The Soulmate Equation

Page 33

“But he invited us to come out to the offices,” Jess said, and looked up at River to find him smiling at her fondly. It was rattling and threw her off her easy, unselfconscious rhythm. “So, we did.”

“And what was it like for you, meeting Jess?” she asked River.

“We hadn’t officially met until that day,” he said, and reached up to run his hand through his hair like a gorgeous stereotype. “I’d noticed her,” he said, looking at her again and letting his gaze move thoroughly over her features. “I’ve seen her there for a couple years now, but had no idea what her name was.”

“Did you want to know?”

He looked at Michelle with a small smirk. “Of course I did. Look at her.” He gestured to Jess.

“Above average?” Jess snarked, unable to help herself.

He gave her a playful but cautious smile. “Far above average. Only an idiot would suggest otherwise.”

Michelle watched this exchange with interest. “I’m sensing there’s a backstory there, but I’ll move on. Jess, can you tell me a little about yourself?”

While Jess gave a skeletal rundown of her life—her undergraduate work at UCLA, her first job at Google, and her later work as a freelancer—River’s attention on the side of her face was like the press of a hot iron. She could feel him smiling, nodding at these various bites of information. She could even hear the tiny hums of affirmation he offered every now and then. Like a proud boyfriend. He was good at this.

“And what did you think when you got the DNADuo score of ninety-eight?” Michelle asked.

At least she could answer plainly here. “I didn’t believe it.”

River laughed. “I didn’t, either.”

“I can imagine,” Michelle said.

“Think about it,” he said. Jess swallowed about a cubic liter of air when River threaded the fingers of his left hand with her right. He was very good at this. “I’ve seen hundreds of thousands of these scores over the past decade. I’d never seen a ninety-eight. What are the odds it would be me?”

“I’d say they were very slim.”

“Slim to none. In fact,” River told her, “Jess could probably calculate those odds.”

“I could, for sure,” she said, grinning. “That score is, as we mathematicians like to say, ‘deeply fucking unexpected.’”

They both laughed, and River squeezed her hand in a tiny Good job gesture. At least, she assumed that’s what he meant. It could easily have been more like Don’t say the F-word in front of the reporter.

“So you get the score, you both take a beat to digest it. Then what?”

“Then,” River said with honeyed calm, “we went out for dinner.”

“How did it go?”

He looked down at Jess, eyes smiling. “I’d say it went well.”

“So,” Michelle singsonged gently, “you’d say you’re officially together?”

Instantly, Jess’s hand went slick and sweaty in River’s grasp. As covertly as she could without Michelle noticing, she unthreaded it, wiping it on her thigh. “Uh,” she said, squinting at the horizon like the question required deep calculation. “River?”

Just as she said his name, River gave a definitive “We are.”

Michelle laughed.

“Yeah, we are, I’m just kidding,” Jess said, as he added, “At least, we’re open to what the future holds.”

Smiling, Michelle bent to write something down again. Jess threw River a murder look. He threw one right back. They probably should have anticipated this sort of question. They turned away and fastened smiles on their faces just before Michelle looked back up.

“So I guess we can agree it’s new,” she said.

“Very new,” they replied in unison, and laughed stiffly.

River took her hand again, and squeezed it emphatically. Meanwhile, Blake the Photographer hovered in the background, arcing around them, planning his attack—or candid shots. Jess’s palms went clammy again.

“Sorry,” she mumbled.

River bent to pretend to cough into his free hand. “It’s fine.”

“So, seriously,” Michelle said, “I think most people will want to know if this feels different. The first time you saw each other, I mean really looked, was there some sort of internal reaction? A score of ninety-eight—you must’ve known on some cellular level.”

There. Right there. She’d found River’s vulnerability. The biology of it, the assumption that his body would somehow just know. Jess couldn’t get past the unlikelihood of the number. He couldn’t get past the way he knew he should feel it in every cell of his body.

“Attraction, yes,” he said without hesitation. “But we’re only programmed to think about first encounters on a very primitive level. Sex. Coupling. We are animals, ultimately.”

Heat crawled up her neck, and she was treated to a mental image of River behind her, his front curled over her back, teeth pressed into the bare skin of her shoulder.

“But we aren’t really programmed to wonder on first sight whether someone is our soulmate. At least, I’m not.” Beside her, he shrugged. “It may be ironic given that I want to find it for other people, but I somehow hadn’t self-inserted into any of DNADuo’s findings. Truly. Given that we’re a couple months away from my first IPO, and having set my own criteria so high, the last thing I was expecting was a notification on my own app. So, if you’re asking whether I was surprised by the result, the answer is yes … and no.”

Her brain felt like it was chewing, digesting each one of his words. He sounded so sincere, but what was real and what was just for show? Michelle’s voice jolted her out of her thoughts. “Jess?”

Jess cleared her throat. “Like I said, I took the test on a whim. I wasn’t looking for a relationship. Had just sworn off dating, actually.” Michelle laughed in easy comprehension. “So yes, I was surprised.” She looked up at River’s open face and, maybe because her defenses were down, a low hum began in her bones. The deep vibration coursed through her, synchronizing with the high-frequency-static feeling along the surface of her skin. He was so gorgeous it made her woozy. “And no,” she added quietly. “In another way, I wasn’t surprised at all.”

“River,” Michelle asked, “I have to ask: Is sharing this finding publicly a conflict of interest?”

“I expected you to be more suspicious that it was a media stunt.”

She grinned. “Is it?”


She gestured around them. “But you’re leveraging it, surely.”

“It’s serendipitous. Doesn’t mean it’s false.”

“Jess,” Michelle said, leaning in, “does the pressure to fall in love with him feel … intense?”

“Yes,” she admitted. “I don’t know what it’s supposed to feel like to find your soulmate. I’ve never found mine before, obviously. And in this case, I second-guess every feeling, even when they seem genuine.”

“River, hearing that—does it make you uneasy?”

“Not at all.” His voice rang true. “We’re both scientists. It wouldn’t be our natures to dive headlong into anything.”

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