Chapter One Hundred and Five

After We Fell


one hundred and five




Kim. Hey, it’s Tessa. I was—”

    “Go ahead.” She cuts me off. “I already told Christian you probably wouldn’t be in today.”

    “I’m sorry for asking. I—”

    “Tessa, it’s fine. We get it.” The sincerity in her voice makes me smile despite my annoyance with Hardin. It’s nice to finally have a female friend. The weight of Steph’s betrayal is something I’m having a hard time lifting from my chest. I look around my temporary bedroom and remind myself that I’m hours away from her, from that campus, from all the friends I thought I had made during my first semester at college, all of them fakes. This is my life now. Seattle is where I belong, and I’ll never have to see Steph or any of them again.

    “Thank you so much,” I tell her.

    “You don’t have to thank me. Just remember that all the main rooms in the house are under surveillance.” Kimberly laughs. “I’m sure that after the gym incident you wouldn’t forget that.”

    My eyes dart up to Hardin as he enters the bedroom.

    His expectant grin and the way those dark blue jeans hang low on his hips distract me from Kimberly’s words. I have to scramble to remember what she said only seconds ago.

    The gym? Oh God. My blood runs cold, and Hardin stalks toward me.

    “Um, yeah,” I mumble, holding my hand up to stop Hardin from coming any closer.

    “Have fun.” Kimberly ends the call.

    “They have cameras in the gym! They saw us!” I say, panicking.

    Hardin shrugs as if it’s no big deal. “They turned them off before they saw anything.”

    “Hardin! They know we . . . you know, in their My hands fly through the air in front of me. “I’m so mortified!” I cover my face with my hands, but Hardin quickly removes them.

    “They didn’t see anything. I spoke to them already. Calm down. Don’t you think I would’ve lost my shit if he’d actually seen anything on tape?”

    I relax, slightly. He’s right; he would’ve been much more upset than he appears to be right now, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not completely humiliated by the fact that they know, even if they did stop the tape.

    But wait, what does “tape” even mean here—everything’s digital. And they could have just said they stopped the cameras but really all they did was just look away . . .

    “The footage . . . it’s not saved anywhere or anything, right?” I can’t help but ask the question. My fingertip traces over the small cross tattoo on Hardin’s hand.

    Hardin lowers his eyes at me defensively. “What is that supposed to mean?”

    Hardin’s . . . old hobbies flash through my mind. “That’s not what I meant,” I say quickly. Maybe too quickly.

    “You sure?” he asks. I watch as his features harden and his eyes fill with guilt. “I mean, how would you know what I was worried you were thinking about if you hadn’t already been thinking about it yourself?”

    “Don’t,” I say strongly and close the small space between us.

    “Don’t what?” he asks.

    I can read his thoughts in this moment; I can see him reliving the terrible things he has done. “Don’t do that; don’t go back there.”

    “I can’t help it.” He rubs his hand down his face in a slow yet frenzied motion. “Is that what you were thinking? That I knew about the tape, and that I let him watch it?”

    “What? No! I would never think that,” I say honestly. “I only connected the tape from the gym to . . . to what happened before when you said something. It just reminded me of that—I never thought you were doing that now.” My fingers wrap around the tattered neckline of his black T-shirt. “I know you would never show anyone a tape of me.” I stare into his eyes, willing him to believe me.

    “If anyone ever did something like that to you . . .” He takes a long pause and a deep breath. “I don’t know what I would do to them, even if it was Vance,” he grimly admits. Hardin’s temper is something I’ve grown very familiar with over the last six months.

    I stand on my tiptoes so I can look him in the eyes. “It won’t happen.”

    “Something terrible almost did, though, only last week with Steph and Dan.” A shudder shakes his shoulders, and I desperately search for the right thing to say to him to pull him out of this dark place.

    “Nothing happened.” The irony of my being the one to comfort him now, when the trauma was actually something that happened to me, isn’t lost on me; but this role reversal speaks true to the nature of our relationship and Hardin’s need to blame himself for things he can’t control. Just like his mother, just like me. I can see this now.

    “If he had been inside you . . .”

    The words bring back vague flashes of memory from that night, images of Dan’s fingers running up my thigh, of Steph pulling at my dress.

    “I don’t want to discuss the hypothetical.” I lean into him, and his arms wrap around my waist, caging me, protecting me from bad memories and nonexistent threats.

    He glowers. “We’ve barely discussed it at all.”

    “I don’t want to. We talked about it enough at my mother’s house, and this is not how I want to spend my newly cleared afternoon.” I give him the best smile I can manage in a failed attempt to lighten the mood.

    “I couldn’t bear anyone hurting you like that. I hate the thought of him violating you. It makes me murderous—all I see is red. I can’t handle it.” Hardin’s angry expression has not lightened, only intensified. His green eyes burn into mine, and the rough grip of his fingers tightens on the span of my hips.

    “Let’s not talk about it, then. I want you to try and forget it, like I have.” I caress his back with my fingers, gently begging him to forget the whole thing. It won’t do either of us any good to harp on it. It was terrible and disgusting, but I won’t let it rule me. “I love you—I love you so, so much.”

    His mouth catches mine, and I wrap my fingers around his arms, pulling him closer to me.

    Between breaths, I say, “So focus on me, Hardin. Only on m—”

    I’m interrupted by the pressure of his mouth on mine again, possessing me, proving his commitment to both me and himself. His tongue is hard, pushing through my lips to massage mine. Hardin’s fingertips dig into my hips even further, and I whimper as his hands glide up my stomach to my chest. He cups my breasts, and I push into his body harder, filling his greedy hands.

    “Show me that it’s only me,” he whispers into my mouth, and I know exactly what he wants, what he needs.

    I drop to my knees in front of him and hastily tug at the lone button on his jeans. The zipper proves to be more of a problem, and I briefly consider ripping the jagged metal lining and destroying it altogether. However, I can’t bring myself to do this, considering how hot he looks in the tight blue jeans. My fingertips slowly graze over the light dusting of hair leading from his navel to the waistband of his boxers, and he groans impatiently.

    “Please,” he begs, “no teasing.”

    I give a small nod and pull down his boxers, letting them pool at his calves atop the bunched-up jeans. Hardin groans once more, this time much louder, much more primal, and I take him into my mouth. Slow movements and flicks of my tongue say the things that I try to instill in his paranoid mind, reassuring him that these acts of pleasure are different from anything someone could force me into.

    I love him. I’m aware that what I’m doing now may not be the healthiest way to handle his anger and anxiety, but my need for him is stronger than my moral compass, which, at the moment, is smugly waving a self-help book in front of my face.

    “I fucking love that I’m the only man who has had your mouth,” he groans as I use one hand to take what my mouth cannot. “Those lips have only been wrapped around me.” A quick movement of his hips makes me gag, and he reaches down to run his thumb along my forehead. “Look at me,” he instructs.

    And I happily comply. I’m enjoying this just as much as he is. I always do. I love the way his eyelids fall closed with each long stroke of my tongue against him. I love the way he grunts and groans when I add more suction.

    “Fuck, you know exactly . . .” His head rolls back, and I can feel the muscles in his legs tightening under my hand, which I’ve rested on him to steady myself. “I’m the only man who you’ll ever be on your knees in front of . . .”

    I press my thighs together to relieve some of the tension his filthy mouth arouses in me. Hardin uses one hand to steady himself against the wall as my mouth brings him closer and closer to his high. I keep my eyes on his, knowing that it drives him absolutely crazy to watch me as I enjoy pleasuring him so much. His free hand moves down from the top of my head to my mouth, and he runs the pad of his thumb across my top lip, moving in and out of my mouth at a quickening pace.

    “Fuck, Tess.” His body goes rigid as he tells me how good it feels, how much he loves me, while he climbs closer to release. I take all of him, moaning while he’s filling my mouth—and he groans, emptying himself on my tongue. I keep sucking, milking every drop of his release as he softly rubs my cheek with his thumb.

    I lean into his touch, reveling in its tenderness, and he gently helps me to my feet. The moment I’m standing next to him, he’s pulling me into his arms, hugging me in an intimate gesture that almost overwhelms me.

    “I’m sorry for dragging all that shit up,” he whispers into my hair.

    “Shh,” I whisper back, not wanting to backtrack to the dark conversation we left behind only minutes ago.

    “Bend over the bed, baby,” Hardin says, and it takes me a moment to register his words. He doesn’t give me an opportunity to respond before he’s gently pushing his palm against the small of my back, guiding me to the edge of the mattress. His hands grip my thighs, pushing my skirt up my legs until my entire behind is bared to him.

    I want him so badly that it physically hurts. An ache that only he can soothe. As I move to step out of my shoes, he presses his palm against my back again.

    “No, leave them on,” he growls.

    I groan as my panties are pushed to the side and he slides a finger inside of me. He steps closer, his legs nearly touching mine, his cock softly teasing the back of my legs.

    “So soft, baby, so warm.” He adds another finger, and I groan, leaning all my weight onto my elbows on the mattress. My back arches when he finds a rhythm, steadily entering me, dragging his long fingers into and out of me.

    “Your sounds are so sexy, Tess,” he coos, closing the gap between our bodies so I feel his hard cock pressing against me.

    “Please, Hardin.” I groan, needing him now. Within seconds he fills me in the way that only he has and only he ever will. I lust for him, but it’s nothing compared to the overwhelming, all-consuming, judgment-altering love that I have for him, and I know deep down—deep in the depth of me that only he and I can see—that it will always be only him.


LATER, AS WE’RE LYING IN bed, Hardin whines, “I don’t want to go,” and in a very un-Hardin-like gesture, he leans his head down and buries it in my shoulder, wrapping his arms and legs around my body. His thick hair tickles my skin. I try to tame it with my fingers, but there is simply too much of it.

    “I need a haircut,” he announces, as if answering my thoughts.

    “I like it this way.” I gently tug at the damp strands.

    “You wouldn’t tell me if you didn’t,” he says, calling me out. He’s right, but only because I couldn’t imagine a hairstyle on Hardin that wouldn’t flatter him. Still, I do happen to love his hair this length.

    “Your phone is ringing again,” I point out, and he lifts his head to shoot me a glare. “Something could be wrong with my father, and I’m trying my best not to freak out, and I really want to trust you, so please just answer it,” I rattle out.

    “If it’s something with your father, Landon can handle it, Tessa.”

    “Hardin, you know how hard it is for me not—?”

    “Tessa,” he says to silence me, but then he climbs off the bed and retrieves the vibrating phone from the desk.

    “See, it’s my mum.” He holds the screen up so the word “Trish” is clear from where he stands. I really wish he’d listen to me and change her entry to “Mom” in his phone, but he refuses. Baby steps, I remind myself.

    “Answer it! It could be an emergency.” I climb off the bed and try to grab the phone from his quick hands.

    “She’s fine. She’s been pestering me all morning.” Hardin childishly holds the phone up over my head.

    “About what?” I ask him and watch as he turns the power off on the device.

    “Nothing important. You know how annoying she can be.”

    “She’s not annoying,” I say in Trish’s defense. She’s very sweet, and I love her sense of humor. Something which her son could use more of.

    “You’re just as annoying as she is; I knew you would say that.” He grins. His long fingers reach out to tuck my hair behind my ears.

    I give him a fake evil eye. “You’re being awfully charming today. Aside from calling me annoying just now, of course.” I’m not complaining, but given our history, I’m afraid that this behavior will disappear when our blissful weekend has ended.

    “Would you prefer me to be an asshole?” He raises a brow.

    I smile, enjoying his playful behavior, no matter how briefly it lasts.