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Nothing Less

Anna Todd

  Praise for New York Times and #1 international bestselling author Anna Todd and her 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. . . . 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.”


  “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!”

  —Grownup Fangirl on After

  “Be prepared to have an emotional explosion!”

  —Biblio Belles

  “Before is brilliantly written. . . . I found myself putting it down and then pondering what would happen next between Hardin and Tessa before coming back to the story.”

  —Into the Night Book Reviews

  “I’m so grateful to Anna Todd for giving me all the Hessa feels. Thank you for the 2,587 pages of insane angst and emotional turmoil. But above all, thank you for giving us, the reader, the chance to take the journey of love with Hardin and Tessa.”

  —YA Book Addict

  Thank you for downloading this Gallery Books eBook.

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  For all the Landons in the world who put everyone else before themselves, even when they shouldn’t. Karma will work in your favor <3



  “Without” by Years & Years

  “Echo” by Nelou

  “Ghost” by Halsey

  “TiO” by Zayn

  “Take Me Home” by Jess Glynne

  “Crown of Love” by Arcade Fire

  “Control” by Kevin Garrett

  “Assassin” by John Mayer

  “I Can’t Make You Love Me” by Bon Iver

  “What a Feeling” by One Direction

  “Never Let Me Go” by Emily Wolfe

  “War of Hearts” by Ruelle

  “Edge of Desire” by John Mayer

  “Chainsaw” by Nick Jonas

  “wRoNg” by Zayn

  “As You Are” by The Weeknd

  “Something Great” by One Direction

  “Unhinged” by Nick Jonas

  “Death Has Fallen in Love” by Mads Langer

  “Last Flower” by Mads Langer

  “I Know Places” by Taylor Swift

  “Cough Syrup” by Young the Giant

  “iT’s YoU” by Zayn

  “Heavy” by Emily Wolfe

  “Wolves” by One Direction


  The not-too-distant future . . .

  DADDY?” A SMALL VOICE CUTS through the darkness of my bedroom.

  I lean over and click on the lamp, and my eyes adjust to the light spreading throughout the room.

  “Adeline? What’s wrong?” I sit up, tugging the blanket up to my chest, remembering that I’m not dressed underneath. I glance over at my wife; her naked back is exposed and she’s sleeping on her stomach, sprawled out the way she usually is.

  A small hand rubs over little brown eyes. “I can’t sleep.”

  Relief spreads through me. “Did you count sheep?” She often has trouble sleeping lately, and I’m trying not to worry too much about it. Her doctor says that she’s just having a hard time shutting her wild mind off at night, which is pretty normal behavior for her age.

  Adeline nods. “And ponies. I counted ponies, too. A blue one, a red one, and a grumpy yellow one.”

  I try not to laugh. “A grumpy yellow pony?”

  “Yep. He stole the blue one’s cookie.”

  My little girl’s mom stirs in her sleep but doesn’t wake. I pull the blanket up over her exposed back, just in case she decides to roll over.

  I look at my daughter, whose eyes match my own, and can’t even try to hide my amusement at her inventive imagination. She’s so creative for her age, always telling tales of goblins and princesses and the fantastical.

  With a smile, I reach for her hand, and she moves her teddy into her other arm and grabs my hand. The poor stuffed bear is close to falling apart. Aside from school, she doesn’t go anywhere without it, and some days I even find the furry thing in my messenger bag when I get to the school.

  “How about you meet me in the kitchen so you can tell me what happened next?” She nods, and I kiss her hand before she drops it to her side. “I’ll be out in just a minute, sweetie,” I add so I can throw on some sweats.

  Adeline looks over at her mom and back at me before she makes her way to the doorway. She turns around. “Can we have a cookie while we talk?” my little negotiator asks. She’s just like me, always wanting sweets.

  I glance at the clock on the nightstand. It’s twelve thirty, and she has school in the morning. Since I’m her first-grade teacher, I shouldn’t encourage her to eat sugar in the middle of the night . . .

  “Please, Daddy?”

  I know I’m supposed to be responsible, and that I shouldn’t be condoning a sugar rush six hours before she has to wake up for school. Her mom’s going to kill me, but I know dang well she would cave, too. Those big brown eyes and that teddy bear in her arms remind me that she won’t be a kid for long.

  Adeline waits expectantly.

  “Grab me one, too. I’ll be out there by the time you pick out the tiniest cookies in the jar for us.”

  She smiles like she didn’t have any doubt that I would say yes.

  “The tiniest ones, okay?” I smile at her.

  She agrees and walks out of the bedroom. I stand up and grab my sweats from the floor.

  “Sucker,” my wife’s sleepy voice says from the bed.

  I pull the pants up my legs. “You’re awake?” I ask with mock surprise.

  She rolls over and lifts her arms behind her head, the sheet dropping to her waist. “Of course.” A sleepy smile spreads across her beautiful face.

  “Coward,” I tease.


  I try to keep my eyes on her face. If I allow myself to admire my wife’s naked chest, I will never leave this room.

  Once I’m dressed, I lean over, resting my knee on the edge of the bed, and gently press my lips against her forehead. Her eyes are closed when I pull away, her lips pulled into a comfortable smile.

  I leave the bedroom, and when I reach the kitchen, Adeline is holding the hand of her teddy in one small hand and a big cookie in the other.

  “That doesn’t look like the smallest cookie.” I open the fridge and grab the jug of milk.

  Adeline smiles, and her tongue pokes out between her missing teeth. She’s growing up too fast. “I thought you said the biggest,” she fibs.




LEN’S BIRTHDAY CAKE is in my arms, ready to carry downstairs. Nora is standing next to the door, waving goodbye to Posey and Lila. I watch Nora as she pushes her pizza-patterned socks into a pair of plain white sneakers.

  “You ready?” I set the cake down on the red entry table, and she nods.

  She’s been quiet since our exchange in the bathroom, and I don’t know how to start a conversation with her now. I agreed that I wouldn’t try to fix her, that I wouldn’t push to know her secrets or help her carry her baggage. She’s warned me over and over that she’s not good for me, that she can’t be what I need her to be.

  How can that be, when I have no idea what it is that I need?

  All I know is that I enjoy her company and I want to get to know her. I’m okay with taking it slow; the best presents usually take the longest to unwrap.

  Picking up the cake, I lead us to the elevator in silence and press the call button. The swoosh of the elevator climbing floors is the only noise in the quiet hallway.

  When we step inside, Nora moves to the farthest side of the small car.

  I allow her space and try not to look at her while she looks at me. I can feel her eyes on me, but I can tell she’s tapped out on talking today.

  My arms feel empty despite the cake in them, like they’re missing something. Nora, maybe? Each second with her, I feel like I’m losing control of my own body.

  Nora touches her fingers to the end of her braid, and my eyes meet hers. The elevator hasn’t moved since we stepped in. I couldn’t even guess how long we’ve been standing in here; it feels like minutes, but it’s possible that only a few seconds have passed.

  Her eyes stay on mine, studying me, trying to unlock something.

  I’m not the one with secrets, I want to say to her.

  I think of Dakota and our time together last night. I think of how embarrassed and guilty I felt when I couldn’t . . . perform. I think about the way I felt when I found the bathroom empty, my ex having left via the fire escape. It’s only been one night, and here I am with Nora, wanting to be close to her.

  I guess I have secrets, too.

  “Is it broken?” Nora asks, and I have a moment of panic when I think she’s talking about my cock.

  When I realize she’s talking about the elevator, I want to laugh.

  “I don’t know.” I press the button for the ground floor again. In response, the elevator dings and the door opens and closes. The car begins to move, and I shrug my shoulders. Had I forgotten to press the button? I don’t know.

  When we reach the bottom floor, I wait for Nora to step out of the elevator first. Her elbow touches my arm, and I step away to give her space. My skin feels warm, and I wish for a moment I could live in a different reality. A dimension where Nora is mine to touch, mine to hold. In that world, Nora would trust me and share parts of herself that no one else can see. She could laugh without hesitation, and she wouldn’t try to hide.

  With each silent step through my apartment building, that perfect imaginary world fades.

  “I didn’t get Ellen another gift,” I remember out loud.

  Nora turns around and slows down until I’m next to her. “I’m sure this homemade cake and your time are gift enough.” She takes a breath. “I would love such a gift.” Then she continues to walk.

  When she says things like this, confusion fills my already-crowded mind.

  “You don’t like birthdays, though?” I ask, not expecting, but hoping, for a sliver of explanation. Her birthday is next week, but she made me promise that I wouldn’t do anything for her.

  She’s making me promise a lot of things lately. I’ve only known her for a few weeks and I’ve already promised her too much.

  “Nope.” Nora pushes the door open, holding it for me to pass through.

  Instead of asking her why, I decide to talk about my favorite birthday memory. “When I was younger, my mom would always make a huge deal out of my birthday. The entire week was always a celebration. She made all my favorite meals, and we stayed up late every night.”

  Nora looks up at me. We’re approaching the door to the corner store now. A couple passes, hand in hand, which gets me to wondering if Nora has ever had a serious boyfriend. It drives me crazy that I don’t know anything about this woman. She’s twenty-five. She must have dated in the past.

  “She would always make these cupcakes baked inside of ice cream cones and bring them to my school. She thought it made the kids like me, but it only made them make fun of me more.” I remembered my freshman year when no one in my class would even touch one of the sprinkled cakes she made.

  No one except Dakota and Carter. The three of us tried to eat as many as we could during the walk home from school so my mom would think everyone in my class loved her gift and had celebrated my birthday with me.

  We had five left when we got to our block. We ended up leaving them on a piece of lumber at the entrance to the Patch, a wooded area that was home to addicts and people down on their luck—with empty stomachs and empty lives—and we liked to think that we fed at least five of them that day.

  “I would have eaten one.” Nora stares past me.

  She doesn’t elaborate on her reasoning for hating her own birthday, and I didn’t expect her to. That’s not why I shared a piece of my past with her.

  Nora opens the door to the store, and the little bell rings. I follow her inside, and I smile when Ellen regards us, cake in hand, and tries her hardest to fight off a smile.



  WE HAVE SO MUCH CAKE left,” Nora says, lifting a plastic fork to her mouth.

  Small crumbs of white cake and green icing fall onto the table between us. Turns out, Ellen doesn’t really like sweets. She cites being a teenager for not liking flowers when I lament that I should have just brought those. But not liking cake? I don’t know what kind of devil she is, but I’ll gladly eat this for her.

  Despite hating most things, she did enjoy our company. Though she tried to fight the smile on her face, she failed, and the three of us had a good time. Nora turned the shop’s OPEN sign to CLOSED, and we sang “Happy Birthday.” We discovered that I’m a terrible singer. Even without melody or candles, we made sure she knew we cared that it was her birthday.

  Nora streamed pop radio on her phone, and Ellen talked to her more than she’s ever talked to me. Our makeshift party only lasted about half an hour. Ellen was getting anxious about the shop’s being closed, and I got the feeling she was tired of talking about herself. Which is too bad. I’ve often found that the people who don’t like to talk about themselves are the ones I want to talk to the most.

  “More for us.” I grab another fork from the counter and dig into the corner of the cake. Nora’s sitting in the chair next to me with one knee propped up on the seat. The little pizza slices on her socks are equal parts quirky and adorable. I reach my hand out and poke at the top of her foot. “What’s with these?”

  She licks her lips. “Life’s too short to wear boring socks.” She shrugs, bringing a forkful of cake to her lips.

  I look down at my own socks, white with gray on the heels and toes. Yikes. These are boring. And tube socks. No one wears tube socks anymore.

  “Is that your life motto?”

  She nods. “One of them,” she says with her mouth full.

  Icing is on the rim of her mouth, and I wish we were in a romantic-comedy movie so I could reach over and wipe it off with my finger. She would get all mushy and butterflies would swarm in both of our stomachs and she would lean into me.

  “You have icing on your lips,” I say, doing the exact opposite of a romantic gesture.

  She swipes at her mouth with her thumb, missing the spot. “You’re not going to wipe it off for me? It’s the perfect setup for a kiss in the movies.”

  Her mind is in the same place as mine. I like the comfort of that, for some reason.

  “I was just thinking that. If this were a movie, I would lean over and wipe it for you.” I smile.
r />   Nora grins, icing still messy on her lips. “You would lick it off your finger, and I would watch your lips, the way they part.”

  “I would look at you while I did it.”

  “I would sigh as you licked your finger clean, never breaking eye contact.”

  My stomach flutters. “You would have butterflies in your stomach.”

  “The wild, angry kind that make me feel like I’m going crazy.” Nora’s eyes meet mine. She’s smiling, and she’s just so pretty.

  “I would tell you that I missed a spot and lean over again. Your heart would be beating so fast.”

  “So fast that you could hear it.”

  I repeat her words, lost in them. “So fast that I could hear it. I would touch your cheek.”

  Nora’s chest rises and falls slowly. “I would let you.”

  “Your eyes would close the way they always do when I touch you.”

  Nora looks surprised at this, as if she wasn’t aware that she does it.

  I stare at her mouth as she talks, wondering what she’s thinking.

  “I would pull you closer to me and lick my lips,” she adds to our little story.

  My heart is pumping so wildly that I can hear the blood rushing behind my ears. I take a breath, and Nora has moved closer. I don’t think she even notices.

  “I would brush my lips against yours. So light at first that you would barely feel it. I would part your lips with my tongue and kiss you.”

  Nora’s eyes are half-lidded now, and her eyes are on my mouth. “You would kiss me like I’ve never been kissed before—and I probably haven’t, not the way you kiss me. It would be like my first kiss, even if it wasn’t.” Her voice is a whisper.

  I can’t not kiss her. I lean closer to her, leaving only a few inches between us. “You haven’t been kissed before.” She’s so close now that I can feel her breath on my cheeks. “Not the way I would kiss you. You would forget every kiss that came before mine, every touch. Every single one.”