Chapter One Hundred and Eighteen

After We Fell


chapter

one hundred and eighteen

 

TESSA

 

When I wake up, Hardin isn’t draped over me, and the room is too bright even when I close my eyes again. Keeping them closed, I groan, “What time is it?”

    My head is throbbing, and even though I know I’m lying down, my body feels like it’s swaying back and forth.

    “Noon,” Hardin’s deep voice says from across the room.

    “Noon! I missed my first two classes!” I try to sit up, but my head spins. I fall back onto the mattress with a whimper.

    “You’re fine; go back to sleep.”

    “No! I can’t miss any more classes, Hardin. I just started classes at this campus, and I can’t begin this way.” I begin to panic. “I’m going to be so behind.”

    “I’m sure you’ll be fine,” Hardin says with a shrug, crossing the room to sit on the bed. “You probably already have the assignments completed anyway.”

    He knows me too well. “That’s not the point. The point is that I missed the lecture, and it makes me look bad.”

    “To whom?” Hardin asks. I know he is mocking me.

    “To my professors, my classmates.”

    “Tessa, I love you, but come on. Your classmates couldn’t give less of a fuck if you’re there or not. They probably didn’t even notice. Your professors, yeah, because you’re a suck-up and they like the ego boosts your fawning gives them. But your classmates don’t care, and if they do, then so what? Their opinion doesn’t fucking matter.”

    “I guess.” I close my eyes and try to see his point. I hate being late, missing classes, sleeping until noon. “I’m not a suck-up,” I add.

    “How are you feeling?” I feel the mattress shift, and when I open my eyes he’s lying next to me.

    “Like I had too much to drink last night.” My skull is ready to explode.

    “You certainly did.” He nods several times, very seriously. “How’s your ass feeling?” His hand grips my behind, and I wince.

    “We didn’t . . .” I wasn’t that intoxicated . . . was I?

    “No.” He chuckles, kneading the skin with his hand. His eyes meet mine. “Not yet.”

    I gulp.

    “Only if you want to. You’ve turned into a fucking vixen, so I assumed that would be next on your list.”

    Me, a vixen?

    “Don’t look so frightened, it was only a suggestion.” He smiles at me.

    I can’t decide how I feel about doing that . . . and I certainly can’t keep up or process this type of conversation right now.

    But my curiosity gets the best of me.

    “Have you . . .” I don’t know how to ask the question—this is one of the few things we’ve never discussed; him saying dirty things about doing it to me in the heat of the moment doesn’t count. “Have you done that before?”

    I search his face for the answer.

    “No, actually, I haven’t.”

    “Oh.” I’m too aware of his fingers tapping along the bare skin where the line of my panties would be, were I wearing any. The fact that Hardin has never experienced that before makes me want to do it, sort of.

    “What are you thinking? I see those wheels turning.” He nudges my nose with his, and I smile under his stare.

    “I like that you haven’t done . . . it before . . .”

    “Why?” His brow raises, and I hide my face.

    “I don’t know.” I’m suddenly shy. I don’t want to sound insecure or start a fight. I already have a hangover.

    “Tell me,” he demands softly.

    “I don’t know. It would just be nice to be your first for something.”

    He lifts himself up on his elbow and looks down at me. “What do you mean?”

    “I just mean that you’ve done a lot of stuff . . . you know, sexually . . .” I quietly explain. “And I haven’t given you any new experiences.”

    He eyes me carefully, as if he’s afraid to reply. “That’s not true.”

    “It is, though.” I’m pouting again.

    “Like hell it is. That’s bullshit, and you know it.” His voice is practically a growl, and he’s scowling deeply.

    “Don’t snap at me—how do you think I feel that you haven’t been with only me?” I say. The reminder doesn’t come as often as it once did, but when it does, it stings terribly.

    He winces and gently tugs at both of my arms to pull me to sit up next to him. “Come here.” I feel myself being lifted onto his lap; his half-naked body is warm and welcoming underneath my completely bare skin.

    “I didn’t think of it that way,” he says into my shoulder, making me shudder. “If you had been with anyone else, I wouldn’t be with you now.”

    My head snaps back to look at him. “Excuse me?”

    “You heard me.” He kisses the curve of my shoulder.

    “That’s not a very nice thing to say.” I’m used to Hardin’s unfiltered mouth, but these words surprise me. He can’t mean them.

    “I never claimed to be nice.”

    I shift my body on his lap and ignore the groan deep in his throat. “You’re being serious?”

    “Very.” He nods.

    “So you’re telling me if I hadn’t been a virgin, you wouldn’t have dated me?” This topic isn’t one we typically discuss, and I’m nervous to find out where it will lead.

    His eyes narrow as he regards my expression before muttering, “That’s exactly what I’m saying. If you recall, I didn’t really want to date you anyway.” He grins, but I scowl.

    I press my feet to the floor to lift myself off of his lap, but he holds me in place. “Don’t pout,” he coaxes and attempts to press his lips against mine, but I quickly turn my head.

    I glare at him. “Maybe you shouldn’t have dated me, then.” I feel overly sensitive, and my feelings are hurt.

    I add gasoline to the fire and wait for the explosion: “Maybe you should have just ended it after you won the bet.”

    I stare into his green eyes, waiting for a reaction. Still, it doesn’t come. He throws his back in laughter, and my favorite sound fills the room.

    “Don’t be such a baby,” Hardin says and hugs me tighter, taking both of my wrists in one hand to prevent me from wiggling off his lap. “Just because I didn’t want to date you in the beginning doesn’t mean that I’m not glad I am.”

    “It’s still not nice to say, and you said you wouldn’t be with me now if I’d been with someone else. So if I had slept with Noah before I met you, you wouldn’t have dated me?”

    He flinches at the words. “No. I wouldn’t have. We wouldn’t have been in that . . . situation . . . if you weren’t a virgin.” He’s treading lightly now. Good.

    “ ‘Situation,’ ” I repeat, still irritated. It comes out harsher than I intended.

    “Yes, situation.” He abruptly turns me around and lays me back against the mattress. He moves his body on top of mine and pins my wrists up over my head using only one hand and his knees to push open my thighs. “I wouldn’t be able to stand it if you’d been touched by another man. I know it’s fucking crazy, but that’s the damn truth, whether you want to hear it or not.”

    His breath is warm against my face, coming out in hot puffs. Momentarily I forget why I’m annoyed with him. He’s being honest, I’ll give him that, but it’s an obnoxious double standard that he’s describing.

    “Whatever.”

    “ ‘Whatever’?” He chuckles, tightening his hand around my wrists. He flexes his hips, pressing his boxer-clad body between my thighs. “Stop being ridiculous, you know how I am.” I feel so exposed right now, and his dominating behavior is turning me on more than it should.

    He continues. “And you know you’ve given me new experiences. I’ve never loved anyone, romantically, or even family, really . . .” His eyes drift off to ponder what I guess is a painful memory, but then he quickly returns to me. “And I’ve never lived with anyone. I never gave a fuck about losing anyone before, but when it comes to you, I wouldn’t survive it. That’s a new experience.” His lips ghost over mine. “Is that enough ‘new experience’ for you?”

    I nod, and he smiles. If I lift my head up just a centimeter, my lips will touch his. He seems to read my thoughts and pulls his head back a bit. “And don’t throw that bet shit in my face again,” he threatens, rubbing himself against me. A treacherous moan escapes his mouth, and his eyes darken. “Got it?”

    “Sure.” I defiantly roll my eyes at him, and he frees my wrists, running his hand down my body, stopping on my hip and squeezing gently.

    “You’re being a brat today.” He draws circles on my hip, putting more weight on my body.

    I feel like a brat today; I’m hungover and hormonal. “You’re being an ass, so I guess we’re even,” I fire back.

    He bites the inside of his cheek, then dips his head down to me. Hardin’s lips are warm as he kisses me along my jawline, sending a direct line of electricity to my groin. I wrap my legs around his waist and close the small space that’s left between our bodies.

    “I’ve only loved you,” he reminds me again, soothing the small ache from his earlier words. His lips reach the base of my neck, and one of his hands cups my breast while he uses the other to hold his body up. “I’ll always only love you.”

    I don’t speak. I don’t want to ruin this moment. I love when he’s candid about his feelings for me, and for once I can see this all in a new light. Steph, Molly, and half of the dang campus of WCU may have fooled around with Hardin, but none of them, not one single girl, has ever gotten to hear him say “I love you.” They haven’t had, and will never have, the privilege of knowing him, the real him, the way that I do. They have no idea how wonderful and incredibly brilliant he is. They don’t get to hear him laugh and watch his eyes screw shut and his dimples pop. They’ll never get to hear the snippets of his life or hear the conviction in his voice when he swears that he loves me more than breathing. And for that, I pity them.

    “I’ve only loved you,” I tell him in return. The love I had for Noah wasn’t anything beyond family. I know that now. I love Hardin in that all-consuming, incredible way that I know, deep down, I will never feel again.

    I feel Hardin’s hand move to his boxers. He tugs them down, and I use my feet to help him get rid of them. In a gentle motion, he slides into me, crying out as he plunges through the slick opening.

    “Again,” he begs.

    “I’ve only loved you,” I repeat.

    “Fucking Christ, Tess, I love you so much.” The words are a raw confession as they push through his gritted mouth.

    “I will always only love you,” I promise him. I send a silent prayer that we’ll find a way to work through all of our problems, because I know what I just said is true. It will always be him. Even if something drove us apart.

    Hardin’s thrusts are deep, filling and claiming me as he bites and sucks at the skin on my neck with his warm, wet mouth.

    “I can feel you, every single inch . . . you’re so fucking warm . . .” he groans, making it known that he hasn’t put a condom on. Even through the euphoric trance, warning bells go off in my head. I blink the sensation away and revel in the feeling of Hardin’s strong muscles straining under my hands as I run my hands over his broad shoulders and inked arms.

    “You have to put one on,” I say, though my actions are the opposite of my words; I tighten my legs around his waist, drawing him deeper. My stomach begins to coil, tightening . . .

    “I . . . can’t stop . . .” His pace quickens, and I think I’ll snap in two if he stops now.

    “Don’t, then.” We’re both insane, not thinking clearly, but I can’t stop raking my nails down his back, encouraging him.

    “Fuck, come, Tessa,” he instructs me as if I have a choice. As I reach the brink of orgasm, I’m afraid I may pass out from the amount of pleasure I feel when his teeth graze across my chest, tugging, marking me there. With another groan of my name and a declaration of his love for me, Hardin halts his movements, and he pulls himself out of me, releasing himself onto the bare skin of my stomach. I watch in awe as he touches himself, marking me in the most possessive way while never breaking eye contact.

    He collapses onto me, shaking and out of breath. We lie in silence, neither of us needing to speak to know what the other is thinking.

 

“WHERE DO YOU want to go?” I ask him. I don’t even want to leave the bed, but Hardin offering to take me out in Seattle, during the day, is something that hasn’t happened in the past, and I’m not sure if or when it will happen again.

    “I don’t give a shit, really. Maybe, like, shopping?” His eyes roam my face. “Do you need to go shopping? Or want to?”

    “I don’t really need anything . . .” I answer. When I look up and see how nervous he looks lying there next to me, I backtrack. “Yeah, sure. Shopping is fine.”

    He’s making such an effort. Simple things that couples usually do are completely out of Hardin’s comfort zone. I smile at him, remembering the night he took me ice skating to prove that he could, in fact, be a regular boyfriend.

    It was so much fun, and he was so charming and playful, much like he’s been the past week and a half. I don’t want a “regular” boyfriend—I want Hardin, with his crude humor and sour attitude, to take me on simple dates every once in a while and make me feel secure enough in our relationship that the downs will be washed away by the ups.

    “Cool.” He shifts uncomfortably.

    “I just need to brush my teeth and tie my hair back.”

    “And maybe get dressed.” He cups the overly sensitive area between my thighs. Hardin has already used one of his shirts to wipe me clean, something he used to do all the time.

    “Right. Maybe I should rinse off in the shower.” I gulp, wondering if Hardin and I will go another round before we leave. Frankly, I don’t know if either of us could handle it.

    I stand up from the bed and wince. I knew I was going to be starting my period any day now; why did it have to come right now, of all days? I suppose it works in my favor, though, since it’ll be gone by the time we leave for England.

    Leave for England . . . it doesn’t seem real.

    “What?” Hardin says with a questioning look.

    “I’m . . . it’s that time . . .” I look away from him, knowing that he’s had an entire month to store up his jokes.

    “Hmm . . . and what time is that?” He smirks, looking at his bare wrist as if there’s a watch there.

    “Don’t . . .” I whine, pressing my thighs together so I can hurry and put on enough clothes to make it to the bathroom.

    “Would you look at that? A hangover and a bloody attitude!” he taunts.

    “Your jokes are terrible.” I pull his T-shirt over my head and catch the languid smile he shoots at me as he takes in the sight of me wearing his shirt again.

    “Terrible, huh?” His green eyes dance with amusement. “Maybe so terrible that you want to pull the plug on them?”

    I hurry and exit the room while he’s still laughing to himself.