The Brightest Stars by Anna Todd

  I kept my eyes closed as I came down from my blissful state, only to enter another one. I hoped with everything in me he wouldn’t be like Brien and ask how it was. It instantly made everything about him. I didn’t think Kael was like that and he proved me right as I laid my head on his chest and the silence sat comfortably between us.

  “I want to show you these new windows that came in for my place,” Kael told me out of the blue, while he drew circles over my bare hip.

  “Is that what you think about after you make girls come?”

  “Just you. My two favorite things, my renovation projects and you.” He looked shy when he said it and that made me giggle.

  “I’m just ready for you to finish that duplex so you can work on my house,” I joked. I did love the idea of Kael tearing out the cabinets in my kitchen, without a shirt. Wasn’t that every girl’s fantasy, a devoted guy hard at work—for her.

  I buried my head into his chest like he could hear my thoughts.

  “Mhmm, I can’t wait to work on your house so I can sleep here every night, in this bed.” He squeezed me tighter.

  “I love when you’re off work. You need more days off. Imagine if we had an entire day to ourselves,” he said into my hair. I loved the way his thick fingers wrapped around my dark strands, gently twisting between and around them. It made me think of him rubbing at my skin, making me orgasm without taking my panties off.

  I nodded against him, so content and warm. I felt tired all of a sudden, and I realized that I could actually sleep if I wanted to. That was a first for me to be so relaxed during the day that I could fall asleep. I suspected it had everything to do with the company.

  Kael was humming a song, telling me about this little band he found in a bar in Kentucky after he graduated basic training and how he heard their song on the radio. I loved when he was tired and his voice was even deeper than it always was.

  “I’m so relaxed, you would think that I came too,” he said.

  I leaned up, lifting my face to where he could see it. “Do you want to?” I kissed his chin.

  He smiled. “Is that a rhetorical question?”

  I shook my head.

  I started to kiss down his chin, around his collarbone and shoulders. His skin was so soft under my lips, I kissed the scar across his shoulder twice.

  He started to talk to me, to encourage me, tell me how hard I made him, when his phone started to ring on the nightstand. He grabbed it, eyes reading the screen.

  “It’s Mendoza,” he said, showing me the phone.

  I nodded, telling him to answer.

  “Hey, you—” Kael started to speak, but he was cut off by shouting.

  “Hey, hey man, slow down. Everything’s okay.” Kael’s voice was different again, back to Sergeant Martin he was.

  It astounded and impressed me. He had such great empathy, his soul glowed from the inside. I thought maybe our empathy would one day be our destruction because it seemed neither of us could control it. But for now, we were both alive and he was showing me what a thoughtful man looked like. Beautiful brown skin, sympathetic eyes, and a considerate heart. That’s exactly what it looked like.

  “No, no. We’re okay, bud. Let’s talk about where you are? And I’ll come meet you, we’ll grab a beer, shoot some darts, whatever.” Kael was out of my bed, sliding his pants up his legs before his friend responded.

  I didn’t know what to do so I just sat there on the bed as Kael moved around me, in full-on mission mode. His eyes touched me every few seconds to remind me that he knew I was still there, but he was so focused on Mendoza on the other line that it was impressive and chilling.

  “Just me. I won’t tell Gloria where you are. I don’t want Karina to know either.” Kael looked at me. I don’t mean what I’m saying, his eyes told me. I knew that.

  Kael’s shoes were on and he told Mendoza he was on his way. “Look, look, go back inside and order us some beers. Hell, I’ll drink tequila with you, but don’t leave, wait there for me.”

  Was he going to hurt himself? I got out of the bed and moved toward Kael. He held his finger up to tell me to keep quiet.

  “I’ll be there soon, everything’s fine. Don’t talk to anyone else until I get there,” Kael instructed.

  “Is everything okay?” I asked him. He nodded.

  “Mendoza, he’s drunk and started saying these guys were spying on him. It’s paranoia from having to watch your back all the time. From seeing your buddies get blown up. I get it,” he said. His words rattled me.

  “I’m sorry I have to go again.” He kissed my forehead, then my cheeks, then my mouth. “I’ll be back as soon as I’m done there.”

  “Don’t drink tequila and drive,” I told him. “Actually, let me drive you?”

  He shook his head. “I’m sorry, Kare, but if he sees you after I told him you weren’t coming, he won’t trust me. I’m not going to drink tequila there, and neither is he. I’m going to convince him to go to Steak and Shake with me. Milkshakes only,” he told me.

  “I have to go to my dad’s, but I’ll have my phone on me. I really don’t want to. I’m so tired,” I told him, leaning against his chest for one more touch before he left.

  “Don’t go then? It’s just one night. You’ve been working your ass off lately and wasting all your free time entertaining me.” He hugged me. “You hate going there anyway. Why not just take a week off?” I couldn’t see Kael’s face, but his voice was convincing enough. He was right, why was I so willing to put myself through the inconvenience of going to these scheduled dinners every week just so I wouldn’t upset my dad and his Stepford wife. At least when Rory and Loralie are forced to go to Rory’s grandma’s house, they miss when something comes up. I could do that. I was an adult, I could miss it.

  “I l—” Kael started to say when he pulled away.

  I pretended not to hear it. I didn’t want anything to ruin our happy little bubble and if he started saying he loved me when we had only known each other a week, I would never forgive him.

  “Be safe and text me when you get there to let me know everything’s okay, please?” I asked of him. He nodded, kissed me again and walked to the bedroom door.

  “What are you going to do about tonight?” Kael asked.

  I made up my mind. “Tonight, I’m going to nap until you’re back.”

  A smile spread across his face but it didn’t quite reach his eyes.

  “He’s okay, right?” I asked him.

  He nodded. “Yeah, Kare. He’s going to be okay,” he reassured me.

  I fell into bed thinking about how many soldiers across the globe had demons chasing them long after they had left the battlefield. Home wasn’t such a safe place for them. I drifted off to sleep wondering how strong the demons chasing my soldier were.

  Kael was asleep in my bed when I got home from the store. I texted my dad, only saying sorry I can’t make it, and took a three hour nap and then went to the grocery store. I called him back while I walked through the freezer aisles and told him that I didn’t feel like coming. That was it. He didn’t like my answer, but let me get off the phone when Austin called his other line. Elodie was at another FRG gig, a cookout this time. She seemed happy to be out socializing, especially since she found a couple of wives who were actually nice to her. They were new at the post and didn’t want anything to do with the catty assholes who thought it was fun to target Elodie. Being outsiders themselves, they could see the situation for what it was, a pack of mean girls who hadn’t quite grown up who somehow thought it was okay to let jealousy guide every action. Elodie’s new friends just wanted to drink wine and watch Netflix so, minus the wine, it was perfect for Elodie.

  Kael was shirtless, wearing boxer briefs that accentuated his muscly thighs. I thought back to the first day I saw him in the lobby, when he refused to take off his sweats or let me touch his right leg. It wasn’t that long ago that the stranger with the strange name was lying on my massage table, and here he was, lying on my bed, his arm dangli
ng over the side.

  I lifted his hand and held it in mine, brought it to my lips and kissed him gently. He didn’t stir. Holding his hand like this … touching each of his fingers, tracing the little creases around his knuckles … just his hand in mine was the best remedy. I loved his hands—how big they were, how strong. I thought of how they held me, touched me, brought me to the brink and beyond. I gently dropped his arm, slid my shoes and pants off, and climbed into bed with him. He woke up as soon as I wrapped my body around his, clinging to him like he was life support.

  Life support. That’s what he was starting to feel like for me. I should have been worried about that, but I wasn’t. I’d never been the needy type, never played the damsel in distress. It’s just not my style. And yet … there he was, this knight sprawled out and cozy in my bed.

  I should have remembered that not all fairy tales end in happily-ever-after.

  When Kael’s eyes open, confusion filled them for a few seconds. I saw the moment he came back to reality. “Hey.” He curled his body into mine. We were trying to crawl inside of each other, anything less … well, nothing would feel close enough unless that was possible.

  “How was the store? Do you need help carrying bags in?” he asked.

  “It was good, I—”

  He cut me off before I could finish. “Why are you still dressed?” he whined, though I was pantless.

  Having this man want me gave me a high I never could have dreamed of. I’d never felt like this before. Not once. I knew what a cliché it was, and I didn’t care. All I cared about was right in front of me, moving closer.

  Kael lifted himself up on his elbow, leaning over me, positioning himself to gaze down at me. The angles of his face continued to surprise me, as if each time he looked at me from a different viewpoint I saw a new side of him. The way he took me in … he swallowed hard, wanting to devour me. It was a small movement, almost imperceptible, and yet an act so intense I had to close my eyes to keep from falling.

  I could feel the heat of his face moving closer to mine, his lips moving closer to mine. His fingers were warm when he inched my shirt up above my belly button, up my torso, until I shimmied enough for him to pull it over my head. I felt cool air on my skin, but the goose bumps, the electricity coursing through my body came from Kael.

  “I missed your mouth.” He spoke slowly, each word betraying his want, each breath revealing his need. He touched his fingertips to my lips, tracing them. I licked them, running my tongue under his soft skin, over his hard nails. I nipped him playfully and he reacted first by licking his lips, then biting them. He was trying to slow himself down. I could hear it in his breath, see it in his face. He wanted me.

  “Kael,” I said, taking big gulps of air. “This moment. Now—”

  “The words, your words—” Kael’s voice was raspy, his dark eyes smoky. “The way they taste.” He bent down to kiss them. “They taste even better than they sound.” He pulled away and then dipped down to kiss me again.

  It was more than a kiss. It was a touch and a kiss, and something that I couldn’t begin to explain and it pulsed through my body as pure arousal. He slid his tongue between my lips, separating them to have more of me.

  My body had come alive. I was closest to the purest human form when under his spell. When he was touching me, I could feel my mind opening up. Vast spaces were cleared, every move he made pushed aside the chaos inside my head, put me at ease.

  “Every part of you,” he kissed my jawline, making my eyes close, “tastes so good.”

  He was so hard. I could feel him pressing against me, my body reacting to him before my mind could. I reached between us to touch him, but he grabbed my wrist, pinning it above my head.

  “In a hurry?” Kael dipped his head down again, this time sucking at the flesh spilling over my bra. I shuddered.

  “I’ve been thinking about your tits all day. How they would feel in my hands.” He reached up and covered my entire breast with his large hand. My eyes rolled back in my head and I swear I could feel myself moving in and out of consciousness. He sucked at me until I felt the sweet sting of the blood breaking over my skin. He was marking me. Branding me. Making me his.

  I ached between my thighs.

  “How they taste.” He bit me gently, dipping his tongue beneath the lacey cup of my bra.

  “I missed you,” I managed to say through the moans slipping from my lips. He was sucking at my nipple now, biting gently. The pain mixed with pleasure sent a tantalizing surge through my entire body.

  “Oh, I missed you so much.”

  “I want …” I gasped. I was no longer capable of breathing.

  “What, Karina? What do you want?” he asked. He was teasing me. Taunting me.

  I swallowed sand, my mouth was so dry. All of the wetness had moved elsewhere on my body. Never in my life had I known why people liked sex so much, why sex made them do crazy things. Yet, if Kael asked me to rob a bank with him right at that moment, while he gently sucked and pulled at my nipple, I would have happily said yes. Not being with him. Not feeling his hands on mine, his mouth on me … that would be the real crime.

  “More, Kael. I need more—” I had barely gotten the last word out before his hand pushed under my body and he lifted me, carefully flipping our bodies so that I was on top of him. I could feel the pool of arousal soaking through my panties as he throbbed against me, pressing against my pulsing sex.

  I wanted to tell him to fuck me. I didn’t care if it hurt. I wanted him to plow into me. To take me until there was nothing left to take. I wanted to slide my panties off and lower my body onto his.

  Like he was reading my mind, his fingers went from digging into my hips, to slipping inside my panties. I moaned, my head dropping in relief, then thrown back in arousal. I was throbbing from him at the core of my body.

  Kael’s thick finger teased me, tracing up and down, all over the sticky wetness, but not where I needed him the most. He knew just where to touch, I could tell by the way he handled my body, the confident way he talked me through it. I moved my hips, sliding myself up so his finger slid against my clit. I groaned and suddenly two fingers were inside my panties, spreading me open. I felt a small pinch and then a wave of extreme pleasure.

  “I want to lick you, suck on you, taste you, tease you.” Each word was breathed, rather than spoken. His eyes were blazing now. Another pinch.

  “Fuck.” I moved my hips again, rubbing his cock against my aching core. It was the switchboard for my body and Kael was testing all the circuits. He took his fingers from my flesh and brought them to his mouth, tasting me. I looked down at him, feeling like a goddess, feeding a starving man. He sucked at his finger, eyes closing.

  “Come here,” he said, his hands gripping my waist. He lifted me up, bringing me to his mouth.

  “I—Are you—” I started to ask questions but his tongue gave the answer as it licked circles on my body. I wanted to pull away, to tell him … to apologize for not shaving all the way. All of my insecurities bubbled to the surface, battling with the pain of pleasure building inside of my body.

  I don’t know how it was possible, but for once, the pleasure won the war inside my head, and I thought only of Kael’s hands on the top of my thighs, just below my waist. The way he held me in place, over his tongue. When my body started to shake above him and inaudible words fell from my lips, he used his finger to help his magical tongue and I came so hard that I collapsed on his warm, solid body.

  He held me, his arms wrapped tightly around my back, pressing my body to his. While my body danced and glowed in post orgasm bliss, I wondered if other boys knew the female body the way Kael did and it made me start thinking about the girls Kael had touched before, kissed, and made moan his name as they came.

  “You’re so beautiful when you come,” he said into my ear, tracing his fingers down my back.

  I wanted to punish myself, remind myself that this is all most likely too good to be true, but the way he lifted my face with bot
h his hands on my cheeks, and kissed me, made me forget about all the doubts swirling inside of me. He had that power, it both terrified and electrified me.

  MY SHIFT THE NEXT MORNING was so long that I could barely keep my eyes open. It was toward the end of Stewart’s treatment and she was telling me about her upcoming move to Hawaii. It was a big deal for her—the promotion she’d been angling for had finally come through. Stewart was talking a mile a minute about her partner, about how optimistic she was about moving her small business to Hawaii. She designed these cute floral dresses and sold them online and in a few local boutiques, so her business was portable. Actually, she’d most likely do better in a beach town than here near the border of Georgia and Alabama, almost five hours away from the coast.

  I was a little distracted while Stewart was talking. Every time I moved, I felt Kael coursing through my body. Twelve hours after that explosive moment and I could still remember every moment and every touch. I had barely landed back on earth.

  “She’s going to set up one of those little shops right on the beach. She’s convinced she’s made for beach life,” Stewart winced as I applied my harshest pressure. She was always full of knots, but she could handle the pain better than most.

  I laughed a little while she continued talking. Her head was in the cradle and her voice was muffled a bit, but that’s something you get used to. “I reminded her that we’re going to be living by the post, since we can’t live on post,” she said. The military needed to catch up with the times. It blew my mind that she could serve her country the same way as a straight woman, but she couldn’t tap into the same benefits for her family that a straight soldier could. Seemed like don’t ask, don’t tell was replaced by don’t care, won’t pay.

  Kael once told me that he knew a gay woman who was on her deathbed in Germany from war related injuries and the Army never called her partner. Just her homophobic parents who left her to die alone. They hid behind regulation to get away with their horrendous negligence.

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