Chapter 47 – After

Chapter 47 – After

I rush out the back door and see Hardin pacing back and forth on the deck. I’m not sure what I can do to help the situation, but I know I would rather be out here with Hardin than face his family in the dining room after that outburst. I feel responsible for this whole thing anyway, since I agreed to come here when Hardin didn’t want to. If he started suddenly hanging out with my mother, I know I would feel weird about it.

Ha, like she would ever let that happen, my subconscious points out.

As if he heard my thoughts, Hardin shoots me an annoyed look. When I approach him he turns away from me.

“Hardin . . .”

“No, Tessa, don’t,” he says sharply. “I know you’re going to say that I need to go back in there and apologize to them. But there is no way in hell that is happening, so don’t waste your breath! Why don’t you just go back in there and enjoy your dinner and leave me the hell alone.”

I take a step closer, but all I can manage to say is “I don’t want to go back in there.”

“Why not? You fit in perfectly with their prudish and boring personalities.”

Ouch! Why am I here again? Oh, yeah, that’s right: to be Hardin’s punching bag.

“You know what? Fine! I will leave—I don’t know why I just can’t stop trying with you!” I shout, but hope they can’t hear me inside.

“Because you just can’t take a hint, I guess.” As the words leave his mouth, I

feel the lump growing in my throat.

“The hint is well-taken.” I stare at the stone patio and try to swallow the sting from his words, but it’s impossible. When I look up at Hardin, his cold eyes meet mine.

“That’s it? That’s your defense?” He laughs and rakes his hands through his hair.

“You don’t deserve any more of my time. You don’t deserve for me to even speak to you, or those nice people in there to spend their time setting up this dinner to have you ruin it! That’s what you do: ruin things, everything! And I am done being one of those things.” My tears soak my face as Hardin steps toward me. I back away, my feet tripping on something. Hardin reaches out to steady me, but I grab hold of a patio chair instead. I don’t want or need his help.

Looking up, I see that his expression is one of exhaustion. His voice is, too, when he says softly, “You’re right.”

“I know I am.” I turn away from him.

Faster than I could have imagined, he snakes his fingers around my wrist and pulls me to his chest. I lean into him without hesitation, wanting to touch him so badly. But I know better: I can hear the warning in the thump of my heart, rapid beneath my chest. I wonder if Hardin can hear it, too, or feel the pounding of my pulse under his grip. His eyes are full of anger and I know mine mirror his.

I have no warning before he crashes his lips down on mine, the force of his mouth almost painful. His action is so full of desperation and hunger that I am lost. Lost in Hardin. Lost in the salty taste of my tears on both our lips, lost in his fingers threaded through my hair. His hands move from my head to my waist and he lifts me onto the railing. My legs part for him and he moves between them, never losing contact with my mouth. We are all heat and gasps, tangled in each other. My teeth graze over his bottom lip, causing him to groan and pull me even closer.

The back door creaks open, breaking the spell. Turning to look, I am horrified as Landon’s soft eyes meet mine. His face is red, and his eyes wide. I push Hardin away from me and jump down from the rail, adjusting my dress as my feet hit the deck.

“Landon, I . . .” I begin.

He holds up his hand to silence me and steps toward us. Hardin’s breathing is so loud that I swear it echoes between the house and the trees. His cheeks are flamed, his eyes wild.

“I don’t understand. I thought you guys hated each other, and here you are . . . You have a boyfriend, Tessa, I didn’t think you were like that.” Landon’s words are harsh but his tone is soft.

“I’m not . . . I don’t know what this is.” I motion between me and Hardin. Hardin stays silent, for which I am glad. “Noah knows, well, about before. I was going to tell you, I just don’t want you to think differently of me,” I say, almost apologetically.

“I don’t know what to think . . .” Landon says and walks back toward the door.

Then, like something out of a movie, a clash of thunder rolls through the air. “It looks like it might storm,” Hardin says, his eyes scanning the darkening

sky. Despite his flushed appearance, his voice is calm.

“A storm? Landon just caught us . . . kissing,” I say, feeling the fire slowly burning out between us.

“He’ll be okay.”

I look up at him, expecting to see a smug expression, but it’s not there. He puts his hand on my back and rubs gently.

“Do you want to go back inside or do you want me to take you home?” he asks.

It’s astounding how abruptly his mood can change from angry to lustful to calm.

“I would like to go back inside and finish dinner. What do you want to do?”

“I suppose we can go back in; the food is pretty good,” he says, smiling, and I giggle. “That’s a lovely sound,” he tells me and I meet his gaze.

“You’re in a much better mood,” I say and he smiles again.

He rubs the back of his neck like he always does. “I don’t understand it, either.”

So he is just as confused as I am? I wish my feelings for him weren’t so strong; then I could deal with him much better. When he says things like this it makes me care for him that much more. I only wish he could feel the same, but I have been warned by Steph and Hardin himself that it will never happen.

Thunder rolls again and Hardin takes my hand. “Let’s go inside before it rains.”

I nod and he leads me inside. He doesn’t remove his hand from mine as we walk back into the dining room. Landon’s eyes dart down to note this, but he says nothing. As much as I don’t want Landon to see it, I love the way Hardin’s hand feels over mine. I love it too much to pull away. Landon focuses back on his plate as we retake our seats. Letting go of my hand, Hardin looks up at his father and Karen.

“I am sorry for yelling at you that way,” he mutters.

The surprise on everyone’s face is evident and Hardin looks down at the table. “I hope I didn’t ruin the dinner that you put so much effort into,” he continues.

I can’t help myself. I reach under the table and put my hand over Hardin’s, giving it a light squeeze.

“It’s okay, Hardin, we understand. Let’s not let the night be ruined; we can still enjoy the dinner.” Karen smiles and Hardin looks at her. He gives her a small smile, which I know takes a lot of effort from him. Ken doesn’t say anything, but he nods in agreement with the sentiment.

I slowly pull my hand away, but Hardin laces his fingers through mine and looks sideways at me. I hope I don’t wear the giddy expression I feel inside. For what seems like the first time in my life, I don’t overthink things, like why I am holding his hand when I’m dating Noah.

Dinner continues well, but I find myself a little intimidated by Ken now that I know he’s the chancellor. That is a huge deal. He tells us about when he moved from England, and how he loves America, and the state of Washington in particular. Hardin is still holding my hand as we both struggle to eat using one hand, but neither of us seems to mind.

“The weather could be better, but it’s beautiful here,” Ken muses, and I nod in agreement.

“What are your plans after college?” Karen asks me as everyone finishes eating.

“I’m going to move to Seattle, and hopefully work in publishing while I work on my first book,” I say with confidence.

“Publishing? Do you have any houses in mind?” Ken asks.

“Not exactly. I will take any opportunity I can get to get my foot in the door.” “That’s great. I happen to have some pretty good connections at Vance. Have

you heard of it?” he asks and I look at Hardin. He had mentioned knowing someone there before.

“Yes, I’ve heard great things about it.” I smile.

“I can make a call for you if you would like, to see about an internship. It would be a great opportunity for you. You seem like a very bright young woman, and I’d love to help out.”

I take my hand out of Hardin’s and clasp it with my other just under my chin. “Really? That would be so nice of you! I really appreciate it!” Ken tells me that he will call whoever it is that he knows on Monday, and I thank him repeatedly. He assures me it’s nothing and that he loves to help anytime he can. I put my hand back under the table, but Hardin has moved his hand away, and when Karen stands and begins to clear the table, he excuses himself and walks off upstairs.

Series Navigation<< Chapter 46 – AfterChapter 48 – After >>

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

error: Content is protected !!