The Matchmaker's Playbook by Rachel Van Dyken


  Hell, yes. It was almost as bad as settling. But it wasn’t my place to tell her that. Plenty of girls liked safe, only to fall in love with the comfort it brought later. Safe wasn’t settling, but it sure as hell looked like it. Especially the way that Blake’s shoulders suddenly slouched.

  “Blake.” I gripped her arms and pulled her forward. “Snap out of it. You’re sexy as hell, know how to kiss so well that I’m pretty sure I’ll never forget the way your mouth tastes, and you’re sweet.” I rolled my eyes. “Stop making that face. Sweet is good. You’re the perfect balance of sexy and sweet. Think of your personality as catnip.”

  “Does that make David a cat?”

  “Yeah.” And I was a tiger, damn it.

  “Okay . . . also, I never thought you’d ever call me sweet, especially with our first meeting not going so well.”

  I laughed. “But now we’re friends, so you no longer want to gouge my eyes out.”

  The daggers she shot at me with her eyes told me to piss off. Obviously she didn’t agree.

  She held up a hand. “Only half the time. When you’re asking me to play nurse and patient, or when you tell me to get naked, or when you grab my boobs without permission, or kiss me just because you have issues keeping your hand out of the cookie jar.”

  “Is that so wrong?”

  “According to the contract . . .”

  I rubbed my hands together. “I’m changing the subject now. Go put something on that screams sexy, and we’ll get going.”

  Blake glanced down at her baggy black sweats and tight blue tank top. “What’s wrong with this?”

  My eyebrows shot up. “What’s wrong?” I circled her, then slapped her ass and gripped it so hard she let out a little yelp. “There it is. Sorry. Couldn’t find it underneath all that heavy black material.”

  Grumbling, she stomped away, then paused at the stairway and very slowly turned back to give me a coy gaze.

  “Dude, hurry up,” I said.

  Her sweats dropped to her ankles.

  Revealing ass cheeks with a string of fabric pressed between them.

  Sweet glorious Lord.

  “Not funny,” I growled. “I will seriously own your ass if you do that again, and I don’t mean that in an ‘oh, I’ll just tackle you and spank you’ way. I will breach my contract as many times as I can within a twenty-four-hour period. Now, if you’re game for that, then by all means keep stripping. But if you can’t hang with the big boys, I suggest you march that cute ass up the stairs, put on some clothes—ones that hide the white thong—and get back down here within five minutes. I still have to change, and you ruined our coffee.” I hoped I still had something clean left at Gabi’s house.

  Her smile fell, and suddenly she was dashing up the stairs like the fires of hell were licking at her heels. Which, technically they were, since my tongue had fallen out of my mouth and a puddle of drool was pooling at my feet.

  I took a deep breath, trying to soothe myself.

  She wanted David. She deserved David. I’d get her David if it killed me.

  While she changed, I pulled up Blake’s profile summary and glanced at David’s class schedule. He had a class in an hour and would most likely be hanging around the gym soon after for a light weight session followed by practice.

  “Ready!” Blake appeared in front of me.

  I lowered my phone, eyes narrowing as I examined her from head to toe. I circled her like she was my prey, and wished it were actually true.

  “Who got you that tank top?”

  “You don’t like it?” She looked down and gripped the loose-yet-sexy tank top with a leopard print sports bra underneath. “Gabi loaned it to me.”

  That Gabi was really trying my patience. First, she got me sick, and now? Now she’s loaning sexy clothes to her roommate?

  “It’s nice.” With a shrug, I turned my head to the left, then leaned over, my face staring directly at her tight ass. “New spandex?”

  Blake did a little wiggle. Or actually, her ass did.

  When asses wiggled, I had a tendency to pet them.

  Because really, that’s what an ass shake was—an invitation to touch, and as a man it was my job to make sure that the ass knew that, yes, I would be paying a lot of attention to it later.

  “Great,” I croaked, peeling my eyes away from the gray-and-black tiger-striped spandex. “No.”

  “What? You just said ‘great.’” She turned around, her eyes lowered to where mine were still fastened.

  “No.” I pointed at the offensive flip-flops. “If you want David, you have to give these to the Goodwill, or better yet, burn them, or”—I paused and added a small smile so she wouldn’t be too offended—“leave them on your doorstep so I can steal them and stash them under my pillow. We’d always have the flip-flops.”

  I was turning into a lunatic.

  Another reason she needed to get with David sooner rather than later. If I kept this up, I was going to grow ovaries and ask the clerk at Walmart where the tampon aisle was.

  “I’m wearing them.”

  “No.” I crossed my arms to match her stance. “You aren’t.”

  “Make me take them off.”

  “You don’t think I can?” We were chest to chest. I could smell her vanilla ChapStick. Her wavy golden-brown hair spilled over her shoulders.

  The room was so tense I was surprised I could even breathe.

  “Ian.” She purred my name, and I was done for, seriously done for. Damn woman. “Please?”

  “Stop that.” I pointed at her eyes. “Stop batting your eyelashes. I’m immune!”

  She kept batting them, her smile growing wider and wider, making her look more adorable than sexy. Which was a hell of a lot worse, because sexy you slept with, adorable you kept.

  Forever.

  I needed to look away. “Damn it.” I rolled my eyes, breaking contact. “Whatever. Just remember, I warned you.”

  “Thanks.” She slapped my ass just like I had done to her a few minutes ago. It tingled. It tingled hard. It tingled good.

  With a groan, I followed her peppy steps to the door and mentally moved up the timeline. She wanted David?

  She was going to get him.

  By this weekend.

  My heart did a little skip.

  I brushed it off as heartburn and rushed her to my waiting SUV, my eyes lingering on her ass the entire way.

  CHAPTER TWENTY

  “You know”—I smirked—“this isn’t a sting. You can take your sunglasses off. Plus we’re inside, so it kinda makes you look like a loser. Just saying.”

  Blake elbowed me hard in the ribs and kept her sunglasses on, lifting her chin high into the air. “But you said not to make eye contact, and that’s really difficult for me. Thus the sunglasses.”

  “Dude, just look at his crotch.”

  “His crotch?”

  “Yeah, he’ll eat that shit right up.”

  Blake burned bright red. “I’m not looking at his crotch!”

  A girl hurried by us, nearly knocking over brochures for the business program.

  Blake covered her face with her hands. “Please tell me I didn’t just say ‘crotch’ that loud, twice.”

  “Say it one more time. I promise it will be worth it.”

  She lowered her hands and glared. “Any other pointers that don’t involve me staring at his—” She motioned in the air with her hands and coughed.

  “His . . . ?” I cupped my ear.

  Blake licked her lips, her cheeks still stained red as she said under her breath, “Groin.”

  I kept my laugh in, just barely. “I think you can do better than that, Miss Nursing Major. I have an idea, let’s play Name the Parts!”

  “No,” Blake hissed. “We aren’t naming body parts in the hallway while waiting for David to just stroll by! What if he walks by when I say—?”

  “Penis?”

  Her hand slammed over my mouth. “Shh!”

  I peeled her fingers away one by one. Stro
ng grip—good to know. “If you can’t say it, you probably shouldn’t be playing with it, you know?”

  Eyes wide, she gasped. “I’m not playing with anyone’s”—she lowered her voice to a whisper—“penis.”

  “Isn’t that a shame?” I sighed. “Hey, I’ve got one you can practice with.”

  “My face probably can’t get any redder than it is right now, can it?”

  “I don’t know. Should we try?”

  “Ian, I swear if you say one more word . . .” Her finger wagged at my face. It was cute, getting her all embarrassed. Almost like foreplay, only more fun, because she was so innocent.

  “Penis.” I said it again. “Just say it.”

  “No!”

  “Tits.”

  “Oh hell,” she muttered under her breath, then started marching away. I gripped her by the elbow and tugged her back against me.

  “Come on, Blake. Eventually, you’ll have to get past the point where you aren’t afraid of your own sexuality. And something tells me that David’s not going to be supergreat in bed, so you need to at least gain some confidence so you can tell him what you want.”

  “What?” Blake turned, hands on hips. “What makes you think he’d be bad? I mean, I’m a virgin.”

  “Yup.”

  She threw her hands into the air. “So . . . I’ll suck.”

  “Not possible.” I eyed her up and down. Not freaking possible. “Believe me. I know this shit. As for David? The last girlfriend who was interviewed stated that although he earned an A for effort, on more than one occasion she studied for a test during. You know? A test during.”

  “During?”

  “Sex.”

  “How?”

  “Well, the way she explained it was quite clever—she hid note cards in her pillow. Brilliant, right?”

  Blake’s mouth dropped open. “But, that’s so . . . impersonal. And awful. Shouldn’t you be putting your whole body into it? Your mind? Your soul? I mean, why have sex if you aren’t going to give everything you are every single time?”

  The more she talked, the harder it was to breathe.

  Why indeed? Because sex felt good.

  But lately, it had become monotonous, boring. And then Blake and I had kissed. And now, everything about her, even just conversation, was exhilarating and new.

  Shit on a stick.

  “Uh.” I cleared my throat. “We’re getting off-topic. The point is, you may need to give him direction. Meaning you may need to say words like ‘penis.’ The end.”

  “Fine.” Blake closed her eyes for a few seconds, then opened them and whispered, “Penis.”

  “Louder.” I grinned.

  Her ears were as bright as a red crayon.

  “Penis,” she said loud enough for anyone passing by to hear.

  Lucky for us, one of those people just happened to be David.

  “Oh, hey man.” I held out my hand for a good ol’ friendly shake. “Didn’t see you there. How’s it going?”

  David’s mouth was open in, well, probably shock, that his good little bestie just uttered the name of a man part, out loud, in the business building hallway, like a pro.

  “Blake?” He frowned.

  “Oh, sorry!” Blake pulled off her sunglasses. “I forgot I had these on.”

  “You should never cover your eyes,” he said in a low voice. “They’re your best feature.”

  I laughed.

  David glared.

  “Oh, sorry. I thought you were kidding.”

  “What? I was just thinking that if we’re naming her best feature—physical, that is, since we both know she has a killer personality—hmm.” I gave her a once-over. “I’d have to say it’s a three-way tie between her ass, tits, and hair. But hey, what do I know?”

  Blake elbowed me hard in the ribs. I wasn’t trying to be crude. In fact, my intention was the exact opposite. I said trigger words to get David to look. The power of suggestion, my friends.

  I clenched my teeth as David, upon hearing me say each word, took inventory, slowly, methodically. Then like a lightbulb went on in his stupid-ass head, his eyes widened, perhaps opening the rest of the way, and he took a step backward, nearly colliding with a student rushing by.

  “Yeah,” he croaked and then coughed into his hand. “You’re right. Everything’s . . . perfect.”

  “And mine.” I winked, stirring the pot of jealousy a bit more, trying to see how far I could push him while at the same time swelling with pride that for now, she was mine.

  For now.

  His head snapped in my direction. “I thought you guys were just seeing each other, nothing official.”

  “Made it official last night.” I focused in on Blake’s mouth as I brought her hand to my lips. “Right, sweet cheeks?”

  Expecting Blake to nod and just go with it, I wasn’t prepared for her to lean in and kiss my mouth, taking my head with both hands and forcing her tongue down my throat. But, not one to say no to kissing her, not ever, I kissed her back.

  It ended too soon, once David cleared his throat.

  “Sorry.” Blake actually looked embarrassed as she tucked her hair behind her ears and then grabbed her sunglasses and forced them back on in one swift, sexy move. “It was just a really good night.”

  “It was,” I said, leering.

  “Well, good,” David said a little too loud. “I’m happy for you, Blake. Really happy.”

  He looked anything but happy. In fact if that’s what happy looked like, Blake was going to have the worst boyfriend in the history of boyfriends. The dude looked ready to puke all over us and burst into tears all at once.

  “We should get going.” I gave David a head nod and gripped Blake’s hand as we left the building.

  Once we reached the doors, I turned back to offer him my final acknowledgement, my final smirk. I knew he’d be staring at us, mainly her ass. He was, and when I gave him a challenging lift of my eyebrows, good ol’ David gave me the finger.

  “Hah!” I burst out laughing as I clutched Blake’s hand tighter. “David’s fun, isn’t he?”

  “What’s got you in such a good mood?” she asked.

  I didn’t point out that she was swinging my arm and giggling with me. Damn, it just felt so natural, holding her hand, joking around.

  “David flipped me off.”

  Her smile fell. “Seriously? That’s kinda harsh, don’t you think? Why would he do that?”

  “Because his hands were free.” I smiled down at her. “And mine”—I lifted our joined hands up—“weren’t.”

  CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

  Another three days went by. I expected to be finished with Blake in the next twenty-four hours. Not because I wanted to be done, but because I had to be done. Our client list was piling up, and Lex said if he had to kiss one more chick who tried to impale the back of his throat with her tongue, he was going to quit.

  It was Saturday.

  And David hadn’t stopped calling or randomly dropping by to check the plumbing. Right. Good one, genius.

  Hey can I look at your pipes?

  What for?

  To make sure they’re clean of shit?

  Some dudes really didn’t know what the hell they were doing. At least come up with a good excuse the third time you drop by. I don’t know, give yourself a flat tire, ask to use the phone, tell her you’re dehydrated after your ten-mile run and need water.

  But pipes?

  Again?

  She was going to be so bored with him. I knew it, and I hoped she was beginning to see it, but I had a promise to keep and a contract to shred once my job was done.

  Then, and only then, would I sit back, let him crash and burn, then I’d swoop in and . . .

  I hadn’t really gotten to that part yet, ever.

  I pulled up to Gabi and Blake’s house and grabbed the snacks for our early spring barbecue out of the backseat. It was warm for March, around sixty-two degrees, meaning we wanted any excuse to be outside.

  The door was a
lready open when I glanced back at the house. A sexy-looking Blake was standing in the middle of the doorway, part of her stomach showing, compliments of her short white tank top and low-rise boyfriend jeans.

  “Nice,” I called out as I made my way toward her. “I like.”

  She turned in front of me, then blew me a kiss. “Good, because I haven’t worn them in forever.”

  I walked past her and into the house, then she followed.

  Out of nowhere, her smile fell and her eyes pooled with tears. Frowning, I dropped the groceries on the counter.

  “Whoa, whoa, whoa.” I gripped her face with my hands. “Hey, what’s wrong?”

  “It’s, uh . . .” She gulped as a few tears splashed onto her cheeks. “He died two years ago today.”

  “Shit.” I closed my eyes and pressed my forehead to hers. Then, without asking, I lifted her into my arms and hugged her.

  Blake wrapped her arms around my neck in her typical choking fashion, but I didn’t care. Hold me tighter, I wanted to say. Anything to make her feel better.

  She sobbed for a few seconds before her body stopped shaking.

  I set her on her feet but kept our bodies close. “I’m so sorry.” I used my thumbs to wipe away the remaining tears from her puffy cheeks. “I know that doesn’t make it better. Nothing I say will make it better. But I think he’d be proud of you. I can’t imagine you growing up with some timid-assed brother who let you get away with anything.” I squeezed her tighter. “You’re an amazing woman. Funny, sweet, caring . . . There is nothing about you that I would change.” I sighed. “You know, other than some of the clothing choices I’m sure he would have encouraged to keep all the guys at bay.”

  She burst out laughing. It was good to hear. Immediately, I relaxed.

  “Yeah, he was . . .” She frowned. “Okay, don’t take this the wrong way.”

  “I swear on guys everywhere if you say I remind you of him, you’re going to see me freak out and do something stupid.”

  “As opposed to every other day?”

  “Hey! I just comforted you. Now I’m stupid?”

  A teasing smile lit up her face. “I wasn’t going to say you were like my brother. Just that you tend to have a lot in common. He played football and was always trying to get me to jump out of my comfort zone. Thus, the jeans. I was wearing nothing but basketball shorts, and he finally told me I needed to start dressing like a girl. Shopping. It was one of the last things we did together before he died. I’ve never even worn half the clothes. I’m sure some are out of style, but”—her lower lip trembled—“I thought maybe if I tried . . . for him, you know?”

 
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