Chapter 94 – After

Chapter 94 – After

Where’s Landon?” I ask Hardin when we take our seats.

He takes a bite of a croissant. “I don’t know.” “Um, you said he was looking for me?”

“He was, but I don’t know where he is now.”

“Hardin, you shouldn’t talk with your mouth full.” His grandmother appears behind him.

I notice him take a deep breath before he turns to her. “Sorry,” he mumbles.

“I wanted to see you before I go—God knows when I will see you again. Can you save a dance for your gammy?” she asks oh so adorably, but he shakes his head. “Why not?” she asks him with a smile.

I realize now that it wasn’t just shock that had Hardin rattled before. There’s a tension between them that I can’t quite put my finger on.

“I am on my way to get Tessa a drink,” he lies and leaves the table.

His grandmother laughs uncomfortably. “Well, he’s something, isn’t he?” I am not sure what to say; my first instinct is to defend him, but it seems she is joking.

She turns to me sharply. “Is he still drinking?”

“What? N-no,” I stutter, completely caught off guard. “Well, he only drinks every once in a while,” I clarify as I see him walking toward us with two flutes full of pink liquid.

He hands me one and I smile and lift it to my lips. It smells sweet when I tip the glass back to take a drink, and the bubbles spritz lightly, tickling my nose. It tastes just as sweet as it smells.

“Champagne,” he informs me and I thank him.

“Tessa!” Karen practically shouts right before she wraps her arms around me. She has changed out of her wedding dress and into a white knee-length wrap dress, not that she looks any less stunning. “I am so thrilled that you two came! How was it?” she asks. Karen is the only person who would ask how her own wedding was; she is too kind.

“It was so lovely; it was beautiful.” I smile.

Hardin puts his hand on the small of my back and I lean into him. I can sense how uncomfortable he is between his grandmother and Karen, and now Ken is making his way over to us.

“Thank you for coming,” Ken says to Hardin and holds out his hand to shake.

Hardin obliges and quickly shakes his father’s hand. I notice Ken start to lift his arm up to hug Hardin, but he lowers it before following through. Still, Ken’s face is full of excitement and joy.

“Tessa, you look beautiful, dear.” He hugs me and then eagerly asks, “Are you enjoying yourselves?”

I can’t help but feel a little awkward around him now that I have a deeper insight into who he was all those years ago.“Yeah. It’s a nice setup you’ve got out here.” Hardin does his best to praise his father. I put my hand on his back and rub small circles to ease him.

Hardin’s grandmother coughs and looks at his father. “I didn’t know that you two were speaking.”

Ken rubs the back of his neck, a habit that I suspect Hardin got from him. “Yeah. Let’s talk about this another time, Mother,” Ken says and she nods in


I take another drink out of my glass and try not to dwell on the fact that I am drinking underage in front of adults. In front of the chancellor of my school.

A waiter in a black vest walks by with a tray of champagne, and when Ken grabs a flute I cringe. But he hands the glass to his new bride and I relax, extremely glad to see that he isn’t drinking.

“Want another?” Hardin asks me and I look at Karen. “Go ahead, it’s a wedding,” she tells me and I smile. “Sure,” I say and Hardin leaves to get me another glass.

We talk about the wedding and the flowers for a minute, and when Hardin comes back with only one flute, Karen gets concerned and asks him, “You don’t like the champagne?”

“Oh yeah, it’s good, but I already had a glass and I’m driving,” he replies, and Karen looks at him with adoration clear in her brown eyes.

She turns to me. “Do you have time to come by this week? I ordered some

seeds for the greenhouse.”

“Yes, of course. I am free anytime after four all week,” I say.

The pleased yet astonished look on Gammy’s face is obvious as she looks back and forth between Karen and me. “So how long have you two been seeing one another?” she asks Hardin and me.

“A few months,” Hardin tells her quietly.

Sometimes I forget that no one outside of our—well, Hardin’s—group of friends knows that we despised each other up until two months ago.

“Oh, so no great-grandchildren for me anytime soon?” She laughs and Hardin’s face flushes.

“No, no. We’ve only just moved in together,” Hardin says, and Karen and I both spit champagne back into our glasses at the same time.

“You two moved in together?” Ken asks.

I had not expected Hardin to tell them today. Heck, I hadn’t even been sure he would tell them at all, given how he is. I am shocked and a little embarrassed at my reaction, but mostly pleased that he has no problem admitting it.

“Yeah, we moved into Artisan a few days ago,” he explains.

“Wow, that’s a nice place, and closer to Tessa’s internship,” Ken remarks. “Yeah,” Hardin says, clearly trying to measure how everyone feels about our


“Well, I am very happy for you, son.” He places his hand on his son’s shoulder and I watch with a neutral expression. “I never imagined you would be this happy and so . . . at peace.”

“Thank you,” Hardin says and actually smiles.

“Maybe we could come by sometime and see it?” Ken asks, and Karen’s eyes lower.

“Ken . . .” she warns, clearly remembering the time Ken pushed Hardin too far, as am I.

“Uh, yeah, I guess you could,” Hardin says, surprising us all.

“Really?” Ken asks and Hardin nods. “Okay, just let us know when is good for the two of you.” His eyes are slightly glossy.

Music begins to play through the tent and Karen grabs Ken’s arm. “That’s our cue—thank you both so much for coming,” she says and leans in to kiss my cheek.

“You have done so much for this family, you have no idea,” she whispers in my ear before pulling away, tears shining in her eyes.

“Time for the bride and groom’s first dance!” a voice announces through the speakers. Hardin’s grandmother walks away as well, following the crowd to watch.

“You just made their day,” I tell Hardin and kiss his cheek. “Let’s go upstairs,” he says.

“What?” My head is a little fuzzy from the two glasses of champagne I just finished.

“Upstairs,” he repeats, sending that familiar electricity through me. “Now?” I laugh.


“But all these people . . .”

He doesn’t respond; instead he takes my hand and leads me through the crowd and out of the tent. When we get inside the house, he grabs me another glass of champagne, and I try not to let it spill as I rush up the stairs to keep up with him.

“Is something wrong?” I ask him as he shuts the bedroom door and locks it. “I need you,” he says darkly and pulls his jacket off.

“Are you okay, though?” I ask, my heart already beating out of my chest. “Yes, I just need a distraction,” he groans and steps toward me, grabbing the

glass and setting it on the dresser. He takes another step, encircling my wrists in his hands and then lifting them over my head.

I will gladly be his distraction from the overload of everything downstairs— seeing his grandmother for the first time in years, watching his father get remarried, agreeing to let them come to our apartment. That is a lot for Hardin in such a short period of time.

Instead of asking him any questions or pushing him further, I grab him by the collar of his shirt and push my hips out to meet his. He’s already hard. Groaning, he lets go of my wrists, allowing me to comb my fingers through his hair. When his mouth moves over mine, his tongue is hot and sweet with the lingering taste of champagne. Within seconds he is reaching into his pocket and pulling out a foil packet.

“We’ve got to get you on birth control so I can stop using these. I want to really be able to feel you.” His voice is husky and he pulls my lower lip between his, sucking lightly and seductively, making my body crave him even more.

I hear him unzip and he hisses as my hands reach down and push his pants and boxers down to his knees. Hardin’s hands go up the front of my dress and he hooks his long fingers around my panties and pulls them down. I clumsily step out of them, using his arms to steady myself. He chuckles lightly before connecting his lips with my neck. His hands squeeze my hips before he lifts me up and I whimper a little, wrapping my legs around his waist.

My hands grip the top of my dress in an attempt to pull it down, but he pleads into my neck, “No, leave it on. This dress is so incredibly sexy . . . it’s so sexy, yet white and virginal looking . . . and fuck . . . it’s so hot. You’re so beautiful.”

He lifts me up farther, then lowers me onto him. My back is against the smooth door and Hardin begins guiding me up and down. There is a fever and a desperation in him that I have not seen at this level before, and I feel as though I am ice and he is fire. We are so completely different, yet the same.

“Is . . . this . . . okay?” he stutters, his arms wrapped around my back to keep me steady.

“Yes,” I moan. The feeling of him taking me this way, against the door, my legs around his waist, is very intense but heavenly all the same.

“Kiss me,” he begs.

I slide my tongue across his lips before his mouth parts, allowing me access. Tugging at his hair, I do my best to kiss him as he moves in and out of me faster and faster. Our bodies are moving vigorously, but our kiss remains slow and intimate.

“I can’t get enough of you, Tess, I . . . fuck. I love you,” he says into my mouth and I gasp and moan, that feeling growing in the pit of my stomach.

A few grunts escape his lips and I cry out, both of us reaching our climaxes. “Let go, baby,” he instructs, and I do just that. He leaves his lips pressed against mine, swallowing my moans as he tenses and spills into the condom.

With a few heavy breaths his head falls onto my chest and he continues to hold me in place for a few seconds before lifting me and then lowering me to stand on my own feet.

I tilt my head back against the door and catch my breath as he neatly puts the condom back into the wrapper and puts it into his pocket before pulling his pants back up.

“Remind me to throw that away as soon as we get downstairs.” He laughs and I giggle. “Thank you,” he says and kisses my cheek. “Not for what we just did, but for everything.”

“You never need to thank me, Hardin. You do as much for me as I do for you.” I look into his bright green eyes. “Actually, more.”

“No way.” He shakes his head gently and takes my hand. “Let’s go back down before someone comes looking for us.”

“How do I look?” I ask, running my fingers through my hair and wiping under my eyes.

“Freshly fucked,” he teases and I roll my eyes. “You look beautiful.” “So do you,” I tell him.

ALMOST EVERYONE IN THE TENT is dancing by the time we return, and it seems that our absence has gone unnoticed. As we take our seats another song

begins. I recognize it: “Never Let Me Go,” by Florence and the Machine.

“Do you want to dance?” I ask Hardin, even though I am sure I already know his answer.

“No, I don’t dance,” he says and looks over at me. “Unless . . . you want to?” he adds.

I am surprised by his offer and thrilled that he would dance with me. He holds his hand out for mine, but really I’m the one who leads us onto the checkered dance floor, moving quickly in case he changes his mind. We stay in the back, a good distance from the crowd.

“I don’t have a clue what to do.” He laughs.

“I’ll show you,” I assure him and place his hands on my hips. He steps on my feet a few times, but he catches on quickly. Never in a million years would I have even entertained the thought that Hardin would be dancing at his father’s wedding.

“Sort of a demented song to play at a wedding, isn’t it?” He laughs into my ear.

“Not really; it’s sort of perfect,” I say and lean my head on his chest.

I am aware that we aren’t actually dancing as much as we are just swaying back and forth holding each other, but that’s fine with me. We stay that way for the next two songs, which end up being two of my favorites. “You Found Me” by the Fray makes Hardin laugh as he holds me close to him. The next, a pop song by a boy band, plays, making me smile and him roll his eyes. During both, Hardin gives me some background on his grandmother. She still lives in England, but he hasn’t seen or spoken to her since she phoned him on his twelfth birthday. She took his father’s side during the divorce and defended his drinking, essentially blaming Hardin’s mother for everything, which was enough for Hardin to not want to speak to her again. He seems very comfortable sharing this information with me, so I stay quiet, only nodding and humming in acknowledgment of his remarks.

Hardin makes a few jokes about how annoying and whiny all the songs being played are, and I laugh at him.

“You want to go back upstairs?” he jokes and lowers his hand on my back. “Maybe.”

“I’ll have to give you champagne more often.” I move his hands back up to my waist and he pouts, which makes me laugh even more. “I’m actually having a pretty decent time,” he admits.

“Me, too. Thank you for coming with me.” “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

I know he doesn’t mean the wedding but just with me in general. The thought

sends warmth through me.

“May I cut in?” Ken asks as the next song begins.

Hardin frowns and looks at me, then back to his father. “Yeah, but only one song,” he grumbles.

Ken laughs and repeats his son’s words: “One song.” Hardin lets go of me, and Ken’s hand goes around my back. I swallow down the uneasy feelings I hold for him. He keeps the conversation light as we dance and my ill feelings are further muted as we laugh at an obviously drunk couple swaying back and forth next to us.

“Would you look at that?” Ken then says, his voice full of wonder.

I turn to see what he’s referring to and hear my own small gasp as I spot Hardin awkwardly swaying back and forth with Karen. She laughs as he steps on her white shoes, and he smiles an embarrassed smile. Tonight has been better than I could have dreamed.

After the song ends, Hardin quickly finds his way back to me, and Karen follows. We tell the happy bride and groom that we’re going to go, and we all exchange hugs once again, Hardin’s being maybe incrementally less stiff than earlier. Someone calls Ken’s name and he nods at them. He and Karen say their final goodbyes and thank us once again for coming to the wedding before disappearing into the crowd.

“Oh, my feet are killing me,” I say. This is the longest I have worn heels in my entire life and I am going to need a week to recover.

“Would you like me to carry you?” he says in a mocking, babylike voice. “No.” I giggle.

As we are leaving the tent, Trevor walks by with Mr. Vance and Kimberly. Her smile is bright and she winks at me after looking Hardin up and down. I try to stifle my laugh and end up coughing.

“Did you save me a dance?” Mr. Vance teases Hardin. “No, absolutely not.” Hardin laughs back at him. “You’re leaving so soon?” Trevor looks at me.

“We have been here for a while, actually,” Hardin answers for me and pulls me away from them. “Nice to see you, Vance,” he calls over his shoulder as we walk out of the tent.

“That was rude.” I scold him when we get to his car.

“He was flirting with you. I am entitled to be as rude as I please.” “Trevor wasn’t flirting; he was just being nice.”

Hardin rolls his eyes. “He wants you, I can tell. Don’t be so naïve.”

“Just be nice to him, please. I work with him and I don’t want any problems,” I say calmly. Tonight has been too good a night to ruin over his jealousy.

Hardin smirks evilly. “I could always just have Vance fire him.”

I can’t help but laugh at his cocky response. “You’re insane,” I snort. “Only when it comes to you,” he says and pulls onto the street.

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