The Matchmaker's Playbook by Rachel Van Dyken


  I winked. Our cards were genius. They just looked like stupid Superman cards, when, really, the message was on the back. The message was always in the details people rarely paid attention to. “Great.” Standing, I held out my hand. “Seven days is all I need.”

  She glanced over at the barista, who was still blatantly shooting daggers in our direction. “I hope you’re right.”

  With an eye roll, I pulled her in for a quick kiss on the lips and whispered, “I’m never wrong.”

  “You smell spicy.”

  Aw, how cute, a compliment. Maybe I’ll only need six days. After all, one of the days was completely dedicated to learning how to stroke a man’s ego. Look how fast my little grasshopper was learning!

  “Thanks.” I placed my hand on the small of her back and guided her out of the coffee shop.

  “Bye, Ian.” She walked toward a red Honda and hopped in. Damn, I’d had her pegged as a green Jetta type of girl. Well, can’t win ’em all.

  The minute I jumped into my Range Rover, my phone rang.

  “How was she?” Lex yawned on the other end of the phone. I imagined he was probably shit-deep in e-mails, since it was two weeks after New Year’s, meaning everyone with a pulse had just created New Year’s resolutions to change their lives. “Because your waiting list is hella long, and if she’s not a good fit, I have another girl that offered to pay me in sexual favors to move her to the top.”

  “Cross her off,” I barked. “If she knows how to give favors, she knows how to get her own damn man.”

  “Noted.” Lex chuckled darkly.

  I made a mental note to make sure he actually checked her off the list rather than making fake promises just so he could get his rocks off.

  “Oh,” Lex said, “and Gabi says if you don’t make it tonight for dinner, she’s going to glue your hand to your penis. Though she was much more graphic.”

  “Always is.” I grinned. “Text her and let her know I’m on my way.”

  “Done.” He hung up.

  I didn’t pick this life. It’s not like I woke up one morning and went, Wow, wouldn’t it be so badass to help dowdy women get the guy? And before you stomp off in a huff, look at the facts. Almost 60 percent of women marry down, meaning most women go for a man with the dad bod. The guy who is more than likely going to make less than them; never work out; eat hot dogs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; and, let’s face it, need Viagra by age forty.

  All it takes is a simple Internet search to get the facts.

  Women are, by nature, insecure creatures, and if by the tender age of thirty-five they haven’t settled down, they’ll most likely marry the guy with the unfortunate bald spot and a heart of gold.

  And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

  It’s kind of like when you go to the pound and pick the dog with the lazy eye because you feel sorry for it, and you know without a doubt that bastard will never stray.

  So what’s the difference between settling and settling?

  The first type of settling is cute. The dog with the lazy eye, or in this case, the man, really is what’s best for the girl. A match made in heaven. They’re the couples you see holding hands while you wonder if the girl’s legally blind. It’s the hot tall mom and the short dad. The sorority girl and the guy with the beer gut. The cheerleader and the science nerd.

  For some reason, the universe accepts this. I accept this.

  What I don’t accept? The insecure type of settling, desperate in nature.

  Granted, that’s rarer.

  But getting more and more common.

  It’s when a girl never reaches her own potential, thus settling for less than what she’s worth. It’s the quiet girl who was never taught how to wear makeup. The chubby girl who eats her feelings but has a hilarious personality, who should by all means be paired with the quarterback.

  It’s the matches who never find one another.

  It’s my sister.

  Quiet, shy, a bit desperate, but gorgeous. She used to crush hard on a guy from my team. And when I say hard, I mean, she ran her car into a mailbox once when I had him over for the Fourth of July.

  The crazy part? He was totally into her, but because of her insecurity and awkwardness, she never pursued him. She was too scared to take that next step and meet him halfway.

  I was too selfish to care, and she made me swear not to intervene.

  A year went by. He got tired of waiting; she got tired of “rejection.” And she settled for her lab partner, Jerry.

  Now she’s married to some loser who thinks video games are an Olympic sport, and that when the beer is gone, a magic beer fairy restocks the fridge while he sleeps at night. Idiot probably thinks buffalo are extinct as well.

  My friend, on the other hand? He just got drafted by the Steelers and was recently in a Nike commercial.

  I was sitting on my sister’s couch, at her birthday party nine months ago, when my life clicked. My knee hurt like hell, but it was nothing compared to seeing the look of complete devastation on her face as she watched my friend on national television while Jerry yelled for her to pick up the baby so he could keep on playing Xbox.

  My sister deserved better. Deserves better. And as I iced my knee, thanks to an unfortunate incident I didn’t want to dwell on, I had an epiphany.

  If only she had been more secure, known how to read the signs, known how to get the guy she really deserved, she would be happier. An ounce of confidence would have changed her life, and knowing how to read guys, to read a situation? Hell, just learning one rule in my playbook would have changed her life.

  She wouldn’t be stuck in Yakima, Washington, the place that’s known as the Palm Springs of Washington but really, if you ask me, is drug and gang central, worse than LA.

  She’s a Seattle girl surrounded by cows, drugs, tractors, and a weekly date night at Applebee’s.

  To make matters worse, it’s not like she can move back to Seattle, not with her husband taking over the family tractor business and with his entire clan having lived there for over forty years. There was nothing I could do. Nothing she could do except the occasional call or text.

  So basically she was stuck in hell until something shifted in their situation. But by the looks of it? World peace would be accomplished before that ever happened.

  She’s completely lost to me.

  The only family I have left.

  Besides Gabi, but I don’t count her, since she’s not a blood relation and would probably stake me with the closest sharp object if I referred to her as my sister. Something about not wanting all the available men to run away when they find out our connection. One time. I threatened a guy in high school one time, and now she refuses to tell me any sort of information about her sex life or lack thereof.

  I shuddered. Whenever she wears a short skirt, the only feeling I can conjure up is that of fierce protectiveness and the sudden need to pick up sewing so that I can add fabric to the length.

  So, yeah, that’s my story.

  It’s how Wingmen Inc. got started.

  Think about dating like you would a football game. Coaches have their playbooks, ones that a player will memorize for days, weeks, years on end even, and they work. It’s not enough that you know how to play the game; you have to know how to read the plays, read your opponent.

  That’s what Wingmen Inc. is about. What if you could study a playbook for dating? We have rules for every type of relationship scenario, and our process works. Basically, we created a dating version of Minority Report. We see the “dating disaster” before it happens and make amendments accordingly.

  Nothing angsty about it. I’m not a sad, lonely bastard in need of therapy because my parents ignored me when I was young—though they did, and probably still would have if they hadn’t died in a freak plane crash when I was seven.

  My heart wasn’t broken by the girl next door who finally noticed me and then left me for my best friend. Please. Have you seen me?

  And, no, I’m not t
rying to make up for things in small packages. I think it’s already been established that all’s well in the mechanics department.

  I’m rich.

  I’m brilliant—ask my professors.

  I get more ass than even a man with my appetite can keep up with.

  And I’m basically the modern-day Superman, saving women from themselves while my best friend, Lex, plays sidekick.

  Before you ask—yes. It sucks. I’m pissed I can’t play in the NFL. But when one can’t play . . . one teaches.

  And I was more than just a football player.

  I was the player.

  Of sports.

  And . . . of women.

  The best of them all.

  So who better to teach women how not to get played than an actual player?

  Exactly.

  It’s not like I’ve turned over a new leaf; I’ve just learned to use both sides. Brilliant? Absolutely.

  “Shit.” I nearly ran into the small Corolla in front of me as Gabi’s ringtone blared over my speakers.

  “Yes?” I answered. “To what do I owe this pleasure?”

  “I’m not your client, Ian,” Gabi shouted. “Cut with the smooth-talking love coach voice. You promised!”

  “I did.” What the hell did I promise? Movie night? That’s what I thought I promised. The light turned green. My thoughts were still blank. A horn blared behind me, and I took off.

  “You forgot, didn’t you?”

  “About our date tonight?” I laughed. “Of course not.”

  “Sometimes I wonder why we’re friends.”

  “Because you like to stare at me when I sleep?”

  “One time, Ian!” She growled out a loud curse. “You’re lucky I’m forgiving. I’m having a welcome party for my two new roommates, and you were supposed to bring the chips and dip. And the party started a half hour ago.”

  So much for my dry cleaning.

  “Was this party on my calendar?”

  “You and your freaking calendar!” she shouted. “Sorry that I don’t have time to log into Gmail and plug it in so that you can make time for me.”

  “It would be a lot easier on Lex if you did.”

  “You know Lex is more your bitch than your friend these days?”

  “Harsh,” I coughed. “You better hope I don’t tell him that.”

  She fell silent. Because that was what she did when we talked about Lex. She pretended she wasn’t planning on setting his bed on fire with him in it, and I pretended not to notice that even when they were fighting, it seemed like she was still clamoring for his attention, no matter how negative.

  But we both knew the elephant was standing in the room with his face plastered all the hell over it.

  I sighed. “Sorry, Gabs. I’ll be there in about fifteen minutes, alright?”

  “You better,” she grumbled. Then the line went dead.

  My music started up again as I quickly pulled into the closest grocery store parking lot and ran like hell to grab the snacks I’d promised. The busier I got, the worse my memory became, which was why I had a calendar and an online schedule that even my professors knew how to access just in case I wasn’t in class, since I was a TA. I was an A student; I’d trained them to keep up with my schedule well, and it was an added bonus when I could teach their classes while they did more important things.

  I grabbed all the chips and dip I could find that promised lots of empty calories, then groaned when I noticed only one checker was open and the guy in front of me had ten coupons.

  I was ready to pay for his groceries if the dude would just let me go first.

  “I can help you over here, sir,” a perky voice said to my right.

  A slow smile spread across my face as I turned. “Oh wow, thank you.”

  The girl blushed and flicked on the little light at her check stand.

  “Hmm, going to a party?” The scanner beeped as she ran each item through.

  “For my sister. Well, she’s basically my sister. And I’m the tool that forgot to bring snacks.”

  “You don’t seem like a tool to me.” Her voice was throaty as she arched her eyebrows.

  “Well, maybe you should tell her that, which would save me from having to grovel . . .”

  Her eyes lit up. “I get off in ten minutes.”

  “Aw, it would only take me five. Tops.”

  “What?”

  “Your top.” I pointed to her plain white shirt. “Looks gorgeous with your skin tone.”

  Her eyes dilated right before me.

  Sometimes, it was just too easy.

  CHAPTER THREE

  “Finally,” Gabi shouted as she opened the door and jerked the groceries out of my hand in one fell swoop. “I thought you said you fifteen minutes.”

  “Did I say fifteen? Could have sworn I said twenty.” And there was that one checker who needed my help, so . . .

  Gabi’s eyes narrowed. “You smell like cheap perfume.”

  “Gross, right? Who wears Vanilla Fields anymore? I think your grandma still buys that shit, but she’s eighty. She’s allowed to be a creature of habit.”

  “You did it again, didn’t you?”

  “Did what?” I played innocent while I unpacked the shopping bags. Gabi lived a few blocks away from the University of Washington campus, and I, in turn, lived a few miles away from her. It was convenient for both of us.

  I made sure no idiots plagued her with their existence.

  And she cooked for me.

  Sometimes she even packed me little-kid lunches with smiley faces.

  I’d probably starve without her. A point she liked to make on a daily basis.

  Gabi rolled her green eyes and quickly pulled her long auburn hair into a low messy bun. “Sometimes I want to kill you.” She exhaled. “Wow, I feel so much better getting that off my chest.”

  “That’s what I’m here for.” I winked. “Your own personal therapy.”

  She scrunched up her nose. “Seriously. You smell bad, dude.”

  I held up my shirt and winced. “How the hell did five minutes with Shopgirl lead to me being a walking perfume commercial?”

  Gabi sighed, then pointed upstairs. “Go. Shower. I’ll put out the food. Your extra clothes are still in my room. Just”—she sneezed and wrinkled her nose—“get rid of the skank.”

  “She has a name,” I teased. Not that I actually remembered it. But in my defense, while her lips were wrapped around me, her head was blocking the view of her name tag. See? Not my fault.

  “One day.” Gabi shook her head. “You’re going to get smited.” She frowned. “Or is it smote?”

  “Oooo.” I shivered and leaned in, pressing a kiss to her cheek. “Sounds dirty. Can’t wait.”

  With a hard shove, she pushed me off of her and slapped me on the ass. “Upstairs. Go, before you start attracting more.”

  “Attention?”

  “Girls with no future.” Gabi nodded seriously. “You know, the type you like to give quick—”

  “Lex!” I interrupted her on purpose when my best friend sauntered into the kitchen. He was six foot five inches of pure muscled man-slut.

  Worse than I was.

  Which meant he probably deserved some sort of medal.

  Or badge.

  Or at least a patch with the letter W for “whore.” His own dirty scarlet letter.

  Next to me, Gabi tensed.

  “I’ll just go take that shower,” I said, leaving them alone. I knew full well that it was best to stay out of the way where they were concerned. I hated breaking up fights. Last time I earned a black eye and a kick to the balls trying to keep the peace.

  And with all the clients I had piled up for the rest of the semester, the last thing I needed was to show up to a meeting with both my eyes swollen shut.

  I took the stairs two at a time, made sure to knock on the bathroom door before I let myself in, then quickly stripped out of my clothes and jumped into the shower.

  All of my essentials were whe
re I’d left them, in the little caddy I kept in the corner.

  And before you go getting all suspicious on my ass, remember, Gabi is like a sister to me—as in, the only time I even thought about kissing her was during eighth-grade skate night, and I’m pretty sure that’s because someone had spiked my Mountain Dew.

  Regardless, we kissed, and it was awful. She actually puked. But we’re 99 percent sure it was the stomach flu and not my bad kissing skills that caused it.

  We shook hands a few days after that.

  Swore each other to secrecy.

  And haven’t had any issue since.

  So, no, I’m not jealous of her fascination with Lex, though if he ever pursued her, I’d probably hang him from a telephone pole and light his nuts on fire. It was cute, her obsession, and I knew it would never go anywhere. Because she was a virgin.

  He wasn’t.

  And guys like Lex know what girls like Gabi are worth—gold. He couldn’t afford her, not even if he sold his soiled soul.

  The familiar scent of my Molton Brown body wash floated into the air, burning my nostrils but relaxing me at the same time.

  I only kept Molton at Gabi’s.

  Jean Paul Gaultier was for my place.

  And if I was staying overnight and had to meet a client the next day, then I brought along Old Spice. It was another numbers thing. At least 30 percent of guys in college used Old Spice, meaning the girl would start to associate my scent with that of other men, pushing her boundaries, making her comfortable. Because as any dating expert knows, scent is the easiest way to establish memory as well as comfort.

  You can’t make this shit up.

  Which is another reason Lex is invaluable to the company: he loves his charts, data, and fun facts.

  A loud knock shook the door. “I swear to the shower gods if you don’t hurry your ass up, I’m going to break the door down and flush the toilet.”

  “Five minutes, Gabs.”

  “You and your fake time limits!”

  I quickly turned off the shower, wrapped a towel around my waist, and made my way down the hall into her room.

  With a sigh, I shut the door behind me, dropped the towel, and flipped on the light.

 
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