The Soulmate Equation

Page 55

“The perfect amount.”

They’d stayed at the restaurant too late, eating and drinking, and laughing harder than Jess had in years. She’d been comfortable with his sisters almost the way she was with Fizzy; the way they spoke over each other and didn’t take themselves too seriously had felt like sitting down to dinner with old friends, rather than people she was meeting for the first time. And right now, contentment flowed, warm and honeyed, through her. Nana Jo was going to be okay; Juno was thriving. Fizzy was falling for someone, and for the first time in her life Jess had money and a sense of security, and a person of her own. She turned and stared at the side of River’s face.

“I like you.”

“I like you, too.” He squeezed her hand. “Very, very much.”

Was this what joy felt like? Safety?

She nodded toward his house as they neared. “Are we gonna get freaky?”

“Without a doubt.” He laughed, pulling into his driveway and leaning over to kiss her after he put the car in park.

Inside, River turned on a lamp in the spacious living room, turned another light on in the kitchen, and excused himself to get them each a glass of water. Jess texted Naomi’s mom to check in on her kid, pleasantly surprised to hear that Juno was having the time of her life.

Setting her phone down, she turned around on the couch to watch River as he futzed in the kitchen. “I don’t know what to do with myself,” she said. “Nobody needs me right now.”

River came back with two glasses, set them on the side table, and then crawled over her on the couch. His mouth moved from her neck up to her lips. “I do.”

And then he pulled back and smiled, like maybe he was just teasing, but Jess saw the sincerity in his expression. Her own fondness rose to the surface, the quiet thrumming of infatuation.

She was starting to need him, too.

Her phone was trapped beneath her back, and she reached for it, tossing it to the floor. Tracking it with his eyes, River asked, “How’s Juno doing?”

“Good. Naomi’s mom says they’re watching a movie out by the pool.”

“Things are good with her friends, then?”

Jess lifted a shoulder. “Some days one of them is mean or mad or tired and it creates a little drama tornado that takes a week to get over. I’m learning it’s best if the moms stay out of it. Kids argue. Sometimes it hits our own buttons, and we make it into more than it needs to be.”

He hummed at this, braced over her on his elbows and playing with the ends of her hair. It was still curled from the interview that morning, and he absently looped a strand around his finger. “I bet it’s hard to not get overprotective sometimes. I felt that way when she talked about it on the drive to ballet, and I’m only just getting to know her.”

Jess stretched up, kissing him for that. And then she remembered something. “I can’t get over the idea of you being obsessed with soap operas. No wonder you and Fizzy get along.”

He buried his face in her neck. “I hadn’t thought about that in a long time. Sisters never forget.”

“When did you go from telenovelas to intense geneticist?”

“My grandmother died when I was fourteen,” he said, pushing up to sit and pulling her legs over his lap. “She moved in with us for the last seven or so years of her life, and she was absolutely the happiest aspect of my childhood. My parents didn’t get along great, and without her there as a buffer, that resentment bled into everything.”

Jess frowned, reaching forward to pull one of his hands into hers.

“Also, they’re not very … warm people by nature, so it got really quiet when Abuela died. Dad was never a fan of me sitting with her, watching the shows. He didn’t get it—and when I tried to watch them after she died, sort of as a way to stay connected to her, he was not having it. He wanted me to get my head out of the clouds and think about a future that could support a family.”

“My mother, Jamie, is the same, sort of.” Jess smiled sardonically. “But her version was to always remind me what men want and look for. Suggesting my time was better spent finding a way to be taken care of, rather than learning how to do shit on my own.”

It was his turn to frown sympathetically. “I’d always been good in school,” he said, “so I just … got better. Science came naturally to me.”

“Had it occurred to you before Natalia said it tonight that what you’re doing now is—in a roundabout way—sort of connected to all that? I bet your abuela would love it.”

“It didn’t, but I think it’s true. Think about how many love stories we’ll build.”

Jess tilted her head and stared at him. She couldn’t believe she got to be naked with this man.

He did a self-conscious double take. “What?”

“You’re really hot, you know that?” Jess said. “And sort of wonderful. I think I’m even more into you now than I was earlier today.”

The corner of his mouth turned up. “How is that possible? I thought I had you on lock already.”

Jess stretched out on the couch, grinning up at him and slowly peeling her shirt off. “Didn’t someone say something about getting freaky in here?”


JESS AND JUNO were about a block away from school one morning when Juno stopped and asked, “Now is River Nicolas your boyfriend?”

“What made you think of that on the way to school?” Jess deflected.

“Just wondering if you’re going to see him this morning.”

She carefully considered this statement; her kid was fishing. “I’ll probably see him at Twiggs later.”

“Oh.” Juno slanted her eyes up to her. “I thought I saw his stuff at home.”

Jess’s neck heated, her mind starting to race. The last week, River had come over every morning for an hour or so after school drop-off and before they both started work for the day—it was their only time totally alone—but Jess’d had no idea that he’d been leaving evidence behind. She guessed in the haze of sex on the floor, on the bed, in the shower, bent over the dresser, and once on the kitchen island, even a hyperorganized scientist was prone to forget something.

“Huh,” she said, stalling.

“Yesterday,” Juno said casually, her eyes straight ahead, “he left some shorts.”

“Oh.” Jess scrambled to come up with a suitable explanation, but the image of River suffering his way through a workday without underwear made her cough out a tiny laugh. “He probably used our place to change after, um, going for a run?”

Juno nodded at this and kicked a stick into the street. “Yeah, probably.”

They stopped at the border of school property, and Jess turned to face her daughter, needing to see her eyes when she asked, “How would you feel about it if we were dating each other?”

“I would like it,” Juno said absently, and her eyes veered to the side as she started scanning the playground for her friends.

Jess guided her chin so Juno was looking at her again. “Are you sure? Because it means sometimes he’ll be with us, doing things.”

Her daughter’s eyes glazed over. “I know.”

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