Chapter 80 – After

Chapter 80 – After

By the time we both take a shower and lie back in bed it’s almost four in the morning.

“I have to be up in an hour,” I groan against his chest.

“You could sleep until seven thirty and still make it on time,” he reminds me. Rushing my morning doesn’t sound very appealing, but I do need the sleep. Thankfully, I took that nap, so I hopefully won’t be dead on my feet during my first day of actually working at Vance.

“Mmm . . .” I mumble against his skin. “I’ll fix your alarm,” he says and I drift off.

MY EYES ARE BURNING from lack of sleep as I try to curl my unruly hair. I line my watery eyes with brown eyeliner and put on my new ruby dress. The neckline is square and just low enough to accentuate my bust without being immodest. The hem ends just above my knees and the small brown belt across my waist gives the illusion that I took longer to get ready than I actually did. I consider putting on a little blush, but thanks to my night with Hardin, my cheeks are still glowing. I slip into my new shoes and check myself out in the mirror. The dress is quite flattering, and I look better than I deserve. I glance over at Hardin wrapped in the blanket on my tiny bed, his feet dangling off the edge, and I smile. I wait until the very last minute to wake him. I consider not waking him at all, but I am selfish and want to kiss him goodbye.

“I have to leave,” I say and gently shake his shoulder.

“I love you,” he mumbles and puckers his lips without opening his eyes. “Are you going to class?” I ask after I kiss him.

“Nope,” he says and rolls back over.

I place another kiss on his shoulder and grab my jacket and purse. I want to crawl back in bed with him so badly. Maybe living with him wouldn’t be so bad; we spend almost every night together anyway. I shake the thought from my head. It’s a bad idea; it’s too soon. Too soon.

Still, I spend the entire drive imagining getting an apartment with Hardin, picking out curtains and painting walls. By the time I hit the elevator at Vance, I’ve already picked out the shower curtain and bathmats, but when the elevator reaches the third floor a young man in a dark navy suit steps on and breaks my concentration.

“Hello,” he says and reaches for the elevator buttons. Seeing that the button for the top floor has already been pushed, he leans back against the wall of the elevator.

“Are you new here?” he asks. He smells like soap, and his eyes are a crispy blue, which is a strange contrast to his dark hair.

“I’m just an intern,” I tell him. “Just an intern?” He laughs.

“I mean, I am an intern, not an actual employee,” I correct myself nervously. “I started as an intern a few years ago and was hired on full-time. Do you go

to WCU?”

“Yeah, did you?”

“Yep, just graduated last year. Glad that’s over with.” He chuckles. “You’ll like it here.”

“Thanks, I already love it,” I say as we step off the elevator.

As I go to turn the corner, he says, “I never caught your name.” “Tessa, Tessa Young.”

He smiles and with a small goodbye wave says, “I’m Trevor. Nice to meet you, Tessa.”

The same woman from yesterday is at the desk and this time introduces herself as Kimberly. She smiles, wishes me good luck, and gestures toward a table full of food and coffee. I smile and thank her, grabbing a sprinkled donut and a cup of coffee before I head back to my office. On my desk I find a thick pile of paper with a note from Mr. Vance telling me to begin my first manuscript and good luck. I love the freedom of this internship—I can’t believe my luck. Digging into my donut, I pluck the note off the paper and get to work.

The manuscript is actually really good, and I can’t seem to put it down. I’m only a third of the way in when the phone on my desk rings.

“Hello?” I say, then realize I have no clue how to answer my own office phone. Wanting to sound more grown-up, I add, “I mean, Tessa Young’s office.” I bite my lip and hear a small laugh on the other end.

“Ms. Young, there is someone here to see you. Shall I send him in?” Kimberly asks.

“Tessa. Call me Tessa, please,” I tell her. It seems disrespectful to have her call me Ms. Young; she is far more experienced and older than me.

“Tessa,” she says, and I can picture her friendly smile. “Should I send him in?” she asks again.

“Oh yeah. Wait . . . who is it?”

“I’m not sure . . . young guy . . . um . . . he has tattoos, lots of tattoos,” she whispers and I laugh.

“Yeah, I will come out to get him,” I tell her and hang up.

That Hardin is here both thrills me and scares me. I hope everything is okay. When I walk out into the lobby he is standing with his hands in his pockets and Kimberly is on the phone. I get the feeling that she is only pretending to be on the phone, I can’t tell for sure. I hope that it doesn’t seem like I am taking advantage of the great opportunity Mr. Vance has given me by having visitors on my second day.

“Hey, is everything okay?” I approach him.

“Yeah, I just wanted to see how your first full day was going.” He smiles and rolls his eyebrow ring in his fingers.

“Oh. It’s great I—” I begin, but stop when Mr. Vance strides toward us.

“Well . . . well . . . well . . . Come to grovel for your job back?” He smiles wide at Hardin and pats him on the shoulder.

“You wish, you old wanker,” Hardin says, laughing, and my jaw drops. Mr. Vance chuckles and raises his fist before playfully nudging Hardin in his ribs. They must be closer than I thought.

“So what do I owe the honor? Or are you here to stalk my new intern?” He looks over at me.

“The second. Stalking interns is my favorite pastime.” I look back and forth between them, unsure what to say. I love seeing this playful side to Hardin; it doesn’t come out much.

“Do you have time to get some lunch, if you haven’t already?” Hardin asks me. My eyes dart to the clock on the wall; it’s already noon. The day has gone by quickly.

I look at Mr. Vance and he shrugs. “You have an hour each day for lunch. A girl’s got to eat!” He smiles and says goodbye to Hardin before disappearing down the hall.

“I texted you a few times to make sure you got here, but you didn’t answer,” Hardin tells me when we step onto the elevator.

“I haven’t looked at my phone, I got sucked into a story,” I tell him and I reach for his hand.

“You’re okay, right? We are okay?” he asks, his eyes locked into mine. “Yeah, why wouldn’t we be?”

“I . . . I don’t know . . . I was just getting worried because you weren’t answering me. I had thought . . . maybe you were starting to regret last night.” He looks down.

“What? Of course not. I honestly didn’t check my phone. I have no regrets from last night, not a single one.” I can’t hide my smile as the memories invade my thoughts.

“Good. Well, that’s a damn relief.” He lets out a breath.

“You drove all the way here because you thought I was having regrets?” I ask.

It’s a little extreme, but flattering all the same.

“Yeah . . . well, not completely. I also wanted to take you to lunch.” He smiles and lifts my hand to his lips.

We step off the elevator and walk outside. I should have brought my jacket. I shiver and Hardin looks over to me.

“I have a jacket in my car. We can grab it, then walk around the corner to Brio

—it’s really good.” We walk to his car and he pulls a black leather jacket out of his trunk, which makes me laugh. He must have an entire wardrobe in there. Ever since I met him he’s been pulling clothes out of that trunk.

The jacket is surprisingly warm and smells like Hardin. It engulfs me, of course, so I shake my arms to push the sleeves up.

“Thank you.” I kiss him on his jaw. “It looks good on you—perfect fit.”

He takes my hand as we walk down the sidewalk; we earn a few strange glances from the businessmen and -women on the streets. Sometimes I forget how different we appear on the outside. We are polar opposites in almost every way, but somehow it works for us.

Brio is a small but quaint Italian place. The floor is covered in beautiful multicolored tiles and the ceiling is a mural of heaven, with chubby smiling cherubs waiting outside white gates, and a pair of angels—one white and one black—locked in an embrace beyond them. The white angel seems to be trying to pull the other through the gates to the other side.

“Tess?” Hardin says and pulls me by the sleeve.

“Coming,” I mumble and we walk to the table, which is set in the back of the restaurant. Hardin sits in the chair right next to me instead of across, pulling his

chair closer and resting his elbows on the table. He orders for both of us, but I don’t mind since he’s been here before.

“So you and Mr. Vance are really close, then?” I ask.

“I wouldn’t say that. But we know each other well enough.” He shrugs. “You seemed to really get along, I like seeing you that way.”

The hint of a smile tugs at his lips and he puts his hand on my thigh. “Do you now?”

“Yes, I like to see you happy.” I feel like there is more behind his and Mr. Vance’s relationship than he is telling me, but for now I am not going to push it.

“I am happy. Happier than I thought I would be . . . ever,” he adds.

“What has gotten into you? You’re getting soft on me,” I tease and he chuckles.

“I can knock over a few tables, bloody a few noses to remind you,” he says and I push my shoulder into his.

“No, thanks.” I giggle.

Our food arrives and I thank the waitress. The food looks amazing, and I inhale the great aromas before taking a bite. Hardin ordered us some sort of ravioli, and it’s delicious.

“Good, huh?” he brags and fills his mouth with food. I nod and do the same. After we’re finished, Hardin and I bicker about who is going to pay for lunch,

but he ends up winning.

“You can pay me back later.” He winks behind the waitress’s back.

When we walk back to VP, Hardin follows me inside. “You’re coming up?” I ask him.

“Yeah, I wanted to see your office, then I will go. Promise.”

“Deal,” I tell him and we step onto the elevator. When we reach the top floor I give him his jacket back and he shrugs it on. My eyes widen at how hot he looks in the leather.

“Hey, it’s you again.” The guy in the navy suit says as we walk down the hall. “And it’s you again.” I smile.

His eyes dart to Hardin, who introduces himself.

“Nice to meet you. My name is Trevor; I work in finance.” He give a little wave, then says, “Well, see you around,” and walks away.

When we walk into my office Hardin grabs my wrist and turns me to face him. “What the hell was that?” he spits out.

Is he joking? I look down at my wrist in his hand and take that as a no. His grip isn’t tight, but it holds me in place.

“What?” “That guy?”

“What about him? I just met him this morning in the elevator.” I pull my wrist away.

“It didn’t seem like you just met; the two of you were just flirting in front of me.”

I can’t help it, but I let out a laugh that’s more like a bark. “What? You’re insane if you think that was flirting. I was being polite and so was he. Why would I flirt with him?” I try to keep my voice down. Causing a scene will not be good for me.

“Why wouldn’t you? He was nice and clean-cut, suit and all,” Hardin says.

I realize that he seems more hurt and worried than angry. My instincts tell me to cuss him out and tell him to get the hell out, but I decide to take a different approach. Just like when he was breaking things at his father’s house.

“Is that what you think? That I want someone like him, someone unlike you?” I ask in a gentle voice.

Hardin opens his eyes wide, taken aback. I know he expected me to blow up at him, but this change of pace slows him down and he contemplates what to say next. “I don’t know . . . maybe.” His eyes meet mine.

“Well, you’re wrong, as usual.” I smile. I need to talk to him about this later, but my need to make sure he knows he has nothing to worry about overpowers my need to correct him.

“I am sorry if you think I was flirting with him, but I wasn’t. I wouldn’t do that to you,” I assure him. His eyes soften and I bring my hand up to his cheek. How can one person be so strong yet so weak?

“I . . . Okay,” he says.

I laugh and caress his cheek. I love catching him off guard. “What is he, when I have you?”

His eyes flutter and he finally smiles. I am relieved that I am learning how to disengage the bomb that is Hardin. “I love you,” he says and presses his lips to mine. “I am sorry for blowing up like that.”

“I accept your apology; now let me show you my office!” I say in a cheery voice.

“I don’t deserve you,” he says quietly, too quietly. I choose to ignore it and keep my uplifting attitude.

“So what do you think?” I beam.

He chuckles and listens intently as I show him every detail, every book on the shelf and the empty picture frame on my desk.

“I was thinking I want to put a picture of us here,” I tell him.

We have never taken any pictures together, and the thought hadn’t even crossed my mind until I placed the empty frame there. Hardin doesn’t seem like

the type who would smile for a camera, even on a cell phone.

“Oh. I don’t really do pictures,” he says, confirming my thoughts.

But when he sees I’m a little embarrassed by being shut down, he strains to say, “I mean . . . I guess I could take one. Just one, though.”

“Let’s worry about that later.” I smile and he seems relieved.

“Now can we move on to how sexy you look in that dress. It’s been driving me crazy since I got here.” His voice is a full octave deeper and he takes a step toward me. My body heats immediately; his words never cease to unravel me.

“You’re lucky I didn’t open my eyes this morning. If I had . . .” He traces his fingertips along the neckline of my dress. “I wouldn’t have let you leave.”

He brings his other hand to the hem of my dress and caresses my thigh. “Hardin . . .” I warn. My voice betrays me and comes out as more of a moan. “What, babe . . . you don’t want me to do this?” He lifts me up and sits me on

the edge of my desk.

“It’s . . .” My thoughts are clouded by his lips against my neck. I dig my fingers into his hair and he nips at my skin. “We can’t . . . someone could come in . . . or something.” The words are jumbled and don’t make much sense. He puts his hands on my thighs and opens them farther.

“There is a lock on the door for a reason . . . I really want to take you right here, on this desk. Or maybe against the window.” His mouth travels lower on my chest. The idea of what he is proposing sends electricity through my body. His fingers brush over the lace on my panties and he sucks a breath through his teeth.

“You’re killing me,” he groans as he looks between my legs to see the white lace set I bought yesterday. I can’t believe I am letting this happen, on a desk in my new office on the second day of my internship. The idea thrills me as much as it terrifies me.

“Lock the—” I begin, but we are interrupted by the shrill ring of my phone. I jump straight up and scramble around the desk to grab it. “Hello? Tessa Young speaking!”

“Ms. Young. Tessa,” Kimberly corrects herself. “Mr. Vance is leaving for the day and is on his way to your office,” she says with a hint of amusement in her voice.

I flush and thank her. Clearly she can sense how irresistible Hardin is to me.

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