Chapter One Hundred and Forty

After We Fell


one hundred and forty




My mum is so fucked up.” Hardin finally speaks after long minutes of silence. My hand jerks at the sudden noise, but I quickly recover and return to bathing him as he continues. “I mean this is some shit right out of Tolstoy.”

    My mind scrambles through Tolstoy’s works before landing on The Kreutzer Sonata. I shiver despite the heat of the shower.

    “Kreutzer?” I ask, hoping I’m confused or that he and I have interpreted the dark story differently.

    “Yes, of course.” He’s becoming emotionless again, crouching down behind that damn wall.

    “I don’t know if I would compare this . . . situation to something so dark,” I softly argue. That story is filled with blood, jealousy, and rage, and I’d like to think this real-life one will have a better ending.

    “Not completely, but yes,” he answers as if he can read my mind.

    I play the story line through my head, trying to see some connection to Hardin’s mother’s affair, but the only thing I can come up with has to do with Hardin himself and his beliefs about marriage. That causes me to shiver again.

    “I didn’t plan to ever marry, and I still don’t, so no, it didn’t change anything,” he coldly responds.

    I ignore the pain in my chest and focus on him. “Okay.” I run the cloth down one arm, then the other, and when I look up, his eyes are closed.

    “Whose story do you suppose we’ll have?” he asks, taking the cloth from my hand.

    “I don’t know,” I answer him honestly. I’d love nothing more than to know the answer to this question.

    “Me neither.” He pours more body wash onto the cloth and runs it across my chest.

    “Couldn’t we make our own story?” I look up into his troubled eyes.

    “I don’t think we can. You know this is going to end one of two ways,” he says, shrugging his shoulders.

    I know he’s hurt and I know he’s angry, but I don’t want Trish’s mistakes to affect our relationship and I can see Hardin making comparisons behind the green of his eyes.

    I try to take the conversation in another direction. “What is it about all of this that bothers you the most? It’s that the wedding is tomorrow . . . well, today,” I correct myself. It’s almost 4 a.m. now, and the wedding is, or was, supposed to start at two this afternoon. What happened after we left the house? Did Mike come back to talk to Trish, or did Christian and Trish finish what they started?

    “I don’t know.” He sighs, dragging the cloth down my stomach and across my hips. “I don’t really give a fuck about that wedding. I guess I just feel like they’re both fucking liars.”

    “I’m sorry,” I tell him.

    “My mum is the one who’ll be sorry. She’s the one who sold her fucking house and cheated the night before her damn wedding.” His touch becomes rough as his anger builds.

    I stay quiet but remove the cloth from his hands and hang it on the rack behind me.

    “And Vance, what kind of fucking asshole has an affair with the ex-wife of his best friend? My father and Christian Vance have known each other since they were kids.” Hardin’s tone is bitter—threatening, even. “I should call my father and see if he knows what a backstabbing whore—”

    I reach my hand and cover his mouth before he can finish the harsh words. “She’s still your mother,” I softly remind him. I know he’s angry, but he shouldn’t call her names.

    I remove my hand from his mouth so he can speak. “I don’t give a fuck that she’s my mother, and I don’t give a fuck about Vance either. And the joke’s going to be on him, because when I tell Kimberly about them and you quit your job, he’ll be fucked,” Hardin proudly declares, as if this would be the best form of revenge.

    “You will not tell Kimberly.” I look into his eyes, pleading. “If Christian doesn’t tell her himself, then I will, but you will not embarrass her or harass her about it. I understand that you’re angry at your mother and at Christian, but Kimberly is innocent here, and I don’t want her to be hurt,” I say firmly.

    “Fine. You will quit, though,” he says while turning his body around to rinse the foamy shampoo from his hair.

    Sighing, I reach for the shampoo bottle in Hardin’s hand but he pulls it away.

    “I’m serious, you aren’t working for him anymore.”

    I understand his anger, but this isn’t the time to discuss my job. “We’ll talk about it later,” I tell him and finally manage to get the bottle into my hands. The water is growing colder by the minute, and I’d like to wash my hair.

    “No!” He jerks it back. I’m trying to stay calm and be as gentle as possible with him, but he’s making it difficult.

    “I can’t just quit my internship; it’s not that simple. I’d have to inform the university, fill out a bunch of paperwork, and give a solid explanation of what happened. Then I would have to add classes to my schedule in the middle of the semester to make up for the credits I was receiving from Vance Publishing, and since the deadline for financial aid has already passed, I’d have to pay out of pocket. I can’t simply just quit. I’ll try to figure something out, but I need a little time, please.” I give up on washing my hair.

    “Tessa, I literally couldn’t give less than a fuck about you having to file some paperwork; this is my family,” he says, and I immediately feel guilty.

    He’s right, isn’t he? I honestly don’t know, but his busted lip and bruised nose make me feel that way. “I know, I’m sorry. I just need to find another internship first, that’s all I’m asking.” Why am I asking? “I mean saying . . . that’s what I’m that I need a little time. I’m already going to have to move into a hotel as it is . . .” The anxiety I feel at the prospect of being homeless, jobless, and once again friendless is taking me over.

    “You won’t be able to find another internship anyway, not a paying one,” he harshly reminds me. I knew that already, but I was trying to force myself into believing that I had a slight chance.

    “I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I need some time. This is all such a mess.” I step out of the shower and reach for a towel.

    “Well, you don’t have much time to figure it out. You should just move back to central Washington with me.” His words stop me in my tracks.

    “Move back The very idea of it makes me nauseous. “I’m not moving back there, and after last weekend, I don’t even want to visit the place again, let alone move back. That isn’t an option.” I wrap the towel around my wet body and leave the bathroom.

    I reach for my phone and panic when I see five missed calls and two text messages. All from Christian. Both text messages are pleas to have Hardin call him right away.

    “Hardin,” I call to him.

    “What?” he snaps. I roll my eyes and swallow my annoyance. “Christian has called, a lot.”

    He emerges from the bathroom with a towel wrapped around his waist. “And?”

    “What if something happened to your mother? Don’t you want to call and be sure she’s okay?” I ask him. “Or I—”

    “No, fuck both of them. Don’t call them.”

    “Hardin, I really think—”

    “No,” he says, interrupting me.

    “I already sent him a text, just to be sure your mother is okay,” I admit.

    He grimaces. “Of course you did.”

    “I know you’re upset, but please stop taking it out on me. I’m really trying to be here for you, but you have to stop snapping at me. This isn’t my fault.”

    “I’m sorry.” His hands run over his wet hair. “Let’s both just turn our cell phones off and get some sleep.” His voice has calmed, and his eyes have softened tremendously. “My shirt is stained,” he says, dragging the bloodied garment across the floor, “and I don’t know where the other one is.”

    “I’ll get it from the suitcase.”

    “Thank you.” He sighs. The fact that he finds so much comfort in me wearing his clothing makes me happy, even in the middle of this disastrous night. I retrieve the shirt he wore earlier today and hand him clean boxers to sleep in before refolding the articles in the suitcase.

    “I’m going to change our flight when I wake up. I can’t concentrate right now.” He sits on the edge of the bed for a moment before lying down.

    “I can do it,” I offer, pulling his laptop from the suitcase.

    “Thanks,” he grumbles, half asleep already.

    Seconds later he mutters, “I wish I could take you away, far away.” My hands are still on the keyboard and I wait for him to say something else, but he breaks into soft snores.

    As I pull up the airline’s website, my phone vibrates on the table. Christian’s name comes up on the screen. I ignore the call, but when a second comes in, I grab the room key and quietly retreat to the hallway to answer.

    I try to whisper. “Hello.”

    “Tessa? How is he?” he asks, panicked.

    “He’s . . . he’s okay. His nose is bruised and swollen, his lip is busted, and he has a few bruises and cuts.” I don’t hide the hostility in my tone.

    “Dammit,” he breathes. “I’m so sorry that it came to this.”

    “Me, too,” I snap at my boss and try to ignore the hideous painting in front of my eyes.

    “I need to talk to him. I know he’s confused and angry, but I need to explain some things to him.”

    “He doesn’t want to talk to you, and honestly, why should he? He trusted you, and you know that his trust is not something he gives lightly.” I lower my voice. “You’re engaged to a lovely woman and Trish was supposed to be getting married tomorrow.”

    “She’s still getting married,” he says through the line.

    “What?” I walk farther down the hall. I stop in front of the peaceful painting of the kneeling angel, but the more I look at it, the darker it becomes. Behind the angel is another; this second one’s body almost translucent, and he’s holding a double-edged dagger in his hand. The brown-haired maiden is watching him, a sinister smile on her face as she seems to wait for the assault on the kneeling angel. The second angel’s expression is contorted, his naked body all planes and angles as he prepares to stab the first angel. I look away and focus on the voice on the other end of the line.

    “The wedding has not been canceled. Mike loves Trish, and she loves him; they will still be married tomorrow despite my mistake.” The words sound as if he’s struggling to get them out.

    I have so many questions to ask him, but I can’t. He’s my boss and his affair is with Hardin’s mother; this is none of my business.

    “I know what you must think of me, Tessa, but if I’m able to explain myself, maybe you both will understand.”

    “Hardin wants me to change our flight and leave in the morning,” I inform him.

    “He can’t leave without saying goodbye to his mother. It will kill her.”

    “I don’t think it’s in the best interest of anyone to allow him to be in the same room as her,” I warn and walk back to the room, stopping just outside the door.

    “I understand your need to protect him, and it pleases me greatly to see how fiercely loyal you are to him. But Trish has had a hard enough life as it is, and it’s time for her to have some happiness. I don’t expect him to show for the wedding, but please do what you can to have him at least say goodbye to her. God knows how long it will be before he comes back to England.” Christian sighs.

    “I don’t know.” I run my fingers along the bronze frame of the Lucifer painting. “I’ll see what I can do, but I can’t promise anything. I won’t push him.”

    “I understand. Thank you.” The relief in his voice is clear.

    “Christian?” I say just before hanging up.

    “Yes, Tessa?”

    “Will you tell Kimberly?” I hold my breath and wait for his answer to my highly inappropriate question.

    “Of course I’ll tell her,” he softly responds, his accent thick and smooth. “I love her more than—”

    “Okay.” I’m trying to understand, but the only image that’s coming to mind is Kimberly smiling in their kitchen, her head tipped back in laughter and Christian’s eyes sparkling as he watches her in amazement, as if she’s the only woman in his world. Does he look at Trish that way?

    “Thank you. Let me know if you need anything. Again, I’m sorry for what you saw earlier, and I hope that your opinion of me hasn’t been completely destroyed,” he says and hangs up the phone.

    I take one last glance at the hideous monster on the wall and walk back into the hotel room.