The Soulmate Equation

Page 52

“Your place is great,” he said, turning in a circle. “It’s so cozy.”

Jess closed the door with a laugh. “Cozy means small. I think this whole place could fit in your living room.”

“Yeah, but my house feels like a showroom you walk through to pick out cabinet fixtures.” He smiled up at a photo of Jess and Juno at the beach. “It’s not a home.”

“Who’s here?” Juno shouted from the kitchen, followed by the sound of the step stool scraping over the tiles and her feet padding across the floor. “River Nicolas, are you here to make cookies with us?”

“Are you kidding, Juno Merriam?” They executed some complicated knuckle-bump, hand-slap, dance greeting. “I am always here to make cookies.”

“Wow, what was that?” Jess asked.

They both ignored her—obviously it was a secret handshake—and Juno beamed up at him. “We’re making them to take to Nana Jo. Do you want to see my room?”

River grinned. “I would love to see your room. But do you think I could talk to your mom for a second first?”

“Okay! I’m gonna go get it ready. Also, Mom said we can get a dog!” She raced out of the living room and down the hall. “I’ll be waiting!”

“I said when we have a yard,” Jess shouted after her. She turned back to River, who was biting back a smile. “A warning, her room is a disaster,” Jess told him confidentially, “so that buys us a few minutes at least.”

When she looked back at him, he was already staring at her, eyes fixed on her mouth. Tension tightened his shoulders, and he ran a hand through his hair. “Maybe we can talk outside?”

“Sure.” Unease sent a cool film over her mood. “Juno,” she called, “we’ll be in the courtyard. Give us ten minutes.”

Just outside the apartment, hidden from view, River reached for Jess’s arm and pulled her toward him. His mouth came over hers, and he pressed her against the door, kissing her with a hunger that matched her own. But again he pulled away, clearly conscious of the risk. His bright eyes, when he looked down at her, simmered with that familiar, heated intensity.

And then they fell closed and he bent, releasing a long, frustrated growl against her neck.

Jess laughed out a sympathetic “Yeah, me, too.”

She pushed her fingers into the back of his hair, relishing the quiet moment. His arms came around her waist, banding all around her until he was pressed so close it was like having another heartbeat. They couldn’t stay this way for long, but Jess closed her eyes and breathed him in. The weird hollow ache in her chest settled.

She was relieved he was so clearly as wrapped up in it as she was. She was anxious to get her hands back on his skin, to feel that connection reverberating along her bones. She felt guilty that she couldn’t just invite him to stay over, but also worried how they would keep the relationship from Juno, or whether that was even the right thing to do. And she was sure these feelings showed plainly on her face when she pulled back and looked at him.

But then she remembered.

River straightened at her gasp, alarmed. “What?”

“Guess whose kid has a sleepover at Naomi’s tomorrow?”

“If the answer isn’t you,” he said, frowning, “then I’m going to admit that I don’t like this game very much.”

Jess laughed. “You’re right! It’s me!”

“Does that mean that Juno’s mom also gets a sleepover?”

“She sure does.”

He leaned in again, kissing her jaw, her cheek, her—

River’s phone vibrated against her hip.

“Save the vibrations for tomorrow,” Jess joke-whispered as he pulled it out.

He swallowed a laugh, answering with an easy “Hey, Brandon.” River paused, listening and shaking his head at her in mock exasperation as she gave him a dorky, Brandon-toothy smile. But then his expression smoothed in shock. “What? Hang on, wait, wait, we’re both here.” River put it on speaker and held it between them.

“Oh, good!” Brandon said. “How are you, Jess?”

She leaned forward. “I’m good. How are you?”

“I’m fantastic. And as I was just telling River, you two are about to be fantastic, too, because the Today show wants you.”

Her gaze bolted to River’s, and she mouthed, What?

He shrugged, eyes wide.

“They already filmed footage for a segment on GeneticAlly,” Brandon continued, “but after hearing about our Diamond Match they changed things up and want you in New York City tomorrow for an interview. Can we make it happen?”

“Tomorrow?” Her mind raced. They’d have to take a red-eye and go straight to the studio. She should say yes, because this was literally what they were paying her for, but Nana would come home from the hospital on Sunday, then start at the rehabilitation clinic on Monday. Someone needed to take care of Pops. And Juno would never forgive her mother if she had to miss a sleepover because of schedule complications. “Um—”

River smoothly cut in. “That’s not going to work,” he said. “If they want it in the next couple days, let’s see if they can shoot our portion of the interview locally.”

She opened her mouth to tell him it wasn’t necessary, they could figure something out, it was the Today show, for crying out loud—but he firmly shook his head.

“It’s better for us to do it there,” Brandon insisted.

“No, I get that,” River said with finality, playfully cupping a hand over Jess’s mouth to keep her from committing to something she shouldn’t out of guilt, “but Jess’s grandmother just had surgery, and she needs to be here. You’re in marketing, Brandon. Sell them on this.” She stared at him from behind his hand, wanting to kiss him until they both had to come up for air. How did he know exactly what she needed?

There was a pause before Brandon spoke again. “You got it. We’ll figure it out and get back to you.”

“Thanks,” River said. “Let us know.” He ended the call.

The silence stretched between them. “Well, hello, Mr. Decisive Executive.”

He tilted his head, giving her a flirty eyebrow. “You liked that?”

“It was so vintage Americano.” Jess stretched, kissing him.

“Well,” he said, kissing her one more time before straightening, “I admit that I’d like to stick around town for a selfish reason, too.”

“Sleepovers and vibrations, am I right?”

“Yeah.” He frowned. “But … also because of my sisters.”


“They’re in town from San Francisco.” He winced. “I may have mentioned that you and I would love to join them for dinner tomorrow night. You can always say no.”

Elated, Jess looked up at him. “Embarrassing stories?”

“They have them all.”

“Dirt on your pre-hot days?”

He laughed. “You have no idea. I’m sure they’ll bring photos of the time they gave me a haircut before a school dance. It did not look awesome. It was also during the phase where my orthodontist’s word was law, and I wore my headgear around the clock. I’m absolutely certain I’m going to regret this.”

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