The Matchmaker's Playbook by Rachel Van Dyken

  Gabi was still frowning at me. “She likes you.”

  “Oh, thank God!” I shouted. “And here I thought she hated me when she started screaming my name—”

  Gabi glared.

  I stopped talking to offer her a teasing smile. “Say, where is Blake?”

  “Baking,” Gabi muttered. “She got up at the ass crack of dawn and went for a four-mile run, then decided to make pancakes for the slut in her bed.”

  I was already out of the bed before Gabi could yell about my nakedness again. I dressed in record time, then launched myself down the stairs and into the kitchen. “Pancakes?”

  Blake was facing the stove, her hair pulled into a wet knot on her head while she hummed and flipped a pancake into the air. “Only if you save some for Lex. I told him he could have one after he called Gabi this morning freaking out about you missing your normal meeting at the bench.”

  “Shit!” I glanced at the clock on the microwave. “I didn’t mean to sleep in.”

  Blake turned, her face flushed. “Sorry, you just looked exhausted.”

  “Sweet cheeks.” In two steps, she was in my arms. “I am exhausted, but in the best possible you-should-probably-take-a-week-off-from-school way.”

  “Why would I take a week off school?”

  “Think of the possibilities—spending your days and nights in bed. It might change your life.”

  “Hah,” Blake wrapped her arms around my middle. “Maybe it already has.”

  I smiled down at her. It was a new feeling. Not waking up in a panic to leave, but in a panic to see her, to make sure she was okay, to kiss her again and again.

  “I could get very addicted to your taste.” I kissed her lightly on the mouth. Blake moved her arms so she could wrap them around my neck and pull me closer.

  “Not in the kitchen, guys,” Gabi said from the doorway. “We have to eat here.”

  “I love eating,” I murmured against Blake’s lips. “And pancakes? You know that’s how Gabs kept me around, right? She fed me. That’s what you do when you want to keep a man. If you give him food, he’s yours for life.”

  “Why else do you think I went to the store and bought sausage to go along with the pancakes?”

  I groaned and kissed her again.

  “I will seriously grab the pillow from upstairs.” Gabi’s irritated voice pierced my good mood. “Now break apart.” She clapped. “For once, I’m not cooking, so I want to sit and have my coffee without watching real-life porn.”

  “Who has porn?” Lex waltzed into the kitchen, his grin lazy as he eyed Gabi. “Looking good, Gabs. Run out of makeup this morning, or are you trying to look twelve so you can pay less for a movie ticket?”

  Gabi glared, continuing to sip her coffee. The glare had me stepping out of the way just in case she’d somehow discovered a way to kill people with a look.

  Lex didn’t seem the least bit affected. If anything, he seemed to enjoy her hate.

  “So who got laid last night?” Lex asked once he’d grabbed a cup of coffee and was sitting at the breakfast table.

  Gabi pointed at me, while I pointed at Blake, who pointed back at me.

  Lex frowned. “So you either both got laid or you hooked up. Which is it?”

  “Uh . . . hooked up,” Blake announced, casting a shy glance my way and then winking. “And it was everything the girls write about on the bathroom stalls.”

  “Ha ha.” I smacked her ass and started pulling out plates.

  “Um . . .” Lex coughed. “You do realize you can’t hook up with clients.”

  “Oh, that.” I nodded. “I’m pretty sure our contract was terminated the minute she screamed my name.”

  “So”—Gabi eyed both of us—“no David?”

  “No,” I said while Blake said, “Yes.”

  All talking ceased.

  I whipped around so fast I nearly collided with the open fridge door. “What the hell do you mean, ‘yes’?”

  “He’s still a friend!” Blake laughed nervously. “I need to at least meet with him for dinner. Like I said, he’s a friend.”

  “Um, I was a friend and we ended up screwing four times last night. Sorry if I’m not exactly confident in your ability to keep friends at arm’s length!”

  Blake gasped.

  Lex muttered an “oh shit.” And looked like he wanted to high-five me, or bow down to me, or maybe just challenge me to an endurance run.

  Gabi cackled behind her coffee cup.

  “Is that all it was to you? Blake crossed her arms. A quick hookup?”

  “Hell no,” I yelled, stalking toward her. “Which is another reason the last thing I want is for you to hang out with Douchepants!”

  “He has a name!”

  “Yeah, it’s Douchepants!”

  Blake rolled her eyes. “I’ve known him my whole life. It would be rude to suddenly cancel. Tell you what. If it makes you feel better, you can drop me off and pick me up.”

  “Oooo, rent a minivan like a soccer mom!” This from Lex.

  “Lex, not helping,” I said quickly. “Ask Gabs about getting fired.”

  “How do you even know that?” Gabi yelled while Lex turned on her with venom in his eyes.

  “Sleep with the boss?” Lex said in a harsh voice.

  “Ah! I hate you guys!” Gabi smacked Lex on the arm while I turned back to Blake.

  “Ian.” She said my name like she was disappointed in the fact that I was jealous. “I promise it will be fine, okay?”

  She reached for my arms.

  I didn’t budge.

  With a sigh, she whispered in my ear. “You know I could take the day off . . . but I do still have to go to volleyball practice.” She finished the whisper with a slight lick on my ear.

  The lick decided it for me.

  I was locking her in the room with me.

  And I was going to do everything within my power to make sure that when she did meet with David, my name was the only one on her lips.

  “We’ll be back!” I yelled loud enough for everyone to hear and then tossed her over my shoulder and carried her up the stairs into her room.


  “Must. Get. Water.” With a hoarse groan, I shuffled toward the bathroom and turned on the faucet, splashing my face, then cupping my hands underneath so I could drink.

  “Your cardio needs work.” Blake came up behind me and turned on the shower.

  I glowered at her in the mirror. “I kicked your ass!”

  “Oh, is that what you did? When you said you had to stop because your ankle hurt?”

  With a yelp, she moved out of the way as I snapped a towel in her direction. “Just because I suck at sprints doesn’t mean my cardio needs work. Maybe if you wore more clothes while working out, I wouldn’t get so distracted.”

  “So you almost coughed up a lung because you were distracted?”

  “Right.” I nodded and pulled my shirt over my head, tossing it onto the floor. “Distraction messes with my breathing, and if you don’t breathe right, you gas.” I winked.

  She rolled her eyes and pushed me out of the bathroom.

  “Hey!” I yelled when the door slammed in my face. “I thought if I went on a jog with you, I was allowed shower time. Wasn’t there a sticker chart? With sexual favors each time I hit a goal?”

  The door cracked open. “You’re insane, you know that?”

  “Insanely hot?” I crooked my eyebrow at her and inched the door open farther. “Insanely . . . satisfying? So insane that you had not one, not two, but three orgasms, all within a five-hour period, was it?”

  Her face blazed red.

  I smirked.

  The door slammed back against me again, and this time the lock turned.

  “Fine,” I said against the door. “A girl needs some privacy—I get it. I’ll just be out here sitting in my own sweat while I wait!”

  “You were complaining about being behind.” Blake’s voice carried through the door. “Get some work done! Sit on the f
loor and stop complaining!”

  I loved that bossy attitude.

  After spending that first day in bed together, we decided that we needed to venture out into society and actually go to school. I told her I was 90 percent sure we could still pass all our classes even if we just stopped going halfway through the semester, but Blake was on scholarship, and honestly I really did enjoy school. So I decided the best way to go about it was to go for a run with her, placate her with coffee, then explain my Wingmen Inc. schedule to her, as well as my duties, in a way that wouldn’t make her fly off the handle.

  Blake didn’t want me to terminate her contract, because technically I’d held up my end of the bargain. David had noticed her, and in return, she could have had him.

  If I hadn’t stood in the way.

  She only had two days left, since we had changed the contract end date to her actual date with David to keep my record pristine.

  Well, not exactly pristine. I did have a black mark, since I’d done the unthinkable and slept with her.

  But being with her now was different.

  She was different. My end goal wasn’t to hook up with her and leave. I wanted her for as long as she would have me. Hopefully forever.

  Shit. I was already in deep.

  I quickly grabbed my phone from her nightstand and started poring over e-mails from the last few days.

  Vivian wanted to meet.

  She had been in love with a guy named John since her freshman year two years ago, and Lex sent me his schedule.

  And it looked like I had one more client starting the following week, who had spent the last three years pining over . . . yup, you guessed it, her study partner.

  Seriously, nine times out of ten it was either the study partner or someone in their class that they’d creepily stalked. I was cool with it, but it usually meant I had to do a lot of groundwork. Getting the girl from being essentially nonexistent to suddenly on the guy’s radar was no easy task. And doing that while seeing Blake?

  Well, let’s just say my methods were going to have to change, because no way was I going to be that guy. The one who pretended to be dating other girls while I actually had a legitimate girlfriend.

  My hand froze over the text I was just about to send Lex. My breathing slowed. My chest tightened.

  The shower turned off.

  I stared at my phone harder.

  And tried to remember to breathe.

  Suddenly, Blake’s feet appeared in my line of vision. She waved in front of my face. “Ian? What’s going on? You look like you’re going to puke.”

  “Are you my girlfriend?” I blurted.

  Blake joined me on the bed, towel wrapped tight around her body. “If that freaks you out—”

  “No,” I said. “That’s just the point. It doesn’t. Shouldn’t it?”

  Blake shrugged. “Well, it’s not like you’ve been afraid of commitment. Up until now you’ve just been”—she winced—“screwing anything that breathed.”

  “Nice, and here I thought you were going to lay me down easy and say something like ‘Oh, Ian, you were just waiting for the right girl to sweep you off your feet!’”

  “Girls don’t do the sweeping. Surely that’s in your rule book.”

  “Why do men have to do all the work?”

  Blake smiled and then slowly untucked her towel and straddled me. “Is that what this is about? You want me to do some work?”

  I nodded, afraid that if I spoke, it would somehow spook her into running away. I didn’t even touch her. I just . . . stared.

  “So in order to be okay with being my boyfriend . . .”

  Damn, the word sounded good on her lips. I was a possessive bastard like that, knowing that she was mine, that nobody else got to see her naked, that no other guy had pressed his mouth against hers. It was enough to make me want to shout in triumph.

  “I need to . . . earn my keep?” she said.

  “Your words, not mine,” I whispered in a cocky voice. “Hey, you wouldn’t happen to have any maid outfits in that giant closet of horrors, would you?”


  “Damn.” I sighed. “Janitor outfits? Fast-food? Tell me you at least have a McDonald’s uniform, and I will bang you so hard you’re going to call me Ronald for a week.”

  “You’re really weird.”

  I gripped her by the ass and tossed her onto the bed. “Yeah, but you fed me, so remember what that means.”

  Blake ran her hands through my hair. Her fingers went to my lips and lingered as she whispered, “I get to keep you.”

  “Yeah.” I kissed each fingertip reverently. “I sure hope so.”

  “Feeling insecure?”

  “No,” I lied. “Just . . . different. This feels different.”

  “Sometimes different is exactly what we need.”

  “Yeah.” I kissed her soundly. “It is.”

  I finally left Blake’s house two hours later, freshly showered and ready to meet Vivian at the HUB. It was our second meeting, during which I’d go over the schedule and see if she was okay with it. Hopefully, getting a good look at the guy she was interested in would help me gauge how fast he’d make it through the steps.

  Vivian was sitting in Subway, chewing her fingernails and staring hard at one of the employees. He was a bit on the short side, wore his Subway visor backward, and said “yo” more than anyone should ever say within a five-minute period.

  “Yo,” I teased, taking a seat across from her.

  “He doesn’t even know my name,” she mumbled under her breath.

  I ignored that. “Did you move out of your parents’ house?”

  Her attention still fixed on the guy, she nodded and kept talking to me without making eye contact, which was borderline creepy. “I moved in with a good friend right off campus. I even cut my hair.”

  “I see that.” She’d also discovered red lipstick and all the ways one could get it on her teeth by not properly applying it. “Vivian . . .”

  She was still staring at John.

  Fine. She wanted his attention? I was going to get his attention.

  “You bitch!” I jumped to my feet and tossed my chair to the floor. Stunned students glanced at us. “I can’t believe you slept with him! At my party? At my house! IN MY BED!”

  Vivian’s mouth dropped open as she looked between me and the suddenly very still Subway line. Sandwich artistry had officially stopped.

  “Ian, what are you doing?” she hissed.

  “Um, breaking up with you. What does it look like I’m doing?” I waved my hands around in the air. “You slept with my brother!” I had no such brother. “During my birthday party!” My birthday was in November. “What? You didn’t think I would find out?”

  Tears filled her eyes.

  “Ian . . .” They started spilling onto her cheeks.

  “Hey, man.” John walked over and put his hand on my arm.

  “Don’t touch me!” I jerked away.

  “Chill, yo, just chill.” He offered a calm smile. “It’s just that, Vivian here”—I knew he knew her name—“looks pretty scared. And whatever went down, it’s not cool to air it out in front of an audience.”

  “You know what else isn’t cool?” I was seething. “Her.” I pointed a finger in Vivian’s direction. “Making me want her so desperately that I was even thinking of forgiving her for doing the unthinkable. She’s just . . .” I looked away. “She’s beautiful.”

  John glanced at Vivian. I prayed she’d keep her mouth closed, because lipstick on her teeth would do the opposite of attract him. Then again, maybe he was into train wrecks. “Yeah, she really is,” he said.

  I knew what he saw, the girl next door plus a little bit of red lipstick. Her face was still flushed, making her lips plump. Her eyes were wide—they looked huge—and the fresh haircut made her look like she’d just gotten done having sex, which is of course what had given me my brilliant idea.

  It wasn’t just jealousy that got a guy going.

sp; It was the simple fact that another dude had discovered a treasure that had been walking past him for years, and he’d never even given it a second glance.

  All guys wanted to be first.

  We wanted to be Christopher Columbus, Lewis and Clark—you get the picture.

  He would always be second to me. Or so he thought. Meaning he would try twice as hard to erase the memory of her first.

  Damn, I was brilliant.

  “Look.” I ran my hands through my hair, trying to look stressed. “Viv, can we talk outside?”

  She nodded, slowly standing to her feet. I was glad to see that she’d taken my advice and at least dressed her age. Nice skinny jeans and a black racerback tank top made her look older than twelve.

  “Hey.” John grabbed Vivian’s arm and whispered something in her ear. She nodded, ducked her head, and walked out with me.

  Once we were outside, I steered her toward the bench and sat.

  “That was—”

  “Shh.” I held my finger to my lips. “Give it a few minutes. He’s going to be looking out here, and if we talk right away, it will look like we’re fixing things. If we stay silent, we both look . . . hopeless. We need to look hopeless.”

  Vivian nodded, even crossed her arms.

  After five minutes, I turned to her. “Sorry for embarrassing you.”

  She shrugged a shoulder, then smiled to herself. “He told me to meet him when he gets off work. Said he cheated on his girlfriend in high school and knows how bad it sucks to feel guilty for something that’s entirely your fault.”

  “Hmm . . . interesting. That wasn’t in his folder, which basically means I’m more brilliant than I originally realized.”

  She scooted closer to me.

  “No, no.” I laughed and created more distance. “From here on out, we’re chilly, distant. Still semitogether but . . . only for appearances.”

  “Right.” She folded her hands in her lap. “So do I meet him?”

  “Sure. Bitch and complain, tell him it’s not true, because it isn’t, but say I refuse to believe you because I have trust issues. Tell him it’s most likely over, which really frustrates you, since I was the best sex you’ve ever had.”

  “What?” She blushed bright red. “I can’t say that.”

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