Chapter One Hundred and Nineteen

After We Fell


one hundred and nineteen




I didn’t even know you two were here. I thought Tessa had classes today,” Kimberly says to me when I enter the kitchen. Why is she even here?

    “She wasn’t feeling well,” I reply. “Aren’t you supposed to be at work . . . or is staying home another perk of fucking your boss?”

    “Actually, I don’t feel well either, you ass.” She tosses a wadded-up piece of paper at me but misses.

    “You and Tessa should really learn how to hold your champagne,” I tell her.

    She flips me off.

    The microwave sounds, and she pulls out a plastic bowl filled with something that looks and smells like cat food, then sits down at the countertop. She inhales forkful after forkful. I lift my fingers to safeguard my nose.

    “That smells like pure shit,” I remark.

    “Where’s Tessa? She’ll shut you up.”

    “Wouldn’t count on it.” I grin. I have sort of come to like taunting Vance’s fiancée. She has a thick skin, and she’s obnoxious enough that I’m provided with plenty of ammunition.

    “Wouldn’t count on what?” Tessa joins us in the kitchen dressed in a sweatshirt, tight jeans, and those slipper things she swears are shoes. Really, they’re nothing but overpriced cloth wrapped around a piece of cardboard, using the pretense of charity to rip off stupid consumers. She disagrees, of course, so I’ve learned to keep this opinion to myself.

    “Nothing.” I dig my hands into my pockets to fight the urge to nudge Kimberly’s smug ass off the stool.

    “He’s mouthing off, nothing new.” Kim takes another bite of her cat food.

    “Let’s go, she’s annoying,” I say just loud enough for Kim to hear.

    “Be nice,” Tessa scolds me. I take her hand in mine and lead her out of the house.

    When we get into the car, Tessa shoves a handful of plugs into my glove compartment. An idea strikes me. “You need to get on birth control,” I tell her. I’ve been so careless lately, and now that I’ve felt her without a condom, there’s no going back.

    “I know. I keep meaning to make a doctor’s appointment, but it’s hard to get an appointment with student insurance.”

    “Sure, sure.”

    “Maybe later this week I can get in. I need to do it soon; you’re careless lately,” she says.

    “Careless? Me?” I scoff, trying not to panic. “You’re the one that keeps catching me off guard, and I can’t think straight.”

    “Oh please!” She giggles and leans her head back against the headrest.

    “Hey, if you want to ruin your life by having a child, go for it, but you sure as hell aren’t taking me down with you.” I squeeze her thigh, and she frowns. “What?”

    “Nothing,” she lies, faking a smile.

    “Tell me, now.”

    “Children are something we shouldn’t discuss, remember?”

    “I agree . . . So let’s cut out the middleman and get your ass on birth control so we don’t have to ever talk or worry about children again.”

    “I’ll find a clinic to go to today so that your future isn’t in jeopardy,” she flatly remarks.

    I’ve made her upset, but there really isn’t a nice way for me to tell her that she needs to get on birth control if she’s going to be fucking me multiple times a day whenever we’re near each other.

    After making a few phone calls, she announces, “I have an appointment Monday.”

    “Good.” I run my hand over my hair before placing it back onto her thigh.

    I turn on the radio and follow the directions on my phone to the nearest mall.


BY THE TIME we’ve walked around the mall once, I’m bored out of my mind with Seattle. The only thing keeping me entertained is Tessa. Even when she’s quiet, I can read her thoughts just by watching her expressions. I watch her watch people as they rush through the mall. She frowns when an angry mother swats her child’s ass in the middle of a store, and I guide her out before the scene—and her reaction to it—get out of hand. We have lunch at a quiet pizza parlor, and Tessa fills the entire meal with talk about a new book series she’s been thinking about reading. I know how judgmental she can be about modern novels, so this surprises and intrigues me.

    “I’ll have to download them when I get my e-reader back from you,” she says, swiping a napkin across her mouth. “I can’t wait to have my bracelet back, too. And the letter.”

    I force myself not to panic and shove almost an entire piece of pizza into my mouth so I’m unable to respond. I can’t tell her I destroyed it, so I’m really grateful when she moves to another subject.

    The day ends with Tessa falling asleep in the car. She’s made a habit of that lately, and for some reason, I love it. I take the long way back to the house, just like I did the last time.


TESSA’S ALARM didn’t wake me, and neither did she. I’m less than pleased that I didn’t get to see her before she left this morning, especially since she’ll be gone all day. When I glance at the clock on the wall, it shows almost noon; at least she’ll be taking lunch soon.

    I dress quickly and leave the house for the new Vance Publishing branch office. It’s strange to think that I could be working there with her, the two of us driving to work together each morning, making the drive back home together . . . we could actually live together again.

    Space, Hardin, she wants space. I laugh at the idea; we aren’t giving each other any space, really—only three days a week, tops. What we’re doing is just making seeing each other more of a pain in the ass, with the excessive driving and distance.

    When I get inside the building, I find that the Seattle office is fucking outrageously lavish. It’s much bigger than the shit office I worked at. I don’t miss working in a stuffy cubicle, that’s for damned sure, but this place is nice. Vance wouldn’t allow me to work from home. It was Brent, my boss at Bolthouse, that recommended I do my work for him from my living room in order to “keep the peace.” It works out perfectly for me, even more so now that Tessa’s in Seattle, so joke is on those overly sensitive fucks in the office.

    I’m surprised when I don’t get lost in this maze of a fucking building.

    When I reach the reception area, Kimberly beams at me from behind her desk. “Hello. How may I help you?” she says with emphasis, showing me her ability to remain professional.

    “Where’s Tessa?”

    “In her office,” she says, dropping the facade.

    “And that is . . .” I lean against the wall and wait for her to show me to Tessa.

    “Down the hall. Her name is on the plate outside.” She glances back to her computer screen, dismissing me. Rude.

    What exactly does Vance pay her to do? Whatever it is, it must be worth it for him to be able to fuck her on a constant and keep him nearby during the day. I shake my head, ridding it of the images of the two of them.

    “Thanks for your help,” I gripe and head down the long narrow hallway.

    When I reach Tessa’s office, I open the door without knocking. The room is empty. I reach into my pocket and grab my phone to call her; seconds later I hear a rattling noise and see her phone vibrating on her desk. Where the hell is she?

    I go down the hallway in search of her. I know Zed is in town, and that has me seeing red. I swear to fucking . . .

    “Hardin Scott?” a woman’s voice asks from behind me as I turn and enter what looks like a small break room.

    I turn around to find a familiar face. “Um . . . hey?” I can’t remember where I’ve seen her before, but I know that I have. Realization hits me when she’s joined by another woman. You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. The universe is playing a sick fucking joke on me, and it’s pissing me the fuck off.

    Tabitha grins at me. “Well . . . well . . . well . . .”

    Tessa’s tales of woe about two bitchy office bullies make so much more sense now.

    Since clearly neither of us is going to stand on ceremony, I just say, “You’re the one giving Tessa shit, aren’t you.” If I had any idea that Tabitha had transferred to the Seattle office, I’d have known instantly that she was the bitch in question. She was known for that back when I worked for Vance, and I’m sure she hasn’t changed.

    “What? Me?” She flips her hair over her shoulder and smiles. She looks different . . . unnatural, really. The little minion who’s following in her wake has the same orange shade to her skin . . . they should stop bathing in food coloring, perhaps.

    “Cut the shit. Don’t mess with her; she’s trying to adjust to a new city, and you two aren’t going to ruin it for her by being assholes to her for no reason.”

    “I haven’t even done anything! I was joking anyway.” Flashes of her sucking my dick in a bathroom stall flash through my mind, and I swallow the uneasy feeling that comes with the unwelcome memory.

    “Don’t do it anymore,” I warn her. “I’m not fucking around. Don’t even speak to her.”

    “Jesus, you’re still as cheery as ever, I see. I won’t mess with her anymore. I wouldn’t want you telling Mr. Vance on me and getting me fired like you did Sam—”

    “That wasn’t my fault.”

    “Yes, it was!” she whispers dramatically, “As soon as her man found out what you two were doing . . . what you did . . . she was mysteriously let go the very same week.” Tabitha was easy, so damn easy, and so was Samantha. The moment that I found out who Samantha’s boyfriend was, she began to appeal to me. But once I got between her legs, I wanted nothing to do with her. That little game of mine caused me a lot of shit and drama that I’d rather not be reminded of, and I sure as hell don’t want Tessa mixed up in this catty shit.

    “You don’t know half of what really happened, so keep your mouth shut. Leave Tessa alone, and your job will stay yours.” Truthfully, I may have had a little something to do with Vance letting Samantha go, but her working there was causing me too many problems. She was only a freshman in college, working part-time, as a copy girl.

    “Speak of the spoiled little devil,” the short minion remarks and nods her head toward the door of the small break room.

    Tessa is smiling and laughing as she enters. And right behind her, dressed in one of his little suits and ties, is fucking Trevor, smiling and laughing along with her.

    The little twat spots me first and touches Tessa’s arm to draw her attention to me. It takes every ounce of my self-control not to snap him in two. When she sees me from across the room, her face lights up, her smile widens, and she rushes over. Only when she reaches me does she notice Tabitha standing next to me.

    “Hey,” she says, unsure now, nervous.

    “Bye, Tabitha.” I wave the snooty woman off. She whispers something to her friend, and the two of them leave the room.

    “Bye, Trevor,” I say quietly enough that only Tessa hears.

    “Stop it!” She swats my arm in the pestering way that she always does.

    “Hello, Hardin,” Trevor greets me, ever so politely. His arm twitches at his side, like he’s trying to decide whether or not to offer his hand for a shake. I hope for his sake that he doesn’t. I won’t accept it.

    “Hi,” I say curtly.

    “What are you doing here?” Tessa asks. She looks out into the hallway for the two women that just left. I know what she’s really asking: How do you know them, and what did they say?

    “Tabitha won’t be a problem anymore.”

    She gapes, her eyes wide. “What did you do?”

    I shrug. “Nothing, I just told her what you should have—to fuck off.”

    Tessa smiles at fucking Trevor, and he sits down at one of the tables, trying not to look at the two of us. I find his discomfort pretty damn amusing.

    “Did you have lunch already?” I ask. She shakes her head. “Let’s get you something to eat, then.” I give the eavesdropper a fuck-you glare and lead Tessa out of the room and down the hallway.

    “The place next door has really good tacos,” she says.

    It turns out she’s wrong. The tacos are shit, but she devours her plate and most of mine. Afterward, she flushes and blames her appetite on her hormones; when she threatens to “shove a tampon down my throat” if I make one more joke about her period, I just laugh.

    “I still want to go back tomorrow to see everyone and get my stuff,” she says, washing down the spicy salsa she just finished with some water.

    “Don’t you think going to England next weekend is enough traveling?” I say, trying to derail her plans.

    “No. I want to see Landon. I miss him so much.”

    An unwarranted pang of jealousy hits me, but I brush it off. He is her only friend, save annoying-ass Kimberly.

    “He’ll still be there when we get back from England . . .”

    “Hardin, please.” She looks up at me, not asking for permission like she sometimes does. This time she’s asking for my cooperation, and I can tell by the gleam in her eye that she’s going back to see Landon whether I want her to or not.

    “Fine. Fuck,” I groan.

    This can’t possibly go well. I look across the table at her, and she’s smiling proudly, I don’t know if she’s proud of herself for winning this argument or proud of me for giving in, but she looks so beautiful. So relaxed.

    “I like that you came here today.” She takes my hand as we walk down the busy street. Why are there so many people in Seattle?

    “You do?” I figured as much, but I had a little anxiety that she might be angry at me for showing up unannounced, not that I would have given a shit, but still.

    “Yes.” She blinks up at me, stopping in the middle of a swarm of rushing bodies. “I almost . . .” She trails off without finishing.

    “You almost what?” I stop her attempt at walking farther and pull her to the wall beside a jewelry store. The sun reflects off the enormous diamond rings on display in the window, and I lead her a few feet down the brick wall to get away from the glare.

    “It’s silly.” She pulls her bottom lip between her teeth and stares at the cement. “But I feel like I can breathe for the first time in months.”

    “Is that a good thing or . . .” I start to ask, tilting her chin so she has no choice but to look at my face.

    “Yes, it’s a good thing. I feel like for once everything is working out. I know it hasn’t been for long, but this is the most functional we have ever been. We’ve only had a handful of arguments, and we communicated our way through them. I’m proud of us.”

    Her comment amuses me, because we still argue and banter constantly. It’s not only a handful of arguments, but she’s right: we’ve been talking our way through things. I love that we argue, and I think she does, too. We’re totally different people—we couldn’t be more different, really—and getting along with her all the time would be boring as hell. I couldn’t live without her constant need to correct me or her nagging about my mess-making. She’s annoying as hell, but I wouldn’t change a fucking thing about her. Except her need to be in Seattle.

    “Functional is highly overrated, baby.” To prove my point, I lift her by the thighs, wrapping her legs around my waist, and kiss her against the wall right in the middle of one of the busiest streets in Seattle.