Page 28 of Before (After 5)

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I bring her mouth to mine, and she continues to rock against me. I know she can feel how hard I am, how badly I want her.

“Hardin . . . stop,” she moans, her tongue still running gently over mine. “Hardin!” she repeats. I pull back and look at her. Her lips are swollen, sinfully pink, and her eyes are wild.

“We can’t,” she says. Her fingers leave my skin, and the dull burn turns to ice.

I knew it wouldn’t last; it was just a . . . a heat-of-the-moment type thing. It was a moment I wanted to keep going, but everything must end, in the end. I pull myself up onto my elbows, and she rolls off of me, to the other side of the bed.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Her voice is low, raspy, and she sure as hell doesn’t sound sorry by the heavy breaths falling from her lips and the way her eyes can’t seem to look away from my mouth.

Looking at her, I think about this book I read where the women in the town vow to stop saying sorry in their everyday lives. It was quite interesting the way they realized 90 percent of the sorrys they were giving were for things they weren’t responsible for. If Tessa lived in that town, she would fit right in.

“Sorry for what?” I say as calmly as possible, and stand up to dig through the messy drawer full of black T-shirts. As I pull one on, I see her looking at me, down to my boxers. And she blushes.

“For kissing you . . .”

Why would she apologize for kissing me? If she doesn’t want to do anything with me, I don’t want her to, but I didn’t give her any signals that I didn’t want the same thing.

“It was just a kiss—I kiss people all the time.” I purposely keep my voice neutral, since I don’t want to make her feel worse. She already regrets this and is ready to run for the hills any second. I know it, and if she does, I have to chase her. I can’t strike out this early in the game when I’ve already made progress. I’ve had her hands on me, I’ve tasted her tongue. I’ve already had her panting, wanting more. I have the upper hand over Zed now, and I can’t let that slip. She’s going to make a way bigger deal out of this than need be. If I comfort her now, she’s much more likely to trust me, and that trust will lead to me having another chance to get even further next time.

She stares at the floor. Again. She’s already so full of regret that she can’t even look at me? I don’t like how this feels.

She can’t regret it already; if she doesn’t get past this, I’m fucked and Zed is going to win.

“Can we not make a big deal of it, then?” Tessa asks.

“Trust me, I don’t want anyone to know about this either. Now stop talking about it.”

She winces at my words, and I wish I could take them back. I’m terrible at this shit.

“So you’re back to your old self, I see?” Her eyes are sharpening now, preparing for a battle. I want to snap at her, but I keep my mouth shut.

She doesn’t know a damn thing about me. It pisses me off that she thinks after a few encounters with me she’s some sort of Hardin Scott fucking expert. She thinks she’s so much better than me, and she’s terrified that people might find out she kissed me because . . . well, I’m me and she’s Little Miss Perfect. I can’t keep my mouth shut.

“I was never anyone else,” I tell her. “Don’t think because you kissed me, basically against my will, we have some sort of bond now.”

I can feel my words slam into her like a goddamn battering ram, and she gets to her feet. Her fury is clear in her wide eyes. A modern-day Joan of Arc, getting ready to burn me at the stake.

“You could have stopped me,” she seethes. Her hands ball into tights fists that she must think are made of fire.

My mouth reacts before I can think of anything to say: “Hardly.”

Tessa sighs and brings her hands to cover her face. I look away. She’s so emotional, and that’s not even the strange part. The act of being emotional is normal, I suppose, but she’s just so open to it. I’m not her friend or her family, and here she is throwing her emotions around like I’ve known her my whole life. She’s not afraid to show me how she feels; she doesn’t seem to mind being exposed like this.

Theresa Young is such a maddening mystery to me. She’s so open and fragile, yet guarded and sharp like glass. I can’t figure her out. It’s pretty damn strange. The ease she seems to feel about allowing me to see her this way is slightly endearing, but it’s still strange.

“You can stay in here tonight since you don’t have anywhere else to go,” I quietly offer.

Tessa shakes her head, her hands on her full hips, and she scowls at me. I want to tell her that maybe I’m sorry for being harsh to her, maybe I sometimes say shit that I shouldn’t, but why use energy on a stranger? She doesn’t know me, and she never will.

“No, thanks.”

When she disappears down the hallway, I grip the doorframe and silently wish her a good night’s sleep, knowing that I won’t get one.

“Tessa,” I quietly call after her, unsure if I actually want her to hear.


He was always stubborn from the beginning. She pushed buttons he didn’t know he had and made him think of the world in a different way. He never expected anything to come from this game of his and he never knew how each glance from her, each smile she awarded him with, was changing him. He grew protective of her from early on, and he didn’t recognize when his protection turned to control. He tried to fight it, but he wasn’t strong enough until it was too late.

It’s been twenty minutes since she stormed off, and I can’t find her anywhere. Why can’t she be like Molly or any of the other girls I’ve hooked up with, and come running back? How is it that she’s so strong-willed?

Knowing her—the little bit that I do know about this girl—leads me to believe she’s going to shatter every preconceived thought I had about girls in general.

Fucking yay. This will be fun.

“She left, dude.” Logan walks into the kitchen with a bottle of vodka in his hands.

Left? She wouldn’t actually leave. She doesn’t even know how to get back to campus, and her ancient phone won’t be any help if she’s lost.

“No way.” I shake my head and reach for an empty cup. When I turn the faucet on, Nate is looking at me with one brow raised and a stupid grin on his face.