“But you are still the most important thing in the world to me.”
Juno’s attention started to drift to the side again. “I know.”
God, it was not the time or the place to be having this conversation.
“Juno,” Jess said with gentle authority. “Look at me.”
Her eyes cleared. “What?”
“It’s important to me that you hear this,” Jess said. “You asked about River, so I want to say this now. You are my family. It’s you and me, and nobody can change that, do you understand?”
Juno nodded. “I know, Mama. I like River. And I know you love me.”
From a few yards away, Naomi and Krista called out Juno’s name. She tensed in excitement, bouncing on her feet, but obediently kept her gaze on her mother, waiting for the release of the goodbye kiss.
Jess pressed it to her forehead. “I do love you, Juno Merriam.”
“I love you, too, Jessica Nicolas!” With a delighted giggle, she tore off toward her friends.
RIVER’S HAIR WAS a tangled mess from Jess’s fingers as he kissed his way back up her body, and his expression quickly turned cocky at the view of her rag doll prostration on the bed.
“That was inspired,” she mumbled.
He kissed her once, breathless and smiling, and then fell to the side in his own exhausted puddle. “Good.”
Jess rolled over, half sprawling across his chest, and grinned up at him. “How was going commando at work yesterday?”
Letting out a laugh-groan, he reached with his free arm and wiped a hand down his face. “You’d think I would notice the lack of boxers sometime before leaving for work.”
Humming, he smiled into a kiss, and then went completely still as realization dawned. “Shit. We had sex in the kitchen yesterday.” He squinted apologetically down at her. “Juno found them, didn’t she?”
Jess waved this off. “She thought they were shorts.”
He winced, face grim. “I’m sorry, Jess.”
“No, it’s good.” She rested her chin on her fist, gazing up at him. “I did tell her we’re together, though. I hope that’s okay.”
River bit back a smile. “Of course it is.”
“Honestly, I’m amazed her friends at school didn’t ask about the U-T article. Or the Today show, for that matter.”
“Was she okay with us?”
She stretched to kiss him, because that was the perfect first question. “I think she’s thrilled, River Nicolas.” Returning to her perch on his chest, she added, “I don’t want her to worry that things are going to change too fast.”
He dragged long, lazy fingers through her hair and gazed unfocused at her face.
“I’d ask you what you’re thinking,” she said, “but I bet the answer is, like, RNA editing or restriction enzymes.”
“Actually, wiseass, I was thinking how beautiful you are.”
An important circuit shorted out in her brain; she had no idea how to respond articulately while elation simmered in her veins. “Oh. So … not RNA editing.”
River smiled, curling to kiss her. “No.” He settled back on the pillow. “I was thinking how happy I am.”
Her blood cells stood up, gave a roaring standing ovation. “Just like your fancy machine predicted.”
“I haven’t felt this way before,” he said, ignoring her joking. “Is it too soon to say that?”
Jess grew short of breath. “Of course not.”
“I haven’t been home in years, but I feel that way with you.”
She bent and pressed her face to his chest, squeezing her eyes closed and trying not to hyperventilate.
“Just trying not to freak out,” she said, and quickly added, “Good freak out. Deeply infatuated freak out.”
“That’s a good freak ou— Oh.” When she looked up in response to his tone, an uneasy smile spread across his mouth and he pushed back into the pillow to be able to see her better. “I meant to tell you this as soon as I got here, but—”
“But I was waiting for you naked?” she interrupted with a grin.
“Yes, exactly.” He laughed. “We have people coming into the offices on Monday.”
He gazed at her, and then laughed at her misunderstanding. “We have People magazine coming into the offices on Monday. They’re meeting with us in the morning, I guess,” he said, gesturing to include her, “and then David, Brandon, Lisa, and I will have an interview in the afternoon. So, unless you and Fizzy are going to remove every copy in the grocery store, it’s probably good Juno found out today.”
AFTER A TRY Something New Sunday—River joined all four Davises at the zoo, and holding his hand in public was the novelty—Monday came along, and she didn’t even wake up in a panic. She was getting used to all these high-pressure situations—interviews, parties, photo sessions—though no doubt it helped that her relationship with River felt like a cornet-blaring, red-carpet-unfurling, fireworks-over-theocean, first of its kind in all of history.
It helped, too, that he slept in her bed Sunday night. In life, River was restrained and cautious. As a lover, he was expressive and generous. And in sleep, he was a cuddler: pressed up against her all night, her long, big spoon.
At six, his alarm went off and he jerked awake like he’d been hoisted by strings, sleepily tugging on clothes—double-checking that he had on all of his clothes—kissing her, and silently sneaking out before Juno was awake.
Half an hour later, he was at their door “surprising” Jess and Juno with coffee and hot chocolate.
Juno shuffled out of her bedroom, and the three of them sat down at the dining table for breakfast. River pulled out some papers to review; his foot came over Jess’s, reminding her that not even an hour ago he was beside her, in her bed. She tried not to let the thought unspool, imagining the three of them sitting there in easy silence every morning for the rest of their lives.
Juno poked sleepily at her cereal. “Why did you leave so early to get coffee? Mama has a coffee machine in the kitchen.”
River and Jess went completely still. Finally, he managed a deeply unconvincing “Huh, does she?”
They followed the path of Juno’s pointed finger to the counter, and River let out a murmured “Oh, I didn’t know that. Thank you.”
He looked at Jess over the top of Juno’s head and winced for help. Jess had to bite her lips to keep from losing it.
They walked Juno to school together, bracketing her, each holding one of her hands. She crab-walked; they swung her. “You need to be taller, Mom,” Juno said. “River Nicolas can swing me way higher.”
He looked over at her, gloating.
And all of it felt like the tip-top of the roller coaster, the feeling of anticipation before the thrill of the drop.
So obviously, Jess was terrified.
WHICH WAS OKAY, because there was plenty to distract her from those enormous, scary feelings. When they arrived at the GeneticAlly offices—the parking lot more crowded than Jess had ever seen it—everything exploded into motion and excitement. Lisa greeted them at the curb, firing information off about the schedule as soon as they climbed out of the car. Jess and River were up first for two hours, then the reporter, Aneesha, would take River to meet with David, Lisa, and Brandon over near the Salk. Before she’d even had a chance to put her purse down, Jess was being ushered into Lisa’s office, where a makeup artist and hairstylist got right to work.