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After Ever Happy (The After Series)

Anna Todd

  Praise for Anna Todd and the After series

  “Todd [is] the biggest literary phenom of her generation.”


  “I was almost at the point like with Twilight that I just stop everything and my sole focus was reading the book . . . Todd, girl, you are a genius!!!”

  —Once Upon a Twilight

  “The Mr. Darcy and Lizzy Bennet of our time . . . If you looked up ‘Bad Boy’ in the fiction dictionary, next to it would be a picture of Hardin alongside Beautiful Bastard and Mr. Darcy.”

  —That’s Normal

  “The one thing you can count on is to expect the unexpected.”

  —Vilma’s Book Blog

  “Anna Todd manages to make you scream, cry, laugh, fall in love, and sit in the fetal position . . . Whether you have read the Wattpad version or not, After is a can’t-miss book—but get ready to feel emotions that you weren’t sure a book could bring out of you. And if you have read the Wattpad version, the book is 10x better.”


  “A very entertaining read chock-full of drama drama drama . . . This book will have you from the first page.”

  —A Bookish Escape

  “I couldn’t put this book down! It went with me everywhere so I could get my Hessa fix every spare moment I had. Talk about getting hooked from page one!”

  —Grown Up Fangirl

  Thank you for downloading this Gallery Books eBook.

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  To everyone out there who has ever fought for someone or something they believe in.



  Many times in my life I felt unwanted, out of place in the worst way. I had a mum who tried, she really, honestly tried, but it just wasn’t enough. She worked too much; she slept during the days because she was on her feet all night. Trish tried, but a boy, especially a lost boy, needs his father.

  I knew Ken Scott was a troubled man, an unpolished wanna-be man who was never pleased or impressed by anything I did. The little Hardin who was pathetic in the way he tried to impress the tall man whose shouts and stumbles filled the cramped space of our shitty house would be pleased at the possibility that the cold man isn’t his father. He would sigh, grab his book from the table, and ask his mum when Christian, the nice man who made him laugh by reciting passages from old books, was coming over.

  But Hardin Scott, the adult man struggling with addiction and anger passed down by the shitty excuse for a father he was given, is fucking livid. I feel betrayed, confused as fucking hell, and fucking angry. It makes no sense, the cheesy plot of the switched fathers that every shitty sitcom uses couldn’t possibly be my life. Buried memories resurface.

  My mum, on the phone the morning after one of my essays was chosen for the local paper: “I just thought you would want to know, Hardin is brilliant. Like his father,” she softly praised into the line.

  I looked around the small living room. The man with the dark hair, passed out on the chair with a bottle of brown liquor at his feet, wasn’t brilliant. He’s a fucking mess, I thought as he stirred in the chair, and my mum quickly hung up the phone. There were numerous times like this, too many to count, that I was too stupid, too young, to understand why Ken Scott was so distant with me, why he never hugged me the way my friends’ dads would their sons. He never played baseball with me or taught me anything except how to be a fucking drunk.

  Was all of that a waste? Is Christian Vance actually my father?

  The room is spinning, and I stare at him, the man who supposedly fathered me, and I see something familiar in his green eyes, the line of his jaw. His hands are shaking as he pushes his hair back from his forehead, and I freeze, realizing that I’m doing the exact same thing.

  chapter one


  That’s impossible.”

  I stand but quickly sit back down on the bench when the grass underneath me seems to sway unsteadily. The park is filling with people now. Families with small children, balloons and presents in their arms despite the cold weather.

  “It’s true, Hardin is Christian’s son,” Kimberly says, her blue eyes bright and focused.

  “But Ken . . . Hardin looks just like him.” I remember the first time I met Ken Scott, inside a yogurt shop. I immediately knew he was Hardin’s father; his dark hair and his height brought me to the easy conclusion.

  “Does he? I don’t really see it, except the hair color. Hardin has the same eyes as Christian, the same facial structure.”

  Does he? I struggle to picture the three faces. Christian has dimples like Hardin and the same eyes . . . but it just doesn’t make sense: Ken Scott is Hardin’s father—he has to be. Christian looks so young compared to Ken. I know they’re the same age, but Ken’s alcoholism took its toll on his appearance. He’s still a handsome man, but you can see where the liquor has aged him.

  “This is . . .” I struggle for words and air.

  Kimberly looks at me apologetically. “I know. I’ve wanted to tell you so bad. I hated keeping this from you, but it wasn’t my place.” She puts her hand on mine and squeezes gently. “Christian assured me that as soon as Trish gave him permission, he would tell Hardin.”

  “I just . . .” I take a deep breath. “That’s what Christian is doing? Telling Hardin now?” I stand up again and Kimberly’s hand drops away. “I have to go to him. He is going to—” I can’t even begin to fathom how Hardin will react to the news, especially after finding Trish and Christian together last night. This will be too much for him.

  “He is.” Kim sighs. “Trish hasn’t agreed fully, but Christian said she was close enough and things were getting out of hand.”

  As I pull out my phone, my only thought is that I can’t believe Trish would hide this from Hardin. I had thought more of her, much more as a mother, and now I feel as if I’ve never met the woman.

  My phone is already pressed to my cheek, Hardin’s line ringing in my ear, when Kimberly says, “I told Christian that he shouldn’t separate you two when he told Hardin, but Trish recommended that if he does it, he needed to do it alone . . .” Kimberly’s mouth presses into a hard line, and she looks around the park, then up at the sky.

  I reach the dull tone of the automated system on Hardin’s voicemail. I dial again while Kimberly sits silently, only to get his voicemail for the second time. I shove my phone into my back pocket and start wringing my hands. “Can you take me to him, Kimberly? Please?”

  “Yes. Of course.” She jumps to her feet, calling for Smith.

  Watching the little kid walk toward us with what I can only call a cartoon butler’s stride, it occurs to me that Smith is Christian’s son . . . and Hardin’s brother. Hardin has a little brother. And then I think about Landon . . . what does it mean for Landon and Hardin? Will Hardin want anything to do with him now that he doesn’t have a real family tie to him? And Karen, what about sweet Karen and her baked goods? Ken—what about the man who tries so hard to make up for the terrible childhood of a boy who isn’t his son. Does Ken know? My head is spinning, and I need to see Hardin. I need to make sure that he knows I am here for him, and we will figure this out together. I can’t imagine how he feels right now; he must be so overwhelmed.

  “Does Smith know?” I ask.

  After a few beats of silence, Kimberly says, “We thought he did because of the way he is with Hardin, but he couldn’t possibly.”

  I feel for Kimberly. She alread
y had to deal with her fiancé’s infidelity, and now this. When Smith gets to us, he stops and gives us a mysterious look, as if knowing exactly what we’ve been talking about. That’s not possible, but the way he leaves ahead of us and goes to the car without saying a word, it does make me wonder.

  As we drive through Hampstead to find Hardin and his father, the panic in my chest rises and falls, rises and falls.

  chapter two


  The crack of snapping wood sounds throughout the bar.

  “Hardin, stop!” Vance’s voice echoes through the space, from somewhere.

  Another snap, followed by the sound of breaking glass. The sound pleases me, heightening my thirst for violence. I need to break things, to hurt something, even if it’s an object.

  And I do.

  Screams erupt, breaking me out of my trance. I look down at my hands and find the splintered end of an expensive chair leg. I look up at the blank faces of the alarmed strangers, searching for one face: Tessa’s. She isn’t here, though, and in this moment of rage I can’t decide if that’s a good thing or not. She would be afraid; she would be worried for me, panicking in a rushed way and calling my name to drown out the gasps and shouts ringing in my ears.

  I drop the wood quickly as if it had burned my skin. And feel arms around my shoulders.

  “Get him out of here before they call the police!” Mike says, his voice louder than I’ve ever heard it before.

  “Get the fuck off of me!” I shrug away from Vance and glare at him through the red filling my vision.

  “You want to go to jail?!” he shouts, only inches from my face.

  I want to shove him to the ground, wrap my hands around his neck . . .

  But a couple more women scream, making sure I don’t go back down that black hole again. I look around the expensive bar, noting the shattered tumblers on the floor, the broken chair, the horrified expressions of patrons expecting to glide above this kind of carnage. It’ll be only moments before their shock turns to anger over my disrupting their overpriced pursuit of happiness.

  Christian is by my side again as I storm past the hostess and outside. “Get in my car and I’ll explain everything to you,” he huffs out.

  Worried that the cops really might be showing up any moment, I do what he says, but I’m not sure how to feel or what to say. Despite the confession, I can’t wrap my mind around this. The impossibility of it all is ridiculous.

  I get in the passenger seat just as he hits the driver’s side. “You can’t be my father, it’s not possible. It doesn’t make a bit of sense—none of it.” Looking at the expensive rental, I wonder if this means Tessa is stranded at that damn park where I dropped her off. “Kimberly has a car, right?”

  Vance looks at me incredulously. “Yes, of course she does.” The low purr of the engine grows louder as he zips through traffic. “I’m sorry that you found out this way. Everything was coming together for a while, but then it started to slip.” He sighs.

  I stay silent, knowing I will lose my shit if I open my mouth. My fingers dig into my legs; the slight pain keeps me calm.

  “I’m going to explain it to you, but you have to keep an open mind, okay?” He glances over at me, and I can see the pity in his eyes.

  I won’t be pitied. “Don’t fucking talk to me like a goddamned child,” I snap.

  Vance looks at me, then back at the road. “You know that I grew up with your dad, Ken—we were mates since I can remember.”

  “Actually I didn’t know that.” I glare at him. Then I turn to watch the landscape zooming by. “I don’t know shit about anything, apparently.”

  “Well, it’s true. We grew up almost as brothers.”

  “Then you fucked his wife?” I say, interrupting his bedtime story.

  “Look,” he nearly growls. His hands are white-knuckled on the steering wheel. “I’m trying to explain this to you, so please just let me speak.” He takes a deep breath to calm his own temper. “To answer your question, it wasn’t like that. Your mum and Ken began dating in high school when your mum moved to Hampstead. She was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen.”

  My stomach turns at the memory of Vance’s mouth on hers.

  “But Ken swept her off her feet immediately. They spent every moment of every day together, just like Max and Denise did. The five of us had formed a little clique, you could say.” Lost in the ridiculous memory, he sighs. and his voice becomes distant. “She was witty, smart, and head over heels for your dad—fuck. I’m not going to be able to stop calling him that . . .” He groans. His fingers tap on the steering wheel, as if to goad him on.

  “Ken was smart—quite brilliant, really—and when he got into university with a full scholarship and early admission, he became busy. Too busy for her. He would spend hours upon hours at the school. It quickly became the four of us without him, and things between your mum and I . . . well, my feelings grew tremendously and hers began.”

  Vance takes a momentary break to switch lanes and turn the vent so more air comes in. The air is still heavy and thick, and my mind is a fucking whirlwind when he starts up again.

  “I always loved her—she knew that—but she loved him, and he was my best friend.” Vance swallows. “As the days and nights went by, we became . . . intimate. Not sexually at this point, but we were both giving in to our feelings and not holding back.”

  “Spare me the fucking details.” I clench my fists on my lap, forcing my mouth to close so he can finish.

  “Okay, okay, yeah.” He stares out the windshield. “Well, one thing led to another, and we were having a full-blown affair at this point. Ken had no idea. Max and Denise suspected something, but neither of them spoke up. I begged your mum to leave him for neglecting her—I know it’s fucked-up, but I loved her.”

  His brows knit together. “She was the only escape I had from my own self-destructive behaviors. I cared about Ken, but I couldn’t see past my love for her. I never could see past it.” He blows out a hard breath.

  “And . . .” I press after a few seconds of silence.

  “Yes . . . Well, and so when she announced that she was pregnant, I thought we would run away together and that she would marry me instead of him. I promised her that if she chose me, I would quit fucking off and would be there for her . . . for you.”

  I feel his eyes on me, but I refuse to look into them.

  “Your mum felt I wasn’t stable enough for her, and I sat there biting my tongue while she and your—Ken—announced that they were expecting and that they would be married that same week.”

  What the fuck? I look over at him, but he’s clearly lost in the past as he stares at the road ahead.

  “I wanted the best for her, and I couldn’t drag her through the mud and ruin her reputation by telling Ken or anyone the truth of what happened between us. I kept telling myself that he had to know deep down that it wasn’t his child growing inside of her. Your mum swore that he had not touched her in months.” Vance’s shoulders shake lightly as an evident chill runs through him. “I stood there in my suit at their small wedding as his best man. I knew he would give her what I couldn’t. I wasn’t even planning to go to university. All I did with my time was pine after a married woman and memorize pages from old novels that would never become my life. I had no plan, no money, and she needed both of those things.” He sighs, trying to escape the memory.

  Watching him, I’m surprised by what comes to mind and what I feel compelled to say. I form a fist, then relax, trying to resist.

  Then I form a fist again, and I don’t recognize my voice as I ask, “So basically my mum used you for her entertainment and tossed you aside because you had no money?”

  Vance lets out a deep breath. “No. She didn’t use me.” He glances in my direction. “I know it seems that way, and it’s such a fucked-up situation, but she had to think of you and your future. I was a complete and utter fuckup—complete rubbish. And I had nothing going for me.”

  “And now you have
millions,” I bitterly remark. How can he defend my mum after all this shit? What is wrong with him? But then something in me turns, and I think about my mother, losing two men who later turned out to be rich, while she toils away at her job, coming home to her sad little house.

  Vance nods. “Yes, but there was no way to know how I would turn out. Ken had his shit together, and I didn’t. Period.”

  “Until he started getting shit-faced every night.” My anger starts building again. I feel as if I will never escape this anger as the sharp sting of betrayal cuts through me. I spent my childhood with a fucking drunk while Vance was living the high life.

  “That was another one of my fuckups,” says this man who I was so sure for so long that I knew, that I really knew. “I went through a lot of shit after you were born, but I enrolled in university and loved your mum from afar . . .”


  “Until you were about five years old. It was your birthday, and we were all there for your party. You came running into the kitchen, yelling for your daddy—” Vance’s voice cracks, and I ball my fist tighter. “You had a book clutched to your chest, and for a second I forgot that you weren’t talking about me.”

  I slam my fist on the dashboard. “Let me out of the car,” I demand. I can’t listen to this anymore. This is so fucked-up. It’s too much for me to comprehend at once.

  Vance ignores my outburst and keeps driving along this residential street. “I lost it that day. I demanded that your mum tell Ken the truth. I was sick of watching you grow up, and by then I had already secured my plans to move to America. I begged her to come with me, and to bring you, my son.”

  My son.

  My stomach lurches. I should just jump out of the car, moving or not. I look out at the pleasant little houses we travel past, thinking I will take physical pain over this any day.

  “But she refused and told me that she had some testing done and . . . and that you weren’t my child after all.”