Chapter 48 – After

Chapter 48 – After

Karen smiled appreciatively when I offered to help with the cleanup, and seemed a little surprised I would. I load the dishwasher while she washes the large serving plates. I realize the plates all look really new, and remember how much damage Hardin caused that night. He can be so cruel.

“If you don’t mind me asking, how long have you and Hardin been seeing each other?” She blushes at her own question, but I give her a warm smile.

Figuring it best just to dodge the dating question, I say, “Well, we have only known each other about a month; he is friends with my roommate, Steph.”

“We have only met a few of Hardin’s friends. You are . . . well, you are different from the ones that I have come across.”

“Yeah, we’re very different.”

Lightning flashes and the rain begins to pound against the windows. “Wow, it’s really coming down out there,” she says and pushes the small window in front of the sink closed.

“Hardin isn’t as bad as he seems,” she tells me, though really it feels sort of like she’s reminding herself. “He’s just hurt. I would love to believe that he won’t always be this way. I must say I was very surprised that he came tonight, and I can only believe that’s your influence on him.”

Taking me by surprise, she wraps her arms around me and pulls me into a hug. Unsure what to say, I hug her back. She pulls away but keeps her well- manicured hands on my shoulders.

“Really, thank you,” she says, then blots her eyes with a tissue from her apron

before returning to the dishes.

She is too kind for me to tell her that I don’t have any influence on Hardin. He came tonight only because he wanted to annoy me. After I finish loading the dishwasher, I stare out the window watching the raindrops trickle down the glass. It is remarkable that Hardin, who hates everyone except himself, and maybe his mother, has all these people who care about him yet refuses to let himself care for them. He is lucky to have them, us. I know I am one of those people. I would do anything for Hardin; even though I would deny it, I know it to be true. I have no one, except Noah and my mother, and both of them together don’t care about me the way Hardin’s soon-to-be stepmother does him.

“I’m going to go check on Ken. Make yourself at home, dear,” Karen says to me. I nod and decide to go find Hardin, or Landon, whichever one of them appears first.

Landon is nowhere to be found downstairs, so I make my way up to Hardin’s room. If he’s not up here, I figure, I’ll just go sit downstairs alone. I turn the handle, but the door is locked.

“Hardin?” I try to speak quietly so no one hears me. I tap my knuckles against the door but hear nothing. Just as I start to turn away, the door clicks and he opens it.

“Can I come in?” I ask him and he nods once and pulls the door open just enough for me. There is a breeze in the room and I can smell the cool scent of the rain coming through the bay window. He walks over and sits down on the built-in bench surrounding the window and raises his knees up. He stares out the window but doesn’t say a word to me. I sit across from him and wait as the constant drumming of the rain creates a calming rhythm.

“What happened?” I finally ask. When he looks at me with a confused expression, I explain: “I mean downstairs. You were holding my hand and then . . . why did you pull away?” I am embarrassed by the desperation in my voice. I sound too needy, but the words have already been delivered.

“Was it the internship—do you not want me to take it for some reason? You offered to help me before?”

“That’s just it, Tessa,” he says, and looks out the window again. “I want to be the one to help you, not him.”

“Why? It’s not a competition, and you were the one who offered first, so thank you.” I want to ease his mind on this, even though I don’t understand why it matters.

He lets out an exasperated sigh and hugs his knees. Silence hangs between us as we both stare out the window. The wind has picked up, swaying the trees back and forth, and the lightning is more frequent now.

“Do you want me to leave now? I can call Steph and see if Tristan can pick me up,” I whisper. I don’t want to leave but sitting in silence with Hardin is driving me insane.

Leave? How do you get that I want you to leave from me saying I want to help you?” He raises his voice.

“I-I don’t know. You aren’t speaking to me and the storm is getting worse . . .” I stutter.

“You are maddening, absolutely maddening, Theresa.” “How?” I squeak.

“I try to tell you that I . . . that I want to help you and I hold your hand but that doesn’t do anything . . . you still don’t get it. I don’t know what else to do.” He puts his face in his hands. He can’t possibly mean what I think he does?

“Get what? I don’t get what, Hardin?”

“That I want you. More than I have ever wanted anyone or anything in my entire life.” He looks away from me.

My stomach flips over and over and my head starts to spin. The air between us has once again shifted. Hardin’s unguarded admission hits me hard. Because I want him, too. More than anything.

“I know you don’t . . . you don’t feel that way, but I . . .” he begins and this time I am the one to cut him off.

I move his hands off his knees and pull them, bringing him to me. He hovers over me, uncertainty clear in his green eyes. I hook my finger into the collar of his shirt and pull him down to me. Eye to eye. He rests his knee beside my thighs on the bench and I look up at him again. He takes a few breaths, his eyes shifting from my lips back to my eyes. His tongue swipes over his lower lip and I inch closer. I expected him to kiss me by now.

“Kiss me,” I beg.

And he moves his head closer, leaning into me. He snakes his arm around my back and guides me down so my back is lying flat on the cushioned bench. I open my legs for him, for the second time today, and he lays his body between them. His face is inches away from mine when I lift my head up to kiss him. I can’t wait any longer. As our lips brush, he gently pulls away, nuzzles his head in my neck, planting a small kiss there, then slowly brings his lips back up. He kisses the corner of my mouth, then my jaw, sending shivers of pleasure through me. His lips brush over mine once more and he runs his tongue over my bottom lip before closing his lips around mine and opening them again. The kiss is gentle and slow, as he laps his tongue around mine. One of his hands rests on my hip, fisted around the material of my dress where it has bunched up at my thighs. The other hand caresses my cheek as he kisses me; my arms wrap around his

back, hugging him tightly to me. Every fiber of me wants to bite his lip, to pull his shirt over his head, but the soft and gentle way he is kissing me feels even better than the usual burn of fire.

Hardin’s lips mold to mine, and my hands travel up his back. His narrow hips grind down on mine, and a whimper escapes my lips. He swallows my gasps as his lips trace mine, movement for movement.

“Oh, Tessa, the things you do to me . . . the way you make me feel,” he whispers into my mouth. His words unravel me and I reach for the hem of his shirt. His hand travels down from my cheek, to my chest, and down my stomach, where goose bumps are forming on my skin. His hand moves to the small space between our bodies where my legs are parted, and I gasp as he rubs gently over the lace of my tights. He applies a little more pressure and I groan and arch my back off the bench.

No matter how angry or upset he makes me, one touch from him and I am under his control. But his calm and control seem to be faltering; he is trying to hold on to them, but I can see his resolve crumbling. He brushes his nose against my cheek as I pull his shirt up and over his head. It strains to get over his hair, but he reaches one hand up and tugs it as he lifts off me. He tosses the shirt and immediately dips his head back down and finds my lips once more. I grab his hand and move it back between my thighs; a small chuckle vibrates through him and he looks down at me.

“What do you want to do, Tessa?” His voice is hoarse.

“Anything,” I tell him and mean it. I will do anything with him, and I don’t care about the consequences that might come tomorrow. He said he wants me, and I am his to take. I have been since I kissed him that first time.

“Don’t say anything, because there are a lot of things I can do to you,” he groans and pushes his thumb against my tights and panties. My imagination runs wild with ideas.

“You decide,” I moan as he moves his thumb in a circle.

“You’re so wet for me I can feel you through the tights.” He licks his lips and I moan again. “Let’s get these tights off, okay?” he asks, but before I answer he moves off me. His hands slide up my dress and grab the tights, pulling them down, along with my panties at the same time. The cool air hits me and I buck my hips involuntarily.

“Fuck,” he mutters as his eyes rake my body and stop between my legs. Unable to stop himself, he reaches down and slides his finger down my spot. Then he brings his finger to his lips and he sucks on it with hooded eyes. Oh. Watching him sends heat through my whole body.

“Remember when I said I wanted to taste you?” he asks, and I nod. “Well, I

want to now. Okay?” His expression is eager. I am a little embarrassed by the idea, but if it feels as good as him rubbing me at the stream, I want him to. He licks his lips again and bores his eyes into mine. The last time I was going to let him do this, we ended up fighting because he was being cruel. I hope he doesn’t ruin it again.

“Do you want me to?” he asks, and I groan. “Please, Hardin, don’t make me say it,” I beg.

He brings his hand back down to me and runs his fingers along my hips in wide circles. “I won’t,” he promises. I am relieved. I nod my head and he lets out a breath.

“We should move to the bed so you have more room,” he suggests and reaches for my hand. I pull my dress down once I stand up and he smirks at me. He walks to the side of the bay window and pulls a string, setting free thick blue curtains, making the room much darker.

“Take it off,” he demands quietly and I do as I am told. The dress pools at my feet and I am left in just my bra. My bra is plain white, with a small bow on the dip between the cups. His eyes go wide and loiter on my chest, and he reaches out and takes the small bow between his long fingers.

“Cute.” He smiles and I cringe. I need to invest in some new underthings if Hardin is going to keep seeing me in them. I try to cover my naked body from him. I am more comfortable with Hardin than I have ever been with anyone, but I am still shy standing here clad in only a bra. I glance toward the door and he pads over to make sure it’s locked.

“Are you smirking at me?” I scold and he shakes his head.

“Never.” He chuckles and leads me to the bed. “Lie down at the edge of the bed, with your feet on the ground so I can kneel in front of you,” he instructs.

I lay back on the large bed and he slides me down by my thighs. My feet dangle but don’t reach the floor.

“I never realized how tall the bed is,” he says and laughs. “So maybe lie toward the top.” I scoot toward the top of the bed and Hardin follows behind. He hooks his arms around my thighs and bends his knees slightly so he is crouched in front of me, between my legs. The anticipation of how this will feel is driving me wild. I wish I had more experience so I would know what to expect.

Hardin’s curls tickle my thighs as he lowers his head.

“I’m going to make you feel so good,” he mutters against my stomach. My pulse is thrumming through my ears, and I temporarily forget we’re in the house with other people.

“Spread your legs, baby,” he whispers and I oblige. He gives me a dazed smile and brings his mouth down and kisses just under my belly button. His tongue

swirls around my creamy skin and my eyes flutter closed. He nips at the soft skin covering my hip and I yelp in surprise. He sucks the skin between his lips. It stings, but there is something so sensual about it that I don’t mind the pain.

“Hardin, please,” I breathe. I need some sort of relief from his slow, teasing torture.

Then, without warning his tongue presses flat against my center, making me cry out in pleasure. He makes small strokes with his tongue, and my hands grip the comforter on the bed. I wriggle underneath his skillful tongue and he wraps his arms tighter, holding me in place. I feel Hardin’s finger rubbing along with his tongue’s caresses and the burn begins to build in my stomach. I feel the cool metal of his lip ring, which adds a different texture and temperature to the sensation.

Without my permission, Hardin slowly slides a finger inside me, gently easing it in. I clench my eyes closed, waiting for the uncomfortable sting to go away.

“Are you okay?” He lifts his head up slightly, his plump lips glistening from me. I nod, unable to find the words, and he withdraws his finger slowly and slides it back in. It feels incredible in combination with his tongue. I groan and move a hand to his soft hair, threading my fingers through and tugging. His finger keeps entering me and drawing out slowly. Thunder booms throughout the house, echoing off the walls and all around, but I am too distracted to care.

“Hardin,” I moan as his tongue finds that overly sensitive spot and he gently sucks. I never knew that anything could feel this way, this good. My body is overtaken by sensation and pleasure, and I sneak a peak down at Hardin, who looks incredibly sexy between my legs, the hard muscles under his skin contracting as he pumps his finger in and out.

“Should I make you come this way?” he asks. I whimper at the loss of his tongue and nod frantically. He smirks and touches his tongue to me again, this time in flicking motions against that spot that I have come to love, literally.

“Oh, Hardin,” I breathe and he groans against me, sending the vibrations straight through my center. My legs stiffen, and I mutter his name repeatedly while I come undone. My vision blurs and I screw my eyes shut. Hardin holds me and flicks his tongue faster. I take one hand from his hair and cover my mouth with it, biting down to ensure I won’t scream. Seconds later, my head hits the pillow and my chest is heaving up and down as I try to catch my breath. My body is still tingling from the euphoric state I was just in.

I am barely aware of Hardin’s body moving up on the bed and lying next to me. He props himself on his elbow and brings his thumb up to caress my cheek. He lets me come back to reality before trying to make me speak.

“How was that?” he asks, his voice holding a hint of uncertainty as I roll my

head to look at him.

“Mmm-hmm.” I nod and he chuckles. It was incredible, beyond incredible.

Now I know why everyone does this type of stuff.

“That sedated, huh?” he teases. The pad of his thumb brushes my lower lip. I bring my tongue out to wet my lips, and it touches Hardin’s thumb.

“Thank you.” I smile shyly. I don’t know why I feel shy after what we just did, but I do. Hardin has seen me in my most vulnerable state, a state that no one else has, and that terrifies me as much as it excites me.

“I should have warned you before using my fingers. I tried to be gentle,” he says in apology.

I shake my head. “It’s okay, it felt good.” I blush.

He smiles and tucks my hair behind my ear. A small shiver runs down my spine, and Hardin’s brows lower. “Are you cold?” he asks and I nod. He surprises me by pulling the side of the comforter over and covering my almost naked body.

Bravery brings me to scoot closer to him. His eyes regard me carefully as I curl my body and lay my head against the hard surface of his stomach. His skin is colder than I expected, though the breeze is still floating through the room from the storm. I pull the sheets up and cover his chest, hiding my head underneath. He lifts them up, revealing my face, and I duck away from him, laughing lightly at our little game of hide-and-seek.

I wish I could just lay here with him for hours, feeling his heartbeat against my cheek. “How much longer until we have to go back downstairs?” I ask.

He shrugs. “We should probably go down now before they think we are fucking up here,” he jokes and we both laugh a little. I’m getting more and more used to his foul mouth, but it’s still a little shocking to hear him say those words so casually. The thing that shocks me the most is the way my skin tingles when he says them.

I groan and climb out of bed. I feel Hardin’s eyes on me as I bend down to retrieve my clothes. I toss him his shirt and he pulls it over his head, then ruffles his messy hair. I step into my panties and shimmy them on under his gaze. The tights are next and I almost trip over them as I step into them.

“Stop watching me; it’s making me nervous,” I tell him, and he smiles, his dimples as prominent as ever.

His hands slide into his pocket and he looks up at the ceiling. I giggle and finally get the tights up.

“Can you zip my dress once I get it on?” I ask him. His eyes scan my body and I can see his pupils dilate from three feet away. I glance down and I see why. My breasts are spilling out of my bra and the lace tights hang just above my

hips; I suddenly feel like a pinup girl.

“Y-yeah. I. Will help,” he says, gulping. It is astounding that someone as handsome—well, as sexy—as Hardin would be as affected by me as he is. I know I’m considered attractive, but I am nothing like the girls he usually messes with. I have no tattoos, no piercings, and I dress conservatively.

I put the dress on and turn away from him, exposing my back to him, waiting for him to zip it up. I lift my hair up and hold it above my head. His finger grazes along my spine, skipping over my bra strap before he zips the dress. I shiver and lean back against him. I purposely push my behind against him and hear him suck in a breath. His hands move down to my hips and he squeezes gently. I feel him hardening against me, sending electricity through me for what feels like the hundredth time today.

“Hardin?” Karen’s voice calls from the hall as a delicate tapping hits the door, and I become extremely thankful we’re both dressed.

Hardin rolls his eyes and brings his lips to my ear. “Later,” he promises and walks to the door. He switches on the light before opening it, revealing Karen.

“I am so sorry for intruding, but I made some desserts as well, and thought maybe you two would like some?” she offers sweetly. Hardin doesn’t answer her but he looks back at me, waiting for my reply.

“Yes, that would be lovely,” I say with a smile and she grins back. “Great! I will see you downstairs,” she tells us and turns to walk away.

“I’ve already had my dessert,” Hardin says mischievously, and I swat his arm.

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