Chapter One Hundred and Twenty-Five

After We Fell


one hundred and twenty-five




I lay in bed for over two hours, waiting patiently for Hardin to wake up, before I give up. By the time I’ve showered and am fully dressed, the kitchen is cleaned, and I’ve taken two ibuprofen to get rid of my cramps and massive headache. I make my way back to the bedroom to wake him up myself.

    I gently shake his arm and whisper his name. It doesn’t work.

    “Hardin, wake up.” I roughly grip his shoulder and recoil when the vision of my mother ripping my father’s slumbering body off of the couch flashes into my mind. All morning I’ve been avoiding thoughts of my mother and the heartbreaking history lesson I was given last night. My father is still asleep; I imagine that her short visit has worn him out as well.

    “No,” he grumbles sleepily.

    “If you won’t get up, then I’ll be going to your father’s house alone,” I say, slipping my feet into my flat shoes. I have many pairs of Toms, but I always find myself wearing the tan crocheted ones the most. Hardin calls them “hideous moccasins,” but I love the comfortable shoes.

    He groans and rolls over onto his stomach, pushing himself up onto his elbows. His eyes are still closed when he turns his head to me. “No, you won’t.”

    I knew he wouldn’t like that idea, which is precisely why I used it to get his behind out of the bed.

    “Get up, then. I’ve already showered and everything,” I whine. I’m anxious to get to Landon’s house and see him, Ken, and Karen again. It feels like ages since I last saw that sweet woman in the strawberry-print apron that she hardly ever removes.

    “Dammit.” Hardin pouts, opening one eye. I stifle a giggle at the lazy expression covering his face. I’m tired, too, mentally and physically drained, but the idea of getting out of this apartment for the day has perked me up tremendously.

    “Come here first.” He opens the other eye and reaches out for me. The moment I’m beside him on the bed, he rolls his heavy body on top of mine, encasing me in his warmth. He purposely rubs his hardness against me, grinding his hips until he’s perfectly nestled between my thighs, his morning erection pressing torturously into me.

    “Morning.” He’s wide-awake now, and I can’t help but laugh. He leisurely drags his hips in a circle again, and this time I try to wiggle free. He joins me in laughter but quickly silences me by covering my mouth with his. His tongue laps mine, gently caressing, hinting at an intention completely opposed to the sharp movements his hips are making.

    “Are you plugged?” he whispers, still kissing me. His hands have moved to my chest, and my heart is thumping rapidly, making his sleepy voice barely audible.

    “I am.” I nod, only mildly cringing at the hideous term I have become used to. He pulls away, his eyes slowly raking over my face, and his tongue swiping along his bottom lip, wetting it.

    The sound of kitchen cabinets opening and closing carries down the hallway, followed by a large belch, and then the crash of pans on the floor.

    Hardin’s eyes roll. “Fucking lovely.” He stares down at me. “Well, I had planned on fucking you before we left, but now that Mr. Sunshine’s awake . . .”

    He climbs off of me and stands up, taking the blanket with him. “I’ll be quick in the shower,” he says with a scowl toward the door.

    Hardin returns less than five minutes later just as I’m tucking in the corners of the bedsheet. The only article of clothing he’s wearing is a white towel wrapped around his waist. I force my eyes away from his gorgeous inked body and up to his face while he walks over to the dresser and pulls out a signature black T-shirt. Pulling it down over his head, he steps into a pair of boxers.

    “Last night was a fucking disaster.” His eyes are focused on his busted hand as he buttons his jeans.

    “Yeah.” I sigh, trying to avoid any further conversation that revolves around my parents.

    “Let’s go.” He grabs his keys and phone from the dresser and shoves them into his pockets. He pushes his wet hair back off his forehead and opens the bedroom door. “Well . . . ?” he impatiently remarks when I don’t jump up right away. What happened to the playful Hardin from only minutes ago? If his bad mood continues this way, then I suspect that today will be just as bad as yesterday.

    Without a word, I follow him through the door and down the hallway. The bathroom door is closed, and the water is on. I don’t want to wait for my father to get out of the shower, but I also don’t want to leave without telling him where we’re going and making sure he doesn’t need anything. What does he do in this apartment while he’s alone? Does he think about drugs all day? Does he have people over?

    I shake the second thought from my head. Hardin would find out if he brought bad friends around, and my father sure as heck wouldn’t still be here if that were the case.


HARDIN STAYS QUIET during the drive to Ken and Karen’s place. The only assurance I have that today isn’t going to be a total wash is his hand resting on my thigh while he focuses on the road.

    When we arrive, Hardin, as always, doesn’t knock before walking inside. The sweet smell of maple syrup fills the house, and we follow the scent to the kitchen. Karen is standing next to the oven, a spatula is one hand while she waves the other through the air in conversation. An unfamiliar young woman is seated at one of the island stools. Her long brown hair is the only thing I see until she turns the stool around when Karen’s attention is directed toward us.

    “Tessa, Hardin!” Karen nearly shrieks with joy as she carefully places the spatula onto the counter and rushes over to wrap her arms around me. “It’s been so long!” she exclaims, holding me at arm’s length and then crushing me back to her body. Her warm welcome is exactly what I needed after last night.

    “It’s only been three weeks, Karen,” Hardin rudely remarks.

    Her smile dims a fraction, and she tucks her hair behind her ear.

    I peer around her to take in all the baked goods around the kitchen. “What are you making?” I ask to distract her from her stepson’s sour attitude.

    “Maple cookies, maple cupcakes, maple squares, and maple muffins.” Karen pulls me along gently while Hardin cowers in the corner, a deep frown set on his face.

    Ignoring him, I look at the young woman again, unsure how to introduce myself.

    “Oh!” Karen takes notice. “I’m sorry, I should have introduced you first thing.” She gestures to the woman. “This is Sophia; her parents live just down the road.”

    Sophia smiles and reaches to shake my hand. “Nice to meet you,” she says with a smile. She’s beautiful, extremely beautiful. Her eyes are bright and her smile warm; she’s older than me, but she can’t be much more than twenty-five.

    “I’m Tessa, Landon’s friend,” I say.

    Hardin coughs behind me, obviously displeased at my choice of words. I assume Sophia knows Landon, and since Hardin and I are . . . well, this morning it just seems easier to introduce myself this way.

    “I haven’t gotten to meet Landon yet,” Sophia says. Her voice is soft and sweet, and I immediately like her.

    “Oh?” I assumed she knew him, since her family lives down the road.

    “Sophia has just graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in New York,” Karen brags for her, and Sophia smiles. I don’t blame her; if I’d just graduated from the best culinary school in the country, I’d let people brag for me, too. I mean, if I wasn’t already doing it myself.

    “I’m visiting my family, and I ran into Karen down the road . . . buying some syrup.” She grins, eyeing the massive amount of maple-flavored goodies on display.

    “Oh, and this is Hardin,” I say to include my brooding man in the background.

    She smiles at him. “Nice to meet you.”

    He doesn’t even look at the poor woman and just says, “Yeah.”

    I in turn offer her a shrug and a sympathetic smile, then turn to Karen. “Where’s Landon?”

    Her eyes flicker to Hardin, then to me, before she answers, “He’s upstairs . . . He hasn’t been feeling well,” she says. My stomach turns; there’s something going on with my best friend, I know it.

    “I’m going upstairs.” Hardin turns to leave.

    “Wait, I’ll go,” I offer. If something is going on with Landon, the last thing he needs is Hardin taunting him.

    “No.” Hardin shakes his head. “I’ll go. Have some syrup cakes or whatever,” he grumbles and takes two stairs at a time, giving me no chance to argue.

    Karen and Sophia watch him go. “Hardin is Ken’s son,” Karen says. Despite his poor attitude today, she still smiles proudly at the mention of his name.

    Sophia nods in understanding. “He’s lovely,” she lies, and the three of us burst into laughter.