After (The After Series) by Anna Todd


  His fingers running over my body make me stop worrying about the fact that we aren’t alone in the house; they make me want to be reckless and let Hardin do whatever he wants to me. When his long fingers wrap around my hips, I involuntarily lean into him.

  “I love you, Tessa. You believe me, don’t you?” he asks.

  I nod, wondering why he is asking me this right now, after we have said it so many times in the last twenty-four hours. “Yes, I believe you.” My voice is hoarse and I clear my throat.

  “Good. I have never loved anyone before.” He goes from playful to seductive to serious so fast, I can barely keep up.

  “Ever?” I think I already knew this, but it feels so different actually having him say the words, especially when we are like this. I thought he would have his head between my legs right now, not be expressing his feelings.

  “No, never. Not even close,” he admits.

  I wonder if he has ever had a girlfriend before—no, I don’t want to know if he has. He told me he doesn’t date, so I’m going to stick with that.

  “Oh,” is all I can say.

  “Do you love me the way you loved Noah?” he asks.

  A sound between a cough and a gasp comes out of my mouth, and I look away from him. I grab the shampoo off the shelf. I haven’t even washed anything yet and we have been in here several minutes already.

  “Well?” he presses.

  I don’t know how to answer that. It’s totally different with Hardin than it was with Noah. I loved Noah, I think. I know I loved him, just not like this. Loving Noah was comfortable and safe; it was always calm. Loving Hardin is raw and exciting; it sparks my every nerve and I can’t get enough of him. I never want to be away from him. Even when he drove me crazy, I missed him and had to fight myself to stay away.

  “I take that as a no,” he says and turns away from me, letting me have full access to the water. I feel cramped in the tiny space and the air is too thin, too clouded with steam from the hot water.

  “It’s not the same.” How do I explain this to him without sounding insane? His shoulders slack. I know if he was to face me he would be frowning. My hands wrap around his waist and I press my lips against his back. “It’s not the same, but not how you’re thinking that means,” I say. “I love you in a different way. Noah was so comfortable to me he was almost like family. I felt like I was supposed to love him but I really didn’t, not in the way I love you at least. It wasn’t until I realized I loved you that I saw how different love was from what I thought it was. I don’t know if that even makes sense.” A pang of guilt hits me for saying I didn’t love Noah, but I think I knew that from the moment I kissed Hardin for the first time.

  “It does.” When he turns back around, his eyes are much softer. The lust, then apprehension are gone, replaced by . . . love? Or relief . . . I can’t tell but he leans down and kisses my forehead. “I just want to be the only person you ever love; that way you are mine.”

  How could he be such a jerk before and say these loving things to me now? Despite the hint of possessiveness in his tone, his words are sweet and surprisingly humble for him.

  “In the ways that count, you are,” I promise him. He seems pleased with my answer as his smile returns.

  “Now, can you move so I can get this dirt off me before the water goes cold?” I say and gently push him out of my way.

  “I’ll do that for you.” He grabs the cloth and pours soap on it. I hold my breath the entire time he gently scrubs the dirt off my body, and shiver as he passes over the sensitive spots, his touch lingering on them.

  “I would have you wash me, but I won’t be able to stop what would happen after.” He winks at me and I blush. I want to find out what would happen after, and I would love to touch every inch of his body. But Karen has probably already finished cooking and might come looking for us soon.

  I know the responsible thing to do would be to agree to leave the shower, but it’s hard to concentrate on being responsible when he’s naked in front of me. I reach for him, gripping his length in my palm, and he steps back against the shower wall. He stares at me as I pump him slowly in my hand.

  “Tess,” he groans, resting his head back against the tiled wall.

  I keep my hand on him, willing him to groan again. I just love the noises he makes. I glance down, admiring the way the water is spraying us, helping my hand to glide easily over him.

  “You make me feel so fucking good.”

  His gaze on me makes me a little nervous, but the way his teeth are pressed together and the way his eyelids flutter, it’s as if he’s trying to keep them open to urge me to pleasure him further. My thumb rubs across the head of his penis and he curses under his breath.

  “I’m going to come now, already. Fuck.” His eyes close and I feel the warmth of his release mix with the hot water, and I can’t help but stare until only the water is left on my hand. Hardin leans over, out of breath, and presses a kiss to my mouth.

  “Amazing,” he whispers, kissing me again.

  After I am dirt-free and feeling calm, yet wound up from Hardin’s touch, I dry off quickly and put on my yoga pants and a T-shirt from my bag, then brush my hair and pull it into a bun. Hardin wraps a towel around his waist and stands behind me, watching me through the mirror. He looks so heavenly and godlike and perfect and mine.

  “Those pants are going to be distracting,” he says.

  “Have you always been such a pervert?” I tease and he nods.

  IT ISN’T UNTIL WE WALK into the kitchen that I realize how we look, both coming down with wet hair. It is obvious that we just showered together. Hardin doesn’t seem to mind, but then, he has no manners.

  “There are some sandwiches over on the counter,” Karen proclaims cheerily, pointing near where Ken sits with a stack of folders in front of him. She doesn’t seem to be surprised or mind our appearance; my mother would lose her mind if she knew what I just did. Especially with someone like Hardin.

  “Thank you so much,” I tell her.

  “I had a nice time today, Tessa,” Karen says, and we start discussing the greenhouse again while we each gather up a sandwich and sit down to eat.

  Hardin eats in silence, glancing at me from time to time.

  “Maybe we can do some more work next weekend,” I suggest, then catch myself. “Never mind, the weekend after,” I say, laughing.

  “Yes, of course.”

  “Uh, is there a theme or something with the wedding?” Hardin interrupts.

  Ken looks up from his work.

  “Well, there isn’t really a theme, but we have chosen white and black for the décor,” Karen says nervously. I’m sure this is the only discussion they’ve had with Hardin about the wedding since he lost it when Ken told him about it.

  “Oh. So what should I wear?” he asks casually. I want to reach over and kiss him after seeing his father’s reaction.

  “You’re coming?” Ken asks, clearly surprised but very happy.

  “Yeah . . . I guess.” Hardin shrugs and takes another bite of his sandwich.

  Karen and Ken smile at each other before Ken gets up and walks over to Hardin. “Thank you, son, this means a lot to me.” He pats Hardin on the shoulder. Hardin stiffens but rewards his father with a small smile.

  “This is great news!” Karen says and claps her hands.

  “It’s nothing,” Hardin grumbles. I move to sit next to him and put my hand over his under the table. I never thought I could get him to agree to the wedding, let alone actually talk about it in front of Ken and Karen.

  “I love you,” I whisper in his ear when Karen and Ken aren’t paying attention.

  He smiles and squeezes my hand. “I love you,” he whispers back.

  “So, Hardin, how are your classes going?” Ken asks.

  “Good.”

  “I noticed you moved your classes around again.”

  “Yeah, and?”

  “You’re still majoring in English, right?” Ken goes on, unwittingly pressing h
is luck; I can see that Hardin is getting annoyed.

  “Yep.”

  “That’s great! I remember when you were ten and you would recite passages from The Great Gatsby all day, every day. I knew you were a literature whiz then,” his father says.

  “Do you? Do you remember that?” Hardin’s tone is harsh. I squeeze his hand, trying to signal him to calm down.

  “Yeah, of course I do,” Ken says calmly.

  Hardin’s nostrils flare and he rolls his eyes. “I find that hard to believe since you were constantly drunk, and, if I remember correctly, which I do, you tore that book to pieces because I bumped your scotch and spilled it. So don’t try to take a stroll down memory lane with me unless you know what the fuck you’re talking about.” He stands up as Karen and I both gasp.

  “Hardin!” Ken says as he leaves the room.

  I scurry after him and hear Karen yelling at Ken. “You shouldn’t have gone that far with him, Ken! He just agreed to come to our wedding. I thought we agreed on baby steps! Then you go and say something like that. You should have left it alone!”

  Although she sounds mad, I can tell from the breaks in her voice that Karen is really already crying.

  chapter seventy-two

  Hardin slams his bedroom door as I reach the top of the stairs. I turn the knob, half-expecting it to be locked, but it opens.

  “Hardin, are you okay?” I ask, unsure what else to say.

  He answers me by grabbing the lamp off the nightstand and slamming it against the wall. The glass base shatters from the impact. I jump back and a small shriek comes out against my will. He paces over to the desk, grabs the small keyboard, and rips it out of the desktop computer, tossing it behind him.

  “Hardin, please stop!” I yell.

  He doesn’t look at me, but knocks the monitor to the ground and starts yelling, “Why? Why, Tessa? It’s not like he can’t afford to buy a new fucking computer!”

  “You’re right,” I say and step on top of the keyboard, crushing it further.

  “What? What are you doing?” he asks as I pick it up and drop it back on the ground. I’m not really sure what I am doing but the keyboard’s already broken, and this seems like the best idea at the moment.

  “I’m helping you,” I tell him, and confusion flashes in his angry eyes before humor takes over. I pick up the monitor and throw it against the floor. He walks over with a small smile on his lips as I pick it up again, but his hands stop mine and he takes the monitor out of my hands and sits it on the desk.

  “You’re not mad at me for yelling at my dad like that?” he asks, and cups my cheeks, his thumbs gently caressing them as his green eyes bore into mine.

  “No, you have every right to express yourself. I would never be mad about that.” He just had a fight with his dad but he is worried about me being mad at him? “Unless of course you’re being mean for no reason, which in this case you weren’t.”

  “Wow . . .” he says.

  But the small gap between our lips is too tempting. I lean forward and press mine against his, and he immediately opens his mouth, deepening the kiss. My fingers twist into his hair and he groans as I put more force into it. His anger rolls off him like a tidal wave. I push him back a little and he turns me around so the bottom of my back hits the desk. His hands attach to my hips and he lifts me onto the desk. I am his distraction. The thought of me being what Hardin needs makes me feel needed in a way I wasn’t aware of. I feel more solid now, more necessary in his life, and my head tilts back as he continues to push his tongue against mine, standing between my legs.

  “Closer,” he moans into my mouth. His hands grip the back of my knees and he pulls me to the edge. My hands tug at his jeans and he pulls his mouth away from mine.

  “What . . .?” He raises an eyebrow at me. He must think I am insane, coming in here and helping him break things, and now trying to undress him. And maybe I am. I don’t care at the moment. All I care about is the way the curve of Hardin’s collarbones are shadowed by the moonlight coming through the bay window, the way one of his hands is holding my face like I am fragile, despite him trying to break everything in the room minutes ago.

  I answer him wordlessly by wrapping my legs around him and pulling him closer.

  “I really thought you were going to storm in here and tell me off.” He smiles and presses his forehead against mine.

  “You were wrong,” I remind him with a smug smile.

  “Very. I don’t want to go back down there tonight,” he says, eyes searching mine.

  “That’s fine. You don’t have to.”

  He relaxes and moves his head to the crook of my neck. I’m surprised by how easy this is between us. I had expected him to snap at me, maybe even try to make me leave when I came in here, but here he is leaning on me. I can tell he is really trying to navigate this relationship the best he can, despite the fact that he is one giant mood swing.

  “I love you,” I tell him, and feel his lip ring move against my neck as he smiles.

  “I love you,” he replies.

  “Do you want to talk about it?” I ask, but he shakes his head, still buried in my neck. “Okay, do you want to watch a movie? Something funny, maybe?” I suggest.

  After a long pause, he looks back toward the bed. “Did you bring your laptop?” When I nod he continues. “Let’s watch The Vow again.”

  I laugh. “You mean the movie that you supposedly despise?”

  “Yes . . . well, despise is a little harsh. I just think it’s a sappy, mediocre love story,” he corrects.

  “Then why do you want to watch it?”

  “Because I want to watch you watch it,” he answers thoughtfully.

  Remembering the way he watched me the entire time we watched it in my room, that night seems so long ago. I had no clue what was coming up between us. I would have never imagined we would come to this.

  My smile is all the answer he needs as he grabs my waist and carries me to the bed.

  Within minutes, he is snuggled up next to me studying my face as I watch the movie. Halfway through I feel my eyes getting heavy.

  “I’m getting sleepy,” I say with a yawn.

  “They both die; you’re not missing much.”

  I nudge him with my elbow. “You have issues.”

  “And you’re adorable when you’re sleepy.” He closes my laptop and pulls me up to the top of the bed with him.

  “And you’re uncharacteristically nice when I’m sleepy,” I say.

  “No, I’m nice because I love you,” he whispers and I swoon. “Sleep, beautiful.”

  He gives me a small peck on my forehead, and I am too tired to try for more.

  THE NEXT MORNING, the light is bright, too bright. When I roll over to bury my head in Hardin’s shoulder, he sighs in his sleep and pulls me closer. When I wake up again, he is awake and staring at the ceiling. His eyes are hooded and his expression unreadable.

  “You okay?” I ask, nuzzling farther into him.

  “Yeah, I’m fine,” he answers, but I can tell he is lying.

  “Hardin, if there is something wrong . . .” I begin.

  “There isn’t, I’m fine.” I decide to let it go. We have gotten along all weekend; it’s a record for us. I don’t want to ruin it. I lift my head up and place a single kiss on his jaw and his arms wrap tighter around me.

  “I have a few things to do today, so whenever you’re ready, can you drop me off at my house?” he asks. My stomach drops, hearing the distance in his voice.

  “Sure,” I mumble and move out of his embrace. He tries to grab my wrist but I move too quickly. Grabbing my bag, I head to the bathroom to change and brush my teeth. We have been in our own little bubble all weekend, and I fear that without the protection of these walls, he won’t be the same.

  I’m relieved when I don’t run into Landon or Dakota in the hallway, and even more relieved that Hardin is fully dressed when I return. I want to get this over with. He has cleaned the glass off the floor and the keyboar
d is in the trash can, the lamp and monitor neatly piled nearby.

  Downstairs, I say goodbye to Ken and Karen, though Hardin walks outside without saying a word to either of them. I assure them that Hardin will still be at the wedding, despite the drama last night. I tell them about the computer and lamp, but they don’t seem to pay it much mind.

  “Are you mad or something?” Hardin asks after ten minutes of silence.

  “No.” It’s not that I’m mad, I am just . . . nervous, I suppose. I can feel the shift between us and I wasn’t expecting anything to change from how we were all weekend.

  “It seems like it.”

  “Well, I’m not.”

  “You need to tell me if you are.”

  “You’re just being distant and now you’re having me drop you off at your house, and I thought everything was fine between us,” I say.

  “You’re upset because I have things to do today?” When he says it like that, I realize how ridiculous and obsessive I sound. Is that why I am upset? Because he isn’t hanging out with me today?

  “Maybe.” I laugh at my stupidity. “I just don’t want you to be distant from me.”

  “I’m not . . . not on purpose, at least. I am sorry if I made you feel that way.” He reaches over and puts his hand on my thigh. “Nothing is going to change, Tessa.”

  His words calm me, but there is still a sliver of uncertainty behind my smile.

  “Do you want to come with me?” he finally asks.

  “No, I’m okay. I have some studying to do anyway.”

  “Okay. Tess, you have to remember this is new to me. I’m not used to having to consider other people when I make plans.”

  “I know.”

  “I can come to your room when I’m finished, or we can go to dinner or something.”

  I put my hand on his cheek, then run it through his messy hair. “It’s fine, really, Hardin. Just let me know when you’re finished and we can decide then.”

  When we pull up to his house, he leans over and gives me a swift kiss before climbing out of the car.

 
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