Jess did the quick mental math—it’d only been two days since their visit to the site. Either GeneticAlly was insanely efficient, or it wasn’t running many samples these days. She had to admit, begrudgingly, that any company that invested in a unique neural network was taking its data seriously.
“Twenty-three?” She poured a cup of coffee, and Pigeon wound her way between Jess’s legs, purring. Jess made the mistake of briefly looking down at the cat, and her cup overfilled, pooling coffee on the countertop. Cursing, she leaned over to open the front door, letting Pigeon out, then dug in a drawer for a dish towel. “That’s a lot of soulmates.”
“I cast a pretty wide net,” Fizzy agreed. “I said anything above a score of thirteen.”
“It’s fun to just see what happens when you date guys with no expectations.”
Coffee dripped from the counter onto the floor, soaking through Jess’s lucky socks. “Goddammit.”
“It’s just a potentially terrible date, not plastic surgery.”
“I wasn’t goddammitting you, I spilled coffee.”
“Think of it as a character study,” Fizzy waxed on. “What happens when you put two completely incompatible people together? Will they beat the odds? Or come out fighting … each other?” She paused, and Jess imagined her friend reaching for her notebook. A weird alert sounded in the background. “Twenty-four!”
Juno wandered into the kitchen dressed for school, but her hair remained a bird’s nest. “Mama, can I have a smoothie?”
“Baby, go brush your hair.”
“I assume you were talking to Juno again,” Fizzy said distractedly.
“Can I, Mama?”
“I was,” Jess said to Fizzy, and then, “and yes, Junebug, I’ll make one, but go brush your hair and your teeth, too, please.” Back in the kitchen, Jess glanced at the clock and groaned. She pulled a basket of strawberries from the fridge.
“Okay,” Fizzy said, “I have a lunch date today with Aiden B., a Base Match with a score of thirteen, and a dinner date tomorrow with Antonio R., also a Base Match, twenty-one.”
“Don’t ever let anyone tell you you’re not adventurous.”
“Mom,” Juno called from the bathroom. “Remember, don’t let Pigeon out because the gardener is here today!”
Jess whirled around and stared out the front window, across the cat-less courtyard, and down the path to the open gate.
“Fizz, I’ve gotta jet.”
ONE EXPLODED BLENDER, one four-block cat chase, two changes of clothes (Jess’s), one impossibly double-knotted sneaker (Juno’s), and one tardy drop-off later, Juno was at school and Jess was finally hustling her ass downtown. A huge meeting with Jennings Grocery that morning, two potential new clients in the afternoon, and then a school meeting at six. Marathon, but doable. But why was it the nature of the universe that on the day Jess was already running behind, there was an accident on the 5, a detour at her exit, and not a single parking space to be found? She passed row after row of luxury sedans and was beginning to wonder whether every rich person in San Diego was in the Gaslamp at the same time, but then, huzzah: her prayers were answered by a flash of reverse lights to her right. She rolled forward, flipping on her blinker. Relief pumped adrenaline through her bloodstream like there was an actual prize for parking, rather than an intense meeting with some clients she was fairly sure wanted to cherry-pick their data to match their annual projections.
But just as Jess moved her foot to the accelerator to pull in, a black sedan swerved around the bend from the next row over, gliding into the spot with an impressive Fast & Furious screech.
Smacking the steering wheel, Jess yelled an aggravated “Oh, come on!”
She threw her hands up passive-aggressively, hoping the driver saw and felt like an asshole for taking the spot from a woman who’d never done anything more selfish than eat the last Ding Dong and blame it on her grandfather. Exaggerations aside, Jess—always able to keep her cool behind the wheel—was on the verge of laying a heavy hand on her horn. But then the car door opened, and one impossibly long leg stretched out, wrapped in pressed charcoal trousers and capped by a shiny leather shoe. There was something about the shoulders that emerged, the poise … and then it hit her. Jess didn’t need to see his face to know, because this wasn’t just any black sedan, it was a black Audi. His black Audi.
River Peña stole her parking spot.
She leaned out her window, shouting, “Hey!” But he was already walking briskly down the sidewalk and didn’t bother to turn around.
Jess spotted another car backing out a few rows away, and winced at the audible squeal of her tires as she bolted around the turn. Ready to lay on her horn lest anyone dare take this spot, she pulled in, shoved her car into park, grabbed everything she needed, and shuffle-jogged in heels and her fitted skirt toward the entrance.
Nearly ten minutes late now, but last time Jennings had been running fifteen minutes behind, and she could already see the elevators on the other side of the glass doors. She just might make it …
And who was standing at the elevator but River Peña? Jess watched him reach forward, pressing the button.
The light above it blinked on, the doors slid open. He took a step forward, and Jess clutched her laptop to her chest, breaking into a sprint.
“Hold it, please!”
Turning, he glanced over his shoulder and then disappeared into the elevator.
“Motherfucker!” Jess mumbled.
Jennings Grocery headquarters was only three floors up, so instead of waiting, she took the stairs. Two at a time. Visibly out of breath when she jogged from the stairwell into the hallway, Jess immediately collided with a brick wall of a man. For the record, he smelled amazing. It was infuriating.
“Careful,” he murmured, eyes on his phone as he stepped around her, continuing down the hall.
But Jess had reached the boiling point: “Americano!”
Hesitating only briefly, he turned. His dark hair fell over one eye and he brushed it aside. “I’m sorry?”
“Apology not accepted. You took my parking spot.”
“I took your—?”
“And you didn’t hold the elevator,” she said. “I’m running late, you saw me, and you didn’t bother to hold the door.”
“I didn’t see you.” He let out a short, incredulous laugh. “Maybe you should leave a little earlier next time.”
“Wow. You really are an asshole.”
He frowned, studying her. “Do we know each other?”
“Are you kidding?” She pointed to her chest. “Twiggs? Spit in a vial? Entirely average? Any of that ring a bell?”
Comprehension was a weather front that moved across his face. Surprise, recognition, embarrassment.
“I …” His eyes flickered over her and then down the hall as if there might be reinforcements coming at any moment. “You were … completely unrecognizable. I didn’t know it was you.”
For the life of her, Jess couldn’t figure out if that was a sick burn or a backhanded compliment.
“I’m sorry, I don’t recall your name, Ms. … ?” he asked evenly.