Chapter 71 – After

Chapter 71 – After

His fingers grip the bottom of his shirt, pulling it over his head, and he reaches behind me to turn on the shower.

“We can’t just take a shower together! We’re at your father’s house, and Landon and Dakota could be back anytime,” I say. The idea of seeing Hardin completely naked under the shower makes me squirm but this is too much.

“Well, then I’m going to take a nice hot shower while you stand there and overanalyze.” His pants drop to the floor, along with his boxers, and he steps past me and into the water. The bare skin on his back is tight, pulled against the muscles there. He faces me, his eyes moving up and down my covered body, the way mine are on his naked one. The water covers him, making his tattooed skin glisten. I don’t realize I’m staring until he closes the curtain abruptly, hiding his perfect figure.

“Don’t you just love a hot shower after a long day?” His voice is muffled somewhat by the sound of the water, but I can still catch its smugness.

“I wouldn’t know; some rude naked guy stole my shower,” I huff and hear him chuckle.

“A sexy rude naked guy?” he teases. “Just come in before the hot water goes away.”

“I . . .” I want to, but taking a shower with someone is just so intimate, too intimate.

“Come on, live a little. It’s just a shower,” he says and opens the curtain. “Please.” He reaches his hand out and my eyes scan his long, inked torso,

gleaming from the water sliding down his skin.

“Okay,” I whisper and undress while he watches every move I make. “Stop staring,” I scold him and he pretends to be wounded, placing his hand over his heart.

“Are you questioning my nobility?” He laughs and I nod slowly, trying to fight my smile. “I am insulted.”

He reaches his hand out to help, and I can’t believe I’m actually doing this, showering with someone. I try my best to cover myself with my arms as I wait for him to move from under the water.

“Is it weird that I love how you’re still shy around me?” he says, unfolding my arms, removing my shield. I stay quiet and he gently tugs my arms to bring me more under the water, which he’s blocking with his body. His head dips down, soaking my bare shoulder.

“I think it’s so appealing to me because you are so shy and innocent, yet you let me do dirty things to you.” His breath feels hotter than the water against my ear. I blink as his hands travel down my arms slowly. “And I know for a fact that you like when I say dirty things to you.”

I gulp and he smiles against my neck. “See how your pulse quickens . . . I can practically see it under your delicate skin.” He taps his index finger over the pulse point in my neck. I have no idea how I am standing; my legs have turned to mush, along with my brain.

His fingers running over my body make me stop worrying about the fact that we aren’t alone in the house; they make me want to be reckless and let Hardin do whatever he wants to me. When his long fingers wrap around my hips, I involuntarily lean into him.

“I love you, Tessa. You believe me, don’t you?” he asks.

I nod, wondering why he is asking me this right now, after we have said it so many times in the last twenty-four hours. “Yes, I believe you.” My voice is hoarse and I clear my throat.

“Good. I have never loved anyone before.” He goes from playful to seductive to serious so fast, I can barely keep up.

“Ever?” I think I already knew this, but it feels so different actually having him say the words, especially when we are like this. I thought he would have his head between my legs right now, not be expressing his feelings.

“No, never. Not even close,” he admits.

I wonder if he has ever had a girlfriend before—no, I don’t want to know if he has. He told me he doesn’t date, so I’m going to stick with that.

“Oh,” is all I can say.

“Do you love me the way you loved Noah?” he asks.

A sound between a cough and a gasp comes out of my mouth, and I look away from him. I grab the shampoo off the shelf. I haven’t even washed anything yet and we have been in here several minutes already.

“Well?” he presses.

I don’t know how to answer that. It’s totally different with Hardin than it was with Noah. I loved Noah, I think. I know I loved him, just not like this. Loving Noah was comfortable and safe; it was always calm. Loving Hardin is raw and exciting; it sparks my every nerve and I can’t get enough of him. I never want to be away from him. Even when he drove me crazy, I missed him and had to fight myself to stay away.

“I take that as a no,” he says and turns away from me, letting me have full access to the water. I feel cramped in the tiny space and the air is too thin, too clouded with steam from the hot water.

“It’s not the same.” How do I explain this to him without sounding insane? His shoulders slack. I know if he was to face me he would be frowning. My hands wrap around his waist and I press my lips against his back. “It’s not the same, but not how you’re thinking that means,” I say. “I love you in a different way. Noah was so comfortable to me he was almost like family. I felt like I was supposed to love him but I really didn’t, not in the way I love you at least. It wasn’t until I realized I loved you that I saw how different love was from what I thought it was. I don’t know if that even makes sense.” A pang of guilt hits me for saying I didn’t love Noah, but I think I knew that from the moment I kissed Hardin for the first time.

“It does.” When he turns back around, his eyes are much softer. The lust, then apprehension are gone, replaced by . . . love? Or relief . . . I can’t tell but he leans down and kisses my forehead. “I just want to be the only person you ever love; that way you are mine.”

How could he be such a jerk before and say these loving things to me now? Despite the hint of possessiveness in his tone, his words are sweet and surprisingly humble for him.

“In the ways that count, you are,” I promise him. He seems pleased with my answer as his smile returns.

“Now, can you move so I can get this dirt off me before the water goes cold?” I say and gently push him out of my way.

“I’ll do that for you.” He grabs the cloth and pours soap on it. I hold my breath the entire time he gently scrubs the dirt off my body, and shiver as he passes over the sensitive spots, his touch lingering on them.

“I would have you wash me, but I won’t be able to stop what would happen after.” He winks at me and I blush. I want to find out what would happen after,

and I would love to touch every inch of his body. But Karen has probably already finished cooking and might come looking for us soon.

I know the responsible thing to do would be to agree to leave the shower, but it’s hard to concentrate on being responsible when he’s naked in front of me. I reach for him, gripping his length in my palm, and he steps back against the shower wall. He stares at me as I pump him slowly in my hand.

“Tess,” he groans, resting his head back against the tiled wall.

I keep my hand on him, willing him to groan again. I just love the noises he makes. I glance down, admiring the way the water is spraying us, helping my hand to glide easily over him.

“You make me feel so fucking good.”

His gaze on me makes me a little nervous, but the way his teeth are pressed together and the way his eyelids flutter, it’s as if he’s trying to keep them open to urge me to pleasure him further. My thumb rubs across the head of his penis and he curses under his breath.

“I’m going to come now, already. Fuck.” His eyes close and I feel the warmth of his release mix with the hot water, and I can’t help but stare until only the water is left on my hand. Hardin leans over, out of breath, and presses a kiss to my mouth.

“Amazing,” he whispers, kissing me again.

After I am dirt-free and feeling calm, yet wound up from Hardin’s touch, I dry off quickly and put on my yoga pants and a T-shirt from my bag, then brush my hair and pull it into a bun. Hardin wraps a towel around his waist and stands behind me, watching me through the mirror. He looks so heavenly and godlike and perfect and mine.

“Those pants are going to be distracting,” he says.

“Have you always been such a pervert?” I tease and he nods.

IT ISN’T UNTIL WE WALK into the kitchen that I realize how we look, both coming down with wet hair. It is obvious that we just showered together. Hardin doesn’t seem to mind, but then, he has no manners.

“There are some sandwiches over on the counter,” Karen proclaims cheerily, pointing near where Ken sits with a stack of folders in front of him. She doesn’t seem to be surprised or mind our appearance; my mother would lose her mind if she knew what I just did. Especially with someone like Hardin.

“Thank you so much,” I tell her.

“I had a nice time today, Tessa,” Karen says, and we start discussing the greenhouse again while we each gather up a sandwich and sit down to eat.

Hardin eats in silence, glancing at me from time to time.

“Maybe we can do some more work next weekend,” I suggest, then catch myself. “Never mind, the weekend after,” I say, laughing.

“Yes, of course.”

“Uh, is there a theme or something with the wedding?” Hardin interrupts. Ken looks up from his work.

“Well, there isn’t really a theme, but we have chosen white and black for the décor,” Karen says nervously. I’m sure this is the only discussion they’ve had with Hardin about the wedding since he lost it when Ken told him about it.

“Oh. So what should I wear?” he asks casually. I want to reach over and kiss him after seeing his father’s reaction.

“You’re coming?” Ken asks, clearly surprised but very happy.

“Yeah . . . I guess.” Hardin shrugs and takes another bite of his sandwich. Karen and Ken smile at each other before Ken gets up and walks over to

Hardin. “Thank you, son, this means a lot to me.” He pats Hardin on the shoulder. Hardin stiffens but rewards his father with a small smile.

“This is great news!” Karen says and claps her hands.

“It’s nothing,” Hardin grumbles. I move to sit next to him and put my hand over his under the table. I never thought I could get him to agree to the wedding, let alone actually talk about it in front of Ken and Karen.

“I love you,” I whisper in his ear when Karen and Ken aren’t paying attention. He smiles and squeezes my hand. “I love you,” he whispers back.

“So, Hardin, how are your classes going?” Ken asks. “Good.”

“I noticed you moved your classes around again.” “Yeah, and?”

“You’re still majoring in English, right?” Ken goes on, unwittingly pressing his luck; I can see that Hardin is getting annoyed.


“That’s great! I remember when you were ten and you would recite passages from The Great Gatsby all day, every day. I knew you were a literature whiz then,” his father says.

“Do you? Do you remember that?” Hardin’s tone is harsh. I squeeze his hand, trying to signal him to calm down.

“Yeah, of course I do,” Ken says calmly.

Hardin’s nostrils flare and he rolls his eyes. “I find that hard to believe since you were constantly drunk, and, if I remember correctly, which I do, you tore that book to pieces because I bumped your scotch and spilled it. So don’t try to take a stroll down memory lane with me unless you know what the fuck you’re talking about.” He stands up as Karen and I both gasp. “Hardin!” Ken says as he leaves the room.

I scurry after him and hear Karen yelling at Ken. “You shouldn’t have gone that far with him, Ken! He just agreed to come to our wedding. I thought we agreed on baby steps! Then you go and say something like that. You should have left it alone!”

Although she sounds mad, I can tell from the breaks in her voice that Karen is really already crying.

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