The Soulmate Equation

Page 45

She nodded, swallowing down the tangle of angst in her throat. Pressing her hand to his chest, she stretched, and he stood carefully still as she brushed her mouth over his. When she stepped away, he stared down at her with the same unreadable restraint. If she’d been any less exhausted, Jess would have felt like a complete idiot. “Yeah—sorry. Just. Wanted to do that.”

River reached up, gently guiding her hair behind her shoulder. “Even without an audience?” he asked quietly.

“I’m amazed we did it with an audience.”

A smile broke slowly across his face, starting with his eyes and moving down to lips that curved up in shy relief. Bending, River set those lips on hers, and the same sensation of floating hit her like a narcotic. He gave her a series of sweet, brief kisses, and finally tilted his head to pull at her lower lip, nudging her mouth, coaxing it open so he could taste her.

The first contact with his tongue was like a shot of adrenaline into her heart, sent with shocking clarity and speed down every extremity. A quiet sound of relief escaped her throat and it turned something over in him; his hands flew around her back, pulling her flush against him.

Jess had the acute urge to crawl inside him somehow, kissing him with the kind of concentrated, building intensity she’d never felt before. Not even at the cocktail party. Alone together in the darkness of the parking lot, with a black sky all around and fingers of the cold, damp February air dipping beneath their collars, River left no room, holding her close and sending his warm, broad hand up under the hem of her sweater, pressing his hand flat to the small of her back.

Tight, hungry sounds escaped whenever they pulled away and came back for more. He bent possessively, one hand holding firm at her back, the other sliding up her neck, cupping her jaw, digging into her hair. Jess could, in an instant, see how easily he would devour her. A current vibrated when they came together; he became less man than pure energy, arms shaking with restraint. She imagined scooting back on a bed, watching him prowl forward, anticipating how it would feel to let him do whatever he wanted to her. Begging him to.

River broke the kiss, breathing hard and resting his forehead on hers. “Jess.”

She waited for more, but that seemed to be all of it, the quiet exhalation of her name.

Slowly, with the clarity of the sharp, cool air in her lungs and space from the intoxicating weight of his body against hers, she returned to herself. The night sky tickled the back of her neck; a sodium light buzzed overhead.

“Wow,” she said quietly.


He pulled back and looked down at her, a tether connecting something inside her to him. They were quiet, but the air didn’t feel empty.

River pulled his hand out from beneath her shirt, leaving the skin on her back suddenly chilly without the heat of his palm. And then the sensation doubled—as she leaned back into the cold side of her car, a violent shiver ran through her.

All at once, their proximity sank in.

Her car.


Jess whipped around, horrified to remember only for the first time in several minutes that her child could possibly watch this through the window. Jess deflated in relief to find that Juno was still out cold.

What was I thinking?

River stepped away, cupping his neck. “Shit. I’m sorry.”

“Oh my God.” Jess lifted her hands to her face, breathless for an entirely new reason. “No, I started it. I’m—sorry.”

She walked around to the driver’s side, meeting his eyes over the top of the car. She was losing her head. This was all moving way too fast, and she had the sense that neither of them was behind the wheel. “Thank you,” she said, aware of the knowing, calculating way he watched her. Inwardly, Jess shook herself; she barely knew him. She was letting this soulmate stuff get to her.

“Good night,” he said quietly.

“Night,” Jess replied, her voice hoarse. She worried her panic and lust and confusion showed plainly on her face. She must have looked like a lunatic—wide-eyed and breathless—but fondness warmed his gaze from the inside out, as if he was seeing exactly the person he wanted to see.


POPS WASN’T ANSWERING his phone. He probably forgot to charge it.

Despite the draw of good coffee and the emotional ballast of her best friend—Fizzy’d gotten back from LA late last night—Jess decided to take her chances with hospital coffee and headed straight there, finding Pops standing at Nana’s bedside, just … staring worriedly down at her. Nana remained hooked up to all manner of hospital monitors, with one leg carefully propped and wrapped from calf to hip, but she was peacefully asleep. Despite this, a glance at Pops’s face told Jess he hadn’t closed his eyes for longer than a blink since she and Juno had left him last night.

She crossed the room, wrapping her arms around him from behind and kissing his shoulder. “Hey, you.”

He patted her hand, turning his face toward her. “Hey, honey.”

“You been standing here like this all night?”

His laugh came out as a cough. “No. Up and down, though. There’s so much beeping, so much checking in, lights on, lights off. Glad she slept through most of it.”

“She has the benefit of painkillers and a bed,” Jess said. “You must feel like hell.”

He nodded, reaching up to scratch his stubbly cheek with the ends of his blunt, thick fingers. “Just worried about her.”

Jess opened her mouth, but immediately closed it again. Halt this vigilance for a half hour? Jessica Davis knew better. She wouldn’t even consider suggesting he go home to shower and get a few hours of sleep in his own bed.

Might as well give him some fortification in the form of caffeine. “I was going to grab some coffee downstairs. Want some?”

“Yes,” he rasped, grateful. “And something to eat, please.”

Jess kissed his shoulder again. “Of course. Back in a few.”

Out in the hallway, it was impossible to ignore the stressful energy of the hospital. Nurses wheeled monitors into rooms; doctors flipped through charts, frowning. A constant white noise of unsynchronized beeping emanated from all directions.

Statistics wheeled through her thoughts—life expectancy after a hip fracture: one-year mortality rate ranged from 14 to 58 percent, with a mean of 21.2 percent. Odds of survival worsened with increasing age, of course; thankfully males were more vulnerable and mobility scores significantly influenced outcome. Nana was active and female …

Meaning at best she only had a one-in-five chance of dying this year.

Numbly, Jess ordered coffee in the cafeteria, grabbing a fruit salad and bagel for Pops. She bent, inhaling the cups, trying to trick her brain and divert it from a panic spiral. A whiff of the weak brew barely registered.

She sat in a hard cafeteria chair and took a second to check her emails—Kenneth Marshall had sent over some sample data sets, and she had a new request through her website from a wholesale jewelry dealer in Chula Vista. She would need to reschedule the meeting she’d had to postpone yesterday, and bump up a deep dive on analytic epidemiology for some data that was coming in from UCSD. There was no way she was going to get through all of it today, get Pops to rest, talk to Nana’s surgeon, and be there for school pickup. At least Juno had run enthusiastically toward Krista and Naomi at drop-off, so Jess didn’t have to worry about her.

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