Before by Anna Todd

  Tessa looks around again, taking in the water and my half-naked body before she reaches down and plucks my shirt from the ground. I win.

  “Fine.” She’s such a bratty little thing. She rests her hand on her hip and continues her negotiation. “But turn around and don’t look at me while I’m changing—I mean it!”

  The little roaring kitten is back. I laugh, and she does this weird little thing with her hips, moving them back and forth as she pushes my black shirt between her thighs to hold while she lifts her shirt up over her head. I quickly turn around. I’m a gentleman—really, I am.

  “Hurry the hell up or I’ll turn around,” I impatiently remark after silently counting to thirty. I sneak a look at her while she’s bending down to set her jeans perfectly in line with her shoes. She’s a complete psychopath, lining her shoes up like that. For a few seconds I wonder how she’d react if I tossed her shoes into the calm water. She’d be so pissed. I bite back a smile and finally look at her body. Her legs are tan—that’s the first thing I notice. My T-shirt fits her body perfectly. Fuck, because of the size of her tits, the shirt barely touches the top of her thighs. I pull my lip ring between my teeth and enjoy the view in front of me.

  “Um . . . come into the water, yeah?” I try to clear my throat and stop staring at the top of her thighs. “Just jump in!”

  “I am! I am!”

  “Get a little running start.”


  Tessa takes a deep breath before galloping toward the water in an awkwardly stiff run. She squeals and covers her face when she reaches the edge and stops one step before she would actually go over the edge.

  “Oh, come on! You were off to such a good start!” My laughter fills the air between us, and I look at Tessa again. She’s staring at me, smiling and laughing in the sunlight, and it confuses me. What are we doing here? Laughing at each other at a stream? What is this? One of those Nicholas Sparks movies where the couple’s fighting is so cute that the trailer for the film spreads like wildfire on the internet? Bored women thinking they have some literary hero to come save them. It’s bullshit, and they always, always end up with a shitty husband who doesn’t and will never care about them or their family more than himself.

  “I can’t!”

  She looks pretty frantic. Is she actually scared of the water? Good Lord. “Are you afraid?” I ask her.

  “No . . . I don’t know. Sort of.”

  I walk through the water to get closer to her. I stub my toe on a large rock at the bottom of the stream.

  “Sit on the edge and I’ll help you in,” I offer. I reach for her as she scoots closer. She tries to hide her panties by clamping her legs together, and I appreciate the effort. The last thing I need is a distraction.

  My hands grip her thighs, and my cock immediately responds.

  Fuck her for having such soft, beckoning thighs that I’m dying to get my face between.

  “Ready?” I take a breath and move my hands to her waist. Her hips mold to my hands, and I have to forcefully hold on to my last bit of self-control. My hands are itching to squeeze her hips, bend her over, and take her here.

  What’s my problem? I’m never this much of a horny frat boy. Is it her innocence and sinful body, or is it the competitive drive to win her body, to beat Zed?

  Her skin is warm as she sinks into the water, and I let go of her. The water hits just below her chest. She sprawls her hands out in front of her and feels out the water. Her skin is covered in tiny goose bumps accentuated by the sunlight.

  “Don’t just stand there.” I need you to move so I don’t just stand here and stare at you all fucking day.

  She seems to ignore me, but she does move out farther into the stream. As she pushes through the clear water, the T-shirt lifts up from the water as if trying to take flight. Before I can look away, Tessa shoves the wet fabric down, smoothing it underwater the best she can.

  “You could just take it off,” I say. I sure as hell wouldn’t complain.

  Tessa scrunches up her nose and slices her hand through the water—she fucking splashed me? It’s annoying how funny this is to me.

  “Did you just splash me?”

  Tessa giggles and smacks her hands across the settling water.

  I shake the liquid from my hair and lunge at her. I grasp her waist, tugging her under the water. Her small hand reaches up and plugs her nostrils. She still holds her nose?

  I laugh, hard. “I can’t decide which is more amusing: the fact that you are actually having a good time or the fact that you have to plug your nose underwater.” I can barely talk from laughing so hard.

  Tessa moves toward me, the look of a woman on a mission clear in her eyes. Her arms lift above her head, and she attempts to push my head under the water. It’s a comical attempt. At best. While I tried to ignore the way my T-shirt floated up around her body, now I don’t budge, and she laughs at herself and my stomach cramps from joining in. Her laughter is soft; it reminds me of the yellow wildflowers I saw at the beginning of our date-thing.

  “I believe you owe me an answer to a question,” she pushes. I knew she wouldn’t forget, but I assumed she’d wait a little longer before asking.

  “Sure, but only one.”

  She’s probably going to ask something stupid, like “Did your tattoos hurt?” I stare at the grassy bank of the stream and wait for her intrusion.

  Her voice breaks through the silence. “Who do you love the most in the world?”

  What the fuck?

  What kind of question is that? How fucking strange. I don’t want to answer it. I don’t even have an answer. Now I’m growing even more suspicious of her and Landon’s conversations about me. Love? Who do I love the most in the world?

  Who do I love most? Well, I love my mum, I guess. I haven’t said the words to her in years, but she’s still my mum. That’s about it, except for myself. I love myself the most. I don’t think that “I love myself the most” would qualify as an answer, however.

  Nevertheless: “Myself,” I answer truthfully. I wasn’t one to have any girlfriends as a puberty-stricken teen, so I never even had to fake any I love you’s before I or anyone else my age actually knew what the word meant. I dive under the water to disappear for a few seconds while Tessa’s brain tallies up her assumptions about me.

  “That can’t be true,” she says the very second I feel the fresh air hit my skin. “What about your parents?” And like that, she crosses the line. Tessa Young has no fucking boundaries when it comes to her invasive personal questions. Her eyes are soft, her lips parted as she waits for me to respond. I hate the way her eyes look when they’re full of pity.

  Stop it, Theresa.

  “Do not speak of my parents again, got it?”

  “I’m sorry, I was just curious. You said you would answer a question.” Her voice is quiet. “I really am sorry, Hardin. I won’t mention them again,” she apologizes.

  I’m not sure if I believe her. She’s up to something, I can feel it. She’s too intuitive and way too pushy. I don’t even know her, and she sure as hell doesn’t know me. Why does she keep thinking that she can ask such personal shit?

  This afternoon is going to go one of two ways: with her and I fighting until she rushes into her dorm room in a pissed-off panic, or with me charming her, making her want to be around me.

  I decide to keep it civil. I would rather not spend the drive back in awkward silence. I push my hands out toward her and lock my arms around her waist. Her body is light in the water when I lift her into the air and toss her to the side. She shrieks, and her arms flap around in the air like a bird. She pops up out of the water, her hair soaked and her eyes wild.

  She’s happy.

  This could have gone one of two ways, and somehow I made her happy.

  “You’re going to pay for that!” she calls out cheerily, and wades toward me. She may actually believe that she has a chance at retaliation. Tessa moves even closer to me, water trickling down her face. Her skin is w
et and shining, and why is she still moving closer?

  I gasp when Tessa’s thighs wrap around my waist and she lifts her body to line up to mine. I’m supposed to be in charge here.

  She tenses and loosens her legs. “Sorry.”

  No, no.

  I grip them, coercing her to put them back around my body. She feels so good pressed up against me, so warm. When she wraps her small arms around my neck, a twinge of panic flickers at the bottom of my spine. I look at her and try to read her mind. It’s impossible.

  “What are you doing to me, Tess?” I wonder while slowly grazing her trembling bottom lip with my thumb. Her hot breath comes out in low, deep puffs. The taste of her mouth is still fresh in my memory. I want another taste, need it.

  “I don’t know . . .”

  She doesn’t know. I don’t know either. Neither of us has a grip on this, and it could escalate quickly.

  I want it to.

  Does this girl have any idea how sexy she is? Does she know that the shape of her mouth alone is enough to make me imagine very, very dirty things involving her? Picturing Tessa on her knees in front of me, her full lips open wide, tongue wet and eager to take me, to please me. I want to press my cock against her lips and tease the fuck out of her. I can drive her body insane, the way she’s doing to mine. Her lips are a light pink shade, and the curve of her top lip is dramatic, like the lips drawn on a cartoon character. A sexy one, though, like Jessica Rabbit.

  Fuck, I’m losing my damn mind over her. This can’t be a good thing.

  I guess it’s fortunate that I have no qualms about being bad.

  “These lips . . . the things you could do with them.” I pause, remembering the way her mouth sucked at mine in my room and again in hers. “Do you want me to stop?” I stare at her, looking for any signs of nervousness. Her thighs tighten around my body, and I take that as a no, but give her a few seconds to respond before I make my move.

  She wiggles even closer, pressing her body against mine under the water.

  “We can’t just be friends—you know that, don’t you?”

  At my words, she inhales a quick breath as I lean into her, pressing my lips softly against the line of her jaw near her chin. Her eyelids flutter closed, and I move my lips across her jawline, traversing her wet skin with affection. When my mouth touches the spot on her neck, just below her ear, a moan rises from her, surprising me. “Oh, Hardin.”

  The words send a shock through me. Her voice is so thick, so needy. For me. She’s putty in my arms, and my heart is racing at the idea of molding her pleasure around me. She’s never been fucked, though I’m sure she’s at least gotten herself off before.

  I want to hear her moan my name again, just like I need to taste her mouth again.

  “I want to make you moan my name, Tessa, over and over again. Please let me.” My own voice is unfamiliar as I beg her.

  It’s silent except for her heavy breathing and the low swish of the water moving around our bodies in a calm wave. She nods.

  “Say it, Tessa,” I continue. I pull her earlobe between my teeth and gently bite down on her skin. She whimpers and rocks against me as she nods furiously.

  A nod won’t do, Theresa. You want this, so tell me. “I need you to say it, baby, out loud, so I know you really want me to.” My hands move to her stomach and under my shirt covering her body.

  “I want to . . .” Tessa’s declaration is rushed, desperate. I smile against the warm skin on her neck, and she sighs. Those three words are invitation enough for me. I hold on to her body, and she tenses—nervous that I may drop her, I assume. I begin to walk out of the water with Tessa attached to me. Her thighs are open, and she’s pressing against my hardening cock with every step I take.

  I let go of her as we reach the bank, and she whines, literally whines. The sound sends my blood straight to my groin. I climb up the bank and turn around to help her out of the water. She reaches for me; her eyes are set on my bare chest. I watch as her eyes shift to the tattoo on my stomach, the dead tree inked into my skin. She probably hates my tattoos, coming from whatever prissy little town she came from. Her God-fearing mum probably taught her that people with tattoos are evil and will eat her soul or some shit.

  Tessa’s probably used to seeing her clean-skinned, perfectly groomed boyfriend’s chest. I watch closely as she continues to stare, attempting to decipher my ink. Her boyfriend has no tattoos, I’m sure of it. He probably doesn’t even have a single scar on his skin, or in his mind.

  I move away from her, and she stands still, waiting for instruction.

  I find myself unsure what to do with her. She’s still staring at my skin . . . Why is she still staring at my skin? More importantly, why does it bother me so much? I got my tattoos for me, not for some judgmental chick.

  Why the fuck am I justifying myself right now? I never give a shit what women think of me; I only think about fucking them and how they come undone from my touch, in a mutually distracting kind of way.

  Stop thinking, Hardin. I’m just like her, overthinking everything. What is she doing to me?

  I cut to the chase: “Do you want it to be here? Or in my room?”

  Should I fuck her here? I could lay her on the grass, spread those thighs, and have her crying my name out as I draw circles on her clit with my tongue.

  Tessa shrugs as I adjust my boxers. “Here,” she decides.

  “Eager?” I ask her. I can feel the pull of her body to mine and wonder if she’s feeling it, too. I know she’s turned on by me, that’s obvious, but does she feel this overwhelming call to touch me, the way I do for her?

  “Come here,” I order. She obliges with flushed cheeks and slow steps toward me. Faster . . . I want to rush her.

  I don’t have the patience to play teasing games now—I need to feel her. I need her to feel me. I’m going to fuck her, here on the grass. I’m going to lay her down and touch every inch of her sinfully gorgeous body. My black shirt is soaked, completely molded to her body like a latex glove. It needs to go.

  I tug at the bottom of the shirt and bring it up over her head. It’s not an easy task, removing the wet fabric; it seems to want to stay on her, the way that I do.

  The first part of our day was catered to her way of doing things and giving her a nice, simple day with me. The second part will go my way. I’m not used to making conversation or being asked about who I love most in the world. What I am used to is using a soft body to give pleasure to mine.


  He was about to win. He was ready to win.

  And then he realized he wasn’t ready for her at all.

  I spread the wet T-shirt over the grass as a makeshift blanket for her to lie down on. My fingers are shaking.

  “Lie down,” I instruct, and help her onto the ground with me. I lie on my side next to her and prop myself up on my elbow to get a good look at her. Her body is exposed to me, her full breasts on display; her slightly tanned skin is literally glistening in the sun. She’s a juicy, bright red apple, waiting for me to take a bite. I’ve seen many, many women much more naked than this, but fuck if Tessa isn’t in a league of her own. As I’m admiring the curve of her hips all the way up to her perky tits, two small hands attempt to interrupt my visual tour. I sit up; the grass is soft beneath me, one good thing about the damn rain here.

  I wrap my fingers around her wrists and push them down to her sides. “Don’t ever cover up,” I tell her. Her eyes meet mine, and I add, “Not for me.”

  “It’s just . . .” Her cheeks flare, and she looks away. I don’t let her finish her ridiculous statement.

  “No, you will not cover up—you have nothing to be ashamed of, Tess.” She doesn’t look convinced. Who fucked up her confidence? “I mean it, look at you.”

  “You’ve been with so many girls . . .” Of course she would bring this up. Why does she care if I’ve been with other girls; we aren’t in a relationship and never will be. None of the girls I’ve been with were like Tessa; a few of them we
re similar, but I don’t typically go for the innocent, never-been-fucked-before girls. I like my women already experienced enough to fuck me like they know what they’re doing. I’m no one’s teacher, especially not in the art of sex.

  Aside from Natalie, I’m reminded by that annoying little voice in the back of my head. Natalie, the sweet church girl with an ass too big not to be admired and hair black as oil. She was so inexperienced she couldn’t even get the condom on my dick. Attending Sunday school every week since she came out of the womb hadn’t taught her that.

  “None like you,” I say when I look back down at her. She seems nervous, so deliciously new, and I want to be buried inside of her.

  “Do you have a condom?” Tessa’s voice drops in volume when she says “condom.” Has she ever even seen one? Natalie had only in the dark.

  Why the fuck am I thinking about Natalie right now?

  I can fuck Tessa now and win this entire thing. I can sink into her pure body and take what I came here for. She’s staring at me now. Expecting. She thinks I’m the guy who takes chicks out here to fuck them in the woods. Especially the ones who have never had sex before.

  “A condom?” I laugh, deciding right in that moment that fucking just isn’t happening here. “I’m not going to have sex with you,” I say even though I want to.

  “Oh,” Tessa says in an ashamed voice. “Where are you going to—”

  Why would she assume we should leave because I won’t fuck her?

  “Oh . . . No, Tess, I didn’t mean it like that. I just meant that you’ve never done anything . . . like at all, so I’m not going to have sex with you.” I try to detect if she believes me, then add, “Today.” A little of the redness on her flushed cheeks dissolves.

  “There are many other things I want to do to you first.” And there sure as hell are. I’m going to make her beg for me. I need her body to surrender to my touch. Every inch of her will belong to me in this moment. I have her lying here, body exposed and ready, and I’m going to make the best of it, for her.

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