The Matchmaker's Playbook by Rachel Van Dyken


  Blake didn’t answer. She just marched toward the adjoining bathroom and turned on the tub.

  My head started to pound all over again. With a muffled groan, I pressed my fingers to my temples.

  “We have to get your fever down.” She was back in the room again. At least I think she was. Everything was going double. This was why I hated germs, and Gabi—in reverse order.

  I waved Blake off. “Let me die.” The pounding worsened as my head rushed with heat.

  “Never leave a man behind,” she joked. Then, with a tug, my jeans were off my body. Good. Not only was I helpless in front of the girl I wanted to get into bed, but she’d just stripped me naked and didn’t even gasp.

  I was freeballing.

  And still, no appreciative “Oh my.”

  Damn it. I’d already lost before I even got put in the game.

  “Up you go.” She helped me to my feet. Thankfully, she was an athlete, so she was strong. I knew I wasn’t helping her much, considering I kept stumbling as I tried to weave my way toward the tub.

  “Why are you doing this?” I asked. Peering down at her, I saw three of her face. But she was still pretty, and in my feverish state I wanted nothing more than to kiss her, or just lean against her neck like a pathetic waste of humanity.

  “Simple.” She smiled up at me. “Despite your bossiness and crude humor, I like you.”

  Like “like me” like? Or just “hey, you’re a good friend” like? I nearly groaned aloud at my inner narration.

  Good job, Ian. Maybe during recess you can have Lex pass her a note and have her circle which one.

  “I like you too.” I smiled down at her.

  “Then get in the bathtub.”

  I stared her down in what I hoped was utter defiance and strength.

  “Get in—before I make Lex come in here and carry you. And I have a really good reason to believe his bedside manner is like a grenade going off in your face.”

  “How do you figure?”

  “Easy. He went and checked in on Gabi once he found out how sick you were. He was with her all night, and there was a lot of shouting.”

  “Lex?” I made my way to the side of the tub. “My best friend Lex? You should have called the police. He’s going to kill her.”

  “She texted that she’s fine.”

  “She’s feverish! Of course she’s fine! I’ve seen two unicorns and a flying elephant since we’ve made the trek from my bed to the bathroom.”

  “Dumbo?” Blake laughed. “You saw Dumbo?”

  “I was always terrified of big ears when I was little.” Why was I saying this out loud? Why? Why? Why, God? Why? But it just kept happening. “I think it was because they used to call me Big Ears, and then once the kids discovered Dumbo . . . it was the beginning of the end. I refused to even eat elephant ears, because I assumed that meant my ears would grow more. How sad, to miss out on the best part of the fair.”

  “In you go,” Blake said, ignoring my elephant-ear comment.

  Slowly, I lowered myself, with her help, into the tub, and screamed out obscenities I’m sure no lady of her nature should ever have to hear.

  “Son of a bitch!” I screamed. “I hate you. I don’t like you anymore. I take it back. All of it. Get me out! Why is it so cold?”

  “It’s not cold.” Blake held me down. “It just feels that way because you’re so hot. We have to get your fever down.”

  “I’m always hot, Blake.” I slapped her hand against my forehead. “See? Feel? I’m healed. Miraculous recovery.” I winced as the throbbing pain continued, then nearly laughed my ass off as I saw an honest-to-God Dumbo fly out in front of me. “I just hate big ears. Why does nobody understand?”

  “Big ears suck,” Blake joined in. “And so do fevers. So I need you to cooperate while I keep filling the tub, okay?”

  I leaned back, teeth chattering. “Worst moment of my life. This is a close second.”

  Blake turned to me, her eyes curious. “What’s the first?”

  “When I almost died.”

  She was silent.

  “I just died in your arms tonight,” I sang as my eyes started to close. “The tub isn’t so bad, Blake.”

  “I know.”

  “I think we could be best friends. I only have two. I’m killing them off soon, though, so there’s a vacancy.”

  “Good to know.”

  “But you have to cook for me.”

  Blake’s musical laughter made my body clench tight, but the cold water prevented any embarrassments. Wait, why was I in water? Why was Blake here?

  “I cooked for my dad and brother all the time.”

  “Really? Is your brother as pretty as you?”

  Blake’s eyes softened. “He’s dead.”

  “I’m sorry.” I reached blindly for her hand. I was so tired, but it was important to comfort her, just be there for her. I could tell in the way she suddenly slumped, as if forgetting all of the stages of her transformation from insecure to a confident woman. “Dying sucks.”

  I didn’t know what else to say.

  “Yeah.” She let out a chuckle and shook her head. “It really does, Ian.”

  “Blake?”

  “Yup.” She turned off the water with her free hand. I was still clutching the other.

  “I like you.”

  “I like you too.”

  “Despite my big ears?”

  “Because of your big ears.”

  “That’s what all the ladies”—I yawned—“say.”

  “Bet they do . . .”

  The pounding started to subside. I don’t remember getting out of the tub, but I do remember the feel of Blake’s hand as I fell into a restful sleep.

  CHAPTER SIXTEEN

  My hand was touching something soft. Eyes shut, I squeezed, then squeezed again. Oh wow, good dream. Very vivid. Like her breasts were really there, in my room, in my bed. In my hand.

  Well, since I was dreaming . . .

  I climbed on top of Blake and used both hands, cupping their heaviness, giving another squeeze as my fingertips went to her nipples.

  Her eyes flashed open.

  “Clearly you’re feeling better,” she hissed, then with a grunt shoved me off of her.

  “Nope,” I said with a chuckle. “Still delirious. Where we at with that nurse costume?”

  Blake quickly pulled on a hooded sweatshirt, covering up her white tank top and short black shorts. “No nurse costume. You’re healed. And I have to get to practice.”

  “What kind of nurse are you? You sleep with your patient, then leave at first light! I should fire you.” I grinned, then patted the spot next to me. “Five more minutes?”

  “Hey, I’m just following the rules, coach! Doesn’t it say in your contract that you can’t legally sleep with your clients?” She winked.

  Damn, she was adorable. I wanted to kiss that sexy mouth of hers.

  “Sex,” I said with a nod. “Not sleep. Sleep is encouraged. Did you know at least sixty percent of insomniacs turn to homicide?”

  “That’s a lie.” She crossed her arms. “And I really do need to get to practice.”

  “Fine.” I moved to get up.

  “Wait!” She threw her hands in front of her.

  But she was too late.

  The sheet fell away, and I was completely naked, leaving me staring down at my own body and wondering if it was going to offend her that my little groping had clearly had an effect on my manhood.

  “About that.” I pointed. “It’s morning.”

  “Sure.” Her cheeks were bright red. “I’ll just . . .” She backed up into the dresser, knocking over my cologne along with some ChapStick. She quickly bent over to pick them up.

  I let out a groan as her ass waved in the air. “Not helping, Blake.”

  With a thump, she pushed the objects back onto the dresser and reached for the doorknob, only to miss it three times before yelling bye and slamming the door behind her.

  The room fell silent.

/>   I wondered if it was a bad thing that the sight of my arousal made her head for the hills. Never had that happened before. If anything, jaws tended to drop, parades started, lots of moaning commenced, and in two instances, bras spontaneously fell to the floor.

  The door jerked open. “Sorry!” Blake stumbled through. “I just wanted to make sure you stay in bed.”

  “But—”

  “In bed!” Nurse Ratched was back. She glared, her ice-blue eyes challenging me to argue further. I suddenly felt very, very mothered. Which was awkward, considering my dick hadn’t gotten the message yet. “Take the Tylenol I left for you, and I’ll stop by after practice with soup.”

  “Food?” My ears perked up.

  “Food.” Her eyes lowered briefly before she cleared her throat and pointed. “Shouldn’t you take care of . . . that?”

  “This?” Shit, talking about my junk just made it worse—the strain, the ache, the embarrassment—as my body clearly reached for higher heights. “Wouldn’t a good nurse stay and help?”

  She rolled her eyes. “You really are disgusting, you know that, right?” She was smiling, which led me to believe she was joking. Or . . . holy shit . . . was she flirting with me?

  “I officially forbid you to hang out with Gabi anymore. What the hell has she said about me to give you such a low opinion?”

  “What makes you think it’s Gabi?” she said with a shrug. “Also. You’re a whore.”

  “I’d be willing to amend my ways if you’d scratch the itch, doc.”

  “I’m leaving now.”

  “Was it something I said?” I laughed at her horrified expression, then ducked when the ChapStick grazed my ear, flying by with an impressive speed I hadn’t been expecting.

  “I’m spitting in your food!” she announced, slamming the door behind her.

  The only reason I was able to turn around and climb back into bed, other than the fact that if I’d tried peeing it wouldn’t have ended up in the toilet, was because she was coming back.

  With food.

  For me.

  Damn it. Something was happening. Something . . . that I really didn’t want to acknowledge. I always responded to women. Always. I appreciated them, thought all shapes and sizes were attractive. But I’d never responded to a client, crossed that line. With Blake it was more than that—it felt like more—because when we were together, I didn’t want the time to end. I wasn’t pretending to listen to her, and I didn’t check the time and give all the nonverbal cues of needing to wrap things up.

  I just liked her. Plain and simple. She was beautiful, but something told me that even if she was still wearing the baggy sweatshirts and sporting a scrunchie, it wouldn’t have taken me a long time to discover the treasure that she was underneath.

  She was fiercely loyal and hardworking. And she cared, even about someone who she really shouldn’t care about—me.

  Last night, while feverish, I’d had that moment. A moment of clarity. I was the Grinch whose heart grew three sizes. I looked down.

  Or maybe it was just my cock.

  Either way, it was no longer just this physical wham-bam reaction. There was something about her, something that made me want to punch David in the face and steal Blake for myself.

  Food.

  She wasn’t bringing him food.

  Food meant . . .

  Oh shit.

  It meant something.

  Right?

  And now I was acting like all of my clients—frantic, and desperate to win the attention of the person I was after. Fantastic.

  I was still in the game, but I was warming the bench, splinters embedding themselves in my hard ass while David made a game-winning touchdown. Damn David.

  With a sigh, I swiped my phone off the nightstand and sent off a quick text to Lex.

  Ian: Where’d you bury her?

  He responded right away.

  Lex: I thought it best to leave you out of it just in case you have to testify.

  Ian: You’re a good friend.

  Lex: Also, Gabi says sorry for getting you sick.

  Ian: A true friend would apologize with cookies.

  Lex: She said to go screw yourself.

  Ian: She not up to the task? Still too dehydrated?

  Lex: She said, and I’m quoting her, just

  FYI: Tell Ian that if I want to get syph I’ll do it without hooking up with the campus bike.

  Ian: Bike?

  Lex: Because everyone’s had a ride.

  Ian: Unfair. It’s me riding them, not the other way around. You know how I feel about lazy sex. *Cough, points finger*

  Lex: Bite me.

  Ian: Pretty sure Gabs already took care of that.

  Lex: Remind me to get my rabies shot later.

  Ian: Are you home?

  Lex: On my way.

  I frowned at the phone.

  Ian: You’re still at Gabi’s?

  Lex: I told you, I had to get rid of the body. Murder takes time.

  Ian: Alrighty then. See you in a few.

  Lex: By the way, I hate her. Just so you know. I only came over here because I was worried she had the plague and was about to start a citywide epidemic.

  Ian: No need to defend yourself.

  Lex: Good. See you in a few.

  I set down my phone and smiled, imagining just how great of a doctor Lex had been to Gabi. I bet he threw the medicine at her, then yelled when she didn’t suddenly just get better. He wasn’t a patient man, not when it came to Gabi. I wanted to check on her too, but I was suddenly exhausted.

  With a groan, I rubbed my eyes, quickly got under the covers, and went back to sleep.

  CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

  By the time Blake made it back to my house, I was showered and downstairs watching Game of Thrones reruns. When the knock sounded at the door, I knew exactly who it was.

  I stood just as Lex went to open it.

  Oh shit. I’d have to explain why she was back.

  “Hey, Lex,” Blake stood up on her tiptoes, kissed him on the cheek, and moved past him into the kitchen, like she was on girlfriend terms.

  Curious, I watched out of the corner of my eye as she set two takeout bags down and started pulling out boxes.

  Lex pouted, leaning toward her a little closer than I would have liked. “Please tell me you got food for me too.”

  I growled from my spot on the couch.

  “Oh, hey, Ian. Didn’t see you,” Lex lied.

  I gave him the finger while Blake continued piling an insane amount of takeout onto the table.

  “I got your favorite.” Blake grinned at my roommate like they were besties. What the hell? “Chow mein, right?”

  “With pork?”

  I choked on my bottle of water, then shot to my feet, dizzily making my way toward the bar.

  “Of course.” She scooted the tray over, while the smell of Thai food, Chinese, and . . .

  “Panera Bread,” I shouted, louder than necessary.

  “Forgive Ian,” Lex said. “Sometimes I think he loves food more than sex.”

  “And sometimes”—I sat—“depending on the girl, that’s true.”

  Blake bit down on her lip, her face paling briefly before she scooted a black plastic bowl of soup in my direction.

  She’d paled when I mentioned sex.

  So that meant she was either jealous it wasn’t her, or totally disgusted that I was the type of guy to go out and just have mindless sex with equally mindless girls.

  I frowned down at the soup.

  “Is it too hot?” Blake asked, coming around the bar and handing me a napkin.

  She smelled like burnt vanilla. Her hair was pulled into a high ponytail, parts of the wavy golden-brown mess still wet. Face makeup-free except for eyelash stuff and some lip gloss.

  I suppressed a groan. Damn, she really was pretty. All of her.

  Even in the boyfriend sweats that I’d finally let her buy. In pink. Oh, her and pink.

  I glanced down.

  Th
e flip-flops had made another appearance, though for some reason it was like as long as she was wearing them, in my mind, we were still on equal footing. Like the minute she was no longer comfortable around me was the minute I was going to lose my shit and just . . . I don’t know. I hadn’t planned that far, because I wasn’t going to let it happen.

  “Yes,” I blurted. “The soup’s freakishly hot.” I leaned forward until my mouth was inches from hers. “Blow?”

  “You want me to blow on your soup,” she said in a deadpan voice. “Are you twelve?”

  “Thirteen,” Lex piped up. “Quick, tell her about the facial hair you just got. Oh, and his testicles dropped about two days ago, so if he’s handsy, just know . . . he’s brand-new and a bit horny.”

  “I’m sad”—I glared at Lex—“that Gabi didn’t succeed in chopping your balls off.”

  “Not for lack of trying,” he grumbled, his expression losing some of its exuberance.

  “Also”—I grabbed my spoon while Blake handed me some French bread—“Gabi said next time you touch her tits, she’s going to run you over with a lawn mower.”

  Lex snorted. “Like she could even start it. And I wasn’t touching any part of her.” He shivered. “Do I look like I want an incurable disease? Hell, I was trying to feel her forehead, and my hands . . . slipped.”

  “From her forehead.” I grinned. “That’s . . . wow . . . impressive. Must have been wearing a hell of a push-up bra.”

  I lifted the soup to my lips and dropped my spoon. “Shit, that really is hot.”

  Blake rolled her eyes, then leaned in and blew over the tomato soup, her plump lips forming the perfect O.

  I watched.

  Even Lex watched.

  The room went dead silent.

  She finally glanced up at us.

  Lex turned around and started whistling while I continued staring. “You blow well,” I said in my most romantic voice.

  “Coming from you”—she shook her head—“I’ll take that as the highest of compliments.”

  I kept my face impassive when really I hated that she thought of me that way. And I never cared what girls thought.

 
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