Chapter 68 – After

Chapter 68 – After

Eventually we stop kissing and I go to sit at the foot of the bed, and Hardin follows me, sitting up by the headboard.

“Okay, now tell me who you fought with; was it Zed?” I ask, afraid of his answer.

“No. It was just a few random guys.”

I’m relieved it wasn’t Zed, but then I register what he actually said. “Wait, a few? How many?”

“Three . . . or four. I am not really sure.” He laughs. “It’s not funny—why were you fighting, anyway?”

“I don’t know . . .” He shrugs. “I was pissed that you left with Zed and it seemed like a good idea at the time.”

“Well, it’s not a good idea, and now look how busted up you are.” I frown and he cocks his head to the side with a puzzled expression. “What?”

“Nothing . . . come here,” he says and holds his arms out to me. I move across the bed and lean back on him between his legs.

“I am sorry for the way I treated . . . well, treat you,” he says quietly into my ear.

A shiver runs through my body from his breath in my ear and his unforced apology. “It’s okay. Well, it’s not okay. But I am going to give you one more chance.”

I hope he doesn’t make me regret it. I don’t think I can handle any more hot and cold from him.

“Thank you, I know I don’t deserve it. But I am selfish enough to take it,” he says, his mouth against my hair. He wraps his arms around me, and sitting with him like this feels foreign and nostalgic at the same time.

When I stay silent he turns my shoulders slightly to have me look at him. “What’s wrong?” he asks.

“Nothing. I’m just afraid that you’ll change your mind again,” I say. I want to dive into this headfirst but am desperately afraid I will hit the bottom.

“I won’t. I have never changed my mind. I’ve just fought my feelings for you. I know you can’t trust my words alone, but I want to earn your trust. I won’t hurt you again,” he promises and leans his forehead against mine.

“Please don’t,” I beg. I don’t care how pathetic I sound.

“I love you, Tessa,” he says and my heart leaps out of my chest. The words sound perfect coming off his lips and I would do anything to be able to hear them again.

“I love you, Hardin.” This is the first time we have both openly said the words, and I fight down my urge to panic over the possibility that he could take them back again. Even if he does, I will always have the memory of how they sounded, how they made me feel.

“Say it again,” he whispers and turns me around to face him. In his eyes I see more vulnerability than I had thought possible for him. I move to my knees and take his face in my hands, rubbing my thumbs over the light stubble on his perfect face. I can tell by his expression that he needs me to say it, over and over again. I will say it as many times as I have to until he believes that he is worthy of someone loving him.

“I love you,” I repeat and cover his lips with my own. He hmms in appreciation as his tongue grazes gently over mine. Kissing Hardin feels new and different each time, and he is like a drug that I can’t get enough of. His hands press against the small of my back, bringing our chests together. My mind is telling me to take it slow, to kiss him gently and to savor each second of this gentle calm between us. But my body is telling me to grab a fistful of his hair and pull his shirt over his head. His lips travel down my jaw and attach themselves to my neck.

That does it. I can’t control myself anymore. This is us, all anger and passion and now love. An involuntary moan escapes my lips and he groans against my neck, grabbing my waist and flipping us over so he is hovering over me.

“I . . . have . . . missed you . . . so much,” he says in between sucking the skin on my neck. I can’t keep my eyes open; it feels too good. He unzips my jacket and looks down at me with hungry eyes. He doesn’t ask for my permission before tugging at the fabric, pulling my tank top up and over my head, and he

sucks in a sharp breath as I arch my back so he can unclasp my bra.

“I have missed your body . . . the way you fit perfectly in my hand,” he growls as he palms my breasts. I moan again and he presses his lower body against mine so I can feel his arousal pressed against my lower stomach. Our breathing is rapid and uncontrolled, and I have never wanted him more. It seems the admission of our feelings hasn’t lessened the overwhelming passion between us. I am glad. His hand glides down over my bare stomach and pops open the button on my jeans. As his fingers slide into my panties he gasps into my mouth. “I have missed how wet you always are for me.”

His words do wicked things to me, and I lift my hips again, begging for contact.

“What do you want, Tessa?” He breathes heavily into the crook of my neck. “You,” I answer before my mind can process what I just said. But I know it’s

true: I want Hardin in the most primal, deep way possible. His finger slides easily into me and my head falls back against the pillow as he slips in and out.

“I love to watch you, to see how good I make you feel,” he says and I moan in response. My hands fist his T-shirt at his back. He has too many clothes on, but I can’t form a coherent sentence to demand their removal. How do we go from “I hate you” to “I love you” to this? I don’t care for the answer, though—all I care about is the way he is making me feel, the way he always makes me feel. His body slides down mine and he removes his hand from my pants. I whine from the loss of contact and he smiles.

As he pulls down my jeans and panties, I gesture at his fully clothed body. “Undress,” I say, and he chuckles.

“Yes, ma’am.” He smirks and pulls his shirt over his head, revealing his inked skin. I want to run my tongue along every single line on every single tattoo. I love the way the infinity symbol above his wrist is so out of place among the flames inked below it.

“Why did you get this?” I ask, running the pad of my index finger over the mark.

“What?” He’s distracted, his eyes and hands focused on my breasts.

“This tattoo. It’s so different than the rest. So much . . . softer, and sort of feminine?”

His fingers roam across both breasts and he leans in, pressing his arousal against my leg. “Feminine, huh?” He smiles and traces his lips across mine before pulling away and cocking a brow.

I no longer have interest in his tattoo or why he got it. I just want to touch him, to feel his mouth on mine.

Before either of us can ruin the moment with more words, I grab hold of his hair and pull his face to mine. I kiss him briefly on his lips before moving to his neck. From my experience in pleasuring Hardin, I know that the spot on his neck just above his collarbone drives him crazy. I plant wet and warm kisses against there, feeling his body jerk and tense as I lift my hips to him again. The feeling of his bare body on top of mine is exquisite. All of our bare skin is already starting to shine a little with perspiration. If one small movement is made, this will be taken to another level. A level that I had never been ready to reach until now. The flexing of Hardin’s hard muscles as he slowly rubs himself against me, moaning, is too much for me to resist.

“Hardin . . .” I moan as he glides against me again.

“Yes, baby?” He stops moving. I bring my heels to his thighs and force him to move again. His eyes flutter closed. “Fuck,” he moans.

“I want to . . .” I say.

“You want to what?” His breath is hot and heavy against my clammy skin.

“I want to . . . you know . . .” I say, finding myself suddenly embarrassed despite our intimate position.

“Oh,” he says. He stops moving again and stares into my eyes. He seems to be wagering some internal battle with himself. “I . . . I don’t know if that’s a good idea . . .”

What? “Why?” I push him off me. Here we go again.

“No . . . no, baby. I just mean for tonight.” He wraps his arms around me and puts me on my side, lying next to me. I can’t look at him, I’m too humiliated.

“Listen, look at me,” he says, tilting my chin. “I want to, fuck do I want to. More than anything, trust me. I have wanted to feel you around me since I met you, but I . . . I just think after everything today and . . . I just want you to be ready. I mean all the way ready, because once we do this, it’s done. You can’t take it back.”

My humiliation eases and I look at him. I know he is right, I know I need to think about this more, but I have a hard time believing that my answer will be any different tomorrow. I should think about it when I’m not under the influence of his naked body grinding against mine. He’s worse than alcohol running through my veins.

“Don’t be upset with me, please, just think about it for a little while, and if you’re sure that’s what you want to do, I will gladly fuck you. Over and over, when and where you want. I want to—”

“Okay! Okay!” I bring my hand up to cover his mouth. He laughs against my palm and shrugs his shoulders as if to say, “Just saying.”

When I remove my hand from his mouth, he playfully bites my palm and pulls me to him. “I guess I should put some clothes on so you aren’t so tempted,” he teases and I blush.

I can’t decide which aspect of this is more surprising: the fact that I just suggested we have sex, or the fact that he actually has enough respect for me to turn me down.

“But first, let me make you feel good,” he mutters and flips me onto my back in one swift motion. His mouth ducks down between my legs, and within minutes my legs are shaking and I’m covering my mouth with my hand to keep from screaming his name for everyone to hear.

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