Chapter 18 – After

We find the room. Unfortunately one of the beds is occupied by a snoring, passed-out guy.

“At least that bed is empty!” Zed says and laughs. “I’m going to walk back to my place, if you want to come. I have a couch you could sleep on,” he says.

Cutting through the haze to try to think clearly for a second, I conclude that Zed, like Hardin, hooks up with a lot of different girls. If I agree to this it could mean I am offering to kiss him . . . well. I have a feeling with those good looks it’s easy for Zed to get girls to do more than kiss.

“I think I will just stay here in case Steph comes back,” I say.

His face falls a little but he gives me an understanding smile. He tells me to be careful and gives me a hug goodbye. The door closes as he leaves and I can’t help but lock it. Who knows who will come in? I look over at the comatose snorer and feel secure that he isn’t waking up anytime soon. The tiredness I felt downstairs has somehow faded, my mind going back to Hardin and his comment about how Noah hasn’t slept with me yet. It may seem strange to Hardin, who’s with a different girl every weekend, but Noah is a gentleman. We don’t need to have sex; we have fun together doing other things like . . . well . . . we go to the movies and go for walks.

With that in mind, I lie down, but quickly find myself staring at the ceiling, counting the tiles in an attempt to go to sleep. Occasionally the drunk guy rustles around on the other bed, but eventually my eyes close and I begin to drift off.

“I haven’t seen you . . . around here before,” a deep voice suddenly slurs in my ear. I jump up and his head bumps my chin, causing me to bite my tongue. His hand is on the bed, inches away from my thighs. His breathing is ragged and smells like vomit and liquor. “What’s your name, cutie?” he breathes, and I gag. I lift one thin arm up to push him away from me, but it doesn’t work, and he just laughs.

“I’m not going to hurt you—we’re just going to have some fun,” he says and licks his lips, leaving a string of saliva down his chin.

My stomach turns and the only thing I can think to do is to knee him, hard. Hard and right there. He grabs his crotch and stumbles back, giving me my chance to bolt. Once my shaky fingers finally open the lock, I rush out into the hallway, where several people give me odd stares.

“Come on, come back here!” I hear the disgusting voice say, not too far behind me. Strangely, nobody seems fazed by a girl being chased down the hall. He is only a few feet away, but fortunately is so drunk he keeps stumbling into the wall. My feet act of their own accord, taking me down the hall to the only place I know in this damned fraternity house.

“Hardin! Hardin, please open the door!” I yell, one hand banging on the door and one trying to twist the locked doorknob.

“Hardin!” I scream again and the door flies open. I don’t know what made me come to his room of all places, but I would take Hardin’s judgmentalism over the drunk guy trying to have his way with me any day.

“Tess?” Hardin asks, seeming confused. He wipes his eyes with his hand. He is wearing only black boxer briefs, and his hair is jutting out all over his head. Weirdly, I am more surprised by how good he looks than by the fact he called me “Tess” for once instead of “Theresa.”

“Hardin, please can I come in? This guy . . .” I say and look behind me. Hardin pushes past me and looks down the hall. His eyes meet my stalker, and the creep changes from scary to frightened. He looks at me one more time before turning around and walking back down the hall.

“Do you know him?” My voice is shaky and small.

“Yeah, get inside,” he says and pulls me by my arm into his room. I can’t help but note the way his muscles move under his inked skin as he walks to his bed. His back has no tattoos on it, which is a little strange since his chest, arms, and stomach are covered. He rubs his eyes again. “Are you okay?” His voice is raspier than ever from just being woken up.

“Yeah . . . yes. I’m sorry for coming here and waking you up. I just didn’t know what—”

“Don’t worry about it.” Hardin’s hand runs through his messy hair and he sighs. “Did he touch you?” he asks, without any trace of sarcasm or humor.

“No, he tried, though. I was stupid enough to lock myself in a room with a drunk stranger, so I suppose it’s my fault.” The idea of that creep touching me makes me want to cry, again.

“It’s not your fault that he did that. You aren’t used to this type of . . . situation.” His voice is kind and totally the opposite of his usual tone. I walk across the room toward his bed, silently asking him for permission. He pats the bed, and I sit down with my hands in my lap.

“I have no plans on getting used to it. This really is the last time I’m coming here, or to any parties, for that matter. I don’t know why I even tried. And that guy . . . he was just so . . .”

“Don’t cry, Tess,” Hardin whispers.

And the funny thing is, I hadn’t realized I was. Hardin brings his hand up, and I almost flinch away, but not before the pad of his thumb captures the tear from my cheek. My lips part in surprise from his gentle touch. Who is this guy and where is the snarky, rude Hardin? I look up to meet his green eyes and his pupils dilate.

“I hadn’t noticed how gray your eyes are,” he says, so low that I lean closer to hear him. His hand is still on my face, and my mind is racing. Pulling half of his bottom lip in his mouth, he takes his lip ring between his teeth. Our eyes meet, and I look down, unsure of what’s going on. But when he removes his hand, I look at his lips once more, and I can feel my conscience and my hormones battling.

But my conscience loses, and I crash my lips against his, catching him totally off guard.

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