The Matchmaker's Playbook by Rachel Van Dyken

  “Rule number one.” I started driving toward campus, trying to shake thoughts of Blake on top of me out of my head. “Never touch a man’s stereo. I don’t care if he has a thing for Enya and you’re ready to catapult yourself from a moving vehicle. Music is not a deal breaker, unless you make it a deal breaker. If he asks you what you want to listen to, always default to what’s already playing, got it?”

  Blake was silent and then, seriously, like she hadn’t been listening at all, touched the controls and changed the station to techno.

  “What the hell,” I yelled.

  “Not buying it,” she shouted back as the music got louder. “You listen to classical?”

  “Sometimes,” I lied. Really, I only kept classical music on because studies showed it helped women relax when in a tense situation, and since I usually helped the girls who weren’t the most confident, I figured if Mozart worked on pregnant moms, it would work on college girls.

  “But this”—Blake laughed and pointed at the radio; “Beautiful Now” by Zedd was blaring through my speakers, making my ass vibrate with the bass—“is way better. Admit it. Stop being an ass, and wave your hands around like you just don’t care, yo.”

  “Wow. Okay.” I burst out laughing. “First off, you’re white—sorry to break it to you. Second, if a dude was hard of hearing and only had his sight and was freaking color-blind, he’d know you were white based on the fact that you honestly just thrust your arms into the air while simultaneously sticking your tongue out—oh God, did you just snap your fingers?”

  Blake kept dancing, or doing what I can only assume she thought was dancing, her body moving back and forth in the seat.

  It was cute as hell.

  So I turned up the music once we were at the stoplight.

  “Do it,” she yelled as she rolled down her window.

  “No.” I crossed my arms.

  The light was still red.

  “Do it!” Blake laughed and then reached across the seat to tickle my sides. “Come on, dance for me, Ian.”

  With a sigh, I lifted my hands above my head and then burst out laughing. “Hell no. No hands above the head. At least try to keep your business in your business, like this.” I showed her how to jam out in the car.

  “Nope.” Blake shook her head. “Try harder. My turn for the rules.” She raised my hands above my head, her lips so close to mine I could smell her bubble gum. “Now, snap them, and move.”

  I did. Looking like a complete poser.

  And she laughed.

  Our mouths almost met.

  A horn honked behind me.

  With a curse, I glanced at the light. It was green, and for who knew how long. Quickly I sped off toward the place we were going.

  “Cute lesson,” I said once the song ended.

  “I thought so.” Blake winked. “If David doesn’t want me based on the fact that I’m trying to help him expand his taste in music, then he can just . . . suck it!”

  “Hah!” I burst out laughing. “Great, but maybe don’t say ‘suck it’ while looking that hot. He may take you literally.”

  She made a face, and then more techno came on. Blake danced in her seat the entire way to the water.

  “We having a picnic or something?” she asked once I turned off the car.

  “Nope, but we do have to work for our food. Are you okay with that?”

  “Sure.” Her eyes narrowed. “You promise you didn’t just take me out to the docks to make out?”

  “Rule number two.” I shoved my keys and wallet in my pocket and held out my hand to her. “When a guy wants to surprise the shit out of you, don’t question him. Just tell him how awesome he is.”

  “You are”—she stood on her tiptoes and kissed my chin—“the best fake date ever.”

  I growled out a curse and tugged her against me. “Remember, you need to pretend this is real; otherwise, what’s the point?” My body buzzed at her nearness.

  “A fun night? Good food?” she offered.

  I smacked her on the ass.

  “Ouch!” She pushed away from me, laughing. “I’m pretty sure that’s not allowed on first dates.”

  “Ah, she can be taught.” I released her and gave a little clap while Blake rolled her eyes at me.

  “Behold.” I held out my hands. “Our ride.”

  Blake eyed the dock, then me, then the dock. “We’re canoeing?”

  “Toward our restaurant, yes.”

  A smile broke free across her face. “I have to give it to you—that’s pretty cool. Though I don’t know how much help I’m going to be in this dress.” She looked down at the short piece of fabric hugging her thighs, hugging the exact spot where I wanted my fingers inching, digging.

  “Cross my heart,” I hid my other hand behind my back and crossed my fingers. “I won’t look up your skirt.”

  “Rule number three?” Her eyebrows shot up.

  “Men always lie,” I said through my laughter.

  After fifteen minutes of intense struggling, I decided helping a girl who was wearing a short dress into a canoe should be counted as an Olympic sport. What was supposed to be romantic was taking a turn for the worse. Maybe this was why Agua Verde didn’t rent canoes in the winter time? Thankfully, Lex had helped me rent the canoe so that we could still have the same ambience.

  Blake grabbed her paddle and eyed me. “I would have been a fantastic rower, just so you know.”

  “Oh?” I flashed her a smile and grabbed my paddle, then propelled us out of the cove and toward Agua Verde, the restaurant I was taking her to. “And why do you say that?”

  “Long arms . . .” She shivered a bit. I stopped paddling and handed her my suit jacket. “Thanks.” Another shiver. “Long legs . . .”

  I couldn’t help but stare at her legs. Keeping my mouth from watering took a gargantuan effort.

  “Trying to tempt me, sweet cheeks?” I joked, even though my body was already painfully reminding me that it wanted to get to know hers in a very up-close and personal way.

  “Do I?” she asked, her voice losing all trace of humor.

  With a gulp, I turned away, putting more effort into the paddling so I could focus on the strain of my arm muscles rather than the one currently taking place somewhere else. “Always.”

  “I thought all men lied.”

  “Not all men,” I answered truthfully. “At least not about something like that.”

  The restaurant was just coming into view. It was a local favorite, something you had to experience at least once if you were in Seattle, but because she’d just moved here, I assumed she hadn’t had a chance to go.

  “Look!” She pointed as someone from the dock waved at us. I quickly steered us into the spot while one of the employees grabbed the canoe and tied it up.

  “Mr. Hunter, right on time.” He held out his hand to Blake, helping her onto the dock. “We have you seated outside. The heaters have been placed near your table so your date shouldn’t get cold, though we do have blankets to offer you if it gets too chilly.”

  “Fantastic.” I slipped him a twenty, patted him on the back, and turned to Blake. “Shall we?”

  Her eyes freaking lit up like I was sunshine. “Why, yes, Mr. Hunter.”

  “Mr. Hunter was my father.” I shivered uncomfortably. “And if rumors from my nanny are believed to be correct, he was a horny bastard. To you, I’m always Ian.”

  “Hah!” Blake laughed. “Rumor has it so are you . . .” With a sigh, she whispered my name again. “Ian.”

  The way she said my name always had a dizzying effect on my senses. Funny, because for years I’d been surrounded by hot chicks who freaking shouted it from the rooftops, yet it never reverberated in my chest the way it did when Blake uttered it.

  A tiny moan crossed her lips. “This place smells so good.”

  The waiter stopped by, his eyebrows shooting up into his hairline.

  Back off, dude.

  “I’m Julio. I’ll be your server this evening. Can I get
you started with anything?”

  “Two lime margaritas on the rocks,” I said before Blake could open her mouth.

  “Salt on the rim?” Julio asked.

  “Sugar.” I licked my lips while staring at Blake’s mouth.

  “Got it.” He walked off.

  “Rule number four.” Chips and salsa were placed in front of us. “Two drinks. Never three . . . or four. You may be nervous, but if you go past two, you start to lose your inhibitions, and things can easily go downhill really fast. Two is a safe number, but only if you’ve eaten normally that day.”

  Blake shoved a chip into her mouth. “Do I look like one of those girls who doesn’t eat normally? I eat, Ian. I can’t help it.”

  “Don’t want you to.” I laughed as she hungrily grabbed another chip. “Plus, you need food with all that cardio you’ll be doing later.”

  The chip paused midair. “Cardio?”

  “Sex.” I nodded. “Isn’t that what you want to eventually do with David?”

  Her face paled. “I, uh, I haven’t really thought about it.”

  “Come again?” I was in dangerous territory. She was my client, and I should have been worried that she hadn’t thought about it rather than elated.

  “I don’t think about David and sex.”

  Our drinks arrived. Julio cleared his throat. “Tonight’s special is—”

  “Give us a minute.”

  He walked off while I was still staring at Blake like she’d lost her mind. “Sweet cheeks, it’s going to happen eventually.”

  She shifted in her seat, tucked her hair nervously behind her ear, and then leaned forward. “I don’t want to think about it, because it makes me want to puke. I’m going to be horrible, he’s going to hate it, and I’m going to make a fool of myself.”

  “Rule number five.” I shook my head slowly. “Guys never hate sex. If they don’t get off, it’s either because they mistook numbing cream for K-Y, or they’re gay and you lack the goods to get them there.”


  “Still need a minute?” Julio asked.

  I glared.

  He held up his hands and walked off. What, were we his only table or something?

  Blake started downing her drink.

  “Blake”—I grabbed her wrist and helped her set her drink down—“if you can’t think about sex with him, should you be . . . going on a date with him? I mean, why use my help?”

  “It’s just moving so fast.” She grabbed another chip and chomped down. “I wanted him to notice me, not take me to bed two weeks after your little plan worked.”

  “Okay.” I leaned back. “So tell him no.”

  “I can do that, right?”

  “Rule number six,” I said softly. “You can always—and I do mean always—say no. In fact, when it comes to David, I strongly encourage it. Who knows where his dick has been. Maybe he has herpes. How would you even know?”

  “Okay, now you’re freaking me out.”

  “Good, no sex. Go to a nunnery. Lex and I will sneak in chocolate and wine for you every year on your birthday.” I reached across the table and patted her hand. “Blessings, child.”

  Blake glared, but she was laughing all the same. “Stop!”

  “Okay.” I grabbed a menu. “Let’s order before Julio spits in our tacos.”

  Our drinks were already empty. Huh, when did that happen? We both quickly decided on a variety of tacos to share and ordered another round of drinks.

  “To our first date.” Blake lifted her glass into the air and clinked it against mine.

  “To our first date,” I repeated. But my mind kept reminding me that it was also going to be the last.


  “We broke a rule,” Blake announced. “You had two margaritas and a tequila shot.”

  “Because”—I laughed and tugged her against me, burrowing my face in her neck—“you’d never done a tequila shot. I felt sorry for you. Besides, aren’t rules meant to be broken?”

  Blake glanced up at me, tilting her mouth so close that I had no choice but to lean down.

  “Your paddleboards are ready,” the employee announced.

  “Wait, what?” Panic crossed Blake’s features. “We just had a ton of food, not to mention a tequila shot, and we have to somehow paddle our way back?”

  “It’s a half mile,” I said. “You’ll be just fine. Just, you know, try to stay on the board.”

  “Hah!” Blake shoved me hard and grabbed her paddle. “I’ve never done this before, so if I drown, it’s on you.”

  “Mouth-to-mouth. Thank God for CPR.” I gave her a serious nod. “Do what you have to do, just don’t get pissed if I have to save your life.”

  “Enjoy!” The man handed me my paddle.

  I pulled off my shoes, put them in the bag that the attendant had, which I’d made Lex swear to pick up later, and then hurried over to Blake. “Give me your heels.” I held open my hands.

  “My heels?”

  “Yup.” I pulled them from her feet. “Lex is picking up our stuff later. Going barefoot will be easier. Besides, you’ll be too busy staying upright with your puffy life jacket.”

  “Alright.” She wiggled her toes, crouched down on the dock and slid to the board on her knees.

  “Balance is key,” I called.

  “Oh man.” Blake huffed out a curse. “I’m going to ruin Gabi’s dress.”

  “Hmm, Blake in a wet dress, me giving mouth-to-mouth—you sure this isn’t a dream?”

  “Not funny, Ian!”

  The attendant chuckled while I handed him the rest of my stuff and quickly got on my board. “Follow me, sweet cheeks.”

  It was a struggle for her at first, but within a few minutes, because of the athlete she was . . . it was a race.

  It was one of those unspoken races. The type that happens without anyone having to say anything.

  I pulled ahead, and then Blake, and then me again.

  “What do I get if I win?” I teased.

  Blake barked out a laugh. “Please, when have you ever beaten me?”

  “Sure, talk down to the hero, sweet cheeks. It won’t work! I’m still kicking your ass.”

  Blake’s laughter was like a caress as she nearly rammed me with her board and then flew by.

  “Shit,” I yelled, putting my back into it.

  “Neck and neck,” Blake said when we were a few feet from shore.

  “Winner takes all!” I shouted.

  Blake was ahead by one inch.

  So I did what any sane man would do.

  I pushed her into the water.

  It only came up to her waist, but it was enough to completely soak the dress.

  “I can’t believe you did that!” She slapped the water.

  “Rule number seven,” I called back once I reached the shore. “Never trust a man during competition.”

  “Noted!” She flipped me off, then used the ladder on the dock, climbing up it. “You win.”

  “That’s right . . . I win.” I turned, my mouth dropped open, and some foreign-sounding moan emerged from between my lips.

  “What are you staring at?”

  “Damn, you’re even more beautiful wet.”

  “You’re such a guy.” She rolled her eyes and made her way toward me, her legs and feet dripping with water.

  “Yes.” I couldn’t help it anymore; I tugged her against me and kissed her hard. “I am.”

  She shivered in my arms; whether it was from the cold or the kiss I wasn’t sure, and I really didn’t care.

  I didn’t stop.

  “Rule number eight,” I whispered against her mouth. “If he goes in for the kiss, let him.”

  “Mm’kay.” She kissed me back, wrapping her arms around me, her cold body rocking against my heat. She may have thought she was going to suck at sex, but I knew, right then, her body was very much aware of what needed to happen.

  Her tongue flicked mine lightly as she rubbed herself against me.


  It wasn’t that it had been too long without a girl.

  It was that it’d been a lifetime without the right one.

  We kissed for mere seconds, minutes, before she withdrew, not just physically but emotionally. And I knew I only had myself to blame, for blurring the lines so freaking well.

  For making her believe it was all just a game, when it was so much more.

  “So, almost done.” Blake nodded, then wiped her mouth with her hand. “How am I doing so far?”

  My heart cracked a bit. “You’re doing fantastic.”

  “Good.” She gave me a light shove. “Not only do you owe Gabs a dress, but I’m going to kick your ass for pushing me into the water. Who does that?”

  “Conceited bastards who like to win?”

  “Oh, so only Ians. Gotcha.”

  I smirked and pulled out my keys. Once the SUV was unlocked, I grabbed a blanket from the backseat and handed it to her.

  She stared at it. “Do I even want to know why you have a blanket in your car?”

  I rolled my eyes. “Not for the reasons you’re assuming.”

  “Oh, so you don’t screw girls in the backseat?”

  “Can’t say that I have.” I wrapped her tightly in the blanket. “Then again, there’s always a first time for anything.”

  “No,” she said quickly.

  “Ah.” I stepped back. “Good, you’re listening to the rules.”

  “Yeah,” she whispered. “Thanks for the help . . .”

  “Anytime.” The date was ending. Why the hell was I allowing it? We drove in silence back to her house.

  I turned off the car and stared at the porch light, willing the electricity to go out, or for her house to suddenly get burglarized so I’d have an excuse to go with her inside.

  “Final rule,” I muttered under my breath. “If you’re feeling that the date’s gone well and you want it to continue, it’s up to you to invite the guy in.”

  Blake chewed her lower lip and nodded. “Alright.”

  Shit. I wiped my face with my hands, then gripped the steering wheel. So that was it. I guessed. There was nothing left to say.


  “Yeah?” I croaked, not looking at her.

  “Do you want to come in?”

  My heart stuttered in my chest as I slowly turned my entire body to face her. “That depends.”

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