Prologue

HARDIN

I can’t feel the icy concrete under me or the snow settling over me. I can feel only the hole that was ripped through my chest. I’m kneeling helplessly, watching as Zed pulls out of the parking lot with Tessa in the passenger seat.

I couldn’t have imagined this—never in my wildest fucking dreams would I have thought that I’d feel this type of pain. The sting of loss, I’ve heard it called. I haven’t had anything or anyone to cherish, never felt the need to have someone, to make them completely mine, I haven’t wanted to hold on to someone so fiercely. The panic—the complete and utter fucking panic of losing her—wasn’t planned. None of this was. It was supposed to be easy: sleep with her, get my money and my bragging rights over Zed. Pretty cut-and-dried. Only it didn’t happen that way. Instead, the blond-haired girl in the long skirts who obsessively makes long to-do lists crept her way inside of me until, slowly, I fell for her so hard that I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t realize just how much I loved her until I was vomiting into a sink after showing my fucked-up friends the proof of her stolen virginity.

I hated it, hated every moment of it . . . but I didn’t stop.

I won the bet, but I lost the only thing that has ever made me happy. And along with that, I lost every ounce of goodness she made me see in myself. As the snow soaks into my clothes, I want to blame my father for passing his addiction on to me; I want to blame my mum for staying with him for too long and helping create such a fucked-up child; I want to blame Tessa for ever speaking to me. Hell, I want to blame everyone.

But I can’t. I did this. I ruined her and everything we had.

But I’ll do whatever it takes to make up for my mistakes.

Where is she going now? Is it someplace where I’ll ever find her?

Chapter one

TESSA

It took longer than a month,” I sob as Zed finishes explaining how the bet came to be made. I feel sick to my stomach, and I close my eyes to get some relief.

“I know. He kept coming up with excuses and he kept asking for more time and he’d lower the amount he was supposed to get. It was weird. We all just thought he was obsessed with winning—like to prove a point or something—but now I get it.” Zed stops talking for a second, and his eyes scan my face. “It was all he talked about. Then, that day when I invited you to the movies, he flipped out. After he dropped you back off, he totally flipped shit on me and said I had to stay away from you. But I just laughed it off, because I thought he was drunk.”

“Did he . . . did he tell you about the stream? And the . . . other stuff?” I hold my breath as I ask. The pity in his eyes answers me. “Oh my God.” I put my hands over my face.

“He told us everything . . . I mean everything . . .” he says in a low voice.

I stay quiet and turn off my phone. It hasn’t stopped vibrating since I left the bar. He has no right to be calling me.

“Where’s your new dorm?” Zed asks, and I notice we’re near campus.

“I don’t live in a dorm. Hardin and I . . .” I can barely finish my sentence. “He convinced me to move in with him, just a week ago.”

“He didn’t,” Zed gasps.

“He did. He’s so beyond . . . he’s j-just . . .” I stutter, unable to come up with a fitting word for his cruelty.

“I didn’t know it was going this far. I thought once we saw the . . . you know, the proof . . . he’d be back to normal, seeing a different girl every night. But then he disappeared. He’s barely come around us at all, except the other night he showed up at the docks and was trying to get Jace and me to agree not to tell you. He offered Jace a shitload of money to keep quiet.”

“Money?” I say. Hardin couldn’t be lower. The space inside Zed’s truck grows smaller with each sickening revelation.

“Yeah. Jace laughed it off, of course, and told Hardin he would keep his mouth shut.”

“And you didn’t?” I ask, remembering Hardin’s busted knuckles and Zed’s face.

“Not exactly . . . I told him that if he didn’t tell you soon, I would. He didn’t like that idea, obviously,” he says, and waves at his face. “If it makes you feel any better, I do think he cares about you.”

“He doesn’t. And if he does, it doesn’t matter,” I say, and lay my head against the window.

Every kiss and touch have been shared among Hardin’s friends, every moment on display. My most intimate moments. My only intimate moments aren’t mine at all.

“Do you want to come back to my place? I don’t mean that in a pushy or creepy way. I just have a couch you could stay on until you . . . figure things out,” he offers.

“No. No, thank you. Can I use your phone, though? I need to call Landon.”

Zed nods at the phone resting on the console, and for a moment my mind wanders to thoughts of how things would be different if I hadn’t blown Zed off for Hardin after the bonfire. I would never have made all of these mistakes.

Landon answers on the second ring, and just like I knew he would, he tells me to come right over. Granted, I haven’t told him what’s up, but he’s just so kind. I give Zed Landon’s address, and he stays quiet for most of the drive across town.

“He’s so going to come after me for taking you anywhere but to him,” he finally says.

“I would apologize for being in the middle of this . . . but you guys did this to yourselves,” I say honestly. I do pity Zed slightly, because I believe he had much better intentions than Hardin did, but my wounds are too fresh to even think about that right now.


Tags: Anna Todd After Young Adult
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