After (The After Series) by Anna Todd


  “Six thirty? You don’t have to be there until nine; come back to bed.”

  “No, I still have to do my hair and get coffee. I have to leave here by seven thirty; the drive is forty-five minutes.”

  “You’d be there forty-five minutes early; you should leave at eight.” He closes his eyes and rolls back over.

  I ignore him and turn on my blow dryer; he takes a pillow and covers his head with it. After curling my hair, I go over my planner again to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

  “Are you going to just go to class from here?” I ask Hardin as I get dressed.

  “Yeah, probably.” He smiles and crawls out of bed. “Can I use your toothbrush?”

  “Uh, I guess . . . I’ll just buy a new one on my way back.” No one has ever asked to use my toothbrush before. I mentally picture myself putting it in my mouth after he uses it, but nothing good comes of that.

  “I still say you shouldn’t leave until eight; think of the things we could do in thirty minutes,” he says, and I look over at him and his tempting dimples, and notice the way his eyes travel up and down my body. My own eyes travel to the bulge in his boxers and my body immediately heats. My fingers stop on the middle button of my shirt as he lazily crosses the small room to stand behind me. I gesture for him to zip my skirt, and he complies, but his hands brush my bare skin delicately as he does so.

  “I have to. I still have to get some coffee,” I say frantically. “What if there is traffic? An accident? I could blow a tire or need gas. I could get lost, or not be able to find somewhere to park. What if I have to park in the very back and then I have to walk a long way and I will be out of breath, so I will need a few minutes to—”

  “You need to calm down, baby. You’re a nervous wreck.” He sends a little breath across my ear. I look at him in the mirror. He looks so perfect when he wakes up, his sleepiness making him look softer.

  “I can’t help it; this internship means so much to me. I can’t take the chance of messing it up.” My mind is racing. I will be fine after today, after I know what to expect and can plan my week accordingly.

  “You don’t want to show up there nervous like this; they will eat you alive.” He places a string of small kisses down my neck.

  “I will be fine.” I hope. Goose bumps cover my skin from his warm breath against my neck.

  “Let me relax you first.” His voice is low and seductive, laced with sleep.

  “I . . .”

  He trails his fingers over my collarbone and down to my chest. His eyes meet mine in the mirror and I sigh in defeat. “Five minutes?” I ask and beg at the same time.

  “That’s all I need.”

  I move to turn around, but he stops me. “No, I want you to watch,” he purrs in my ear. I feel the familiar twinge between my legs from his words. I gulp and he moves my hair over my left shoulder and pushes his body against mine. His hand travels down to the hem of my long skirt.

  “At least you aren’t wearing tights today. I must say I am a fan of this skirt.” He pulls it up to my waist. “Especially when it’s like this.”

  My eyes are glued to his hands in the mirror and my pulse is thrumming. His fingers are slightly cold as they slip into my panties; the contact makes me jump slightly and he chuckles into my neck. His other hand is wrapped around my chest, holding me in place. I feel so exposed, but so turned on at the same time. Watching him touch me takes my mind places that I never knew existed. His fingers move slowly inside me and he kisses my neck softly.

  “Look how beautiful you are,” he whispers against my skin. I look at myself in the mirror and barely recognize the girl before me. My cheeks are flushed a deep red; my eyes are wide and wild. With my skirt bunched up at my hips and Hardin’s fingers moving inside me, I look different . . . sexy, even.

  My eyes close as I feel my stomach tightening. Hardin continues his beautifully slow assault and I pull my bottom lip between my teeth to stifle a moan.

  “Open your eyes,” he instructs. My eyes meet his and it sends me over the edge—Hardin standing behind me, holding me, watching me come undone from his touch is all it takes. My head rolls back on his shoulder and my legs start to shake.

  “That’s it, baby,” he coos and tightens his grip around me, holding me up as my vision blurs and I moan his name.

  When my eyes open again, Hardin kisses my temple and tucks a curl behind my ear before tugging my skirt back down my thighs. I turn around to face him and check the clock. It’s only seven thirty-five.

  He really did only need five minutes, I think to myself and smile.

  “See, you’re much more relaxed and ready to take on corporate America, right?” He beams, obviously proud of himself. I don’t blame him.

  “Yes, actually. But you make a terrible American,” I tease and grab my bag.

  “I don’t claim to be otherwise,” he says. “Last chance for me to drive you. Well, since my car isn’t here, I could drive you in your car?”

  “No; thank you, though.”

  “Good luck; you’ll do great.”

  He kisses me again and I thank him and gather my things, leaving him in my room. This morning has turned out to be great despite my alarm being ten minutes off. The drive is quick and clear, so when I pull into the parking lot it’s only eight thirty. I decide to call Hardin to pass the time.

  “You okay?” he says on the other end.

  “Yeah, I’m already here,” I tell him. I can picture his self-satisfied expression.

  “Told you. You could have stayed for ten more minutes and given me a blow job.”

  I giggle. “Always such a pervert, even this early in the morning.”

  “Yep, I am nothing but consistent.”

  “I won’t argue with that.” We banter back and forth about his lack of virtue until it’s time for me to go inside. I make my way to the top floor, where Christian Vance’s office is located, and give the woman in the front my name.

  She gives someone a call and a few moments later gives me a huge smile. “Mr. Vance would like to come out himself; he will see you in a second.”

  The door to the office I was interviewed in opens, and Mr. Vance himself comes out. “Ms. Young!” he greets me. He is dressed in such a nice suit that I’m a little intimidated, but thankful that I dressed professionally. He is holding a thick folder under his arm.

  “Hello, Mr. Vance.” I smile and reach out to shake his hand.

  “Go ahead and call me Christian. I will show you to your office.”

  “Office?” I blurt out.

  “Yes, you will need your own space. It’s not much, but it’ll be yours. Let’s go over your paperwork there.” He smiles and then walks off so quickly that I strain to keep up in my heels. He makes a left turn into a hallway full of small offices.

  “Here we are,” he announces. There is a black tag with my name in bold white letters next to the door.

  I must be dreaming. The office is as big as my dorm room. Mr. Vance and I have different ideas of “not much.” Inside, there is a medium-sized cherry desk, two filing cabinets, two chairs, a bookshelf, a computer—and a window! He takes a seat in front of the desk, so I go and sit behind it. It’s going to take some getting used to the idea that this is actually my office.

  “So, Ms. Young, let’s go over what your duties will include,” he says. “You will be expected to go over at least two manuscripts a week; if they are excellent and fit in with what we publish here, then you will send them to me. If they aren’t worth me looking at, toss them.”

  My mouth falls open. This internship is literally a dream come true. I will be paid and receive college credit to read.

  “You will start out at two hundred a week, and if you do well after ninety days, you will receive a raise.”

  Two hundred a week! That should be enough for me to get my own apartment, albeit a tiny one.

  “Thank you so much; this is all so much more than I expected,” I tell him. I can’t wait to call Hardin and tell him about all o
f this.

  “It’s my pleasure. I have it on good authority that you are a very hard worker. Maybe you can even tell Hardin how great it is, so he’ll come back and work for me again,” he says jokingly.

  “What?”

  “Hardin, he used to work for us before Bolthouse snatched him up. He started as an intern here last year, did great work, and I quickly hired him. But they offered him more money—and let him work from home. Said he didn’t like the office setting, so he left us. Go figure.” He smiles and adjusts his watch.

  I laugh nervously. “I’ll remind him how great this place is.” I had no idea he had a job. He has never mentioned it to me.

  Mr. Vance slides the folder across the desk to me. “Let’s get this paperwork out of the way.”

  After thirty minutes of “sign here” and “initial here,” we are finally finished and Mr. Vance leaves me to “familiarize” myself with the computer and office.

  But as soon as he walks out and closes the door behind him, all I can think to do is squeal and spin myself around in my chair, at my desk, in my new office!

  chapter seventy-six

  When I get back to my car after the best first day possible, I call Hardin, but he doesn’t answer. I want to tell him about how great my morning has been and ask him why he didn’t tell me that he has a job or worked at Vance.

  By the time I get back to campus it’s only one, since they dismissed me early, being busy with some high-level meetings or something. I basically have the whole day to do nothing, so I end up going to the mall and walking around. After wandering in and out of almost every store there, I go into Nordstrom, figuring I could use a few more outfits for my internship. The memory of Hardin and me in the mirror this morning flashes in my mind, and I realize I could also use some new panties and bras. My undergarments are so plain and I have had them a while. Hardin doesn’t seem to mind, but I would love to see his face if I took my shirt off and had a bra that wasn’t plain old black or white. I pick through the racks and find a few promising sets. My favorite one is carnation pink and made almost completely from lace. Pulling it off of the rack alone makes me blush, but I really like it. A saleswoman with curly hair and way too much red lipstick walks over to try to help me.

  “Oh yeah, that’s nice, but what do you think about this one?” she says and holds up something that resembles a hot pink bundle of strings on a hanger.

  “Um . . . not really my style,” I tell her and look at the ground.

  “I see you prefer the full underwear?” she asks. Why must we actually discuss my underwear choices? This could not be more humiliating.

  “You should try the boy short style; it’s sexy without being too sexy,” she says and holds up the same light pink set I am holding, only the panties are made differently. Boy shorts. I never cared too much about my panties because no one has seen them; who knew this would be so humiliating and complicated.

  “Okay.” I give in and she pulls a few more off the rack: a white, a black, and a red set. The red is a little shocking to me, but I have to admit it’s intriguing. Even the black and white ones look more exotic than my usual choices because they are made of lace.

  Her smile is a wide and scary chasm. “Just try them; they are all the exact same style.” I nod politely and take them from her, hoping that if I walk away she won’t follow me. Relieved when she doesn’t, I find a few dresses as well and a pair of comfortable dress shoes. I have to ask the cashier to repeat my total three times before I finally pay. Fancy underwear is much more expensive than I thought. Hardin had better like it.

  When I get back to my room, Steph isn’t there and I haven’t heard from Hardin, so I decide to take a nap. My new clothes are put away and I shut off the light.

  I wake up to an unfamiliar ringtone. I roll over and open my eyes. Sure enough, Hardin is sitting on the chair with his feet up on Steph’s dresser.

  “Have a nice nap?” he asks with a smile.

  “Yeah, actually. How did you get in here?” I rub my eyes.

  “Got my key back from Steph.”

  “Oh. How long have you been here?”

  “About thirty minutes. How was your day at Vance? I didn’t think you would be back already; it’s only six. But here you are passed out, snoring away, so it must have felt like a long one.” He laughs.

  I prop myself up on my elbow and look at him. “It was great. I got my own office, with my name on the wall outside it—I can’t believe it! It’s wonderful. I will be making a lot more money than I thought, and I get to read manuscripts; how perfect is that? I’m just afraid that I will mess it up somehow because it’s so perfect. You know?” I ramble.

  “Whoa, Vance must like you.” He raises a brow. “But you’ll do fine, don’t worry.”

  “He said you worked there,” I tell him, testing his reaction.

  “Of course he did.”

  “Why didn’t you tell me? Or that you have a job now? When do you even have time to work?”

  “You always have so many questions.” He runs his hands through his hair. “But I will answer them,” he adds. “I didn’t tell you because, well, I don’t know why, actually. And I make time to work. Whenever I am not with you, I find the time.”

  I sit cross-legged and face him. “Mr. Vance really likes you—he said he wants you to work for him again.”

  “I am sure he does, but no, thanks. I make more than I did there and have less work,” he brags and I roll my eyes.

  “Tell me about your job. What exactly do you do?”

  He shrugs. “Read manuscripts, edit them. Same thing you’ll do, but more involved.”

  “Oh. Do you like it?”

  “Yes, Tessa. I do.” His tone is a little harsh.

  “That’s good. Do you want to work for a publishing house when you graduate?”

  “I don’t know what I want to do.” He rolls his eyes.

  “Did I say something?” I ask.

  “No, you just ask too many questions all the time.”

  “What?” Is he being sarcastic or serious?

  “You don’t need to know every detail about my life,” he snaps.

  “I am just making conversation, having a casual discussion about your job,” I say. “Those are just normal things people do—sorry for taking an interest in your everyday life.”

  He doesn’t say anything. What the hell is his problem? I had an amazing day and the last thing I want to do is fight with him. I direct my attention to the ceiling and stay quiet as well. Eventually I learn there are ninety-five panels up there, and forty screws holding them up.

  “I need to take a shower,” I finally say.

  “So go, then,” he huffs.

  I roll my eyes and grab my toiletry bag. “You know, I thought we were past this, the whole you-being-an-asshole-for-no-reason thing?” I say and walk out of the room.

  I take my time in the shower, shaving and reshaving my legs for the dress that I bought to wear tomorrow for my first real day at Vance. I am beyond nervous, but my excitement tops everything. I really wish Hardin wasn’t being so rude. All I did was ask him about a job that he didn’t tell me about. I should be able to talk to him about that, but there’s just so much about him that I don’t know, and it makes me really uncomfortable.

  I try to figure out how to explain that to him, but when I get back to my room, Hardin’s gone.

  chapter seventy-seven

  I am beyond annoyed at Hardin’s unnecessary attitude, but I try to forget it and brush the tangles out of my wet hair and put on the light pink lingerie I bought today. I slip a T-shirt over my head and look over my stuff for tomorrow. All I can think about is where he went; I know I’m obsessive and a little crazy, but I can’t help worrying that he’s with Molly.

  While deciding whether or not to call Hardin, I receive a text message from Steph saying that she won’t be back tonight. She might as well move in with Tristan and Nate; she stays there five nights a week and Tristan absolutely adores her. He probably told her
about his job on their second date and he probably wouldn’t snap at her and leave for no reason.

  “Lucky Steph,” I say to myself and grab the remote for her television. My fingers press the buttons absentmindedly and I settle on a rerun of Friends that I have seen at least one hundred times. I can’t remember the last time I watched television, but it’s nice to just lie in bed and watch a simple comedy, to escape from the most recent pointless fight with Hardin.

  After a few episodes of various shows, I feel my eyes getting heavy. In my sleepy state my anger momentarily disappears and I text Hardin good night, but he doesn’t reply before sleep overtakes me.

  “Shit.” A loud thud wakes me up. I jolt upright and turn on the lamp to find a stumbling Hardin trying to navigate the dark room.

  “What are you doing?” I ask him.

  When he looks up at me his eyes are red and glossy. He is drunk. Great.

  “I came here to see you,” he says and plops down in the chair.

  “Why?” I whine. I want him here, but not drunk and at two in the morning.

  “Because I missed you.”

  “Then why did you leave?”

  “Because you were annoying me.”

  Ouch. “Okay, I’m going back to sleep; you’re drunk and you’re obviously going to be mean again.

  “I’m not being mean, Tessa. And I’m not drunk . . . okay . . . I am, but so what?”

  “I don’t care that you are drunk, but it’s a school night and I need my sleep.” I would stay up all night with him if I knew he wouldn’t say hurtful things to me the entire time.

  “It’s a school night,” he mocks me. “Could you be more of a square?” He laughs like he’s just said the funniest thing ever.

  “You should just go,” I say and lie back down, turning to face the wall. I don’t like this Hardin. I want my semisweet Hardin back. Not this drunk jerk.

  “Aww, baby, don’t be mad at me,” he says, but I ignore him. “Do you really want me to go? You know what happens when I sleep without you,” he says, just above a whisper.

  My heart sinks. I do know what happens, but it’s not fair for him to use that against me when he’s drunk and taunting me.

 
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