Chapter One Hundred and Six

After We Fell


one hundred and six




As if the long-ass drive through the freezing rain wasn’t pleasant enough, when I get back to my apartment, I’m bombarded with a disturbing image of Tessa’s dad sprawled out on my couch, wearing my clothes. My cotton pajama pants and black T-shirt are way too tight on him, and I can literally taste the bagel Tessa fed me this morning rising in the back of my throat, just begging to be regurgitated onto the concrete floor.

    “How is Tessie doing?” Richard asks me the moment I walk in the door.

    “Why are you wearing my clothes, again?” I groan, not necessarily expecting an answer from the man but knowing I’m going to get one anyway.

    “I only have that one shirt you gave me, and I couldn’t get the smell out of it,” he replies, rising to his feet.

    “Where’s Landon?”

    “Landon’s in the kitchen.” My stepbrother’s voice carries into the living room from behind me. A moment later he joins us, a dish towel in his hands. Drops of soap fall to the floor, and I scowl at him for not making Richard do the damn dishes.

    “So how is she?” he asks.

    “She’s good. Fuck. In case anyone was wondering, I’m good, too,” I gripe.

    The apartment is much cleaner than it was when I left it. The stacks of shitty manuscripts that I had planned to throw away are now gone, the tower of empty water bottles I had built on the coffee table is nowhere to be seen, and even the dust mound that I’ve grown used to watching grow has disappeared from the corners of the television stand.

    “What the fuck happened in here?” I ask both of them. My patience is wearing too thin, given that I’ve only been in this apartment for a couple of minutes.

    “If you mean what happened, as in why did we clean the place—” Landon begins, but I cut him off.

    “Where’s all my shit?” I pace across the floor. “Did I ask either of you to touch any of my shit?” My fingers move to pinch the bridge of my nose, and I take a deep breath in an attempt to control my sudden anger. Why would they just clean my fucking apartment without asking me first?

    I look back and forth between the two of them before stalking off to my bedroom.

    “Someone’s in a mood,” I hear Richard remark just as I reach the door.

    “Just ignore him . . . he misses her,” Landon quickly says.

    As a fuck-you to both of them, I slam the door as loudly as possible.

    Landon is right. I know he is. I could feel it as I drove away from that damned city, away from her. I could feel every single tendon and muscle in my body tighten the farther I got from her. Every single fucking mile widened the gaping hole inside of me. A hole that only she can fill.

    Cursing at every asshole on the highway helped maintain my temper at a slow burn, but it wasn’t going to suffice for long. I should have stayed in Seattle a few more hours, convinced her to take the week off and come home with me. With the way she was dressed, I shouldn’t have given her a choice.

    The more I sink into my thoughts, the more I find myself visualizing her half-naked body. Her skirt was bunched up around her waist, creating the sexiest sight. As I rocked into her repeatedly, she promised not to forget me during the long week ahead and told me how much she loved me.

    The more I think about the way she kissed me and then kissed me again, the more agitated I become.

    My need for her is stronger than it’s ever been. It’s lust and love melted together—no, the need I have for her goes much deeper than lust. The way we’re connected while making love is indescribable, the sounds she makes, the way I’m reminded that I’m the only man who has ever made her feel that way. I love her and she loves me, end of fucking story.

    “Hey,” I say into the receiver, having called her before I even realized what I was doing.

    “Hey. Is something wrong?” she asks.

    “No.” I look around my bedroom. My newly tidied bedroom. “Yes.”

    “What’s wrong? Are you home?”

    No, it’s not home. You’re not here. “Yeah, and your fucking dad and Landon are on my last fucking nerve.”

    She lets out a little chuckle. “It’s been, what, like probably ten minutes you’ve been home. What did they do already?”

    “They cleaned the entire apartment, moved all my shit around. I can’t find anything.” I wish there was a dirty shirt on the floor or something I could kick.

    “What’re you looking for?” she asks, but in the background I hear another voice on her end.

    It takes everything I have not to ask her who the hell she’s with. “Nothing specific,” I admit. “But what I’m saying is that if I did want to find something, I wouldn’t be able to.”

    She laughs. “So you’re mad that they cleaned up the apartment and you can’t find something you’re not even looking for?”

    “Yeah,” I say with a grin. I’m being a fucking baby, and I know it. She knows it, too, but instead of chastising me, she giggles.

    “You should go to the gym.”

    “I should drive back to Seattle and fuck you over your bed. Again,” I fire back. She gasps, and the sound resonates deep inside me, making the need for her stronger.

    “Um, yeah,” she whispers.

    “Who’s with you?” I lasted about forty seconds there. Progress.

    “Trevor and Kim,” she replies slowly.

    “You’ve got to be kidding me.” Fucking Trevor is always around. He’s becoming more of a nuisance than Zed, and that’s saying a fucking lot.

    I can tell she’s uncomfortable, and she doesn’t want to explain herself in front of them.


    “I’m going to go to my room for a minute.” She politely excuses herself, and while I listen to her breathing, I grow more and more impatient.

    “Why is fucking Trevor at your house?” I say, sounding more like a lunatic than I’d planned on.

    “This isn’t my house,” she reminds me.

    “Yeah, well, you live there and—”

    She interrupts me. “You should go to the gym; you’re obviously wound up.” I can hear the concern in her voice, and the silence that follows proves her point. “Please, Hardin.”

    There’s no way I can say no to her. “I’ll call you when I get back,” I agree and hang up the phone.


I CAN’T SAY that I didn’t see fucking Trevor’s fucking annoying, model-fucking-like face imprinted on the black bag as I kicked, punched, kicked, punched for two hours straight. But I also can’t say that it helped, not really. I’m still . . . just revved up. I don’t even know why I’m annoyed except that Tessa isn’t here and I’m not there.

    Fuck, this is going to be a long week.

    A text from Tessa is waiting for me when I reach my car. I hadn’t expected to work out for so long, but I clearly needed it.

    Been trying to stay awake but I’m worn out ;) her message reads. I’m thankful for the darkness outside that conceals the stupid-ass grin on my face from her corny innuendo. She’s so damn endearing without even trying.

    I nearly ignore a message from Landon reminding me that I’m running low on groceries. I haven’t bought actual groceries for myself since . . . ever. When I lived in the frat house I just ate the shit that other people bought.

    However, Tessa may be upset if she finds out I’m not feeding her dad, and Landon won’t hesitate to tattle on me . . .

    Somehow I find myself pulling into Target instead of Conner’s for groceries. Tessa is clearly influencing me without even being here. She spends just as much time at Conner’s as she does at Target, even though she can go on for hours explaining to me why Target is much better than any other store. She even expresses this while we’re in the middle of Conner’s. It annoys the shit out me, but I’ve learned to nod at the exact right moments to make her think I’m listening and partly agreeing with her.

    Just as I toss a box of Frosted Flakes into a shopping cart, a flash of red hair appears at the end of the aisle. I know it’s Steph before she turns around. Her skanky thigh-high black boots with red laces are a dead giveaway.

    Quickly, I go over the two options here. One, I can walk over and remind her what a stupid

    She turns to face me before I can go over the second option, which I probably would have preferred.

    “Hardin! Wait!” Steph’s voice sounds loud when I turn on my heel and leave the cart in the middle of the aisle. Regardless of the hard workout I just completed, there’s no way that I could possibly control myself around Steph. No fucking way.

    I can hear the heavy thud of her boots against the laminate floor as she follows me despite my obvious attempt at avoiding her.

    “Listen to me!” she yells when she gets right behind me. When I stop walking, she collides with my back and falls to the floor.

    I spin and growl at her. “What the fuck do you want?”

    She quickly scrambles to her feet. I notice that her black dress is now dusted white from the dirty floor.

    “I thought you were in Seattle.”

    “I am, just not at the moment,” I lie. I’m not sure what possessed me to even try to keep a front up with her, but it’s too late to backtrack now.

    “I know you hate me now,” she begins.

    “First smart thought you’ve had in a while,” I snap out, then get a good look at her. Her green eyes are nearly nonexistent what with the thick lines of black circling them. She looks like shit.

    “I’m not in the mood for your crap,” I warn her.

    “You never have been.” She smiles.

    I clench my fists at my sides. “I don’t have shit to say to you, and you know how I get when I don’t want to be bothered.”

    “You’re threatening me? Really?” She raises her arms in front of her, then drops them back down. I stay quiet as images of a barely conscious Tessa swarm my mind. I need to get away from Steph. I would never hurt her physically, but I know all the shit to say to cut her much deeper than anything she could imagine. It’s one of my many talents.

    “She isn’t good for you,” Steph has the nerve to say.

    I can’t help but laugh at the audacity of this bitch. “You aren’t stupid enough to try to discuss this with me.”

    But Steph has never been anything if not sure of herself. Full of herself. “You know it’s true. She isn’t enough for you, and you’re never going to be enough for her.” The heat inside me turns from a simmer to a raging boil as she continues: “You’re going to get bored with her prudish behavior, and you know it. You’re probably already bored.”

    “Prudish?” I bark another laugh. She doesn’t know the Tessa who likes to be fucked in front of a mirror and fucks herself on my fingers until she screams my name.

    Steph nods. “And she’ll get over this bad-boy fetish she’s got with you and marry a banker or some shit. You can’t be stupid enough to think she’s in this for the long run. I know you saw how she was with Noah, that douche bag made of cardigans. They were like the poster couple for people who belong together, and you know it. You can’t compete with that.”

    “And what? You’re implying that you and I would be better?” My voice comes out sounding much less demanding than I planned. She’s prying at my biggest insecurities, and I’m trying my best not to falter.

    She rolls her raccoon eyes. “No, of course not.”

    “I know you don’t want me—you never did. My point is, I care about you,” she says. I look away from her to scan the empty aisles. “I know you don’t want to believe me, and I know you want to wring my neck for messing with your Virgin Mary, but in that dark heart of yours, you know what I’m saying is true.”

    I bite the inside of my cheek at the nickname that my so-called friends branded Tessa with early on.

    “Deep down, you know it won’t work. She’s too silver spoon for you. You’re covered in ink, and it’s only a matter of time before she’s sick of being embarrassed to be seen with you.”

    “She’s not embarrassed to be seen with me.” I take a step toward the redheaded harpy.

    “You know she is. She even told me she was when you two first started dating. I’m sure that hasn’t changed.” She smiles; her nose ring glistens under the lighting, and I cringe at the memory of her hands touching me, making me come.

    I swallow back bile and speak. “You’re trying to manipulate me—because that’s all you have to work with—and I’m not buying it.” I push past her.

    She croaks out a gross little laugh. “If you were enough for her, then why did she run to Zed so many times? You know what people were saying.”

    I stop dead in my tracks. I remember Tessa coming back from that lunch with Steph. She was so upset after she left Applebee’s the day that Steph brought Molly along, and the two of them hinted to Tessa that there were rumors going around that she fucked Zed. I was enraged enough to call Molly and warn her not to fucking try to come between Tessa and me. Steph obviously didn’t get the message, even though it was her I needed to worry about the entire time.

    “You made up those rumors,” I accuse.

    “No . . . Zed’s roommate did. He’s the one who heard her moaning his name and heard Zed’s bed smacking against the wall while he was trying to sleep. Annoying, right?” Steph’s malevolent grin snaps every bit of self-control I’ve managed to hang on to since Tessa left for Seattle.

    I need to walk away now. I need to walk away now.

    “Zed said she was nice and tight, though, and apparently she does this . . . like, thing with her hips or something. Oh, and that freckle . . . you know the one.” Her black nails tap against her chin.

    I can’t handle it.

    “Shut up!” I cover my ears with my hands. “Shut the fuck up!” I scream through the aisle, and Steph backs away, still grinning.

    “Believe me or not.” She shrugs. “I don’t care, but you know it’s a waste of time. She’s a waste of time.”

    She sneers, disappearing just as my fist connects with metal shelving.