Chapter 50 – After

Chapter 50 – After

I pick up the clothes Hardin brought me to wear: one of his signature black T- shirts, a pair of red-and-gray plaid pants, and some large black socks. I laugh at the idea of Hardin actually wearing those, but then I realize these are likely from the dresser of unworn clothes. I lift the shirt up and it smells like him. He has worn this one, and recently. The smell is intoxicating, minty and indescribable, but it is my newly acquired favorite scent in the entire world. I change into the clothes, finding the pants much too big but very comfortable.

I lie down on the bed and pull the blanket up to my chest, my eyes fixated on the ceiling as I relive the whole day in my mind. I feel myself drifting off to sleep, to dream of green eyes and black T-shirts.

“NO!!” Hardin’s voice jolts me awake. Am I hearing things?

“Please!” he yells again. I jump out of bed and run across the hall. My hands find the cold metal of the doorknob to Hardin’s room and, thank God, it opens.

“NO! Please . . .” he yells again. I didn’t think this through; if someone is hurting him, I have no idea what I will do. I fumble around for the lamp and switch it on. Hardin is shirtless and tangled in the thick comforter, thrashing and tossing. Without thinking, I sit on the bed and reach for his shoulder. His skin is hot, too hot.

“Hardin!” I say quietly, trying to wake him. His head snaps to the side, and he whimpers but doesn’t wake.

“Hardin, wake up!” I cry and shake him harder while my body moves to sit astride his. Both of my hands go to his shoulders once more and I shake him


His eyes fly open; terror fills them for a brief moment before confusion, then relief. Beads of sweat cover his forehead.

“Tess,” he chokes. The way he says my name breaks my heart, then heals it. Within seconds he untangles his arms and brings them to my back, pushing me forward to lie on his chest. The wetness of his chest startles me, but I stay put. I can hear his heart beating, pumping rapidly against my cheek. Poor Hardin. I put both of my hands on his sides, hugging him. He strokes my hair as he repeats my name over and over, as if I am his talisman in the dark.

“Hardin, are you okay?” My words are lower than a whisper.

“No,” he confesses. His chest is rising and falling slower than it was, but his breathing is still shallow. I don’t want to push him to discuss what terror he has just dreamed.

I don’t ask him if he wants me to stay; somehow I know he does. When I lift up to turn the lamp off his body stills.

“I was going to switch the light off, or do you want it on?” I ask him. Once he realizes my intentions he relaxes, letting me reach farther to the lamp.

“Off, please,” he begs. Once the room returns to darkness, I lay my head back on his chest. I would imagine lying this way, straddling his body would be difficult, but it is comforting to him and me both. Hearing his heart beat under the hard surface of his chest is calming, more calming than the patter of the rain on the roof. I would do anything, give anything, to be able to spend every night with Hardin, to lie this way with him, to have his arms wrapped around me and his breathing slow in my ear.

I WAKE UP to Hardin shifting below me. I am still lying on top of him, my knees astride him. I lift my head from where it rests on his chest and encounter his dazzling green eyes. In the light of day I am not sure if I am wanted the way I was last night. I can’t read his expression, which leaves my nerves to take over. I move to climb off him, since my neck feels sore from sleeping on his hard chest, and I need to stretch my legs out anyway.

“Good morning.” He gives me a dimpled smile, soothing my fear. “Good morning.”

“Where are you going?” he asks.

“My neck hurts,” I say, and he brings me to lie next to him, my back pressed against his front. He startles me by bringing his hand to my neck, causing me to jump. I recover quickly as his hand begins to rub my neck. My eyes close and I wince a little at his contact with the ache, but the pain slowly disappears as he


He speaks before me. “Thank you.”

I turn my head to look at him. “For what?” Maybe he is telling me to thank him for the neck rub?

“For . . . coming in here. For staying.” His cheeks flush and his eyes dart away from mine. He is embarrassed. Hardin embarrassed; he never ceases to amaze and confuse me.

“You don’t have to thank me. Do you want to talk about it?” I hope he does. I want to know what he dreams about.

“No,” he states plainly, and I nod. I want to push it further, but I know what will happen if I do.

“I will talk about how incredibly sexy you look wearing my shirt, though,” he coos in my ear. He nudges my head with his and brings his lips to my skin. My eyes close in response to his plump lips wrapping around my earlobe, gently tugging. I can feel him hardening against me, making me feel drowsy in an incredible way. This type of mood swing is one that I can enjoy.

“Hardin,” I chirp and he chuckles against my neck. His hands travel down my body; he brings his thumb along the waistband of the oversize plaid pajamas. My pulse begins to quicken and I gasp as his hand slides down the front of the pants. He always has the same effect on me; within seconds I feel myself pooling in my panties. His other hand cups my breast and he hisses as he flicks his thumb over my sensitive nipple, making me glad I decided not to sleep in my bra.

“I can’t get enough of you, Tess.” His raspy voice is even deeper, filled with lust. His hand cups me over my panties and he pulls me as close to him as possible. His erection presses against me. I reach down and take his hand, removing it from my pants. When I turn to face him, a frown covers his face.

“I . . . I want to do something for you,” I whisper slowly, embarrassed.

A smile overtakes the frown and he takes my chin in between his fingers, forcing me to look at him.

“What do you want to do?” he asks. I don’t know, exactly; I just know I want to make him feel as good as he does me. I want to see him lose control like I did in this same room.

“I don’t know . . . what do you want me to do?” My lack of experience is evident in my tone.

Hardin puts my hands in his and slides them down to the bulge in his pants. “I really want those plump lips wrapped around me.”

I gasp at his words, and feel the pressure in between my thighs.

“Is that something you want?” he asks, his hands moving circles over his crotch. His dark eyes regard me, gauging my reaction.

I nod and gulp, earning a smile from him. He sits up and pulls me to join him. Nervousness and want both flood my body. The loud jingle of his ringtone echoes through the room and he groans before snatching his phone off the table. His eyes meet the screen and he sighs.

“I’ll be right back,” he informs me and disappears out of the room. He returns a few minutes later and his mood has changed once more.

“Karen is making breakfast. It’s almost finished.” He pulls open the dresser and grabs a T-shirt, tossing it over his head without looking in my direction.

“Okay.” I stand up and go to the door, needing to put a bra on before I go see his family.

“See you downstairs.” His tone is emotionless.

I swallow the lump rising in my throat. Guarded Hardin is my least favorite Hardin, even less liked than angry Hardin. Who called him, and why did it make him so distant? Why can’t he just stay in a good mood?

I nod and walk across the hall, smelling bacon that causes my stomach to grumble.

I put my bra on, and pull the drawstring on the plaid pants as tight as it will go. I contemplate putting my dress back on, but I really don’t want to be uncomfortable this early in the morning. Checking the large mirror on the wall, I run my fingers through my unruly hair and wipe the sleep from my eyes.

As I close the bedroom door, Hardin opens his. Instead of looking at him, I focus on the wallpaper and walk forward down the hall. I can hear his steps behind me, and when I reach the staircase his hand wraps around my elbow, pulling me gently.

“What’s wrong?” he asks, worry clouding his features.

“Nothing, Hardin,” I snap. I am overly emotional and I haven’t even had breakfast yet.

“Tell me,” he demands, dipping his head so that his face is in full view. I give in. “Who called you?”

“No one.”

He lies. “Was it Molly?” I don’t want to know the answer.

He doesn’t say anything, but his expression gives away that I’m right. He left the room as I was about to . . . do that to him . . . to answer a phone call from Molly? I should be more surprised than I am.

“Tessa, it’s not . . .” he begins. I pull my arm from his grip and he clenches his jaw.

“Hey, guys.” Landon appears in the hall, and I smile. His hair is sticking up slightly and he wears plaid pants similar to mine. He looks adorable and sleepy. I pass Hardin and move toward Landon. I refuse to let Hardin know how

embarrassed and hurt I am by him answering Molly’s call while we were together like that.

“How did you sleep last night?” Landon asks and I follow him down the stairs, leaving a frustrated Hardin to himself.

Karen has gone all out on breakfast, like I could have predicted she would. Hardin joins us at the table a few minutes later, but I’ve already piled eggs, bacon, toast, a waffle, and a few grapes on my plate.

“Thank you so much for making this breakfast for us,” I tell Karen on mine and Hardin’s behalf; I know he won’t be bothered with thanking her.

“It’s my pleasure, dear—how did you sleep? I hope the storm didn’t keep you awake.” She smiles.

Hardin tenses beside me, probably worried I will mention his nightmare. He should know by now I would never do that, so his lack of trust only bothers me more.

“I slept great, actually. I sure didn’t miss my bed in my dorm!” I laugh and everyone joins me, everyone except Hardin, of course. He takes a drink of his orange juice and keeps his eyes focused on the wall. Mindless breakfast chatter fills the dining room as Ken and Landon banter about some football game.

AFTER BREAKFAST, I help Karen clean up the kitchen once more. Hardin hovers in the doorway, not offering to help but just watching me.

“If you don’t mind me asking, is that a greenhouse in the backyard?” I ask Karen.

“Why yes, it is. I haven’t done much with it this year, but I absolutely love gardening. You should have seen it last summer,” she says. “Do you like to garden?”

“Oh, yes, my mother has a greenhouse out back as well and it was where I spent most of my free time as a child.”

“Really? Well, maybe if you two come around more often, we could make something out of mine,” she says. She is so kind, and loving. Everything I wish I had in a mother.

I smile. “That would be lovely.”

Hardin disappears momentarily, and when he returns he clears his throat loudly. We both turn to look at him.

“We should get going soon,” he says and I frown. He has my clothes and purse in his hands, holding out my Toms. It’s a little weird he doesn’t give me a moment to change out of the pajamas, and a little discomforting that he went through my things, but I overlook it. We say our goodbyes and I hug Karen and

Ken while Hardin waits impatiently by the door.

I promise them that we will return soon, and hope that it will come true. I knew my time here would end, but it has been such a nice departure from my normal life, no lists, no alarms, no obligations. I am not ready for it to end.

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