Chapter One Hundred and Thirteen

After We Fell


one hundred and thirteen




Five minutes before five o’clock I try to call Hardin, but he doesn’t pick up. Where has he been all day? Was Zed right when he said that Hardin was out late? It’s possible that he’s on his way to Seattle and is planning to surprise me, but really, what are the odds of that? My meeting with Zed has been weighing on my chest since the moment I agreed to it. I know Hardin hates our friendship. He hates it so much that it haunts him in his dreams, and here I am, fueling that hatred.

    I don’t bother to check my hair or touch up my makeup before taking the elevator down to the lobby, studiously ignoring Kimberly’s critical gaze. I probably shouldn’t have informed her of my plans. Through the plate-glass windows, Zed’s truck is visible, and is a beautiful sight for me, and I can’t ignore the excitement I feel to see a familiar face. I’d rather it be Hardin’s, but Zed’s here, and Hardin isn’t.

    Zed climbs out of his truck to greet me as soon as I step out of the building. His smile grows as I walk across the sidewalk, and I see that his face is now covered by dark hair. Dressed in black jeans and a gray long-sleeve shirt, he looks as handsome as ever, and I look like death.

    “Hey.” He smiles, opening his arms for a hug.

    Uncertainty floods through me, but the need to be polite pushes me into his waiting arms.

    “It’s been a while,” he says into my hair.

    I nod in agreement and ask, “How was your drive?” as I pull back from the embrace.

    He blows out a breath. “Long. But I got to listen to some pretty good music on the way.”

    He opens the passenger door for me, and I hurry to get inside and out of the cold air. The cab of his truck is warm and smells like him.

    “What made you decide to come today instead of tomorrow?” I ask, to begin the conversation as Zed hesitantly pulls into traffic.

    “It was just . . . a change of mind, nothing, really.” His eyes dart back and forth between the rearview and the side mirrors.

    “Driving in the city is intimidating,” I say to him.

    “Yes. Very.” He smiles, still focused on the road.

    “Do you know where you want to grab dinner? I haven’t done much exploring yet, so I don’t know where the best spots are.”

    I check my phone; nothing from Hardin. So I pull up some restaurant options on an app, and after a couple minutes, Zed and I decide on a small Mongolian Style grill.


I GO WITH the chicken and vegetables and watch in awe as the chef prepares the food in front of us. I’ve never been to a place like this before, and Zed finds that amusing. We’re seated in the very back of the small restaurant, Zed sitting across from me, and we’re both too quiet for it to be comfortable.

    “Is something wrong?” I ask him while picking at my food.

    Zed’s eyes are soft and full of worry. “I don’t know if I should even bring it up . . . You seem like you’ve got so much going on already, and I want you to have a nice time.”

    “I’m fine. Tell me whatever it is that you need to.” I brace myself for the unknown blow I’m sure is about to land.

    “Hardin came to my place yesterday.”

    “What?” I can’t hide the surprise in my voice. Why would Hardin do that? And if he did, how is it that Zed is sitting here without any bruises or missing limbs? “What did he want?” I ask.

    “To tell me to stay away from you,” he promptly answers.

    When I mentioned Zed’s text message to Hardin last night, he seemed so indifferent about the situation. “What time?” I ask, hoping it was after we talked about not keeping things from each other.

    “Afternoon, around three.”

    I let out an exasperated breath. Sometimes Hardin has no boundaries, and his list of offenses is growing by the second.

    I rub my temples, my appetite having disappeared. “What did he say, exactly?”

    “That he didn’t care how I did it, or if I hurt your feelings, just that I needed to stay away. He was being so calm, it was kinda freaky.” He stabs his fork at a piece of broccoli and pops it into his mouth.

    “And you came here anyway?”

    “Yes, I did.”

    The testosterone-fueled battle between the two of them is wearing me out, and I’m on the sidelines, trying to keep the peace but failing. “Why?”

    His golden eyes meet mine. “Because his threats aren’t going to work on me anymore. He can’t tell me who to be friends with, which is something I hope you feel the same way about.”

    I’m beyond irritated that Hardin went to Zed’s apartment like that. I’m even more irritated that he didn’t say anything to me about it, and that he wanted Zed to hurt my feelings and end our friendship while keeping his role in the whole exchange hidden.

    “I feel the same about Hardin controlling who I’m friends with.” As the words leave my mouth, Zed’s eyes fill with triumph, which also bothers me. “But, I also think he has good reasons for not wanting us to be friends. Don’t you?”

    Zed shakes his head amicably. “Yes and no. I won’t hide my feelings for you, but you know that I don’t push them onto you. I told you that I’ll take what you can give me, and if friendship is all I can get, I’ll live with it.”

    “I know you don’t push.” I choose to respond only to half of his statement. Zed never pushes me to do anything, and he never tries to force me into anything, but I hate the way he talks about Hardin.

    “Can you say the same for him?” Zed challenges, looking at me intensely.

    The urge to defend Hardin makes me say, “No. I can’t. I know how he is, but that’s just who he is.”

    “You’re always so quick to defend him. I don’t get it.”

    “You don’t have to get it,” I say harshly.

    “Really?” Zed says quietly and frowns.

    “Yes.” I straighten my back and sit up as tall as I can manage.

    “It doesn’t bother you how possessive he is? He tells you who you can be friends with . . .”

    “It does bother me but—”

    “You let him do it.”

    “Did you come all the way to Seattle to remind me that Hardin is controlling?”

    Zed opens his mouth to speak but closes it.

    “What?” I push him.

    “He has a claim on you, and I’m worried about you. You seem so stressed out.”

    I sigh in defeat. I am stressed, too stressed, but fighting with Zed isn’t going to help anything. It’s only intensifying my frustration. “I’m not going to make excuses for him, but you don’t know anything about our relationship. You don’t see how he is with me. You don’t understand him the way that I do.”

    I push my plate away and notice that the couple at the next table over has turned their attention on us. Lowering my voice, I say, “I don’t want to fight with you, Zed. I’m exhausted, and I was really looking forward to spending this time with you.”

    He leans back in his chair. “I’m being such a jerk, aren’t I.” he says with sad eyes. “I’m sorry, Tessa. I would blame the drive . . . but that’s not an excuse. I’m sorry.”

    “It’s okay, I didn’t mean to snap at you. I don’t know what’s gotten into me.” My period is due any day now—that must be why I’m so on edge.

    “It’s my fault, really.” He reaches across the table and squeezes my hand.

    Tension still fills the air, and I can’t stop thinking of Hardin, but I’d like to have a nice time, so I ask, “How is everything else going?”

    Zed dives into stories about his family and how warm Florida was the last time he visited. The conversation between us reverts to its normal, easy, meandering flow, and the tension evaporates, allowing me to finish my meal.

    After we’re done eating and are heading to the exit, Zed asks, “Do you have more plans for the night?”

    “Yes, I’m going to Christian’s jazz club. It just opened.”

    “Christian?” Zed questions.

    “Oh, my boss. That’s who I’m staying with.”

    His brow rises. “You’re staying with your boss?”

    “Yes, but he went to college with Hardin’s father and he’s a longtime friend of Ken and Karen,” I explain. It hasn’t occurred to me that Zed doesn’t know any of the details about my life. Although he picked me up after Christian’s surprise engagement party for Kimberly, he doesn’t know anything about them.

    “Oh, so that’s how you got a paid internship, then?”

    Ouch. “Yes.” I admit.

    “Well, it’s awesome either way.”

    “Thanks.” I stare out the window and pull my cell phone from my purse. Still nothing. “What else do you plan on doing while you’re in Seattle?” I ask in the middle of trying to explain which roads to take to get us to Christian and Kimberly’s house. I give up after a few minutes and type the address into my phone. The screen freezes, and the power shuts off twice before the device finally cooperates.

    “I’m not sure. I’m going to see what my friends are up to. Maybe we could meet up again later tonight? Or before I leave on Saturday?”

    “That could be cool. I’ll let you know,” I say.

    “When will Hardin be here?” The venomous undertone to his question doesn’t go unnoticed.

    I glance at my phone again, this time out of habit. “I’m not sure, maybe tonight.”

    “Are you guys together right now? I know we said we wouldn’t talk about it anymore, but I’m confused.”

    “So am I,” I admit. “We’ve been putting some space between us lately.”

    “Is that working?”

    “Yes.” Until the last few days when Hardin started to pull away from me.

    “That’s good, then.”

    I have to know what thought is running through his mind. I can see it churning behind his eyes. “What?”

    “Nothing. You don’t want to hear it.”

    “Yes, I do.” I know I’ll regret it, but that doesn’t stop my curiosity.

    “I just don’t see any space. You’re in Seattle, staying with friends of his family, one of whom is also your boss. Even from miles away, he’s controlling you, trying to end the few friendships that you have. And when he’s not doing that, he’s coming to Seattle to visit. That doesn’t seem like much space to me.”

    I haven’t thought about my living arrangement from that perspective until now. Is that another reason why Hardin sabotaged my getting an apartment? So that if I still decided to go to Seattle, I could be under the watchful eyes of his family’s friends?

    I shake my head to escape the thought. “It’s working for us. I know it doesn’t make sense to you, but it’s working for us. I know—”

    “He tried to pay me off to stay away from you,” Zed interjects.


    “Yeah, he was threatening me, and he told me to make him an offer. He told me to find another ‘whore on campus’ to toy with.”


    Zed shrugs nonchalantly. “He said that no one else will ever have you, and he was awfully proud of himself that you stuck around even after he told you about sleeping with Molly after the two of you started hanging out.”

    The mention of Hardin and Molly stings—Zed knew it would. And that’s exactly why he said it.

    “We’ve already dealt with that. I don’t want to talk about Hardin and Molly,” I say through gritted teeth.

    “I just want you to know what you’re dealing with. He’s not the same person when you’re not around.”

    “That’s not a bad thing,” I retort, fighting back. “You don’t know him.” I’m relieved when we pull onto the access road and into the outskirts of the city, signaling that we’re less than five minutes away from Christian’s place. The sooner this car ride is over, the better.

    “You don’t either, not really,” he says. “You spend all of your time fighting with him.”

    “What’s your goal here, Zed?” I ask. I hate the direction our conversation has taken, but I don’t know how to bring it back to neutral territory.

    “Nothing. I just thought that after all this time and all the shit he puts you through, you’d see the truth.”

    A thought strikes me. “Did you tell him you were coming here?”


    “You’re not fighting fair here,” I say, calling him out.

    “Neither is he.” He sighs, desperately trying to keep his voice down. “Look, I know you’ll defend him until you’re blue in the face, but you can’t blame me for wanting to have what he has. I want to be the one you’re defending, I want to be the one that you trust, even though you shouldn’t. I’m always there for you when he isn’t.” He rubs his hand over his facial hair and takes another breath. “I’m not fighting fair, but neither is he. He hasn’t from the beginning. Sometimes I swear the only reason he’s so attached to you is because he knows that I have feelings for you, too.”

    This is exactly why Zed and I will never be able to have a friendship. Regardless of his sweetness and understanding, it will never work. He hasn’t given up, and I suppose there’s honor in that. However, I can’t give him what he wants from me, and I don’t want to feel like I have to explain my relationship with Hardin every time I see him. He’s been there for me, it’s true, but only because I allowed him to be.

    I say, “I don’t know if I have enough left of me to give to you, even as a friend.”

    Zed looks over at me with an even expression. “That’s because he’s drained you.”

    I stay silent and stare out the window at the pine trees lining the road. I don’t like the tension I’m feeling right now, and I’m fighting back some tears when I hear Zed mutter, “I didn’t want tonight to end up this way. Now you’ll probably never want to see me again.”

    I point out the window. “It’s this driveway.”

    An awkward and tense silence fills the cab of the truck until the massive house comes into view. When I look over at him, Zed is staring wide-eyed at Christian’s place.

    “This is even bigger than the other house, the one I picked you up from before,” he points out, trying to ease the tension.

    In an effort to do the same, I begin to tell him about the gym, the spacious kitchen, the way Christian can control what’s going on in parts of the house with his iPhone.

    And then my heart leaps into my throat.

    Hardin’s car is parked just behind Kimberly’s sleek Audi. Zed spots it at the same time that I do, but he doesn’t appear to be affected by it. I can feel the color draining from my face as I say, “I better get inside.”

    As we park, Zed says, “Again, I’m sorry, Tessa. Please don’t go inside upset with me. You have enough going on, I shouldn’t have made you feel any worse.”

    He offers to come inside to be sure everything is okay, but I brush it off. I know Hardin will be pissed—beyond pissed—but I’m the one who created this mess, so I need to be held responsible for cleaning it up.

    “It’s okay,” I reassure him with a fake smile and climb out of his truck with a promise to text him when I can.

    I’m aware of my slow strides as I walk to the door, but I don’t make an effort to move faster. I’m trying to go over what I should say, whether or not I should be angry with Hardin or apologize for seeing Zed again, when the door opens.

    Hardin steps out wearing his dark blue jeans and a plain black T-shirt. Despite the fact that it has only been two days since I last saw him, my pulse quickens and I ache to be closer to him. I’ve missed him so much in the few days that we’ve been apart.

    His face is set in stone, and his icy gaze follows Zed’s old truck as it disappears from view. “Hardin, I—”

    “Get inside,” he scolds me.

    “Don’t tell—” I begin.

    “It’s cold; come inside.” Hardin’s eyes are blazing, and the heat in them keeps me from arguing. He surprises me by gently resting his hand on the small of my back as he leads me inside the house, past where Kimberly and Smith are playing some card game in the living room, and into my bedroom without a word.

    Calmly, he closes the door behind him and turns the lock. Then he looks down at me, and my heart nearly bursts when he asks, “Why?”

    “Hardin, nothing happened, I swear. He said there was a change of plans, and I was so relieved, because I thought he wasn’t coming, but instead he said that he’d arrived a day early and wanted to grab dinner.” I shrug, partly to calm myself down. “I didn’t know how to say no.”

    “You never do,” he spits, holding my gaze.

    “I know you went to his apartment yesterday. Why didn’t you tell me?”

    “Because you didn’t need to know.” His breathing is harsh, barely controlled.

    “You don’t get to decide what I need to know,” I challenge him. “You can’t keep things from me. I know about your mother’s wedding, too!” I blurt.

    “I knew how you would react.” He throws his hands up, trying to defend himself.

    I roll my eyes, stomping toward him. “Bullshit.”

    He doesn’t even flinch. The veins in his arms are visible under the rare spots of white skin, soft blue laced with the black ink. His fists are tightly balled. “One thing at a time.”

    “I will be friends with who I want to be friends with—and you won’t keep going behind my back, acting like a child throwing a damn tempter tantrum,” I warn him.

    “You said you wouldn’t go near him again.”

    “I know. I didn’t get it before, but after spending time with him today, I made my own choice not to be friends with him. It’s not because of you.”

    I can see him flinch in surprise a little at that, but he maintains his dark intensity. “Why’s that?”

    I look away, a little ashamed. “Because I know he’s a trigger for you, and I shouldn’t keep pushing you by seeing him. I know how much it would hurt me if you saw Molly . . . or any other female, for that matter. That being said, you don’t get to control my friendships, but I can’t lie and say that I wouldn’t feel the same way if I were you.”

    He crosses his arms and breathes out roughly. “Why now? What did he do to make you suddenly change your mind?”

    “Nothing. He didn’t do anything to me. I just shouldn’t have taken this long to get it. We have to be equals—neither of us can hold the power.”

    I can tell by the glow in his green eyes that he wants to say more, but instead he just nods. “Come here.” He opens his arms for me the way he always does, and I’m quick to wrap myself in them.

    “How did you know that I was with him?” I press my cheek against his chest. His minty scent invades my senses, pushing out all thoughts of Zed.

    “Kimberly told me,” he says into my hair.

    I frown. “She really doesn’t know how to keep her mouth shut.”

    “You weren’t going to tell me?” His thumb presses under my chin and lifts my head up.

    “Yes, I was, but I’d rather have told you myself.” I suppose that I’m grateful for Kimberly’s honesty; it’s hypocritical of me to only want her to be honest with me and not with Hardin. “Why didn’t you come find us?” I ask. I assumed if he knew that I was with Zed, that’s exactly what he would have done.

    “Because,” he breathes, staring into my eyes, “you kept going on about the cycle, and I wanted to break it.”

    My heart swells at his honest and thoughtful answer. He really is trying, and it means so much to me.

    “I’m still mad,” he adds.

    “I know.” I touch his cheek with my fingertips, and his arms tighten around me. “I’m pissed, too. You didn’t tell me about the wedding, and I want to know why.”

    “Not tonight,” he warns.

    “Yes, tonight. You got to say your piece about Zed, and now it’s my turn.”

    “Tessa . . .” His lips compress into a hard line.


    “You’re infuriating.” He releases me and paces across the floor, putting a distance between us that I can’t stand.

    “So are you!” I fire back, following his movements to get closer to him.

    “I don’t want to talk about the fucking wedding right now; I’m already livid and barely controlling myself as it is. Don’t push me, okay?”

    “Fine!” I say loudly, but give in. Not because I’m afraid of what he’ll say, but because I just spent two and a half hours with Zed, and I know Hardin’s anger is only serving to mask the anxiety and pain I’ve caused him by doing so.