Chapter One Hundred and Thirty-Eight

After We Fell


one hundred and thirty-eight




The man behind the desk gives Hardin the key to our room with a smile that Hardin does not return. I try my best to offer one to make up for it, but it comes off as forced and awkward, and the desk clerk looks away quickly.

    In silence, we walk through the lobby to find the room. The hallway is long and narrow; religious paintings line the cream-­colored walls, a handsome angel kneeling before a maiden in one, two lovers embracing in another. I shudder when my eyes drag across the last painting, meeting the black eyes of Lucifer himself right outside of our assigned room. I’m stuck staring into the empty eyes as I hurry behind Hardin into the room and flip the light switch, illuminating the dark space. He tosses my bag onto a wingback chair that sits in a corner and drops the suitcase by the door next to where I’m standing.

    “I’m taking a shower,” he says quietly. Without looking back, he walks into the bathroom and closes the door behind him.

    I want to follow him, but I’m conflicted. I don’t want to push him or upset him any more than he already is, but at the same time I want to make sure he’s okay and I don’t want him to wallow in this—not alone, at least.

    I pull my shoes off, then my jeans and Hardin’s shirt, and follow him into the small bathroom, completely naked. When I push the door open, he doesn’t turn around. Steam has already begun to billow through the small space, filling it, covering Hardin’s naked body with a cloud of vapor. His tattoos peek through, the black ink visible through the steam, drawing me toward him.

    I step over the pile of his discarded clothes and stand behind him, keeping more than a foot of distance between us.

    “I don’t need you to—” Hardin begins, his voice flat.

    “I know,” I interrupt him. I know he’s angry, hurt, and he’s beginning to slip back behind the wall that I’ve fought so hard to demolish. He’s been controlling his anger so well that I could kill Trish and Christian both for making him lose it that way.

    Surprised by the dark direction my thoughts have taken, I shake them away.

    Without another word, he draws back the shower curtain and steps into the cascading water. I take a breath, summoning every ounce of confidence I can muster, and step into the shower behind him. The water is scalding, barely tolerable, and I hide behind Hardin to avoid it. He must notice my discomfort, because he adjusts the water temperature.

    I grab the small complimentary bottle of soap and squeeze it onto a cloth and carefully bring it to Hardin’s back. He flinches and tries to move forward, but I follow him, stepping closer.

    “You don’t have to talk to me, but I know you need me to be here right now.” My voice is almost a whisper, lost between Hardin’s deep breaths and the falling water.

    Silent and still, he doesn’t move as I brush the cloth across the letters etched into his skin. My tattoo.

    Hardin turns to face me, allowing me to clean his chest now, his eyes studying every stroke of the cloth. I feel the anger radiating off of him, mixing with the clouds of hot vapor, and his eyes are burning into me. He looks as if he’s going to explode. Before I can blink, both of his hands are pressed against my jaw, cupping my neck on either side. His mouth desperately collides against mine, and my lips part involuntarily under the rough contact. There is nothing gentle, nothing soft about his touch. My tongue meets his, and I pull his bottom lip between my teeth, gently tugging, avoiding his wound. He groans and presses me against the wet tile.

    I hear myself whimper when he pulls his mouth from mine, but he quickly reestablishes contact and peppers rough kisses down the column of my neck and across my chest, then cups my breasts, rolling them beneath his busted and bruised hands while his mouth works back and forth, licking, sucking, biting. I roll my head back against the tile and bury my fingers in his hair, tugging the way I know he loves.

    Without warning, he lowers his body even further, resting on his knees under the spraying water, and for a fleeting moment I’m reminded of something vague. But then he touches me again, and I just can’t remember what it is.