Chapter One Hundred and Thirty

After We Fell


one hundred and thirty




Tessa looks like she could pass out any minute. She’s shoved an ink pen between her teeth as she looks over her checklist again. Apparently traveling across the globe kicks her neurotic tendencies into high gear.

    “Are you sure you have everything?” I sarcastically ask.

    “What? Yes,” she huffs, focused on the task of rechecking her carry-on bag for the tenth time since we arrived at the airport.

    “If we don’t go inside now, we’re going to miss our flight,” I warn her.

    “I know.” She looks up at me, her hand still digging around that damn bag. She’s crazy—adorable as hell, but fucking nuts. “You’re sure about leaving your car here?” she asks.

    “Yes. That’s what this parking lot is for: cars.” I point up at the Long-Term Parking sign above our heads and say, “It’s for cars with no commitment issues.”

    Tessa stares at me blankly, as if I’ve said nothing at all.

    “Just give me the bag,” I say, pulling the hideous thing from her shoulder. It’s too heavy for her to be carrying around. The woman has packed half of her shit in this bag alone.

    “I’ll pull the case, then.” She reaches for the handle of the wheelie suitcase.

    “No, I’ve got it. Relax, would you? It’ll be fine,” I assure her. I’ll never forget how frantic she was this morning. Folding and refolding, packing and repacking our clothes until they fit perfectly in the case. I took it easy on her, because I know how beyond her element this trip is. Even though she’s being as annoying as ever, I can’t help but feel excited. Excited to be taking her on her first trip abroad, excited at the prospect of watching her blue-gray eyes widen at the clouds as we fly through them. I made sure she had a seat next to the window for that reason alone.

    “Ready?” I ask her as the automatic doors open as if to greet us.

    “No.” She smiles nervously, and I lead her through the crowded airport.


“YOU’RE GOING TO PASS OUT on me, aren’t you?” I lean over and whisper to Tessa. She’s pale, and her small hands are shaking on her lap. I gather them in one of mine and offer her an assuring squeeze. She smiles at me, a nice change from the scowl that covered her face the entire time from the ticket kiosk until now.

    That TSA agent was hitting on her; I recognized the stupid fucking grin on his face when she smiled at him. I have the same fucking grin. I had every right to tell him to fuck off, but of course she didn’t agree, and she’d been scowling since she dragged me away, my middle finger high in the air at that asshole. “Thank God that guy’s so nearsighted,” she mumbled, and then kept looking back over her shoulder.

    Her attitude only worsened when I pressed for her to do up her cardigan. The old man next to me is a fucking pervert, and Tessa’s lucky she has the window seat and I can shield her from his eyes. Being stubborn, she refused to button the damn thing, leaving her tits on display for everyone to see. Granted, the shirt isn’t that low cut, but when she bends down, you can see straight down it. She ignored my protests and claimed that I can’t control her. I’m not trying to control her, I’m trying to prevent men from ogling over her not-so-subtle chest.

    “No, I’m okay,” she hesitantly answers. Her eyes give her away.

    “We should be taking off anytime.” I glance up at the flight attendant making her way through the cabin to check the overhead compartments for the third time. They’re all fucking closed, lady; let’s get a move on it before I have to carry Tessa off of this plane. Actually, halting the trip could work in my favor, really.

    “Last chance to hop off of the plane. The tickets aren’t refundable, but I’ll go ahead and add them to your tab,” I say, tucking her loose hair behind her ear, and she gives me the smallest smile I’ve ever seen. She’s still mad, but her nerves are causing her to soften up toward me.

    “Hardin,” she quietly whines. She rests her head against the window and closes her eyes. I hate to see her so nervous; it makes me anxious, and this trip has me on fucking anxiety overload as it is. I lean across and pull the cover down over her window, hoping that will help.

    “How much longer?” I impatiently bark at the flight attendant as she passes our row.

    Her eyes move from Tessa to me, and she raises a snooty brow. “A few minutes.” She forces a smile for the sake of her job. The man next to me shifts uncomfortably, and I wish I had purchased an extra ticket so I wouldn’t have to worry about sitting this close to an obnoxious asshole. He smells like stale tobacco.

    “It’s been longer than a few—” I begin.

    Tessa’s hand reaches over to mine; her eyes are now open, pleading with me not to cause a scene. I take a deep breath, closing my eyes to heighten the drama of the act.

    “Fine,” I say, turning away from the attendant, who continues down the aisle.

    “Thank you,” Tessa mouths. Instead of resting her head against the window, she gently rests it against my arm. I tap her thigh and signal for her to lift up so I can put my arm around her. She nuzzles into me and sighs in contentment as I gently tighten my arm around her body. I love that sound.

    The plane begins to move slowly down the runway, and Tessa’s eyes screw shut.

    By the time the plane is in the air, she has the window cover raised and her eyes are wide with wonder as she stares out at the rapidly shrinking landscape. “This is amazing.” She grins. All the color has now seeped back into her face. She’s glowing with excitement, and it’s contagious as hell. I try to fight my grin, but it’s impossible, as she babbles on about how everything “just looks so small.”

    “See, it wasn’t so bad. We haven’t crashed yet,” I disdainfully remark.

    In response, murmers and annoyed coughs start wafting through the nearly silent cabin, but I don’t give a shit. Tessa understands my humor, for the most part at least, and she shoots me an eye roll and gives me a playful jab in the chest.

    “Hush,” she warns, and I chuckle.

    After three hours, she’s restless. I knew she would be; we’ve watched some of the shitty programming the airline sponsors and gone through the SkyMall magazine twice, both of us agreeing that a dog crate disguised as a television stand is certainly not worth two thousand dollars.

    “It’s going to be a long nine hours,” I say to her.

    “Only six now,” she corrects me. Her fingers trace the infinity-heart tattoo above my wrist.

    “Only six,” I repeat. “Take a nap.”

    “I can’t.”

    “Why not?”

    She looks up at me. “What do you think my father is doing? I mean, I know Landon watched him last time you were away, but we’ll be gone for three days this time.”

    Fuck. “He’ll be fine.” He’s going to be annoyed, but he’ll get over it and thank her later.

    “I’m glad we declined your father’s offer,” she says.

    Fucking hell. “Why?” I choke, searching her face.

    “The rehab place is too expensive.”


    “I don’t feel comfortable with your father spending that amount of money on my father. It’s not his responsibility, and we don’t know for sure that my father is even—”

    “He’s a drug addict, Tessa.” I know she still doesn’t want to admit it, but she knows it’s true. “And my father might as well pay for his treatment.”

    I need to call Landon as soon as we land to find out how the “intervention” went. As much as I hope her shitbag of a dad agreed to it, I feel guilty that Tessa wasn’t in on the plan. I spent hours punching and kicking that bag at the gym, pondering this shit. At the end of it, the solution was simple. Either Richard takes his ass to rehab on my father’s dime, or he’s out of Tessa’s life for good. I won’t have his fucking addiction being a burden on her. I cause her enough fucking problems, and if anyone is going to cause her stress, it will be me. I sent Landon to do the intervention, to tell the man that he had to choose one or the other: rehab or no Tessa. I figured things wouldn’t turn violent if Landon, as opposed to me, was in charge. As much as it eats at me that my father will be the one who’s actually helping Tessa, since he’s the one paying, I couldn’t turn him down. I wanted to, but I couldn’t.

    “I don’t know.” She sighs, looking out the window. “I need to think about it.”

    “Well . . .” I begin, and she frowns at the tone of my voice.

    “What did you do?” She narrows her eyes and pulls away from me. She can’t go far; she’s stuck sitting with me until we land.

    “We’ll talk about it later.” I glance at the man next to me. These airlines should really make these seats wider. If the armrest between Tessa and me wasn’t lifted, I’d be sitting on top of the guy.

    Her eyes go wide. “You sent him, didn’t you?” she whispers forcefully, careful not to cause a scene.

    “I didn’t send your father anywhere.” It’s true. I don’t know whether he agreed to go or not.

    “You tried, though, didn’t you?”

    “Perhaps,” I admit.

    She shakes her head in disbelief and leans back against the headrest, staring off into space.

    “You’re mad, huh?” I ask her.

    She ignores me.

    “Theresa . . .” My voice is too loud and has the effect on her that I intend it to have. Her eyes snap open, and she turns to me.

    “I’m not mad,” she whispers. “I’m just surprised, and I’m trying to figure out how I feel about it, okay?”

    “Okay.” Her reaction was much better than I had anticipated.

    “I can’t stand when you keep things from me. You do it, my mother does it . . . I’m not a child. I am capable of handling things that are thrown at me, wouldn’t you say?”

    I stop myself from uttering the first thought that comes to my mind. I’m getting better and better at this shit. “Yes,” I calmly reply, “but that doesn’t mean that I won’t try and filter out the bullshit for you.”

    Her eyes soften, and she nods once. “I understand that, but I need you to stop keeping things from me. Anything that involves you, Landon, or my father, I need to know about. I always end up finding out anyway. Why prolong the inevitable?” she asks.

    “Okay,” I agree without elaborating. “From now on I won’t keep shit from you.” What I don’t mention is that nothing from the past that I’ve kept from her counts; I’m only agreeing that from this moment on I will try not to keep her in the dark.

    A flash of emotion moves over her face, but I can’t read it. I almost think it is guilt. “Unless it’s something that I’m better off not knowing,” she softly adds.

    Okay . . .

    “What kind of things are we talking about here?” I ask her.

    “Something that you would be better off not being told also counts. For example, the fact that my gynecologist is a male,” she informs me.

    “What?” Tessa’s doctor being a male never crossed my mind. I didn’t know that dude doctors did such things.

    “See, you were better off not knowing that, weren’t you?” She isn’t even trying to hide her little smart-ass grin at my irritation and jealousy.

    “You’ll get a new doctor.”

    She slowly shakes her head at me, telling me she’ll do no such thing. I lean over and whisper into her ear, “You’re lucky the bathrooms on this thing are too small to fuck you in.” Her breathing hitches, and she immediately squeezes her thighs together. I love her reaction to my filthy mouth; it’s always instantaneous. Plus, I needed to distract her and change the subject for both of our sakes.

    “I would press you against the door and fuck you against the wall.” I move my hand farther up her closed thighs. “I would cover your mouth to muffle your screams.”

    She gulps.

    “It would feel so fucking good, your legs wrapped around my waist, your fingers tugging at my hair.”

    Her eyes are wide, pupils blown, and fuck, I wish the bathrooms weren’t so damn small. Literally, I can’t even stretch out my arms in the tiny space. Here I paid over a thousand dollars per round-trip ticket—you’d think I could at least fuck my girl in the damn bathroom during the long flight.

    “Squeezing your legs together won’t make the ache disappear,” I continue whispering into her ear. I lower her tray table so I can bring my hand to the juncture of her thighs. “Only I can.” She looks like she’s about to come from my words alone. “The rest of the flight is going to be pretty uncomfortable for you, what with soaking panties and all.” I press a kiss beneath her ear, using my tongue to tease her further, and the man next to me coughs.

    “Problem?” I ask him, not giving a fuck if he heard anything I said to her. He quickly shakes his head and returns his attention to the e-reader in his hand. I lean over, noting the first paragraph on the dimly lit page. I spot the name “Holden” and immediately chuckle. Only pretentious middle-aged men and bearded hipsters actually enjoy reading The Catcher in the Rye. What is so appealing about an overprivileged, teenage fucking stalker? Nothing.

    “Shall I continue?” I lean back over to Tessa, who is now panting.

    “No.” She lifts her tray table, clicking it closed and ending my fun.

    “Only five more hours now.” I grin at her, ignoring how hard I am from the thought of how wet she must be right now.

    “You’re an asshole,” she whispers. The smile that I love plays on her lips.

    “And you love me,” I counter, making that smile grow.


NAVIGATING THROUGH HEATHROW wasn’t as bad as I remembered. We got our bags quickly. Tessa was quiet most of the time, and her hand in mine was the only assurance I needed that she wasn’t too upset about the rehab shit. The rental car was ready for us, and I watched in amusement as Tessa promptly walked to the wrong side of the vehicle.

    By the time we make it to Hampstead, she’s asleep. She tried to stay awake and stare out the window, taking it all in, but she couldn’t keep her eyes open. The old town looks the same as it did the last time I was here—of course it does, why wouldn’t it? It’s only been a few months. For some reason I feel like the moment that I drove past the official Hampstead welcome sign with Tessa in the passenger seat, the village would have altered somehow.

    As I pass the historic homes and tourist attractions, I finally arrive in the residential part of town. Contrary to popular belief, not everyone in Hampstead lives in a historic mansion and is rolling in wealth. All that is clear as I pull into my mum’s gravel driveway. The old house looks like it could topple over any day now, and I’m glad to see the Sold sign on the lawn. Her future husband’s house, just next door, is in much better shape than this shithole and about twice the size.

    “Tessa.” I call her out of her deep sleep. She’s probably drooled all over the damn window.

    My mum appears at the front door only seconds after the headlights hit her windows. She pushes open the screen door and rushes down the small steps like a madwoman. Tessa’s eyes open, and she focuses on my mum, who now is pulling at the passenger-door handle to get to her. What is it with everyone liking her so much?

    “Tessa! Hardin!” My mum’s voice is high and overly excited as Tessa unbuckles her seat belt and climbs out of the car. Womanly hugs and greetings are exchanged while I grab the bags from the trunk.

    “I’m so glad you two are here.” My mum smiles, wiping a tear from her eyes. This is going to be a long weekend.

    “Us, too.” Tessa answers for me and allows my mum to pull her by the hand into the small house.

    “I don’t like tea, so there won’t be any stereotypical English welcome here, but I made some coffee. I know you both love your coffee,” my mum hums.

    Tessa laughs, thanking her. My mum is keeping her distance from me, obviously trying not to set me off during the weekend of her wedding. The two women disappear into the kitchen, and I take the stairs to my old bedroom to get rid of these bags. I hear their laughter travel through the house, and I try to convince myself that nothing catastrophic will happen this weekend. Everything will be fine.

    The room is empty except for my old twin bed and a dresser. The wallpaper has been stripped off, leaving a hideous trail of glue along the walls. My mum is obviously trying to get the place ready for the new owner, but seeing the place like this actually makes me feel a little strange.