arms.

  “Don’t stop,” he whispers and closes his eyes again. Half of the weight on my chest disappears and I smile before tracing over the shape of his plump lips again, careful to avoid his injury.

  “What are your plans for today?” he asks a few minutes later, reopening his eyes.

  “I actually have plans with Karen to work on her greenhouse out back,” I tell him and he sits up.

  “Really?” He must be mad. I know he doesn’t like Karen, even though she is one of the sweetest people I have ever met.

  “Yeah,” I mumble.

  “Well, I guess I don’t have to worry about my family liking you. I think they probably like you better than they do me.” He chuckles and runs the pad of his thumb across my cheek, sending a shiver down my spine. “The problem with that is, if I keep hanging out here my dad may start to believe I actually like him,” he says, his tone light but his eyes dark.

  “Maybe you and your dad could hang out or something while Karen and I are outside?” I suggest.

  “No, definitely not,” he growls. “I’ll go back to my house, my real house, and wait for you to be done.”

  “I wanted you to stay here, though; it may take a while. Her greenhouse is in pretty bad shape,” I say.

  He seems to be at a loss for words, which makes my heart warm at the thought that he doesn’t want to be away from me for very long. “I . . . I don’t know, Tessa. My father probably doesn’t want to hang out with me anyway,” he mumbles.

  “Of course he does. When is the last time you two were even in the same room alone together?”

  He shrugs. “I don’t know . . . years. I don’t know if this is a good idea,” he says, running his hands over his head.

  “If you get uncomfortable, you can always join Karen and me outside,” I assure him. Frankly, I’m astonished that he is considering spending time with his father.

  “Fine . . . but I am only doing this because the thought of leaving you, even for a little while . . .” He stops. I know he isn’t good at expressing how he feels, so I stay quiet, giving him time to collect himself. “Well, let’s just say it’s worse than hanging out with my prick of a father.”

  I smile, despite the harsh words against his dad. The father that Hardin knows from his childhood is not the same man that is downstairs, and I hope Hardin can come around to see that. After I climb out of bed, I remember that I have no clothes with me, no toothbrush, nothing.

  “I need to go by my room and grab some things,” I tell him and he tenses.


  “Because I don’t have any clothes, and I need to brush my teeth,” I say. When I look at him he has a small smile on his face but it doesn’t reach his eyes. “What’s wrong?” I ask, afraid of the answer.

  “Nothing . . . How long will you be gone?”

  “Well, I was assuming you would come with me?” As the words leave my mouth, he visibly relaxes. What is with him?


  “Are you going to tell me why you are being weird?” I ask with my hands on my hips.

  “I’m not . . . I just thought you were trying to leave. Leave me.” His voice is so small and unlike him that I get the urge to walk over and cradle him. Instead, I gesture for him to come to me and he nods before getting up and standing in front of me.

  “I’m not going anywhere. I just need some clothes,” I tell him again.

  “I know . . . it’s just going to take a little getting used to. I’m used to you running away from me, not leaving and coming back.”

  “Well, I’m used to you pushing me away from you, so we both just have some adjusting to do.” I smile and lay my head on his chest. I feel oddly comforted by his worry. I had been terrified that he would change his mind this morning and it feels good to know he was just as afraid.

  “Yeah, I guess we do. I love you,” he says, and it hits me just as hard as it did the first time, and the twentieth, last night.

  “And I love you, too,” I tell him and he frowns.

  “Don’t say too,” he says.

  “What? Why?” My doubt is on call, waiting for him to deny me, yet hoping that he won’t.

  “I don’t know . . . it just makes me feel like you are just agreeing with me.” He looks down. I remember the promise I made to myself last night that I would do whatever I can to help him conquer his self doubt.

  “I love you,” I say and he looks up at me. His eyes soften and he gently presses his lips against mine.

  “Thank you,” he says when he pulls away.

  I roll my eyes at how flawless he looks in a plain white T-shirt and black jeans. He never wears anything except plain white or black T-shirts and black jeans every single day, but he looks perfect, every single day. He doesn’t need to follow whatever trend is hot; his simple style suits him so well. I put on my clothes from last night and he grabs my purse for me before we head downstairs.

  We find Karen and Ken in the living room. “I made some breakfast,” Karen says cheerfully.

  I feel slightly uncomfortable with Karen and Ken knowing I stayed with Hardin, again. I know they seem to be perfectly fine with it, and we are adults, but that doesn’t stop my cheeks from blushing.

  “Thank you.” I smile and she gives me a curious look; I know I will get some questions when we are in the greenhouse. I walk into the kitchen and Hardin follows. We both fill our plates with food and sit at the table.

  “Are Landon and Dakota here?” I ask Karen when she comes in. Dakota will probably be confused seeing me with Hardin again after being with Zed last night, but I shake off the negative thoughts.

  “No, they went to Seattle for the day to do some sightseeing. Were you still wanting to work on the greenhouse today?”

  “Yes, of course. I just have to run to my room and change my clothes,” I tell her.

  “Excellent! I’ll have Ken bring the bags of soil out from the shed while you’re gone.”

  “If you wait until we get back, Hardin can help him?” I half-ask, half-offer, looking to Hardin.

  “Oh, you will be around today as well?” she asks, her smile growing. How can he not see that people care about him?

  “Uh . . . yeah. I was going to just hang out here today . . . I guess. If that’s cool with y-you?” he stutters.

  “Of course! Ken! Did you hear that, Hardin is going to be here all day!” Her excitement makes me smile and Hardin roll his eyes.

  “Be nice,” I whisper in his ear as he plasters the fakest smile I have ever seen across his face. Then I giggle and kick his foot with mine.

  chapter seventy

  I remove my clothes
and take a quick shower, even though I’m going to get dirty gardening with Karen. Hardin waits patiently, fiddling through my underwear drawer to keep himself busy. When I’m done, he tells me to pack enough clothes to spend another night with him, which makes me smile. I would spend every night with him if I could.

  As we drive back, I ask him, “Do you want to get your car and take it to your dad’s?”

  “No, I’m okay. As long as you stop swerving all over the road.”

  “Excuse me? I am an excellent driver,” I say defensively.

  He snorts but keeps his mouth shut. “So what made you decide to get a car, anyway?”

  “Well, I got the internship, and I didn’t want to keep taking the bus or depending on other people to take me places.”

  He looks out the window. “Oh . . . did you go alone?”

  “Yeah . . . why?”

  “Just wondering,” he lies.

  “I was alone; that was a bad day for me,” I say and he flinches.

  “How many times did you and Zed hang out?” he asks.

  Why is he bringing this up now? “Twice: we went to dinner and a movie, then the bonfire. It wasn’t anything for you to worry about.”

  “He only kissed you once?”

  Ugh. “Yes, only once. Well, besides the time that . . . you saw. Now can we move on from this? You don’t see me asking about Molly, do you?” I snap.

  “Okay . . . okay. Let’s not fight. This is the longest we have ever gotten along, so let’s not ruin it,” he says and reaches for my hand. His thumb rubs small circles on my skin.

  “Okay,” I say, still slightly annoyed. The image of Molly on his lap makes my vision blur.

  “Aww, come on, Tess. Don’t pout.” He laughs and pokes my side.

  I can’t help but let out a giggle. “Don’t distract me! I’m driving!”

  “This is probably the only time you’ll ever tell me not to touch you.”

  “Not likely—don’t be so full of yourself.”

  Our laughter blends together and it’s a lovely sound. He brings his hand to my thigh and rubs his long fingers up and down.

  “You sure?” his raspy voice whispers and my skin tingles. My body responds to him so quickly, my pulse drumming heavily. I gulp and nod, causing him to sigh and pull his hand away. “I know that’s not true . . . but I’d rather not have you driving off the road, so I’ll just have to finger you later.”

  I swat at him, blushing. “Hardin!”

  “Sorry, baby.” He smiles, raising his hands in mock innocence and looking out the window. I love when he calls me baby; no one has called me that before. Noah and I had always thought that the ridiculous pet names people called each other were too juvenile for us, but when Hardin calls me something, my blood sings in my veins.

  When we get back to his father’s house, Ken and Karen are in the backyard waiting for us. Ken looks out of his element in jeans and a WCU T-shirt. I’ve never seen him dressed so casually, and in fact he looks a little like Hardin this way. They greet us with a smile that Hardin tries to return, but he looks uncomfortable as he shifts on his heels and buries his hands in his pockets.

  “Ready when you are,” Ken says to Hardin. He looks just as uncomfortable as Hardin, though he’s more nervous, whereas Hardin seems apprehensive.

  Hardin looks at me and I give him an encouraging nod, surprised that I have suddenly become someone he looks at for reassurance. It seems that our dynamic has changed dramatically, making me happy in a way I hadn’t expected.

  “We will be in the greenhouse, so just bring the soil in there,” Karen says and gives Ken a small kiss on the cheek. Hardin looks away from them, and for a second I think he may give me a kiss, too, but he doesn’t. I follow Karen to the greenhouse and when we walk inside I gasp. It’s huge, bigger than it looks from outside, and she wasn’t joking when she said it needs a lot of work. It is practically empty.

  Dramatically, she puts her hands on her hips with chipper glee. “It is quite the project, but I think we can do it.”

  “I think so, too,” I say.

  Hardin and Ken come in, carrying two bags of soil each. They are both silent as they drop them where Karen directs before walking back out. Twenty bags of soil and hundreds of seeds and dozens of flowers and vegetable plants later, we have a pretty good start.

  BEFORE I REALIZE IT, the sunlight has started to fade and I haven’t seen Hardin in a few hours. I hope he and Ken are both still alive.

  “I think we’ve done enough for today,” Karen says and wipes her face. We are both covered in dirt.

  “Yeah, I better check on Hardin,” I tell her and she laughs.

  “It means a lot to us, Ken especially, that Hardin has been coming around more, and I know we have you to thank for that. I take it that you two worked out your differences?”

  “Sort of . . . I guess we did.” I let out a little laugh. “We are still very different.” If only she knew.

  She gives me a knowing smile. “Well, different is sometimes what we need. It’s good to be challenged.”

  “Well, he is definitely challenging.”

  We both laugh and she pulls me in for a hug. “You sweet girl, you have done more for us than you know.” I feel my eyes tearing up and I nod.

  “I hope you don’t mind that I’ve been staying overnight. Hardin has asked me to stay again,” I tell her and try not to make eye contact.

  “No, of course not. You both are adults, and I trust you’re being safe.”

  Oh God. I know my cheeks are a deeper shade of red than the bulbs we just planted. “We . . . uh . . . we don’t,” I stammer. Why am I talking about this with Hardin’s soon-to-be stepmother? I am mortified.

  “Oh,” she says, equally embarrassed. “Let’s go inside.”

  I follow her into the house, where we both take our dirty shoes off at the door. I can see into the living room, where Hardin is sitting on the edge of the couch and Ken is in the easy chair. Hardin’s eyes immediately find mine and relief flushes through them.

  “I’ll make some late dinner while you get cleaned up,” Karen says.

  Hardin stands up and walks over to me. He seems glad to be out of the room with his father.

  “We’ll be back down soon,” I say and follow Hardin up the stairs.

  “How was it?” I ask as we enter his room.

  Instead of answering me, he wraps his fingers around my ponytail and brings his lips to mine. We stagger back against the door and he presses his body against me. “I missed you.”

  My insides liquefy. “You did?”

  “Yes, I did. I just spent the last few hours with my father in awkward silence, and then sharing a few even more awkward comments here and there. I need a distraction.” He runs his tongue along my bottom lip and my breath catches in my throat. This is different. Welcome, and very hot, but different.

  His hands travel down my stomach and stop at the button on my jeans.

  “Hardin, I need a shower. I am covered in dirt,” I say, laughing.

  His tongue runs along my neck. “I like you this way, nice and dirty.” He gives me that smile with those dimples.

  But I gently push him back and grab my bag before heading to the bathroom. My breathing is ragged and I’m a little disoriented, so when I try to close the bathroom door only to have it stop midway, I’m confused. Until I look down and I see Hardin’s boot.

  “Can I join you?” He smiles and pushes his way into the bathroom before I can answer.

  chapter seventy-one

  His fingers grip the bottom of his shirt, pulling it over his head, and he reaches behind me to turn on the shower.

  “We can’t just take a shower together! We’re at your father’s house, and Landon and Dakota could be back anytime,” I say. The idea of seeing Hardin completely naked under the shower makes me squirm but this is too much.

  “Well, then I’m going to take a nice hot shower while you stand there and overanalyze.” His pants drop to the floor, along with his boxers
, and he steps past me and into the water. The bare skin on his back is tight, pulled against the muscles there. He faces me, his eyes moving up and down my covered body, the way mine are on his naked one. The water covers him, making his tattooed skin glisten. I don’t realize I’m staring until he closes the curtain abruptly, hiding his perfect figure.

  “Don’t you just love a hot shower after a long day?” His voice is muffled somewhat by the sound of the water, but I can still catch its smugness.

  “I wouldn’t know; some rude naked guy stole my shower,” I huff and hear him chuckle.

  “A sexy rude naked guy?” he teases. “Just come in before the hot water goes away.”

  “I . . .” I want to, but taking a shower with someone is just so intimate, too intimate.

  “Come on, live a little. It’s just a shower,” he says and opens the curtain. “Please.” He reaches his hand out and my eyes scan his long, inked torso, gleaming from the water sliding down his skin.

  “Okay,” I whisper and undress while he watches every move I make. “Stop staring,” I scold him and he pretends to be wounded, placing his hand over his heart.

  “Are you questioning my nobility?” He laughs and I nod slowly, trying to fight my smile. “I am insulted.”

  He reaches his hand out to help, and I can’t believe I’m actually doing this, showering with someone. I try my best to cover myself with my arms as I wait for him to move from under the water.

  “Is it weird that I love how you’re still shy around me?” he says, unfolding my arms, removing my shield. I stay quiet and he gently tugs my arms to bring me more under the water, which he’s blocking with his body. His head dips down, soaking my bare shoulder.

  “I think it’s so appealing to me because you are so shy and innocent, yet you let me do dirty things to you.” His breath feels hotter than the water against my ear. I blink as his hands travel down my arms slowly. “And I know for a fact that you like when I say dirty things to you.”

  I gulp and he smiles against my neck. “See how your pulse quickens . . . I can practically see it under your delicate skin.” He taps his index finger over the pulse point in my neck. I have no idea how I am standing; my legs have turned to mush, along with my brain.

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