Chapter Ninety-Two

After We Fell

chapter ninety-two




Is your pizza good?” I ask Smith from across the table.

    He looks up at me, mouth full, and nods his head yes. His small hands are holding a fork and knife to cut into his meal. This doesn’t surprise me.

    When his plate is clear, he stands from the table and walks his dishes to the dishwasher, placing them inside. “I’m going to retire for the night. I’m ready for bed,” the little scientist announces.

    Hardin shakes his head in amusement over the maturity of the kid.

    I stand up and ask, “Do you need anything? Water, or to be walked to your room?”

    But he declines and grabs his blanket from the couch before heading up to his bedroom.

    I watch Smith disappear upstairs, then sit back down and realize that Hardin has spoken less than ten words to me in the last hour. He’s kept his distance, and I can’t help but find myself comparing his behavior tonight to the way he spoke during our phone calls this week. A small part of me wishes we were on the phone now instead of sitting silently on the couch.

    “I have to piss,” he announces, then heads off as I surf through the channels on the flat-screen TV.

    Moments later Kimberly and Christian come through the front door, followed by another couple. A tall blond woman dressed in a short gold dress saunters across the hardwood floor. I take one glance at her sky-high heels, and my ankles start to ache for her. She gives me a smile and a wave as she follows Kimberly through the foyer and into the living room. Hardin appears in the hallway but doesn’t make a move to enter the room.

    “Sasha, this is Tessa and Hardin,” Kimberly kindly introduces us.

    “It’s nice to meet you.” I smile, hating that I didn’t put on better-looking pajamas.

    “You, too,” Sasha responds, but she’s looking directly to Hardin, who looks back at her for a moment but doesn’t otherwise greet her or come fully into the living room.

    “Sasha is a friend of Christian’s business partner,” Kimberly informs us.

    Well, informs me, because Hardin isn’t paying them any attention, having fixed his eyes on the wildlife program I ended up landing on.

    “And this is Max, who does business with Christian.”

    The man, who had been joking and laughing with Christian, steps around from behind Sasha, and when I finally get a look at him, I’m surprised to see Ken’s friend from college, that girl Lillian’s father.

    “Max,” I repeat, discreetly staring at Hardin and trying to draw his attention to the familiar face in front of us.

    Catching on, Kimberly looks back and forth between Max and me. “You two have met before?”

    “Only once, at Sand Point,” I respond.

    Max’s dark eyes are intimidating, and he has an overpowering presence that immediately claims the room as his, but his cold features do soften slightly at my reminder.

    “Ah, yes. You’re Hardin Scott’s . . . friend,” he says, drawing the last word out with a smile.

    “Actually, she’s . . .” Hardin starts, finally joining us in the living room.

    I watch in annoyance as Sasha’s eyes follow Hardin’s every movement as he crosses the room. She adjusts the golden straps of her dress and licks her lips. I couldn’t be more irritated with myself for wearing these damn cloud pants if I tried. Hardin’s eyes flicker to her, and I watch as they slowly rake down her body, taking in her tall yet curvy frame, before his attention turns to Max.

    “She’s not just a friend,” Hardin finishes just as Max’s hand darts out for a quick and awkward handshake.

    “I see.” The older man smiles. “Well, either way, she’s a lovely girl.”

    “She is,” Hardin mutters. I can sense his annoyance at Max’s presence.

    Kimberly, the perfect hostess as always, walks over to the bar and gathers glasses for their guests. She politely takes drink orders while I try not to stare at Sasha as she introduces herself to Hardin for the second time. He gives her a brisk nod and sits down on the couch. A pang of disappointment hits me when he leaves a large space between us. Why do I feel so clingy all of a sudden? Is it because Sasha is so beautiful, or is it the way that Hardin’s eyes traveled down her body, or how weird he’s been all night?

    “How’s Lillian?” I ask to break the awkwardness and the tension and the aching jealousy that’s stirring inside of me.

    “She’s fine. She’s been busy with university,” he coolly states.

    Kimberly hands him a glass of brown liquor, and he gulps half of it down within seconds.

    He raises his brow to Christian. “Bourbon?”

    “Only the best,” Christian responds with a grin.

    “You should call Lillian up sometime. You’d be a good influence on her.” Max’s eyes move to Hardin.

    “I don’t think she needs any influence,” I retort. I didn’t care much for Lillian, due to my jealousy, but I feel a strong need to defend her against her father. I can’t help but think that he’s referring to her sexual orientation, and that bothers me immensely.

    “Oh, I beg to differ.” He smiles a bleached-white smile, and I sink back against the couch cushions. This whole exchange has been uncomfortable. Max is charming and rich, but I can’t ignore the darkness that lurks within his deep brown eyes and the hidden malice in his wide smile.

    Why is he here with Sasha, anyway? He’s a married man, and by the short cut of her dress and the way she smiles at him, they don’t appear to be only on “friend”-ly terms.

    “Lillian is our regular sitter!” Kimberly chimes in.

    “Small world.” Hardin rolls his eyes so as to appear as uninterested as possible, but I know he’s fuming.

    “It is, isn’t it.” Max grins at Hardin. His British accent is thicker than either Hardin’s or Christian’s, and not nearly as pleasant to listen to.

    “Tessa, go upstairs,” Hardin quietly instructs me. Max and Kimberly both look at him, making it known that they heard his command.

    This situation is even more awkward now than it was only seconds ago. Now that everyone’s heard Hardin tell me to go upstairs, I definitely don’t want to oblige. However, I know Hardin, and know that he’ll make sure I get upstairs, whether he has to carry me or not.

    “I think she should stay and have some wine, or a shot of this bourbon. It’s aged and very good,” Kimberly says as she rises to her feet and pads over to the little bar. “Which will it be?” She smiles, clearly defying Hardin.

    He glares at her and presses his lips into a thin, hard line. I want to laugh at the way Kimberly is challenging Hardin, or leave the room—preferably both—but Max is watching our exchange with more curiosity than seems necessary, and I stay put.

    “I’ll have a glass of wine,” I say.

    Kimberly nods, pours the white liquid into a long-stemmed glass, and brings it to me.

    The space between Hardin and me seems to be growing by the second, and I can practically see the heat rolling off him in small waves. I take a small sip of the crisp wine, and Max finally looks away from me.

    Hardin is staring at the wall. His mood has drastically changed since we kissed, and that really worries me. I thought he’d be excited, happy, and most of all, I thought he’d be turned on and want more, the way he always does, the way I do.

    “Do you two live here, in Seattle?” Sasha asks Hardin.

    I take another sip of wine. I’ve been drinking a lot lately.

    “I don’t.” He doesn’t look at her as he answers.

    “Hmm, where is it that you live?”

    “Not in Seattle.”

    If this conversation were happening in any other circumstance, I would scold him for being so rude, but right now I’m happy that he is. Sasha frowns and leans against Max. He looks at me before gently guiding her in the opposite direction.

    I already know you’re having an affair, so don’t play coy now.

    Sasha stays quiet, and Kimberly looks to Christian for help to turn the conversation to more pleasant matters. “Well . . .” Christian clears his throat. “The club opening was great; who knew we’d have such a turnout?”

    “It was brilliant, that band . . . I can’t recall the name, but the last one . . .” Max begins.

    “The Reford something . . . ?” Kimberly suggests.

    “No, that wasn’t it, love.” Christian chuckles, and Kimberly walks over to sit on his lap.

    “Well, whoever they are, we need to get them booked for next weekend, too,” Max says.

    Within minutes of the start of their business talk, Hardin turns and disappears down the hallway . . .

    “He’s usually more polite,” Kimberly tells Sasha.

    “No, he’s not. But we wouldn’t have him any other way.” Christian laughs, and the rest of the room joins in.

    “I’m going to . . .” I begin.

    “Go on.” Kimberly waves me off, and I give a small good night wave to the guests. By the time I reach the end of the hallway, Hardin is already in the guest room and has closed the door. I hesitate outside of the room for a moment before turning the knob and pushing the door open. When I finally enter, Hardin is pacing back and forth across the length of the room.

    “Is something wrong?” I ask him.


    “Are you sure, because you’ve been weird ever since—”

    “I’m fine. I’m just irritated.” He sits down at the edge of the bed and rubs his palms against the knees of his jeans.

    I love his new jeans. I recognize them from at the apartment. Trish got them for him for Christmas, and he hated them.

    “And why’s that?” I quietly ask, making sure to keep my voice from traveling down the hall and into the living room.

    “Max is a prick,” Hardin booms. He clearly doesn’t care if he’s heard.

    Laughing, I whisper, “Yeah, he is.”

    “He was just asking for me to lose my shit when he was being rude to you,” he breaths.

    “He wasn’t being rude to me, specifically. I think that’s just his personality.” I shrug my shoulders, a gesture that doesn’t really calm Hardin.

    “Well, either way, I don’t fucking like him, and it’s annoying that we have one night together and it’s with a full house.” Hardin brushes his hair back from his forehead and grabs a pillow to lie back on.

    “I know.” I agree. I hope Max and his mistress leave soon. “I hate that he’s cheating on his wife. Denise seemed so nice.”

    “I don’t give a shit about that, really. I just don’t like him,” Hardin says.

    I’m a little surprised by his immediate brushing off such a betrayal. “Don’t you feel bad for her? Even a little bit? I’m sure she has no idea about Sasha.”

    He waves his hand in the air and then tucks his arm behind his head. “I’m sure she knows. Max is an asshole. She can’t be that stupid.”

    I picture Max’s wife sitting in a mansion in the hills somewhere, wearing an expensive dress, full hair and makeup, waiting for her unfaithful husband to return home. The thought saddens me, and the best I can hope for is that she has a “friend,” too.

    The thought surprises me that I would wish for her to do the same thing back to him, but her husband is in the wrong here, and though I barely know her, I want her to find some happiness, even if it’s not exactly the best decision.

    “Either way, it’s still wrong,” I insist.

    “Yeah, but that’s marriage for you. Cheating, lying, so on and so on.”

    “That’s not always the case.”

    “Nine times out of ten.” He shrugs. I hate the way he views marriage so negatively.

    “No, that’s not true.” I cross my arms over my chest.

    “You’re going to argue with me over marriage, again? I don’t think we should go there,” he warns. His eyes meet mine, and he takes a deep breath.

    I want to battle this out with him, tell him that he’s wrong and change his view on marriage, but I know it’s pointless. Hardin made up his mind about such things long before he met me.

    “You’re right, we shouldn’t talk about this. Especially when you’re already wound up.”

    “I’m not wound up,” he scoffs.

    “Okay.” I roll my eyes at him, and he rises to his feet.

    “Stop rolling your eyes at me,” he snaps.

    I can’t help but roll my eyes, again.

    “Tessa . . .” he growls.

    I stand still, unmoving and unwavering. He has no reason to be short with me. Max’s being a pompous jerk is in no way my fault. This is a typical Hardin Scott tantrum, and I’m not caving this time.

    “You’re only here for one night, remember?” I remind him and watch as the hardness and energy slip from his features. He continues to watch me, though, expecting a fight. I’m not giving him one.

    “Dammit, you’re right. I’m sorry,” he finally sighs, impressing me with this sudden change in his mood and his ability to calm himself down. “Come here.” He opens his arms, the way Hardin always does, and I walk into them, the way I haven’t for so long. He doesn’t say anything; he only wraps his arms around me and rests his chin on top of my head. His scent is overpowering, his breathing has slowed since his little hissy fit, and he is warm, so warm. Seconds, or maybe minutes later, he pulls away from me and presses his thumb under my chin.

    “I’m sorry for being a dick. I don’t know what my problem was. Max just bugs the shit out of me, or maybe it was the babysitting, or that obnoxious Stacey. I don’t know, but I’m sorry.”

    “Sasha.” I correct him with a smile.

    “Same thing—a whore is a whore is a whore.”

    “Hardin!” I gently swat at his chest. The muscles underneath feel harder than I remember. He’s been working out daily . . . briefly, my thoughts travel to what he looks like under his black T-shirt, and I wonder if his body has changed since I last laid eyes on it.

    “Just saying.” He shrugs and brushes his fingertips over the soft line of my jaw. “I really am sorry. I don’t want to ruin my time with you. Forgive me?”

    His cheeks flush, and his voice is so soft, and his fingertips are gently scraping against my skin, and it feels so good. My eyes flutter closed as he traces the outline of my lips with his thumb.

    “Answer me,” he softly presses.

    “I always do, don’t I?” I say with a breath. I rest both of my hands on his hips, my thumbs pressing into the bare skin under his T-shirt. I expect to feel his lips on mine, but when I open my eyes, his guard has been drawn up. I hesitate, but ask, “Is something wrong?”

    “I had . . .” He stops midsentence. “I have a headache.”

    “Do you need something? I can ask Kim if—”

    “No, not her. I think I just need to sleep or something. It’s late, anyway.”

    My heart sinks at his words. What is going on with him, and why doesn’t he want to kiss me again? Only moments ago he told me that he didn’t want to ruin our short time together, yet now he wants to go to sleep?

    I sigh out a quiet “Okay.” I’m not going to beg Hardin to stay awake and spend time with me. I’m embarrassed by his rejection, and honestly I do need a moment alone without his minty breath fanning across my cheeks and his green eyes piercing into mine, clouding the smidge of judgment I have left.

    Still, I linger a little, waiting for him to ask if he can sleep in my room or vice versa.

    He doesn’t. “I’ll see you in the morning, then?” he asks.

    “Yeah, sure.” I leave the room before I embarrass myself further and lock my bedroom door behind me. Pathetically, I pad back across the room and unlock the door, hoping that maybe, just maybe, he will come through it.