A Grace clip

Akira frowned. Absentmindedly, her gaze abstracted, she stroked the mound of her belly.

“Should you be sitting down or something?” Noah asked.

She turned her head to him, the tilt reminding Grace of a cheerful bird, a robin or a sparrow, and raised her brows.

“Wouldn’t you like to get off your feet? Isn’t that what…” He paused. It looked like he was trying to find the right words.

“Very fat people?” Akira suggested.

“Enormously pregnant people?” Grace corrected her, lips twitching. Akira was looking very, very pregnant, in that way that some women did late in their pregnancies, all curves and lush flowing softness. Even her hair looked fuller.

“Mothers-to-be,” Noah finished, frowning at them both. He gestured to Akira’s office chair. “Shouldn’t mothers-to-be sit comfortably while they try to solve the mysteries of the universe?”

Akira’s hand curved under her stomach and she sighed. “I’m not that far along. I’ve still got two months to go.”

“You did sort of—“ Grace gestured with her hands, moving them apart, wanting to be tactful but also amused. “—expand while you were in Belize.”

“It was so nice to be able to eat. Not throwing up any more was glorious.” Akira lowered herself into her chair. In a gesture that looked habitual, she used one foot to tug out the bottom desk drawer next to her and then lifted both feet to rest them on the open edge of the drawer’s front panel.

“You need a footstool.” Noah’s frown hadn’t changed.

Grace looked around Akira’s lab. It was remarkably devoid of footstool-like devices. “I’ll order one. I should be able to get it delivered by Monday.” She pulled her phone out of her pocket and bent her head to it.

“I’ll go find something for now,” Noah said. He slipped out of the room while Grace was pulling up a list of footstools.

Queen Anne style with tapestry and carved legs was probably a bit much for the office. Leather ottoman, probably too tall to be comfortable. Wood and faux leather, expensive and the ratings weren’t good. Plastic folding step stool, too ugly for Grace to ever want to buy, but cheap. Another Queen Anne style with floral damask cover. A basic wood stool, but it looked too long, more like a low bench. Oh, and perfect—an adjustable nursing stool, made out of wood, and with overnight delivery.

“I like him,” Akira said as Grace scrolled to the order button. “Are you sleeping with him?”

Grace’s finger slipped, opening the quantity drop-down menu. Why in the world would anyone ever need to buy 30 adjustable nursing stools? She set down her phone. “Why would you ask that?”

Akira looked at her like she was crazy. “Because he’s gorgeous. Considerate. And obviously into you. Duh?”

“It’s not that easy.” Grace felt heat rising in her face.

“Why not?”

“Sleeping with employees is not a good idea.”

Akira patted her stomach, giving Grace a complacent smile. “How can you say that? It’s a great idea.”

Grace rolled her eyes.

Akira broke into a laugh. “All right, you’re right. Not usually a good idea. But Grace—not to be too nosy here—if you don’t sleep with people who work for GD, who are you going to sleep with? Everyone in town’s got some connection to the company and you run the company.”

Grace sighed. “I’m well aware of that.”

Akira looked horrified. “Seriously?”

“Seriously what?” Grace asked, not understanding what Akira meant.

“You are seriously not having sex because of your job? That’s terrible. I just assumed you were really good at keeping your private life private,” Akira said.

Grace grimaced. “That sounds bad when you put it that way.”

“It is bad!” Akira dropped her feet to the floor, but didn’t stand. “I admit, I wasn’t very good at relationships. Not before your brother, anyway. Guys usually got a little bugged out about the ghost thing. But sex is different. You can’t just write it off for the sake of a job.”

“I’m not—“ Grace started to protest. And then she paused. It wasn’t just her job. It was her family, her father, coming home, being in Tassamara. She’d had the usual progression of boyfriends through the years—first love, high school sweetheart, the college crush two years older who seemed so sophisticated at the time, a couple steady if short relationships, and then one that lasted longer but ended with graduation and their moves to different cities… it wasn’t as if she’d never been kissed.

But when her mom died and Dillon, she’d come home and moved in with her dad. He’d needed someone to look after him. Well, and maybe he’d needed someone to look after, too. It had been a mutually beneficial move. She’d been working on taking the reins at the company. It had been a hard time. She’d been busy.

Love, romance, relationships… they’d fallen by the wayside. She had other priorities. And since then… well, she’d become a master of the second date brush off. The men she met while traveling had no interest in a life in a small town in Florida and the men she met in Tassamara worked for her. Or had never left the state. And it wasn’t that she wanted to find some guy who earned more money than her — she was perfectly capable of appreciating different standards of success. But she did find it hard to imagine falling in love with someone who had so little curiosity, so little imagination, that they’d never even left the state.

“Yes,” Akira said. “Well, close your eyes. Or get out of the bedroom.” She paused. “I would yell at him, of course. But it’s creepy and inappropriate to follow someone around all the time.” She paused again. “That’s different and you know it. You gave your parents some privacy, didn’t you, Dillon?” She shrugged. “And besides, if you didn’t, that’s on you. We all make our choices in life. I’m not an exhibitionist but I refuse to live my life worried about what the people that no one else can even see are thinking.”

“You’re talking to the ghosts?” Grace was reasonably sure she knew the answer, but she asked the question anyway.

“Yes.” Akira’s chin had a stubborn set to it and her eyes were snapping in annoyance. “I’m willing to pass the message along that they—well, Nadira—would prefer all your activities with Noah to be rated PG at most, until she and Misam move on to their final destination, but I think you should ignore them. Sleep with Noah. It’d be good for both of you.”

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