Page 85 of Before (After 5)

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She’s soaking, glistening under the light, and I have no self-control when it comes to her. I nearly lunge forward, pressing my open mouth against her soft, wet skin. My tongue moves in a single harsh line down her, sucking gently as I go.

Her hips shift, pushing her body against me. I hook my arms around her thighs and roughly pull her to the edge of the bed. She yelps, an adorable little sound of surprise mixed with her excitement. My hands are gripping her ass and my mouth is devouring her as she moans my name mixed in with yes and oh my and a thousand other dirty things.

I love her little exclamations of encouragement. They cause me to make her legs shake, to make her hands clutch the sheets. Now she’s gripping my hair, an entire handful. I fucking love it.

“Har-din . . .” Her voice breaks, and I bring a finger to her pussy, sliding it in, driving her mad. I circle her clit with my tongue, humming and circling, humming and circling. I taste her as she comes, the sweetest flavor.

I come up for air and lift myself up to lay my head on her stomach as she catches her breath. She tugs at my hair, dragging me up her body. I’m still hard, and lying on top of her naked leaves little room for anything except sex in my list of wants and needs. Tessa knows this, which is why she’s lifting up off the bed again, rubbing herself against me.

“You want me to fuck you? You haven’t had enough?” I ask her, pressing my hardness against her wetness.

“I’ll never have enough . . .” she whines, and I whimper as she wraps her hand around my cock and guides it inside her. I make one long drag inside her and watch in awe as her eyes roll back in her head. Her tits are pressed up against my chest, her thighs wrapped around my waist.

“More,” she begs, wanting me to move inside of her. I oblige, thrusting quickly. One of her hands is in my hair, and the other is digging into the skin of my back.

I won’t last long.

At all.

I feel her legs tightening around me, and I reach my high at the same time, riding out my last few pumps as her body turns to gel with mine. She keeps her eyes closed, and I collapse next to her.

As my breathing slows, I glance over at Tessa. Her blue-gray eyes are closed, her lips are parted, and she’s just as beautiful as she was the day I met her.

I can barely remember the kid I was when I met her, but every detail of our lives together since runs through me like a song.

This stubborn woman still refuses to legally marry me, but she’s my wife in every way that matters, and she’s the mother of my beautiful children. We want to have at least one more, when her work slows down.

I’m anxious about bringing another child into the world. I get a little worried each time.

The responsibility to raise decent human beings weighs heavily on me, but Tessa carries half of the weight and reassures me that we are great parents. I’m not like my father was. I’m my own man. Certainly, I’ve made my share of mistakes. But I served my penance and came out forgiven. I’m not a particularly religious man, but I know there has to be something bigger than Tess and me at play here. My world went from nothing to everything, and I feel pride in who I am now. I see my own light in my children’s eyes, and I hear my happiness in their laughter.

I’m proud of the difference I make in local teenagers’ lives with my fund-raisers for the community center. I’ve met thousands of people whose lives were affected by my words on pages. I fought for so long to keep everything in, but once I let go, my heart opened up. It would have been selfish for me not to share my experiences, not to help teens who suffer from addiction and mental-health disorders. Through the years, I learned not to focus on the past, but only look toward the future. I’m aware of how cliché and just flat-out fucking sappy my thoughts sound, but it’s my truth.

I lived in darkness for so long; I want to help bring light to others.

I’m blessed with a family that I couldn’t have dreamed of, and I’m raising kids who will be better than I ever was.

Tessa’s head falls to the side, and I brush her hair away from her sleeping face. She’s been my calm, my fire, my breath, my pain, and no matter what we’ve gone through, every second was worth getting to the life we have now.

I dragged Tess and myself through hell and back, but here we are—After everything, we made it to our own version of heaven.


I feel like all of my acknowledgements for this book are exactly the same as the last, but the same wonderful people helped me with them—so thank you all!

Adam Wilson: Once again, I thank you for working so hard with me. I learn so much from you and your patience with me. We’ve had five books (that are really the length of ten) in one year, and that’s just fucking nuts. I can’t wait for the next three .

Kristin Dwyer: You’re the bomb, dude. You keep me organized (as much as possible, since I just started to actually save dates in my calendar). Thanks for everything!

Wattpad: Thank you for still being my home base and staying organic and giving millions of people a place to do what they love.

Ursula Uriarte: It’s so crazy to think that you came into my life as a blogger who happened to like my books and now you’re one of my closest friends. Even though I still can’t spell your name, you are so, so important to me and to Hardin and Tessa. You love them like I do, and that means a lot to them. (They told me!)

Vilma and RK: I love you both and appreciate your friendship so much. You talked me through the stages of writing this book and listened to my freak-outs. I love you both.

Ashleigh Gardner: Thank you for being the best agenty friend I could have!

Thanks to the copyeditors and production staff, who worked very hard under such tight deadlines.

A huge thank-you to all of my foreign publishers, from the editors to the publicists and everyone in between. You all work so hard to translate and market my books across the globe, and it means so much to me and the readers. I’ve had the best time visiting so many places and meeting so many readers all over the world.