Chapter One Hundred and Twenty-Seven

After We Fell


one hundred and twenty-seven




I’m relieved when neither Hardin nor Ken come back into the dining room with a bloody nose or black eye.

    As Ken sits back down and places his napkin on his lap, he says, “I apologize again for bringing that up at the table. I was completely out of line.”

    “It’s okay, really. I really appreciate your offer.” I force a smile. I do appreciate it, but it’s too much to accept.

    “We’ll talk about it later,” Hardin hums into my ear.

    I nod and Karen stands up to clear the table. I’ve barely touched my food. The mention of my father’s . . . problem . . . stole away my appetite.

    Hardin pulls my chair closer to his. “Eat some dessert, at least.”

    But I’m cramping again; the ibuprofen has worn off, and my headache and cramps have returned with a vengeance. “I’ll try,” I agree.

    Karen brings a tray stacked with mounds of her maple-flavored treats to the table, and I reach for a cupcake. Hardin grabs for a square, eyeing the perfectly iced flowers on top.

    “I did that one,” I lie.

    He smiles at me, shaking his head.

    “I wish we didn’t have to leave,” I say when he glances at the clock. I try not to think about the watch he gave away to pay my father’s debt to the drug dealer. Is rehab really the best thing for my father? Would he even accept the offer?

    “You’re the one who packed up and moved to Seattle,” he grumbles.

    “I meant here, tonight,” I clarify, hoping he’ll catch on.

    “Oh no . . . I’m not staying here.”

    “I want to,” I say with a pout.

    “Tessa, we’re going home . . . to my apartment, where your dad is.”

    I frown; that’s exactly why I don’t want to go there. I need some time to think and breathe, and this house seems to be perfect for that, even with Ken’s mention of rehab at the dinner table. It’s always been a sort of sanctuary. I love this house, and being in that apartment has been torture since I arrived yesterday.

    “Okay.” I pick at the corner of my cupcake.

    Finally Hardin sighs in defeat. “Fine, we’ll stay.”

    I knew I’d get my way.

    The remainder of our time at the table isn’t as awkward as what came before. Landon is quiet, too quiet, and I fully intend to ask him what’s wrong after I finish helping Karen clean up the kitchen.

    “I’ve missed having you around here.” Karen closes the dishwasher and turns to me, wiping her hands on a towel.

    “I’ve missed being here so much.” I lean back against the counter.

    “I’m glad to hear it. You’ve become like a daughter to me; I want you to know that.” Karen’s bottom lip quivers, and her eyes shine under the bright lights of the kitchen.

    “Are you all right?” I ask her, moving to stand next to the woman whom I’ve come to care for so much.

    “Yes.” She smiles. “I’m sorry, I’ve been so emotional lately.” She shakes it off, and just like that, she’s back to normal, presenting a reassuring smile.

    “Are you ready for bed?” Hardin joins us in the kitchen, grabbing another maple square on his way over to me. I knew he liked them more than he let on.

    “Go on, I’m just a mess.” Karen hugs me and places a loving kiss on my cheek before Hardin wraps his arm around me, practically forcing me out of the kitchen.

    I sigh as we make our way to the staircase. Something doesn’t feel right. “I’m worried about her, and Landon,” I say.

    “They’re fine, I’m sure,” Hardin says as he leads me upstairs and to the door of his room. Landon’s bedroom door is closed, and there’s no light leaking out from beneath it. “He’s sleeping.”

    Stepping into Hardin’s bedroom, I immediately feel like it welcomes me, from the bay window to the new desk and chair, replacements for the ones Hardin destroyed the last time he was here. I’ve been at the house since then, but I didn’t pay much attention. Now that I’m here again, I want to take in every detail.

    “What?” Hardin’s voice startles me from my own thoughts.

    I look around the room, remembering the first time I stayed here with him. “I’m just reminiscing, that’s all,” I say, stepping out of my shoes.

    He grins. “Reminiscing, huh?” In an instant, his black shirt is pulled up and over his head and tossed to me, dragging me deeper into my memories. “Care to share?” His jeans are next; he pushes them down his legs quickly, tossing them to the floor in a messy heap.

    “Well . . .” I admire his inked torso in a leisurely fashion as he lifts his arms straight up, stretching his long body. “I was thinking about the first time I stayed here with you.” It also happened to be the first time Hardin ever slept here.

    “What about it?”

    “Nothing specific.” I shrug, undressing myself in front of his watchful gaze. I fold my jeans and shirt before tugging his black T-shirt over my head.

    “Bra off.” Hardin raises a brow at me; his tone is stern, and his eyes are a deep green.

    I remove my bra and climb into the bed to lie next to him.

    “Now, tell me what you were thinking about.” He pulls me by the waist and rests his hand on my hip when I’m securely lying on my side, as close as possible to his body. His fingertips trace over the waistband of my lace panties, sending a chill down my spine that spreads through my entire body.

    “I was just thinking about when Landon called me that night.” I look up at him to gauge his expression. “You were making a giant mess of the place.” I frown at the clear memory of broken china cabinets and porcelain dishes smashed into hundreds of pieces and scattered across the floor.

    “Yeah, I was,” he softly replies. The hand that isn’t being used to trace circles onto my bare skin reaches up and gathers a lock of my hair. He twirls the strands slowly, never breaking eye contact with me.

    “I was frightened,” I admit. “Not of you, but of what you would say.”

    He frowns. “I confirmed your fear then, didn’t I?”

    “Yeah, I guess you did,” I reply. “But you made up for your harsh words.”

    He chuckles, finally taking his eyes from mine. “Yeah, only to say more fucked-up shit the next day.”

    I know where he’s going with this. I try to sit up, but his palm flattens on my hip and presses me down.

    He speaks before I can. “I loved you even then.”

    “You did?”

    He nods once, tightening his grip on my hip. “Yeah, I did.”

    “How did you know?” I quietly ask. Hardin has mentioned that this was the night he knew that he loved me, but he never elaborated. I’m hoping that he will now.

    “I just did. And by the way, I know what you’re doing.” He smiles a bright smile.

    “And what is that?” I place my palm on his stomach, covering the center of the moth that’s drawn there.

    “You’re being nosy.” He wraps the section of my hair he’s been playing with around his fist and tugs playfully.

    “I thought I was the hair-puller here.” I giggle at my corny statement, and then he does, too.

    “You are.” He removes his hand from my hair, only for a moment, so he can gather the entire mass of messy blond waves. He tugs, pulling my head back so I’m forced to look at him.

    “It’s been too long.” He dips his head down, gently leading me to sit up straight, and runs his nose along my exposed jaw and neckline. “I’ve been hard since your little tease this morning,” he whispers, pressing the evidence between my thighs. The heat of his breath on my skin is almost unbearable—I’m wriggling under his dirty words and intense stare.

    “You’re going to take care of that, yeah?” he says more than asks.

    He pulls his fistful of my hair down and back up again, gently forcing me to nod my head. I want to correct him and tell him that he, in fact, is the one who went about teasing me this morning, but I stay quiet. I like where this is going. Without a word, Hardin releases my hair and my hip and pulls himself up to his knees. His hands are cold as they push up the fabric of the T-shirt, exposing my bare stomach and chest. His fingers greedily reach for my breasts, and his tongue pushes into my mouth. I’m instantly ignited; all the stress from the last twenty-four hours is banished and Hardin fills all of my senses.

    “Sit up, against the headboard,” he instructs after removing the shirt completely. I do as he says, lowering my body until my shoulders rest halfway up the enormous slate-colored headboard. Hardin’s boxers are tugged down, and he lifts one knee at a time to remove them from his body.

    “A little lower, baby.” I reposition myself, and he nods in approval. Then he scoots across the bed, on his knees, and positions himself in front of me. My tongue slides out of my mouth, eager to be on his skin. My jaw relaxes, and Hardin wraps his fist around his erection, and I watch in awe as he brings it to my lips, pumping slowly. I open my mouth further, and Hardin’s thumb glides over my bottom lip, dipping into my mouth only fractionally before his finger is . . . um, replaced. He pushes into my mouth slowly, savoring the sensation of every inch of him sliding over my tongue.

    “Fuck,” he groans from above me. I look up to see his eyes burning into me; one hand is grasping the top of the headboard to steady himself as he withdraws and pushes back in.

    “More,” he pants, and I wrap my hands around his rear, pulling him closer. My mouth coats him, and I take slow drags of him, enjoying this just as much as he does. He feels like silk across my tongue, and his rapid breathing and low calls of my name, telling me how good I am for him, how much he loves my mouth, make my entire body burn with need for him.

    He keeps moving, in and out, in and out. “So fucking good. Look at me,” he begs.

    I blink up at his face again, taking in the way his brows have lowered, the way his bottom lip is pulled between his teeth, and the way his eyes are watching me. He hits the back of my throat repeatedly, and I notice the way the muscles along his stomach are expanding and tightening, signaling what is next.

    As if he can read my mind, he groans. “Fuck, I’m going to come.” His movements pick up and he’s being more forceful now. I squeeze my thighs to relieve some of the pressure and suck harder. I’m surprised when he withdraws from my mouth and comes across my bare chest. With another moan of my name, he leans forward in exhaustion, his forehead pressed against the headboard. I wait patiently for him to catch his breath and lower his body to sit next to me.

    His hand reaches over, and to my horror he slowly rubs his hand across the mess he made on my skin. He watches it, transfixed for a moment before meeting my eyes.

    “All mine.” He grins cheekily, pressing a soft kiss to my open mouth.

    “I—” I stare down at my sticky chest.

    “You like it.” He smiles, and I don’t deny it. “It looks good on you.” I can tell by the way his eyes are focused on the shining skin that he really does think that.

    “You’re filthy” is all I can think to say.

    “Yeah? And so are you.” He nods to my chest and grabs me by the hips to yank me off of the bed.

    I squeal, and he covers my mouth with one hand. “Shh, we don’t want an audience while I’m fucking you over the desk, now, do we?”