After (The After Series) by Anna Todd


  “Yeah, I wanted to see your office, then I will go. Promise.”

  “Deal,” I tell him and we step onto the elevator. When we reach the top floor I give him his jacket back and he shrugs it on. My eyes widen at how hot he looks in the leather.

  “Hey, it’s you again.” The guy in the navy suit says as we walk down the hall.

  “And it’s you again.” I smile.

  His eyes dart to Hardin, who introduces himself.

  “Nice to meet you. My name is Trevor; I work in finance.” He give a little wave, then says, “Well, see you around,” and walks away.

  When we walk into my office Hardin grabs my wrist and turns me to face him. “What the hell was that?” he spits out.

  Is he joking? I look down at my wrist in his hand and take that as a no. His grip isn’t tight, but it holds me in place.

  “What?”

  “That guy?”

  “What about him? I just met him this morning in the elevator.” I pull my wrist away.

  “It didn’t seem like you just met; the two of you were just flirting in front of me.”

  I can’t help it, but I let out a laugh that’s more like a bark. “What? You’re insane if you think that was flirting. I was being polite and so was he. Why would I flirt with him?” I try to keep my voice down. Causing a scene will not be good for me.

  “Why wouldn’t you? He was nice and clean-cut, suit and all,” Hardin says.

  I realize that he seems more hurt and worried than angry. My instincts tell me to cuss him out and tell him to get the hell out, but I decide to take a different approach. Just like when he was breaking things at his father’s house.

  “Is that what you think? That I want someone like him, someone unlike you?” I ask in a gentle voice.

  Hardin opens his eyes wide, taken aback. I know he expected me to blow up at him, but this change of pace slows him down and he contemplates what to say next. “I don’t know . . . maybe.” His eyes meet mine.

  “Well, you’re wrong, as usual.” I smile. I need to talk to him about this later, but my need to make sure he knows he has nothing to worry about overpowers my need to correct him.

  “I am sorry if you think I was flirting with him, but I wasn’t. I wouldn’t do that to you,” I assure him. His eyes soften and I bring my hand up to his cheek. How can one person be so strong yet so weak?

  “I . . . Okay,” he says.

  I laugh and caress his cheek. I love catching him off guard. “What is he, when I have you?”

  His eyes flutter and he finally smiles. I am relieved that I am learning how to disengage the bomb that is Hardin. “I love you,” he says and presses his lips to mine. “I am sorry for blowing up like that.”

  “I accept your apology; now let me show you my office!” I say in a cheery voice.

  “I don’t deserve you,” he says quietly, too quietly. I choose to ignore it and keep my uplifting attitude.

  “So what do you think?” I beam.

  He chuckles and listens intently as I show him every detail, every book on the shelf and the empty picture frame on my desk.

  “I was thinking I want to put a picture of us here,” I tell him.

  We have never taken any pictures together, and the thought hadn’t even crossed my mind until I placed the empty frame there. Hardin doesn’t seem like the type who would smile for a camera, even on a cell phone.

  “Oh. I don’t really do pictures,” he says, confirming my thoughts.

  But when he sees I’m a little embarrassed by being shut down, he strains to say, “I mean . . . I guess I could take one. Just one, though.”

  “Let’s worry about that later.” I smile and he seems relieved.

  “Now can we move on to how sexy you look in that dress. It’s been driving me crazy since I got here.” His voice is a full octave deeper and he takes a step toward me. My body heats immediately; his words never cease to unravel me.

  “You’re lucky I didn’t open my eyes this morning. If I had . . .” He traces his fingertips along the neckline of my dress. “I wouldn’t have let you leave.”

  He brings his other hand to the hem of my dress and caresses my thigh.

  “Hardin . . .” I warn. My voice betrays me and comes out as more of a moan.

  “What, babe . . . you don’t want me to do this?” He lifts me up and sits me on the edge of my desk.

  “It’s . . .” My thoughts are clouded by his lips against my neck. I dig my fingers into his hair and he nips at my skin. “We can’t . . . someone could come in . . . or something.” The words are jumbled and don’t make much sense. He puts his hands on my thighs and opens them farther.

  “There is a lock on the door for a reason . . . I really want to take you right here, on this desk. Or maybe against the window.” His mouth travels lower on my chest. The idea of what he is proposing sends electricity through my body. His fingers brush over the lace on my panties and he sucks a breath through his teeth.

  “You’re killing me,” he groans as he looks between my legs to see the white lace set I bought yesterday. I can’t believe I am letting this happen, on a desk in my new office on the second day of my internship. The idea thrills me as much as it terrifies me.

  “Lock the—” I begin, but we are interrupted by the shrill ring of my phone. I jump straight up and scramble around the desk to grab it. “Hello? Tessa Young speaking!”

  “Ms. Young. Tessa,” Kimberly corrects herself. “Mr. Vance is leaving for the day and is on his way to your office,” she says with a hint of amusement in her voice.

  I flush and thank her. Clearly she can sense how irresistible Hardin is to me.

  chapter eighty-one

  Hardin leaves shortly after he and Mr. Vance finish bickering about a football game. I apologize for having a visitor, but he brushes it off, telling me that Hardin is like family and he is welcome to come by anytime. Visions of Hardin making love to me on the desk take over my imagination and Mr. Vance has to repeat what he said next about payroll three times before I come back to reality.

  I go back to reading the manuscript and I am so into it that I don’t realize it’s after five when I look up again. I am an hour late to leave and have a missed call from Hardin. When I get to my car I call him back, but he doesn’t answer. I drive back through moderate traffic, and when I get to my room, I’m surprised to see Steph on her bed. I almost forget she lives here, too, sometimes.

  “Long time no see,” I joke and drop my purse and pull off my heels.

  “Yeah . . .” she says and sniffles.

  “Are you okay? What happened?” I sit on her bed with her.

  “I think Tristan and I broke up.” She sobs. It is a strange sight to see Steph crying—she’s usually so strong and sassy.

  “Why? What do you mean you think?” I ask and put my hand on her back to comfort her.

  “Well, we got in a fight and I broke up with him, but I didn’t mean it. I don’t know why I did it—I was just pissed because he was sitting with her and I know how she is.”

  “Who?” I ask, even though I somehow already know.

  “Molly. You should have seen how she was flirting with him and hanging on his every word.”

  “But she knows you two are together; isn’t she your friend?”

  “She doesn’t care about that. She’ll do anything to get male attention.” As I watch Steph cry and wipe her eyes, my already strong dislike of Molly grows even more.

  “I don’t think Tristan would go for her; I see the way he looks at you. He really cares about you. I think you should call him and talk it out,” I suggest.

  “What if he is with her?”

  “He’s not,” I assure her. I really don’t see Tristan running off with the pink-haired snake.

  “How do you know? Sometimes you think you know people, but you don’t,” she says and looks into my eyes. “H—”

  “Hey . . .” Hardin says as he bursts into the room and then takes in the sad scene before him. “Um . . . should
I come back?” He shifts uncomfortably. Hardin isn’t the type to comfort a crying girl, friend or not.

  “No, I am going to go find Tristan and try to apologize.” She stands. “Thank you, Tessa.” She hugs me and looks at Hardin. They exchange awkward glances before she exits the room.

  Hardin turns and gives me a kiss. “You hungry?”

  “Yeah, actually I am,” I tell him. I should do some homework, but I’m actually pretty far ahead. I really have no idea how or when Hardin actually works.

  “I was thinking that after we get something to eat, you could call Karen or Landon and see what I should wear to the . . . you know. The wedding.” The mention of Landon’s name tugs at my heart. I haven’t talked to him in a few days and I miss him. I want to tell him about my internship and maybe even about Hardin and me. I haven’t decided that yet, but I still want to talk to him.

  “Yeah, I’ll call Landon. I’m excited for the wedding!” I tell him, then realize I need to get something to wear to the wedding as well.

  “Yeah. Me, too. I am so thrilled. Could I be more excited?” He rolls his eyes and I laugh.

  “Well, I’m glad you’re at least going. It means a lot to your father and Karen.”

  He shakes his head, but he’s come a long way in the short time that I’ve known him.

  “Yeah . . . yeah. Let’s go eat,” he grumbles and grabs my jacket off the chair.

  “Let me change first, geez,” I groan. I feel his eyes on me as I undress and grab jeans and a WCU sweatshirt out of my dresser and put them on quickly.

  “You look adorable. Sexy office woman by day and cute college girl by night,” he teases. My stomach flutters at his words and I lean up on my toes to kiss his cheek.

  WE DECIDE TO GO to the mall and eat so that we can go shopping afterward. I call Landon as we sit down and he tells me that he will ask his mother what Hardin should wear and call me right back.

  “We can find your outfit first, I guess?” he suggests.

  “I don’t know what to wear either.” I laugh.

  “Well, you have the luxury of looking beautiful regardless of what you wear.”

  “That is not true; you definitely pull off that ‘I don’t give a crap how I look but I look flawless’ look.”

  He gives me a cocky smirk and leans back in his chair. “I do, don’t I?”

  I roll my eyes and then notice my phone buzzing. “It’s Landon.”

  “Hey,” Landon says, “so she said it would be best if you wear white. I know it’s not the norm, but that’s what my mother wants. And at least try to get Hardin in dress pants and a tie. I don’t think they are expecting much from him, to be honest.” He laughs.

  “Okay, well, I will do my best to get him in a tie.” I look over at Hardin, who frowns comically.

  “Good luck. How’s your internship going?”

  “It’s good. Well, great, actually. It’s a dream come true. I can’t believe it. I have my own office and I basically get paid to read all day. It’s perfect. How are classes? I miss Literature.”

  Hardin’s face turns into a real frown, and I follow his eyes to the middle of the food court. Zed, Logan, and a guy that I have never met before are walking toward us. Zed gives me a friendly wave and I smile before thinking about it. Hardin glares at me and stands up.

  “I’ll be right back,” he says and walks off in their direction. I try to continue my conversation with Landon and watch Hardin at the same time, but I’m not sure what to do.

  “Yeah, it isn’t the same without you, but I’m so happy for you. At least Hardin hasn’t been in class so I don’t have to deal with him,” Landon says.

  “What do you mean he hasn’t been in class? Well, besides today. He was there yesterday. Right?”

  “No, I figured he dropped again since you left and he obviously can’t be more than ten feet away from you at all times,” he teases and my heart warms despite my concern over his missing classes.

  I look over at Hardin, who has his back to me, but I can tell from how stiff his shoulders are that he’s tense. The guy who I don’t recognize has a slick smile on his face and Zed is shaking his head. Logan seems uninterested in them and focuses on checking out a group of girls walking by. Hardin takes a step toward the guy and I can’t tell if they are messing around or not.

  “I’m so sorry, Landon, but I will call you back,” I say and hang up. Leaving our trays on the table, I go over to them, hoping in the back of my mind that no one messes with our food.

  “Hey, Tessa, how are you?” Zed asks and moves forward to hug me. I feel myself flush and politely hug him back. I know better than to look up at Hardin when our embrace ends. Zed’s hair is sticking straight up in the front in a very hot, messy way, and he’s wearing all black with this leather jacket that has patches all over the front and back.

  “Hardin, aren’t you going to introduce your friend?” the stranger says. He smiles and it gives me chills. I can tell he is not a nice guy.

  “Um, yeah.” Hardin waves his hand between us. “This is my friend Tessa; Tessa, this is Jace.”

  Friend? I feel like I have just been kicked in the stomach. I try my best to hide my humiliation and smile.

  “Do you go to WCU?” I ask. My voice is much more composed than I feel inside.

  “Hell, no. I don’t do the college thing.” He chuckles coolly. “But if all the girls there looked like you, I would be happy to reconsider.”

  I gulp and wait for Hardin to say something. Oh, right, I am his friend. Why would he? I stay silent and wish I had just stayed at the table.

  “We are going to the docks tonight; you two should make an appearance,” Zed says.

  “We can’t. Maybe next time,” Hardin says. I contemplate interrupting and saying I can, but I am too pissed-off to speak.

  “Why not?” Jace asks.

  “She has to work tomorrow. I suppose I can drop by later. Alone,” he adds.

  “That’s too bad.” Jace smiles at me. His sandy blond hair falls over his eyes and he shakes his head to move it.

  Hardin clenches his jaw and looks at him. I feel like I’m missing something. Who is this guy, anyway?

  “Yeah, I’ll hit you up later when I’m on my way,” Hardin says and I stalk away.

  I hear Hardin’s boots stomping behind me but I keep walking. He doesn’t call my name, since I’m sure he doesn’t want his friends to think anything, but he keeps following me. I walk faster and dip into Macy’s and turn a sharp corner, hoping to lose him. No such luck; he grabs my elbow and turns me to face him.

  “What is wrong?” His annoyance is obvious.

  “Oh, I don’t know, Hardin!” I shout. An elderly woman looks at me and I give her an apologetic smile.

  “Me either! You are the one who just hugged Zed!” he yells. We are already attracting an audience, but I am fuming so I don’t care at the moment.

  “Are you embarrassed of me or something? I mean, I get it, I am not exactly the cool girl, but I thought . . .”

  “What? No! Of course I’m not embarrassed of you. Are you crazy?” he huffs. I feel crazy at the moment.

  “Why did you introduce me as your friend? You keep talking about living together and then you tell them we are friends? What are you going to do, hide me? I won’t be anyone’s secret. If I’m not good enough for your friends to know we’re together, then I don’t want to be.” I turn on my heel and walk away to punctuate my little speech.

  “Tessa! Damn it . . .” he says and follows me through the store. I reach the dressing rooms and glance at them.

  “I will follow you,” he says, reading my thoughts.

  He will, too. So I turn and head toward the exit of the store. “Take me home. Now,” I demand. I stay quiet and at least ten feet ahead of Hardin as we walk out of the mall and to his car. He moves to open the door for me but backs away when I glare at him. If I were him, I would keep my distance.

  I stare out the window and think of all the terrible things I could say to him but
I stay silent. I’m mostly just embarrassed that he feels like he can’t tell people we are together. I know I’m not like his friends and they probably all think I am a loser or not cool enough, but that shouldn’t matter to him. I find myself wondering if Zed would hide our relationship from his friends, and I can’t help but think that he wouldn’t. Come to think of it, Hardin has never actually called me his girlfriend. I probably should have waited to sleep with him until he at least confirmed we were dating.

  “Are you done throwing a fit?” he asks as we pull onto the highway.

  “A fit? You aren’t serious!” My voice fills his small car.

  “I don’t know why it’s such a big deal to you that I called you my friend; that’s not what I meant. I was just caught off guard,” he lies. I can tell he is lying by the way his eyes dart away from mine.

  “If you are embarrassed of me, then I don’t want to see you anymore,” I say. I dig my nails into my leg to keep from crying.

  “Don’t say that to me.” He runs his hand over his hair and takes a deep breath. “Tessa, why do you assume I am embarrassed of you? That is just fucking ridiculous,” he growls.

  “Have fun at your party tonight.”

  “Please, I’m not going, I just said that so Jace would lay off.”

  What I say next I know is a terrible idea, but I want to prove a point: “If you aren’t embarrassed of me, then take me to the party.”

  “Absolutely fucking not,” he says through his teeth.

  “Exactly,” I snap.

  “I am not taking you there because Jace is a dick, for one. Two, it’s not the kind of place you should be.”

  “Why not? I can handle myself.”

  “Jace and his friends are way out of your league, Tessa. Hell, they’re even out of my league. They are all stoners and scum.”

  “Then why are you friends with him?” I roll my eyes.

  “There is a big difference between being friendly and being friends.”

  “Well, why would Zed hang out with him, then?”

  “I don’t know. Jace isn’t one of those guys that you say no to,” he explains.

  “So you’re afraid of him. That’s why you didn’t say anything when he came on to me,” I point out. Jace must be really bad if Hardin is afraid of him.

 
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