My heart gives a pathetic thump. “I was an asshole. I’m really sorry, okay? You guys have a lot of catching up to do. We can chat later.”

I slip free of his gaze and it’s all I can do not to jog away from them. I feel his eyes on my back as I slip into the shadows between the houseboats.

I make my way back to the barbecue, but despite my stomach’s loud protesting, I can’t bring myself to join the others. They sit in small groups with their plates, quietly talking, forks clinking. It’s so damn civilized it brings tears to my eyes for the second time since we got here, and already I’m second-guessing the deal I made with Theresa.

I’ll go soft here. It’s already happening.

What do I have to offer these people anyway? It’s Levi they want. I’m just another mouth to feed.

“Come and eat.” A young woman, petite like me and maybe even Chinese, wanders over and hands me a plate, punctuating my pity party.

My gaze falls to her midsection, where it looks like she’s tried to conceal a watermelon. “I think you better eat that.”

She smiles. “I’ve already eaten. Please take it.”

I reach for the plate — roasted river rat, pork and beans from a can, and a few baby carrots, bits of soil still clinging to the hairy roots.

She motions me to follow her, and I sit down on the dock next to a man I assume is the cause of her temporary but extreme deformity. He looks about as sheepish as he deserves to.   

“I’m Angie,” the woman says. “This is Michael.”

“Mila,” I murmur, shoveling in a bite of the stringy meat. I can’t believe how good it tastes. I don’t look up from my plate again until it’s clean.

“How long since you ate?” asks Michael.

I set my plate on the dock. “I’m not sure.” I remember my last meal — the stew Levi fed me before healing me. But how long had I slept after that? “Thank you.”

“What happened to your friend?” asks Angie.

“He’s around here somewhere.” I fold my arms over my knees, and I can see from her expression that she gets I don’t want to talk about him anymore.

But the inseminator doesn’t. “Is it true he’s a healer?” His gaze flickers to his woman’s melon, and I decide to cut the guy some slack. Hormones make people do stupid things. Shit happens. Even in the After.  

“Yeah, it’s true.”

Michael melts a little, and he lets out a sigh. 

“When is it due?” I ask.

Angie smiles and her hand moves to her belly. “Another two months, if you can believe that.” It was hard to believe. I wondered if there was more than one traveler in there. “We’ll be the first,” she adds.

“Are you scared?” In the After you dump skills that don’t help keep you alive. Tact is one I jettisoned a long time ago, right along with small talk.

She eyes Michael, who’s gone rigid again. “Everything will be fine.” Her gaze comes back to me. “We’re really glad you’re here.”

I don’t let on that I don’t know Levi’s plans. But he’s got every reason to stay. Okay he’s got one reason.

“Mila?”

Speak of the red-haired devil.

“You should eat,” I grunt without glancing up at him.

Michael pops up like a meerkat. “I’ll get you a plate.”

Levi shakes his head. “I’m fine.”

“I insist.” Michael moves off toward the cooking fires, and Levi sinks beside us.

“This is Angie,” I say, still avoiding his gaze. “Angie, this is Levi.”

“Nice to meet you, Levi.”

The air goes tight from the unspoken shit hovering between Levi and me, and Angie watches us while we ignore each other.

Finally she says, “Could I ask you to …?” She closes her mouth and swallows, looking uncomfortable. She composes herself and starts again. “Would you feel the baby?”

For some reason Levi’s eyes move to my face instead of hers, and he looks genuinely startled. I raise my eyebrows. Don’t look at me, dude

“Please? I’m sorry to ask, but it’s hard not knowing anything.”

I dip my head her direction. “Can’t hurt, right?”

“I’ll try,” he finally tells her. “But I don’t know that it will help you. That’s not really the way it works.”

“How do you know?” I ask.

His eyes come back to me.

“Ever touched a pregnant lady before?”

He shakes his head.

“Now’s your chance. Do it for science.”

Michael returns with another plate of food, and Levi leans closer to Angie, his hand closing over her midsection. Even with those freakish dimensions, his hand almost spans the width of it. He closes his eyes. I stare at them, mind momentarily blown by the fucking irony. Just a couple hours ago I watched him cut down a dozen flesh-eaters with that hand. He’s got dried blood all over his shirt, and the only reason no one but me knows it is because he’s wearing black.

The other people on the deck fall silent, listening to watery noises under the docks and Angie’s nervous breathing. 

“I …” Levi’s hand slides slowly around one curve of the melon, then the other. “When someone needs healing I can feel it.”

“What do you feel?” Michael’s voice sounds like it’s been forced through a straw.

Levi’s hand slides low and then high, over the lower and upper curves. Then he withdraws it. “Only that I’m not needed. I’m sorry. That’s all I can tell you.”

The soon-to-be parents beam at him, and Michael slips his arm around Angie’s shoulders, kissing the top of her head. “Thank you,” he breathes.

Levi’s plate sits on the deck, and I pull it toward him. “Nice one, Red,” I murmur. And I actually mean it.  

He empties his plate faster than I did, and then he rises to his feet. He reaches down a hand to me, and as I finally look up at him, the machinery of my heart seizes.

“Come on. Let’s go someplace private.”

RED: Love in the Time of Flesh-eatersRead this story for FREE!