The Matchmaker's Playbook by Rachel Van Dyken


  CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

  “I hate mornings.” Lex let out a loud yawn and e-mailed me the client list for the next two weeks.

  “You always say that.” I lifted my cup to my lips and sipped while I scrolled through the list. “What the hell is this?”

  “A swap.” His face was serious. “I wasn’t sure you could pull off the more difficult ones, so I gave you the clients who should only take a few days. Besides, you’re still balls-deep with Blake.”

  “I wish,” I muttered.

  “Hah.” Lex rolled his eyes. “Poor bastard. Can’t plow the field or even get close to it, hmm?”

  “Close enough.” I ignored the blatant stares in our direction. Girls. Sometimes there were just too many of them. Damn, if I closed my eyes I could still feel Blake’s fingers grazing the front of my jeans. Her nimble hands just needed to reach a bit farther.

  I was nearly arching off the bench when my text alert went off. Shit.

  Blake: FREAKING OUT!

  Ian: Inside voice. Lex can hear you, and he hates mornings.

  Blake: Dinner date this week--his dad bailed. It’s just us. I’ve never been on a date.

  My stomach recoiled. “Well, shit.”

  “Something wrong?” Lex glanced up from his phone, thankfully missing the giant erection I was sporting by just thinking about Blake. I’d never hear the end of it if he thought her texts were enough to get me going.

  “Yeah.” I sighed and sent a text back to Blake. “I’ve gotta fake a date with Blake so she doesn’t puke all over David.”

  “So what?”

  So I’ll wish it was real. That’s what, jackass.

  For once, my brain and my body were in complete agreement.

  “Nothing. Just . . . a lot on my mind.”

  Good timing that a girl with a huge rack just happened to mosey on past us, gaining Lex’s attention, and adoration. He barked out, “I know exactly what you mean.”

  Two weeks ago I would have waved the girl over and then proceeded to bend her over as fast as possible, preferably against the closest and most sturdy object I could find. But now? The idea of sex did nothing for me. Her fake tits were just that: fake. Her smile was the same. And, damn, did every stupid girl really have to wave with all five fingers? It was like she was wiggling worms in my direction and I was a bird just waiting to take a bite.

  The girl stopped midstride, turned, and eyed both me and Lex in a come-hither stare that had Lex sucking in a deep breath and standing. “I’d ask if you wanna join, but something tells me you won’t be able to get it up.”

  I guess that made Lex the peacock in this scenario.

  “Funny.” I snorted. “Try to let her down easy afterward, Lex.”

  “Please.” He started walking away, and his ridiculous swagger had its desired effect. The girl checked him out, then started breathing way heavier than necessary for doing nothing but standing with her mouth hanging open. “I always do. And when that doesn’t work, I just give them a fake phone number.”

  “You’re such a good guy. Seriously,” I called after him. “A saint!”

  “Hear that?” he said, approaching the girl. “I’m a saint. Care to confess your sins?”

  I choked on my laugh as I pulled out my phone and sent a text back to Blake.

  Ian: I’ll be at your house tonight at 6. Have Gabs help you get ready. What she says goes. No arguing.

  Blake: But her idea of a date includes very tight dresses.

  Ian: I’m sorry, were you trying to tease me? Make my mouth water while simultaneously seeing if you’re good at flirting via text? What’s the problem?

  Blake: They’re tight!

  Ian: And?

  Blake: I can’t eat in tight dresses.

  Ian: Try.

  Blake: But . . .

  Ian: You want my help or not? I’m your love coach. Stop being so argumentative. Oh, and wear your hair up.

  Blake: Fine, but if I end up passing out because I can’t eat anything out of the bread basket, I’m blaming you.

  I sighed, and with a smile texted her back.

  Ian: Might be worth it, to see your tight ass in a tight dress with your tight tits and tight . . . Oh, I’m sorry, lost track of where I was going with that.

  Blake: You really are a pig.

  Ian: Teacup. Don’t forget.

  She didn’t text back after that, and I had work to do if I was going to pull off the perfect date. My heart raced in my chest as I quickly searched through my catalog of restaurants. Oh shit. It wasn’t a real date. It was a fake date. I’d done it a million times. I liked to call this one the “Let’s get it all out of your system” play. You do a practice run with the chick before her first date with the guy she really likes; that way, she doesn’t have any surprises. Most girls build up the date so much in their minds that they can’t relax enough to eat a leaf of lettuce, let alone hold a conversation. Lex and I figured that if we made the practice date feel as real as possible and added in possible scenarios—basically doing a test run before the big game—it would help ease their nerves and make them less likely to choke on a peanut or accidently snort while laughing.

  Even though it wasn’t a real date, the smile wouldn’t leave my cocky-ass face.

  Well, that was new.

  I scrolled through the restaurants, but nothing sounded good or even remotely interesting. Blake wasn’t the type of girl you wanted to impress with expensive prices and pretentious company. She genuinely liked food, and I imagined she’d probably yell at me if I took her someplace where the idea of food was one carrot with balsamic drizzled over it.

  My stomach growled at the thought. I don’t care what guys think girls want; there is nothing sexy about a chick eating a lettuce leaf while chugging a vodka soda.

  First off, the lettuce almost always gets stuck somewhere, usually between the front four teeth, and the vodka soda gets them tipsy so fast that by the time you want to order dessert, they’ve already lifted their foot underneath the table and tried to get you off with their big toe.

  Not gonna lie, it’s happened a dozen or few times. Meaning I know what small amounts of food and large amounts of alcohol do to the dumb ones. And the sad ones are no better. If anything, it’s worse, because they’re too nervous to drink, spill water all over you, and when the night’s over, when you’ve finally finished coaching them on why it’s smart to eat rather than starve themselves all day, they’re suddenly ravenous.

  I had one chick steal a couple’s bread basket.

  Another ordered so many desserts she puked on me.

  Hmm. I continued scrolling through my phone and grinned when I found the perfect place. It would be . . . interesting, that’s for sure.

  Lex let out a loud laugh. I glanced up and wasn’t surprised at all that Big Tits was already fondling his ass and whispering sweet nothings into his ear. Twenty bucks he was doing chem homework in his head while she touched him. Another hundred that during sex, he’d be organizing his notes for his test. Sometimes I wondered why he even bothered.

  He was a bastard. But I loved him.

  A week ago, I would have given him a high five.

  Now, it just felt . . . sad. A bit empty.

  I heard more laughter from Lex as they sauntered off.

  I needed to clear my head, and fast. Lex said I had another chick who was meeting me in a few minutes, but she’d yet to show, and typically if they were going to show, new clients were really early, spying the bench, waiting, watching, in the creepiest of ways.

  But today? I had shit to do. So I quickly glanced around the area, left to right, right to left. Bingo!

  Aw, poor sad, confused single woman wearing Keds, ripped boyfriend jeans, and a white T-shirt. Shit, was that a red headband? Was it the Fourth of July? Damn, at least bring a hot dog if you’re going to dress like a barbecue.

  You, I mouthed at her, then crooked my finger.

  She paled, looked behind her, then back at me.

  “Yes.” I nod
ded. “You.”

  She looked behind her again.

  Oh good Lord.

  Was I seriously going to have to get up?

  Finally, after a few minutes of hesitation, she hung her head and shuffled toward me.

  When her small body cast a shadow over the bench, I leaned back and took inventory.

  A-line haircut. Brown hair. Cute body, but very small, almost pixie-like. Zero self-confidence, considering she was hunched, and something about the way she dressed told me she didn’t actually dress herself, meaning her confidence had never been . . . poured into, if you will.

  My bet was . . . she was still hiding underneath the shadow of her mom and was ready to break free and live. It was in the way she carried herself, the way she dressed, very prim and proper, like she was ready to go to Sunday dinner instead of class.

  Too bad her parents were . . . hmm, I was guessing . . . local.

  “You live on campus?” I asked.

  She shook her head no.

  “Still with the ’rents, huh?”

  A small nod.

  “You have friends?”

  She nodded vigorously.

  “They live on campus?”

  Another nod that had me feeling like I was pulling teeth.

  “Great . . . Are you poor?”

  Frowning, she finally lifted her head so I could see her deep-green eyes. “No.”

  Thank God. It spoke.

  “Good.” I stood but quickly backed away, since she literally only came up to the middle of my chest. “Your first assignment is to tell the parents you’re moving out. The next is to find housing on campus or near campus. Cut the apron strings . . .” I tilted my head. “What’s your name?”

  “Who are you?” She frowned. “I’m supposed to meet—” And she clammed up again.

  I held out my hand. “Name’s Ian Hunter. I’m your new wingman.”

  She stared at my hand, then placed hers across it, shaking it in such a wimpy, weird way that I shivered a bit.

  “Assignment number two.” I gripped her hand hard. “Guys like soft bodies, not soft handshakes. Shake my hand the way you’d”—I coughed—“shake my hand.”

  “What?”

  “To quote a popular song, guys want ‘a lady in the streets but a freak in the bed.’ Judging by your shaking skills, I’m assuming you wouldn’t know the first thing about handling any part of me in bed. Firm grip, always important. Guys read into shit like that. I’ll send you the schedule later. Look over the information packet Lex sent you, and be sure to fill out the questionnaire. No calling. Only texting and e-mailing. Gotta run.”

  “But—”

  “Nice meeting you . . . ?”

  “Vivian,” she yelled, a smile curving her lips.

  I saluted and jogged off.

  CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

  “It can’t be that bad,” I said through the door. My forehead was about to get a splinter if Blake didn’t hurry up.

  “It is.” Her words were muffled. “It’s . . . very bad.”

  “Bad as in so bad I may keep you locked in your room with me inside? Or bad as in the guy who works at Asian Fusion, the one with the unibrow, would reject your V card?”

  “Bert?”

  “His name is Bert?” I laughed.

  “He’s supernice,” Blake said loudly, and then she cursed. Something hit the door, and it creaked open, revealing one hand, with fuchsia nail polish painted flawlessly across the nails.

  Rolling my eyes, I pushed the door open. Blake stumbled back. The first thing I saw was hair. Tons of thick, wavy, glorious I-may-actually-sell-Lex-so-Blake-can-move-in-with-me hair.

  “Damn,” I muttered, reaching out for her. “You wore it down.” It was a statement of appreciation.

  Blake took another cautious step back. Her eyes were smoky, not overdone, just perfect, her lips, a pale shade of pink.

  The dress was black.

  And to her credit, it was tight.

  I’d never been a fan of knit dresses; they reminded me of grandmothers who crocheted on the porch, and that visual was enough to make sure nobody ended the night on a satisfied note.

  But on Blake?

  This knit dress was . . . stunning.

  The dress hugged every curve of her body, just barely covering her ass. It was sleeveless, with a higher neck than I usually like to see, but when she turned, I saw that it was completely open in the back. Have mercy, I loved the girl’s back.

  I braced myself against the door. “Are you sure you wanna go out tonight?”

  Blake stopped midturn, pressing her hands down the fabric currently mating with her thighs. “Is it that bad?”

  “Yes,” I growled, closing the distance between us. “It’s . . . horrific. Ugly, terrible. Gross. How could you possibly attract men in this”—my hands roamed from her arms all the way down to her hips, and then I couldn’t help it and just pulled her against me—“monstrosity?”

  “Monstrosity, huh?” She let out a breathy laugh. “Is that why you keep staring at it? It’s like a car accident you can’t look away from?”

  “You’ve got one thing right.” I massaged her hips with the pads of my thumbs. “I literally can’t look away. Not sure if I’m even capable of it.”

  “Date.” She stepped out of my embrace. “Remember? This is a fake date so I don’t make a complete fool out of myself when David and I go out this Thursday.

  “Who dates on a Thursday?” I griped. “Dating on a Thursday’s like ordering from the early-bird menu or bringing a coupon.”

  “Ian”—Blake waved in front of my face—“that’s why you’re upset? Because I’m going out with him on a Thursday?”

  “Yes,” I said slowly, blinking even slower, trying to come up with a better reason why she shouldn’t go out with him, one that didn’t include me being twisted in jealous knots or possibly falling head over heels onto my ass for the girl. “I hate Thursdays the way Lex hates mornings. Nothing good ever happens on Thursdays.”

  “Oh, really?” Blake grabbed a small, slinky black clutch and put it under her arm. It looked perfect there, way better than the giant Caboodle-looking thing I noticed lurking in the corner. Holy shit. Was that a sticker?

  I pointed at the Caboodle.

  “Ignore that.” She smacked my hand, but I couldn’t help it. Like a tractor beam, it pulled me toward it.

  “This is amazing,” I whispered reverently. “Almost better than the shoes.”

  “Ha ha.” Blake tugged my arm. “You were saying? Thursdays?”

  “Easy.” I flipped open the lid to the Caboodle. I was imagining myself as Captain Jack Sparrow, discovering hidden treasure, when an honest-to-God banana barrette popped out to greet me. “I judge days of the week based on TV shows. Nothing good is ever on Thursdays. Believe me. In a very weird twist of fate, TV Guide is more of a life guide. Hey, look, more scrunchies.”

  “Okay.” Blake tugged me away as I tried to grab at the giant white—yes, white—scrunchie, but her grip was too damn strong. “Show-and-tell is over.”

  “You would make a killing on eBay.” I got to my feet. “And because you showed me”—I glanced back—“that, I’ll take you on this fake date so that you can have a blast on Thursday and gain true love’s first kiss.”

  “Not really . . . my first kiss . . . now.” She stumbled over the words a bit.

  Tension pounded between us, like a heart that was beating outside my chest. I wanted to kiss her again, taste her . . . forever.

  “Ian?” Blake broke the mood. “Don’t we have reservations?”

  “Yes.” I swallowed and offered my arm. “From the minute we leave the house, imagine it’s a real date. I’m going to coach you, you’ll listen carefully rather than take notes, and hopefully by Thursday”—I’ll hear that David was in a tragic accident where he loses all use of his penis—“you’ll be confident in your abilities to woo the one you want.”

  “Okay.” Blake huffed out a nervous laugh. “And you promise I look oka
y?”

  “No, Blake.” I lifted her hand to my lips and pressed a kiss to the inside of her wrist. “You look phenomenal.”

  She blushed bright red.

  “And if that bastard doesn’t come out and say those exact words or better ones—hell, if he doesn’t write you a sonnet—he’s undeserving, got it?”

  “Okay.” Blake jerked her hand away and crossed her arms. “So where’s my sonnet, Ian?”

  “Damn you for listening too carefully.” I winked and led her down the stairs and out into the brisk night air. “Fair lady of . . . black,” I said in my loudest voice. “Beauty you do not lack.”

  “Ohhh, now you’re rhyming.”

  I laughed and opened her door. “But treasure these words when we part.” I tilted her chin toward me. “I will always keep you safe”—what the hell was I saying?—“in my heart.”

  Her mouth dropped open.

  I wish I could say I just thought of that shit in my sleep.

  I didn’t.

  I never had.

  I was a doer, not a talker.

  Hell in a freaking handbasket, I was pretty sure I’d just written my first love poem, to a girl who wasn’t even my date, a few days before I was supposed to encourage her to walk off into the sunset with some other douche.

  “That was nice, Ian.” She cupped my cheek.

  I jerked back. “Yeah, well, you know me. Nice is what I’m good at when there’s something I want.”

  Her smile faded.

  Asshole, party of one? Oh, look, a table!

  “Okay, it’s time for me to break down the rules of dating. You’ll note that in the playbook this is labeled ‘Sex God Ian’s Rules for a Successful First Date.’”

  Blake rolled her eyes. “Funny, because when I glanced at the playbook this morning it specifically said ‘Ian’s Rules for a Successful First Date.’”

  “Hmm, must not have given you the updated copy.”

  “Yeah, that must be it.” She let out an airy laugh that by all means should have floated right out the window rather than hitting me square in the face, stealing the air from my lungs and making me want to burn my own playbook, forget the rules, and just keep her to myself.

 
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