“It’s so bizarre,” Akira said thoughtfully, staring up at the motionless ceiling fan.
“Is the baby moving?” Zane asked, sliding a hand along the slight curve of her belly. He hadn’t been able to feel a kick yet, but that didn’t stop him from trying.
“No, not that.” Akira tilted her head sideways, letting it come to rest against his shoulder. She sighed, feeling content with her position although mildly exasperated by her body’s demands.
“Bizarre,” Zane repeated. “Would that be the miracle of life growing inside you?”
“A natural process that women have been managing for thousands of years.” Her voice was dry. Of course, it was a little strange that she’d met her baby’s previous incarnation—she imagined that not too many women throughout history could claim the same. But no, that wasn’t what she’d been thinking about.
“What then?” Zane stroked up, long fingers reaching the underside of her breast and lightly tracing a pattern along her skin.
“How much I want red meat.” Not just red meat. Steak. Gorgeous steak. Red in the middle, seared dark on the outside. Mmm, with salt. Luscious salt, bursting with flavor on her tongue. Or maybe a hamburger, juicy and rich, dripping with . . . ick. Fat and blood. That’s what hamburgers dripped with. But even knowing that didn’t change the way her mouth watered at the thought.
“It doesn’t make sense,” Akira protested.
“Sure it does. The baby needs some protein.”
“I ate a pound of edamame last night. A whole pound. That’s about five times the amount of protein the average person needs.”
Zane’s hand stilled. “I read something . . .” He pulled away, Akira’s head dropping to the pillow as he got out of the bed and crossed to the dresser on the other side of the room.
“Hey!” She complained. She’d been comfortable. And his clever hands had been starting to stir up something a little more interesting than hunger for steak.
He looked back over his shoulder and grinned at her. “Coming right back,” he promised. He grabbed his smartphone and started tapping. “Soy,” he reported, “contains phytic acid.”
Akira raised her eyebrows. “And?” She’d never even heard of phytic acid. Why had Zane?
“It blocks the absorption of minerals.” He joined her on the bed, lying down and putting a proprietary arm across her.
“Minerals such as . . .”
“Calcium, magnesium, and iron,” he said cheerfully. “Also zinc and mercury, if they matter.”
“Let me see that.” Akira held out a hand for his phone and he passed it to her, a small smile playing around his lips.
She read the information on the website he’d found, scowling. “Damn it. All right, maybe I’m craving meat because I need iron. Fine, I’ll eat broccoli.” She couldn’t suppress a shudder at the thought. Broccoli. She loved broccoli. But not for the past few months. Just the thought of it brought a nasty taste into her mouth.
Zane leaned down. “Good job, Henry,” he whispered to her abdomen. “You and me, bud? We’re gonna be friends.”
Akira groaned. What was a semi-vegetarian doing getting involved with a confirmed meat-and-potatoes man? Worse, having his baby?
Zane grinned. “How about I pick up a couple filets? Fire up the grill? We can have steak and baked potatoes for dinner tonight.”
“Steak and salad,” she answered grumpily.
“Baked potatoes. With butter. Maybe some sour cream.”
Akira closed her eyes. Why did that sound so good? What was Henry doing to her? Having her body taken over by a creature with his own tastes and desires was not what she had expected from pregnancy. Was it like this for every new mother?
“Knock, knock!” The cheery voice from the other side of the bedroom door stopped Akira’s response to Zane before she could make it. It was almost with relief that she called out, “What is it, Rose?”
“I’m sorry to interrupt, but . . .” Rose paused and Akira’s eyes narrowed. Was that nerves she heard in the ghost girl’s tone? Rose wasn’t the nervous type. “I need your help.”
“I can’t believe I’m doing this.”
“I’m sure it’ll be okay. She acts real mean, but she wasn’t like that when I knew her.”
“When you knew her? When she was alive, you mean?” Akira didn’t bother to look toward the ghost seated in the passenger seat next to her. Florida drivers were insane. She needed to keep her eyes on the road.
“Uh-huh,” Rose responded eagerly. “She was a few years younger than me in school, so I didn’t know her well, but she was nice enough.”
“Nice enough. Huh.” Akira thought back to the mean old woman ghost she’d met briefly on her first day in Tassamara. Meredith, her realtor, had been showing Akira houses supposedly available to rent. Akira hadn’t even been willing to go into the little lakefront cottage. The angry ghost grumbling on the porch had made it clear that she wasn’t welcome. “Is that what they call damning with faint praise?”
“No, really,” Rose answered. “I’ve visited her a few times recently. As long as you’re not planning on moving into her house, she’ll be perfectly friendly.”
“That’s the problem, isn’t it?” This time Akira dared a glance at her passenger. To Akira, the ghost looked almost like a typical teenage girl—only her full skirt and blonde curls showing that she was out of her own time—but Akira knew she was more than that. And more than simply a ghost, too.
“Yes.” A little frown between her eyes revealed Rose’s worry. “She’s determined to get rid of the new tenant.”
Akira turned her gaze back to the road. Determined. She didn’t like determined ghosts. She didn’t like angry ghosts, either. She sighed. “I was supposed to be writing wedding invitations today.”
“Zane said he’d take care of them,” Rose said.
Akira didn’t roll her eyes, but a smile tugged at the corner of her mouth, as she tried to imagine Zane’s version of formal invitations. It wouldn’t be careful calligraphy, that was for sure. If she had to guess, he was picking up the phone and calling most of the people on their list. And then he’d tell her it was all taken care of.
She dropped a hand to her belly.