Tessa’s mom’s biggest wish in life is for her daughter to go to college at central washington university, so when you get accepted to wcu, she’s excited to make her mom proud. however, she is also anxious to find out if she will make friends in a strange new place. she is surprised that her roommate, steph, is a party girl who loves bright makeup and revealing clothes. Tessa is also deeply attracted to Hardin, one of Steph’s friends. A young Englishman with tattoos and a rude attitude, Hardin’s tough personality conflicts with Tessa’s kindness and inexperience.
Tessa reluctantly accepts Steph’s invitation to join her at a frat party. she doesn’t fit in well with the crowd at the party. As she wanders through the frat house, she stumbles upon a bedroom where Hardin is kissing a pink-haired girl named Molly. the scene makes tessa uncomfortable, and her night gets even worse when she has to help a drunk steph, who throws up and then passes out.
steph’s friend nate takes steph and tessa to one of the frat house bedrooms and tells tessa she can stay there with steph while she sleeps. tessa is surprised when hardin walks into the room, which turns out to be her bedroom because he’s a member of the fraternity throwing the party. hardin and tessa argue because he doesn’t let people in his room.
Tessa leaves and cries in a bathroom because the party is terrible and she doesn’t know how to get home. when she comes out of the bathroom, hardin tells her that she can sleep in an empty room where she has also placed steph. tessa is surprised that hardin is nice to her.
on monday, tessa excitedly attends her first day of school and is surprised to see hardin in her british literature class. he sits next to her and they continue their verbal fights as the days go by. She also meets Landon in British Literature class, a regular guy who Hardin irrationally dislikes.
The next weekend, Tessa agrees to go to another party at the same frat house with Steph. tessa wonders if molly is dating hardin, but steph insists that while hardin plays with a lot of girls, she never dates anyone or has a girl who is special to him.
at the party, during a game of truth or dare, people keep daring tessa to shots of vodka. while she is drunk, she walks into hardin’s room and starts reading from her collection of classic books. he yells at her for entering her room again. they get into another verbal fight and she leaves.
a drunk guy tries to grope tessa, but when he chases her down the hall, she runs back to hardin’s room to safety. Hardin comforts her after her scary moment and she kisses him. They kiss on Hardin’s bed while he is partially dressed, but Tessa stops short, remembering her boyfriend, Noah. Both feel awkward about the encounter, and Tessa sneaks out of Hardin’s room once again, angry at him for being cold to her when she stopped kissing him and angry at herself for cheating on her boyfriend.
Tessa walks for over an hour until she returns to her own bedroom, only to discover that someone is waiting for her. hardin was worried after she left so he drove around trying to find her. Tessa’s mother and her boyfriend, Noah, suddenly arrive in her bedroom to express her concern about her recent increase in attendance at the party. Tessa feels that she is being treated like a child, but she reconciles with her mother and her boyfriend and promises that she will stop going to parties.
the next day, hardin comes to tessa’s room, supposedly to see steph, and they end up kissing again. when steph catches them, she warns tessa not to develop feelings for hardin because he doesn’t date. She says that girls often fall for Hardin, only to have their hearts broken when he doesn’t reciprocate her feelings.
In british literature class, tessa and hardin start yelling at each other, supposedly discussing the characters of elizabeth and mr. darcy, when in fact they are discussing the details of their own strained relationship. after class, he grabs her arm and she yells at him to let her go. she feels that he is playing emotional games with her.
Hardin asks her to admit that she’s bored with her boyfriend and excited for him. after more talk, they agree to be friends. he takes her on an outing she calls a friendly get-together, and he calls a date. they go swimming in a secluded creek, which she says is her favorite spot. As they swim and kiss, Hardin asks her to admit that they can never just be friends. the mood remains passionate as they emerge from the water, and hardin gives tessa an orgasm using her fingers. afterward, hardin takes tessa out to eat.
when noah calls her, she ignores the call and tells hardin that she intends to break up with noah. Hardin tells her not to break up with her boyfriend on her account since he doesn’t date. This angers Tessa, who warns Hardin that she never speaks to him again. Tessa calls Noah to visit her for the weekend, but when he arrives, she is disappointed in her lack of passion. She can’t help but compare Noah’s gentle kindness to Hardin’s intensity.
she gets a phone call from landon, asking her to go to her mother’s house and help hardin, who is also there. Tessa borrows Noah’s car and goes to Landon’s house. hardin has had a drunken attack.
Hardin’s father, Ken, has been dating Landon’s mother, Karen, for a long time, and Hardin is angry that the two have decided to get married. Hardin resents his father for being rich, while his divorced mother has to live in near poverty in England. Drunk and alone, Hardin begs Tessa to spend the night with him. she does, and they play sexually before falling asleep.
The next morning, Tessa returns to her bedroom to find Noah furious at her for taking his car and staying out all night. hardin follows tessa into the bedroom and tells her to explain her situation to noah. noah guesses that tessa has been cheating on him with hardin and walks away crying. tessa is upset with hardin for forcing her to tell noah the truth.
Soon, Noah forgives Tessa and agrees to put the past behind her, if she agrees to stay away from Hardin. However, even when Tessa stays home from Hardin’s weekend frat party, Hardin shows up in her bedroom to watch movies with her. he says he sleeps better when she’s next to her, so she agrees to cuddle up with him in the same bed.
The next day, Hardin wants to go with Tessa on her car shopping trip, and the two run into Hardin’s father off campus. his dad invites them to dinner at his house with him, his future wife karen and landon. Tessa accepts the invitation and Hardin yells at her for trying to help him connect with his father.
despite his earlier rage, hardin then accompanies tessa to dinner. Karen mentions that Ken is actually the Chancellor of WSU, a fact that Hardin forgot to mention. When Ken is shocked that Hardin hides his father’s chancellorship from his friends, Hardin yells that he doesn’t need to use his father’s name or position and then runs out of the room. when tessa follows him, he insults her. she yells at him for ruining the night, and then they kiss. Hardin’s mood improves. When he and Tessa return to finish dinner, he apologizes to everyone for his behavior.
after dinner, hardin admits to tessa that he loves her more than he’s ever loved anyone or anything in his life. Tessa realizes that this is an admission of her genuine feelings for her, and kisses him. hardin performs oral sex on tessa and then they return to the dining room. Karen and Ken offer to let Tessa stay the night, since it’s late, and give her a room across from Hardin’s. At night, Tessa hears Hardin scream as she sleeps. she wakes him from a nightmare and comforts him, holding him for the rest of the night.
When they get back to Tessa’s bedroom, Noah is waiting because he was worried that Tessa didn’t answer her phone. In front of Noah, Hardin tells Tessa that he wants to be more than her friend and that he wants to become a better man for her. Tessa tells Noah that she should go, officially breaking up with him and choosing a relationship with Hardin. Now that they’re together, Tessa worries that Hardin is cheating on her with Molly, since he and Molly have had a physical relationship in the past.
Hardin’s father offers Tessa an internship at a publishing company. She’s thrilled to take the part-time job, and Ken has only one request for her: try to persuade Hardin to attend Ken and Karen’s upcoming wedding. when she mentions the wedding to hardin, he gets upset and ends the conversation. They reconcile and spend the night together in Hardin’s room, with Tessa comforting him when she has nightmares.
tessa goes to a party at hardin’s frat house without telling him because she suspects he’s spending time with molly. Her suspicions of her are confirmed when she finds Molly sitting on Hardin’s lap. tessa starts drinking and joins a game of truth or dare. when she accepts the challenge to kiss hardin’s friend zed, hardin gets upset. Zed accepts the challenge of taking Tessa upstairs alone for 10 minutes, but since she’s drunk, she doesn’t take advantage. instead, he asks her out on a date, and she agrees. The next day, Hardin and Tessa have a fight in front of Steph and Molly, and Hardin yells that he loves Tessa, which she refuses to believe.
tessa realizes she loves hardin, but she has a date with zed. In British Literature class, Hardin and Tessa fight over the characters in Wuthering Heights, which mirror their own stormy relationship. tessa goes to a campfire party with zed and kisses him again, but she can’t stop thinking about hardin.
when she goes to hardin and admits that she loves him, he tells her that he loves her more than anyone in the world. they spend a day with karen and ken, which passes without further discussion. Tessa hopes that Hardin will attend the wedding.
Tessa’s mother visits her in her bedroom, furious that Tessa has broken up with Noah. Tessa’s mother does not approve of Hardin and insists that she will cut off Tessa’s financial support if she stays with him. To ease Tessa’s worries about losing her bedroom if her mother withdraws her support, Hardin suggests they find an apartment and move in together. As their relationship deepens, Tessa decides she’s ready for an even closer physical connection, so she and Hardin have sex. later, hardin removes the bloody sheets from his bed and says that he will throw them away for tessa.
At the mall, they run into an unpleasant acquaintance named Jace de Hardin. hardin warns tessa to stay away from him because she is a bad person. Hardin tries harder to persuade Tessa to buy an apartment with him, and she finally agrees. Tessa and Hardin are excited about their decision, but the happy mood is spoiled when they go to Hardin’s frat house and run into Jace, who looks menacing.
jace wants to play a board game. When Tessa joins the game, she ends up kissing a stranger named Dan. Hardin witnesses the kiss and fights Dan. when the fight is over and hardin calms down, he and tessa argue and then have sex.
tessa and hardin go apartment hunting and agree to one that exactly suits tessa’s taste. They sign the contract and Hardin agrees to pay the rent while Tessa pays the utilities. They adjust to life in their new apartment, enjoying the privacy until Hardin spoils the mood by not coming home one night.
Tessa is so worried about what kind of trouble he may have gotten himself into, that she gives him an ultimatum: he has to improve his behavior or she’ll leave him. as she also requests to know the cause of her screaming nightmares, he tells her that as a child, he witnessed her mother being raped by several men and that the event still gives him nightmares. Tessa comforts him and their relationship returns to normal.
Ken and Karen’s wedding day arrives, and Hardin and Tessa enjoy the festivities. As they make plans to go to England together for winter break, it occurs to Tessa that Hardin is acting strangely and avoiding her old group of friends. she realizes that steph, zed, molly and the others probably don’t even know that she and hardin live together. tessa goes to a biker bar steph likes and stops to visit her old roommate. hardin arrives at the same bar and is mad at tessa for coming.
Molly hints that there is a big secret that the whole gang is aware of and informs Tessa that Hardin made a bet with all the other guys that he would be Tessa’s first sexual encounter. To earn the money he was promised, he showed the other boys the bloody sheets from Tessa’s bedroom and the used condom from their first night together. the money he won from the bet allowed him to put down the down payment on the apartment he and tessa share. Tessa slaps him and scolds him for taking advantage of her. Hardin insists that he made the bet before he fell in love with Tessa and that he really is sorry. Tessa refuses to listen to her apology and allows Zed to drive her home, asking him to tell her all the details of the bet.