After (The After Series) by Anna Todd

  My hands grip the top of my dress in an attempt to pull it down, but he pleads into my neck, “No, leave it on. This dress is so incredibly sexy . . . it’s so sexy, yet white and virginal looking . . . and fuck . . . it’s so hot. You’re so beautiful.” He lifts me up farther, then lowers me onto him. My back is against the smooth door and Hardin begins guiding me up and down. There is a fever and a desperation in him that I have not seen at this level before, and I feel as though I am ice and he is fire. We are so completely different, yet the same.

  “Is . . . this . . . okay?” he stutters, his arms wrapped around my back to keep me steady.

  “Yes,” I moan. The feeling of him taking me this way, against the door, my legs around his waist, is very intense but heavenly all the same.

  “Kiss me,” he begs.

  I slide my tongue across his lips before his mouth parts, allowing me access. Tugging at his hair, I do my best to kiss him as he moves in and out of me faster and faster. Our bodies are moving vigorously, but our kiss remains slow and intimate.

  “I can’t get enough of you, Tess, I . . . fuck. I love you,” he says into my mouth and I gasp and moan, that feeling growing in the pit of my stomach.

  A few grunts escape his lips and I cry out, both of us reaching our climaxes. “Let go, baby,” he instructs, and I do just that. He leaves his lips pressed against mine, swallowing my moans as he tenses and spills into the condom.

  With a few heavy breaths his head falls onto my chest and he continues to hold me in place for a few seconds before lifting me and then lowering me to stand on my own feet.

  I tilt my head back against the door and catch my breath as he neatly puts the condom back into the wrapper and puts it into his pocket before pulling his pants back up.

  “Remind me to throw that away as soon as we get downstairs.” He laughs and I giggle. “Thank you,” he says and kisses my cheek. “Not for what we just did, but for everything.”

  “You never need to thank me, Hardin. You do as much for me as I do for you.” I look into his bright green eyes. “Actually, more.”

  “No way.” He shakes his head gently and takes my hand. “Let’s go back down before someone comes looking for us.”

  “How do I look?” I ask, running my fingers through my hair and wiping under my eyes.

  “Freshly fucked,” he teases and I roll my eyes. “You look beautiful.”

  “So do you,” I tell him.

  ALMOST EVERYONE IN THE TENT is dancing by the time we return, and it seems that our absence has gone unnoticed. As we take our seats another song begins. I recognize it: “Never Let Me Go,” by Florence and the Machine.

  “Do you want to dance?” I ask Hardin, even though I am sure I already know his answer.

  “No, I don’t dance,” he says and looks over at me. “Unless . . . you want to?” he adds.

  I am surprised by his offer and thrilled that he would dance with me. He holds his hand out for mine, but really I’m the one who leads us onto the checkered dance floor, moving quickly in case he changes his mind. We stay in the back, a good distance from the crowd.

  “I don’t have a clue what to do.” He laughs.

  “I’ll show you,” I assure him and place his hands on my hips. He steps on my feet a few times, but he catches on quickly. Never in a million years would I have even entertained the thought that Hardin would be dancing at his father’s wedding.

  “Sort of a demented song to play at a wedding, isn’t it?” He laughs into my ear.

  “Not really; it’s sort of perfect,” I say and lean my head on his chest.

  I am aware that we aren’t actually dancing as much as we are just swaying back and forth holding each other, but that’s fine with me. We stay that way for the next two songs, which end up being two of my favorites. “You Found Me” by the Fray makes Hardin laugh as he holds me close to him. The next, a pop song by a boy band, plays, making me smile and him roll his eyes. During both, Hardin gives me some background on his grandmother. She still lives in England, but he hasn’t seen or spoken to her since she phoned him on his twelfth birthday. She took his father’s side during the divorce and defended his drinking, essentially blaming Hardin’s mother for everything, which was enough for Hardin to not want to speak to her again. He seems very comfortable sharing this information with me, so I stay quiet, only nodding and humming in acknowledgment of his remarks.

  Hardin makes a few jokes about how annoying and whiny all the songs being played are, and I laugh at him.

  “You want to go back upstairs?” he jokes and lowers his hand on my back.


  “I’ll have to give you champagne more often.” I move his hands back up to my waist and he pouts, which makes me laugh even more. “I’m actually having a pretty decent time,” he admits.

  “Me, too. Thank you for coming with me.”

  “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

  I know he doesn’t mean the wedding but just with me in general. The thought sends warmth through me.

  “May I cut in?” Ken asks as the next song begins.

  Hardin frowns and looks at me, then back to his father. “Yeah, but only one song,” he grumbles.

  Ken laughs and repeats his son’s words: “One song.” Hardin lets go of me, and Ken’s hand goes around my back. I swallow down the uneasy feelings I hold for him. He keeps the conversation light as we dance and my ill feelings are further muted as we laugh at an obviously drunk couple swaying back and forth next to us.

  “Would you look at that?” Ken then says, his voice full of wonder.

  I turn to see what he’s referring to and hear my own small gasp as I spot Hardin awkwardly swaying back and forth with Karen. She laughs as he steps on her white shoes, and he smiles an embarrassed smile. Tonight has been better than I could have dreamed.

  After the song ends, Hardin quickly finds his way back to me, and Karen follows. We tell the happy bride and groom that we’re going to go, and we all exchange hugs once again, Hardin’s being maybe incrementally less stiff than earlier. Someone calls Ken’s name and he nods at them. He and Karen say their final goodbyes and thank us once again for coming to the wedding before disappearing into the crowd.

  “Oh, my feet are killing me,” I say. This is the longest I have worn heels in my entire life and I am going to need a week to recover.

  “Would you like me to carry you?” he says in a mocking, babylike voice.

  “No.” I giggle.

  As we are leaving the tent, Trevor walks by with Mr. Vance and Kimberly. Her smile is bright and she winks at me after looking Hardin up and down. I try to stifle my laugh and end up coughing.

  “Did you save me a dance?” Mr. Vance teases Hardin.

  “No, absolutely not.” Hardin laughs back at him.

  “You’re leaving so soon?” Trevor looks at me.

  “We have been here for a while, actually,” Hardin answers for me and pulls me away from them. “Nice to see you, Vance,” he calls over his shoulder as we walk out of the tent.

  “That was rude.” I scold him when we get to his car.

  “He was flirting with you. I am entitled to be as rude as I please.”

  “Trevor wasn’t flirting; he was just being nice.”

  Hardin rolls his eyes. “He wants you, I can tell. Don’t be so naïve.”

  “Just be nice to him, please. I work with him and I don’t want any problems,” I say calmly. Tonight has been too good a night to ruin over his jealousy.

  Hardin smirks evilly. “I could always just have Vance fire him.”

  I can’t help but laugh at his cocky response. “You’re insane,” I snort.

  “Only when it comes to you,” he says and pulls onto the street.

  chapter ninety-five

  I love coming home!” I proclaim with a squeal as we walk into the apartment, only to then realize it’s freezing. “Except when you turn the heat off.” I shiver and he chuckles.

  “I still haven’t figure
d that thing out yet; it’s too high-tech.”

  As Hardin tries to figure out the thermostat, I grab a blanket off the bed and two from the closet and drop them in a heap on the couch, then go back to the bedroom. “Hardin!” I call.


  “Can you unzip me?” I ask as he comes in, looking frustrated from his handyman moment.

  I flinch from the coolness of his fingertips against my bare skin. He apologizes, then hastily unzips the material, and it drops to the floor. I take my shoes off and find that the concrete floor is freezing as well. Hurrying to the dresser, I grab the warmest pajamas I can find.

  “Here, let me give you something,” he says and walks to the closet, pulling out a gray hooded sweatshirt.

  “Thanks.” I smile. I don’t know what it is about being in Hardin’s clothes that I love so much; it’s almost as if wearing them brings us closer. I never did this with Noah, except once when I borrowed a sweatshirt while camping with his family.

  Hardin seems to like when I wear his clothes, too. He watches me slip the sweatshirt over my head with lustful eyes. I notice him struggling to get the tie off and I pad over to help him. He watches me silently as I pull the thin fabric from around his neck and set it aside before grabbing a pair of thick, fuzzy, purple socks that my mother got me for Christmas last year.

  It dawns on me that Christmas is only three weeks away, and I start to wonder if my mother will still want me to come home. I haven’t been home since I left for college.

  “What are those?” Hardin chuckles and flicks the balls of fur at the top of my ankle.

  “Socks. Warm socks, to be exact.” I stick my tongue out.

  “Nice,” he teases, then changes into sweatpants and a sweatshirt.

  By the time we get back to the living room, the apartment has warmed up somewhat. Hardin turns the television on and lies on the couch, pulling me onto his chest and encasing us in the mound of blankets.

  “I was wondering what you were doing for Christmas,” I say nervously. I don’t know why I feel shy asking him about this when we already live together.

  “Oh well, I was going to wait until next week to bring it up, with everything being so chaotic over the last week, but since you did . . .” He smiles, his face holding the same nervousness that I feel. “I’m going to go home for the holiday, and I would like it if you would come with me.”

  “Home?” I squeak.

  “To England . . . to my mother’s house.” He looks a little sheepish as he hedges, “I get it if you don’t want to. I know it’s a lot to ask, and you’ve already moved in with me.”

  “It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just . . . I don’t know . . .” The idea of going to another country with Hardin is thrilling, but terrifying. I have never even left Washington.

  “You don’t have to answer me tonight, but let me know soon, okay? I will be leaving on the twentieth,” he explains.

  “That’s the day after my birthday,” I tell him.

  He moves suddenly and lifts my head up. “Your birthday? Why didn’t you tell me it was so soon?”

  I shrug a little. “I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it, I guess. Birthdays aren’t really a big deal to me. My mother used to go all-out on my birthdays, making each one special, but not in the last few years.”

  “Well, what would you like to do for your birthday?”

  “Nothing. Maybe we can go to dinner?” I don’t want to make a big deal out of it.

  “Dinner . . . I don’t know,” he teases. “A bit extravagant, isn’t it?”

  I giggle and he kisses my forehead. I force him to watch the new episode of Pretty Little Liars and we end up falling asleep on the couch pretty quickly.

  I wake up sweating in the middle of the night. Lifting myself off Hardin, I peel off the sweatshirt and go over to turn the heat down when a small blue light blinking on Hardin’s phone piques my curiosity. I pick the phone up off the counter and swipe my finger across. Three new messages.

  Put the phone down, Tessa.

  I have no reason to go through his phone; that’s insane. I set it down and walk back toward the couch, only to be stopped by the vibration of another text message arriving.

  Just one. I will only glance at one. That’s not so crazy, right? I know it’s insane to be looking through Hardin’s messages, but I can’t seem to stop myself.

  Call me back dick, the message reads. Jace’s name covers the top of the small screen.

  Yup, reading that was a terrible idea. It didn’t get me anywhere at all, and now I feel guilty for going through Hardin’s phone like a crazy person . . . but why is Jace texting Hardin, anyway?

  “Tessa?” Hardin’s voice croaks, causing me to jump, and the phone slips out of my grasp. It falls to the floor with a crack.

  “What was that? What are you doing?” he asks through the dark room, the only light being cast from the television.

  “Your phone went off . . . and I grabbed it,” I half-lie and scramble on the floor to pick up the phone. The screen now has a small crack along the side. “And I cracked the screen,” I add.

  He groans wearily. “Just come back to bed.”

  I set the phone down and lie back on the couch with him. But I don’t fall asleep for a long while.

  THE NEXT MORNING, I wake up to Hardin trying to move out from under me. I shift against the back of the couch to let him get up, and he grabs his phone off the counter before going to the bathroom. I hope he isn’t too pissed about me breaking his screen. If I wouldn’t have been so nosy, this wouldn’t have happened in the first place. I pull myself off the couch and make a pot of coffee.

  Hardin’s proposal of going to England with him keeps running through my mind. We have already progressed so quickly in our relationship by moving in together at such a young age. Still, I would love to meet his mother and see England with Hardin.

  “Deep in thought?” Hardin’s voice interrupts me as he comes into the kitchen.

  “No . . . well, sort of.” I laugh.



  “What about it? You can’t figure out what to get me?”

  “I think I’m going to call my mother and see if she would have even invited me for Christmas. I feel bad not at least seeing first, you know. She will be alone.”

  He doesn’t look thrilled, but he stays calm. “I understand.”

  “I’m sorry about your phone.”

  “It’s fine,” he says and sits at the kitchen table.

  But then I blurt out, “I read a text message from Jace.” I don’t want to hide things from him, no matter how embarrassing the confessions are.

  “You what?”

  “It vibrated and I looked at it. Why was he texting so late, anyway?”

  “What did you read?” he asks, ignoring my question.

  “A text from Jace,” I repeat.

  His jaw clenches. “What did it say?”

  “Just to call him back . . .” Why is he getting so worked up? I knew he wouldn’t exactly be happy that I looked at his text message, but this is an overreaction.

  “That’s it?” he snaps, which starts to get me annoyed.

  “Yes, Hardin—what else would it have said?”

  “Nothing . . .” He takes a slow sip of coffee, like it’s all suddenly no big deal. “I just don’t like you going through my stuff.”

  “Okay, well, I won’t do it again.”

  “Good. I have a few things to do today, so can you keep yourself busy for a while?”

  “What do you have to do?” I ask and instantly regret it.

  “Jesus, Tessa,” he says loudly. “Why are you always on my case!”

  “I’m not always on your case. I just wanted to know what you were doing. We are in a relationship, Hardin—a pretty serious one, at that—so why wouldn’t I ask where you’re going?”

  He pushes his mug away and stands up. “You just don’t know when to let shit go, is your problem. I don’t
have to tell you everything, whether we are living together or not! If I would have known you were going to start shit with me today, I would have left before you even woke up.”

  “Wow” is all I can say before I storm off to the bedroom.

  But he’s hot on my heels. “Wow what?”

  “I should have known that yesterday was too good to be true.”

  “Excuse me?” he scoffs.

  “We had such a great time; you weren’t an asshole, for once, but you wake up today and bam! You’re back to being a jerk!” I scramble around the room picking up Hardin’s dirty clothes.

  “You forgot the part where you went through my phone.”

  “Okay, and I am sorry for doing that, but it’s honestly not that big of a deal. If there is something on there that you don’t want me to see, then there is a bigger problem here!” I yell and shove everything into the hamper.

  He points an angry finger at me. “No, Tessa, you’re the problem. You’re always making something out of nothing!”

  “Why did you fight Zed?” I counter.

  “We aren’t doing this right now,” he says in a cool tone.

  “Then when, Hardin? Why won’t you tell me? How am I supposed to trust you if you are keeping things from me? Does this have to do with Jace?” I ask and his nostrils flare.

  He runs his hands over his face and then up through his hair, leaving it sticking straight up. “I don’t know why you can never just mind your own damn business,” he grumbles and walks off.

  Seconds later I hear the front door slam and I wipe the angry tears from my cheeks. Hardin’s reaction to me asking about Jace is gnawing at my stomach the entire time I clean the apartment. He overreacted; there is something he isn’t telling me, and I don’t understand why. I am fairly certain it has nothing to do with me, but it just doesn’t make sense why Hardin got so worked up. I have known since the moment I met Jace that he was trouble. If Hardin isn’t going to give me answers, I will have to go another route. I look out the window and watch as Hardin’s car pulls out of the parking lot before grabbing my phone. My new source answers on the first ring.

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