The Matchmaker's Playbook by Rachel Van Dyken


  “I don’t get what the big deal is.”

  I lifted the pillow and gave Gabi a threatening look.

  She threw her hands into the air.

  “So I think”—some sort of heavy tool dropped to the ground with a clang; a real tool, not David, damn it—“that should about do it.”

  “Why didn’t you call me?” I smacked Gabi’s head with the pillow.

  “Gee, I wonder why,” Gabi said in a mocking voice. “Because when the dishwasher broke, you said the only way to fix it was for me to dance in front of it topless, then shimmy across the floor in coconut oil.”

  I smirked. “Tell me you didn’t at least consider it.”

  “And you wonder why I dream of your death.”

  I waved her off with the pillow. “You love me.”

  “It’s always very vivid. Last night you were hit by a car.”

  “Nice car?” I asked.

  She shrugged and snatched the pillow out of my hands. “Honda.”

  “Harsh. Must have been an ex-bedmate.”

  “Most of them drive Jettas.”

  “Weird, right? Every once in a while, a Honda pops up, though, or a cute little Nissan. But those girls tend to want more than one night, and I’m only one man, so . . .”

  Footsteps sounded against the stairs.

  I froze in my position on the floor, kneeling next to my sick friend as David’s head appeared, and then his long, lean body. He was wearing torn jeans and a white T-shirt. I prayed he’d shown ass crack and had an unholy amount of crack hair waving in Blake’s direction while he fixed the damn pipe.

  Blake followed, her smile wide, excited.

  Great. That was just wonderful. I was so pleased with my new client and her ability to attract Crack Man.

  “Thanks again, David.” Blake crossed her arms. Did she really not know what that did to a guy? Cleavage galore poured out from her tight black running top.

  Wait, I hadn’t bought her that. Where the hell did she get it?

  I coughed.

  Lame move. I knew it, and Gabi knew it by the arch of her brow. Even the damn pillow seemed to be judging me as it puffed out in my direction.

  “Are you getting sick too?” Blake uncrossed her arms and made her way toward me.

  “Very,” I said with a nod.

  Gabi opened her mouth in protest, then let out a little yelp while I pinched her leg.

  “Oh no.” Blake felt my forehead, and her hands were cool. Hey, maybe I really was coming down with something. Frowning, she leaned down, pressing her lips to my temple. Nursing majors. Freaking loved them.

  “Blake?” David said from the door. “I’m sure he’s fine, and the last thing you need is to get sick before your big test on Friday. Why don’t we go get ice cream or something?”

  Damn, he was moving fast.

  Faster than I’d anticipated.

  Damn it.

  What? Suddenly he sees she actually has boobs and a guy that pays more attention to her and he wants to get ice cream? Like they’re ten?

  I coughed again, this time really selling it. Bastard wanted to play? I’d play.

  I hacked and then gently pushed Blake away. “He’s right. The last thing I want is to get you sick, and after . . . last night . . . you may already be coming down with something.” My voice rasped, heated, wrapped her up in its sexual innuendo, and promised to never let go.

  Blake’s mouth dropped open. I gave a slight shake of my head.

  “You’re right.” She sighed, defeated. “I’m probably already contagious.”

  “Most likely,” I said and nodded, pretending to be sad. “I’m sorry, babe. If I had known, I wouldn’t have put my mouth all over you like that. Damn, I’m such an ass.”

  David’s hands tightened around the bag he was holding.

  “Sorry,” I mumbled toward him. “I forgot you were here.”

  “Rain check?” Blake said in a hopeful voice to David. “I’d hate for you to get sick and miss the big game.”

  Big game? What big game? I really needed to start paying better attention to his schedule.

  But he was a basketball player.

  Was he an athlete? Absolutely.

  Did he get hit by three-hundred-pound men every few seconds? No.

  So was he badass? Like me?

  Not even close.

  He dealt with sweaty men and balls.

  I used to deal with testosterone-crazed linemen.

  Used to.

  Damn ache in my knee.

  “You’re right.” David eyed me cautiously. “Well, you have my number now, so . . .”

  “Yup.” Blake stood, her boobs bouncing. I watched like a cat who’d just been given his first ball of yarn.

  Want. To. Touch.

  “I’ll see ya around!” Bounce, bounce, bounce. Mother of—

  I looked away. I had to. Otherwise, I’d have had to explain to everyone in the room why the plague caused erections. And that just . . . didn’t seem like the best conversation to be having with a client.

  A client. A client. A client.

  Maybe if I kept repeating her status in my life, I wouldn’t be so damn ready to turn her over the table and—

  “Ian?” Blake was suddenly in front of me. Shit, had I said any of that out loud? I glanced to Gabi for help.

  She was staring at the pillow, completely ignoring me.

  Meaning she was pissed. She knew I wasn’t treating Blake like a normal client. I’d have to be more careful in the future.

  I jolted to my feet and started firing off the usual. “Next time he invites you over, you say you’re busy. You’re always busy until I say you’re free, got it? Rule number three in the playbook clearly states this in painful detail.”

  Blake took a step backward and nodded seriously.

  “And you don’t let him call you or coerce you into hanging out, not when you’re technically with another dude. It makes you look easy and doesn’t make our relationship look real.”

  Gabi’s eyes narrowed as she looked at us. “Is anything going on that I should—?”

  “You’re sick, Gabs.” I shoved the pillow over her face. “You know what they say, ‘Sleep, sleep, sleep!’”

  “She can’t breathe.” Blake pointed at the pillow.

  “She breathes through her hair.” I nodded. “She’s fine.”

  Gabi shoved both me and the pillow away and gasped.

  “See? Totally fine.” I cleared my throat. “I, uh, I’ll see you guys later.”

  I ran out of the house, sweating.

  And not because I was sick, but because I had a feeling I was about to be. Things were moving way too fast with her and David. I had a sudden desire to look more deeply into their program.

  I just hoped Lex was home to help.

  CHAPTER FOURTEEN

  “Lex!” I shouted for him the minute I stepped over the threshold. “Emergency meeting. Now!”

  Lex appeared a few seconds later, black-rimmed glasses sitting low on his nose, pen in his mouth. I was only slightly irritated that glasses made him look smarter than he already was.

  “What up?”

  And then he went and used phrases like “what up,” and I felt so much better about my place in the world.

  “David. What’s his deal? She’s working through the steps really fast, and he seems to be falling for it, but something just feels off with him.” Actually, it was me, all me, but I’d die before admitting that. “Can you pull up his file?”

  Lex’s eyes narrowed. “David’s file? You want to look at his file?”

  “Why are you repeating what I just asked you?”

  Lex leaned against the doorframe. “Oh, I don’t know. Because normally you just look at the summary I toss in the packet. What gives?”

  “Curiosity,” I lied.

  “Uh-huh.” Lex smirked, then moved into the living room where his laptop was sitting. “And would this curiosity have anything to do with your inability to keep yourself from wanting to ban
g the client?”

  I rolled my eyes. “I don’t bang clients.”

  “Yet.”

  “The minute I have sex with a client is the minute this turns into a very lucrative prostitution ring, okay?”

  Lex held up his hands, then leaned back in the chair as the Wingmen Inc. graph popped up on the screen.

  David Hughes and Blake Olson match = 87% success past first 30 days.

  “Eighty-seven?” I repeated. “Isn’t that kind of high?”

  Lex clicked down to the rest of the stats, mainly numbers that we’d plugged in after Blake’s questionnaire, where Lex correlated with David’s interests, background, grades, study habits, eating habits, relationships, and, yes, even his medical history.

  Lex hacked.

  Sure it was semi-illegal. Or maybe fully illegal. But we were helping people. I had my speech for the FBI all ready to go, if it ever came to that.

  “Who the hell’s allergic to raisins?” I blurted, reading through the medical history.

  Lex slammed the computer shut and turned. “If I see a headline in tomorrow’s newspaper about how the starting point guard for the Huskies nearly dies from anaphylactic shock, should I be worried? Or just give the police our address?”

  I laughed. “Please, like I would stoop that low.”

  “Gabi called.”

  “Gabi never calls.”

  “She was worried.”

  “So she called you?” I fidgeted with my hands, then leaned back on the chair. “She hates you.”

  “Which she said at least ten times before finally getting to the reason behind her call.”

  “She yell?”

  “When does she not yell?” Lex made a disgusted noise. “She thinks you’re hooking up with Blake.”

  “No hooking up has taken place.”

  “Will it?”

  I gulped. “No.”

  “Holy shit.” Lex jumped out of his seat and felt my forehead. “Are you sick? Since when have you ever not hooked up?”

  “Gabi’s sick.” I pushed away from him and started making my retreat into the kitchen. “Bring her soup. Be a good friend. I have work to do.”

  I thought he’d left me alone until I felt him breathing down my neck while I mindlessly rummaged through the fridge. “You like her,” he said.

  “I also like yogurt. You expect me to stick my penis in that too?”

  Lex burst out laughing. “I never thought I’d see the day. And let me guess, you aren’t even on her radar.”

  I slammed the fridge shut. “I shouldn’t be on her radar, considering I’m her coach! I’m supposed to help her with David, not help myself to her goods!”

  “She has nice goods.”

  “Shut the hell up!” I lunged for him, only to have his laughter stop me dead in my tracks.

  “Oh hell, man, you’ve got it bad. And you don’t even know why.”

  “Because she’s a nursing major. And you know that ninety percent of male fantasies either include a sexy nurse, naughty cop, or sexually repressed schoolteacher.”

  “My man.” Lex tossed me a spoon for the yogurt. “Just remember, they sign contracts. Keep your twitchy parts away from hers before you get into trouble. It says in the contract if you have sex with her, she can sue us. We did that on purpose, to gain their trust, but also to keep ourselves in check. It’s never been a problem.”

  “And it won’t be a problem.” The yogurt tasted like shit.

  My head felt hot.

  And my skin was clammy.

  Gabi!

  In my mind I knew it was impossible for me to get sick from just seeing her today, which meant something was going around. Still, my patience was shot to hell, and I needed to blame someone.

  “Why?” I threw the spoon against the sink and leaned against it. “One day, I’m going to kill Gabi and ask you to bury the body. Just don’t ask questions when that day happens, alright?”

  “Why one day? Why not now?” Lex looked confused.

  My head started to pound. “Damn it! Are you sick?”

  “Uh, no. But I take multivitamins. Your idea of a vitamin is eating a Flintstone once a week when you start to get itchy from having sex in the grass.”

  “Gabi must have gotten me sick,” I grumbled. “I’m going to bed to sleep it off and hopefully not die. If I wake up a zombie, take at least a few cool pictures before you decapitate me. Cool?”

  “You have my word.” Lex nodded seriously as I stomped my way down the hall and slammed my door.

  The last time I’d been sick was right before the draft.

  Right before my life changed forever.

  Being sick was a bad thing, because it felt like it was the universe’s way of telling me things were about to go to shit.

  CHAPTER FIFTEEN

  I was having the dream again.

  My brain was having a hard time keeping it repressed, what with my body shaking from the chills. Damn fever.

  I rolled over and closed my eyes, only to be haunted by the little boy’s face.

  “Can I have your autograph?” he pleaded, jumping up and down.

  I pulled out my black marker and crouched down to his level. “Dude, you can have my autograph and tickets for tomorrow’s game.”

  “No way!” he shouted. “Dad, Dad, guess what?”

  His dad mouthed a “Thank you” to me as a lone tear escaped his eye. I couldn’t look away from the raw pain just that one tear elicited.

  “What’s your name?”

  The little boy’s blue eyes widened. “Tyson! Tyson Montgomery!”

  It was cute how he shouted his name, like he couldn’t believe he was actually telling it to me.

  I quickly signed his Seahawks hat and then pulled out two tickets for the game. VIP. It was part of my bonus. I wanted tickets I could give out to people, but mainly I wanted tickets I could give to those who really needed to forget for a bit. Because that’s what football did for me.

  It helped me forget my insane parents.

  My crappy and lonely childhood.

  It helped me forget that I was still lonely.

  “Here you go.” I handed them over.

  “Thank you.” His dad pumped my hand as I stood to my full height. “You don’t know what this means. His mom . . . she just passed, and . . .” His voice broke.

  “It’s my pleasure.” I released his hand just as someone screamed in the distance.

  “Watch out!” a man yelled just as a car came flying down the street, knocking over a hot dog stand and an NFL shop set outside the stadium.

  I barely had time to react as the car made its way toward the little boy, who had moved down the line and was waiting for another autograph.

  “Move!” I yelled.

  My teammates ushered fans out of the way while the little boy stood dazed. The car made its way directly toward him.

  “Move!” I screamed and then ran toward him, pushing him out of the way just as the car slammed into the left side of my body, lifting me into the air.

  “Hey,” a female voice whispered as something cold dabbed my head. “It’s okay. You’re just feverish.”

  I jolted awake, chest heaving, leg aching.

  Blake pulled back a cold compress, her eyebrows knit with concern. “Are you okay?”

  “You’re here.” Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit. Lex was going to kill me.

  She was at my house.

  We never allowed clients to come to our house. Ever.

  I was sick, but not too sick to remember the rules I’d established. The same ones I’d just preached to Lex that I wasn’t breaking. And she wasn’t just in my house; she was in my bedroom. On my bed.

  “I texted you. I even called.” Blake dipped the rag into ice water and wrung it out. “And you never responded. You’ve been out for almost twelve hours. I finally threatened Gabi, who then threatened Lex, who finally let me in the house after I threatened to burn it down.”

  A laugh escaped between my lips before I could stop it. “That w
orried about me?”

  “You?” She blinked. “Oh, I’m doing this for entirely selfish reasons. If I lose my love coach, I lose my love. Simple as that.” She winked.

  Her wavy brown hair was pulled back into a loose braid. Soft pieces fell across her face, making me want to reach out and give them a little tug, or wrap them around my fingertips.

  “Sorry.” I touched my face. I was slick with sweat. My hands moved down my shirt.

  It was missing.

  “And sorry about the clothes.” She didn’t blush. She was all business as she started piling pillows around me, fussing over my positioning, and grabbing another blanket. “You were a mess when I got here. Lex said you were making the final transition into a werewolf and not to freak if you lashed out and bit me. I hope he was kidding, because you look rough.”

  I groaned. “I feel rough. And disgusting.”

  Smiling, she pressed the rag to my face again. It felt so good. I let out a little moan and grabbed her wrist before I could stop myself.

  She froze.

  And I immediately regretted my actions. “Sorry.” I cleared my hoarse voice. “It just feels really good.”

  “I’m glad.”

  “You know what would make me even happier right now?”

  “Soup?” she guessed.

  “You in a hot nurse outfit. What are you? A curvy size four? Six? I think I have a few costumes in my closet if you want to—”

  She flicked the rag at my face as water dripped down my neck. Chuckling, I tossed it off and was surprised to see her laughing with me.

  Blake rolled her eyes. “You’re kind of a pig.”

  “Right, but I’m more like one of those cute little pigs, you know, the teacup ones. Still a pig, but you can’t help but want to keep it forever because it’s so damn adorable.”

  “Not where I was going with it.” She pulled off my blanket, exposing me to the freezing-cold room.

  “Ahhhh,” I groaned. “Why are you torturing me?”

  “Take off your pants.”

  “What?” My body jerked with awareness so fast I nearly fell off the bed.

  Blake sighed. “You’re disgusting.”

  “Wow, thanks. I love you too.”

  “Take off your pants. Now.”

  “I’m disgusting, take off my pants. Can’t say I’ve ever had that type of reaction from a woman before. In bed nonetheless.”

 
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