The Matchmaker's Playbook by Rachel Van Dyken


  “We did things backwards.” I shrugged. “Usually I make them jealous first, then they offer a shoulder to cry on when things go to hell. But we’re switching things up. Tell him you’re upset because you’re going to miss me in your bed. Say I was incredible. Say at night, you scream my name, only to wake up alone.”

  “I can’t believe we’re having this conversation.” She started rocking back and forth, her eyes darting between me and the grass, cheeks still flushed. “I can’t . . . say those things.”

  “You can.” I checked my phone. “You will. And once that’s over with, you leave, tell him you’re exhausted, haven’t been sleeping well. He’ll want your number. Give it to him. He’ll text you good night. Don’t text him back until about three a.m. He’ll text you back, believe me. And when he does and asks why you were up, say you’re restless.”

  I scrolled through John’s background. They had around an 80 percent chance for a good match. That is, if he stopped pissing around during class and actually finished his homework and turned it in on time. Vivian studied a ton.

  “You have any tests coming up?”

  “Yeah, in bio.”

  “Great. He’s in bio, right?”

  Another nod.

  “Tell him that the only thing taking your mind off everything is studying . . . He’ll offer to come over and study with you. Give it a day, then let him. Text me the minute he comes in the house, and I’ll text you during the study session so that you seem distracted. Laugh at some of my texts, and then sigh and slam your book shut. He’ll tell you that you deserve better and ask if you’ve ever considered being with anyone else. And this is where it’s very important that you listen to my every damn word.”

  “I feel like this is happening really fast.” Her breathing picked up speed, like she was ready to pass out.

  Oh, good, another hyperventilater. I didn’t have time for this shit today. Blake would be getting out of volleyball soon, and I had plans for that mouth, those legs—well, every single part of her.

  “You want him, right?”

  “Yes.”

  “Good, so tell him you’ve never been with anyone else. Tell him you’ve only kissed . . . ?” I waited for her answer.

  “Two guys,” she nodded her head confidently.

  Good, she was getting the hang of it.

  “Great,” I said. “The first was in high school?” I was guessing.

  A nod and then a shrug. “Well, we both were in high school. I haven’t dated much since coming to college.”

  “Sorry.”

  “Overprotective parents,” she huffed. “They control everything. It’s just easier sometimes to lie down and let them.”

  “You’ve moved out, so now you’re good, right?”

  “Yes.” She beamed. “Okay, two guys, and then what? How do I know if I’m any good at kissing? What if I’m not good enough?”

  The girl had a point.

  I held up a finger. “Hold that thought.”

  Gripping my cell with my hand, I dialed Lex’s number. He answered on the first ring. “Tell me you’re walking by the fountain in a few seconds.”

  “I see you right now.”

  “Need you.”

  “Great.”

  He hung up.

  Vivian frowned as Lex made his way around the fountain and stalked toward us. I loved watching girls’ reaction to him. He was built like a football player but had the brain of . . . I don’t know, an evil genius? It was almost like he knew exactly what chemicals were firing off in their hormonal little bodies when he smiled in their direction, and knew just the amount of pressure to add to each kiss to cause an explosion.

  Right. In the past, I’d had times where I wanted to kill him and dissect his freaky little brain. Now it was just interesting to watch.

  “You called?” He shoved his hands into his pockets.

  I gave a nonchalant nod toward Vivian. “She needs to know how to hook a guy with the gentle kiss.”

  “Right on.” He set his bag down. “We doing this here?”

  I glanced around. “Yeah, but maybe stand back more by the trees so John doesn’t see.”

  He pulled Vivian to her feet and led her back toward the trees, then placed both hands on her shoulders. “You ready?”

  “Wait.” She looked back and forth between us and whispered in a shaky voice, “What’s happening?”

  “First day of the rest of your life.” Lex nodded seriously. “Think of it as sex ed, only . . . better.”

  “I know about the birds and the bees.”

  Lex smirked, eyeing her up and down in disbelief. “Sure you do.”

  “Who are you?” she demanded, putting her hands on her hips.

  “The second half to his whole.” Lex pointed at me.

  “You’re gay?” she said.

  He tugged her close to him. “Rub against me and find out, sweetheart.”

  I rolled my eyes. “Viv, just let Lex teach you how to kiss. I can’t do it, because . . .” I frowned. Technically, I could do it. I just . . . didn’t want to. It felt like cheating, even if it was just a job. Shit, I wondered if strippers thought the same thing every night they got ones shoved down their panties.

  “He grew a vagina,” Lex said helpfully. “Besides, he may get more tail, he may even have me beat in bed—we haven’t really done a survey as of late—but this? This I know I excel at. So pucker up, buttercup, because I’m about to change your life.”

  “The survey was falsified,” I argued.

  Lex pressed his mouth against hers softly, then pulled back. “Now, before I go in again, I’m going to lick my bottom lip. Note I said lick, not slobber. A light lick, so that our lips slide across one another. And then just a small tease.” He licked his lips and kissed her again, this time lingering at her lower lip before another kiss. Then his tongue slid out, meeting the entrance of her mouth before he pulled it back.

  Her eyes were closed, and she leaned forward as Lex started talking again. “Now, once you have the correct pressure down, make sure you keep your hands above his waist. They are never down, they are never tugging at his head, simply touching his biceps lightly, almost like you’re trying to control yourself. Got it?”

  Vivian didn’t look confident, but she nodded and then leaned in and kissed Lex.

  When she was finished, she took a step back and waited.

  “Good.” Lex frowned. “Maybe hesitate a bit more, make sure you’re touching at least one erotic point on my body.”

  “Erotic point?” Vivian frowned.

  Lex sighed as if he were teaching math to a first grader. “Pecs, dick, hips, elbows, shoulders, thigh. But in this case, I said no below the belt, so touch my elbow. Or if you really want to go big, go ahead and touch his thigh.”

  “His thigh.” She nodded. “Okay, so we’re sitting?”

  Lex groaned. “Dude, I really don’t have time for this.”

  I intervened. “Viv, if you’re standing, go for the bicep. Like this.” I pulled her into my arms. “And if you’re sitting, yes, graze his thigh. But don’t grope. A graze is how you touch a flower; a grope is how you grab a stress ball.”

  “Flowers, not balls.” She nodded. “Got it.”

  Lex burst out laughing. “Alright, my work here is done. Have fun, kids.”

  He walked off whistling while girls stared after him.

  “You think you got it?” I crossed my arms. “Because we’re running out of time, and I have things to do.”

  “Yup.” If she nodded one more time, her head was going to fall off.

  “No more nodding, no more short answers. Say ‘yes’ instead of ‘yeah.’ Always answer with full sentences—you aren’t sixteen anymore. And don’t nod. If you nod, he can’t hear your voice. And we need him to hear your voice. We want it to torture him when he’s in bed. Alone. Got it?”

  She nodded, then stopped and said, “Yes.”

  “Good girl. You have my number. Text soon.”

  I walked toward my
car. I was going to be late for dinner, but that didn’t matter. I just wanted to see Blake.

  Hell, I didn’t even need sex.

  Which meant something was seriously wrong with me.

  CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

  “I think you should fake the flu,” I said while Blake rushed around her room to get ready for her dinner with David. I’d stalled her as many times as I could. First in the shower, then before she got dressed. And now, as she slid on heels, all I could think of was her wearing those heels with me, naked. “On second thought.” I tilted my head. “Wear those for me tonight?”

  Blake laughed and stood on wobbly legs. “So how do I look?”

  I sighed and closed my eyes. “Gorgeous.”

  “You’re not even looking.”

  “Because looking at you pisses me off. It reminds me that he’s going to be looking at you, and every time I think about him in the same damn room as you, I want to cut off his shooting hand and bury it in Gabs’s yard.”

  “That’s really graphic.”

  I groaned. “You have no idea”—I stalked toward her—“how graphic I can really be. Care for an example? I have several.” I nipped her lower lip and tugged the strap to her slinky black dress down her shoulder, kissing the spot the strap had just occupied and trying to shove the material farther down.

  “Oh no you don’t.” Blake wagged her finger at me. “Think of it this way—the sooner I go out with him and tell him how blissfully happy I am with you, the sooner we can get this whole David thing behind us. Besides, like I said, he’s a friend.”

  “My point exactly. You sleep with your friend every night.”

  Blake sighed. “Ian, trust me. I want you. Not him.”

  It was in that moment that I realized she had me by the balls in a very disturbing way, because for the first time in years I was insecure. Fearful that our relationship was too new and that she’d default to what was comfortable.

  Fearful that she would settle.

  Then again, what made me better than David?

  Shit. What if she was settling by being with me, not him? What if I was holding her back? What if . . .

  And this is why guys like me should never date, because guys like me have way too many thoughts. Guys like me help girls get guys like David. I knew exactly what he would do to woo her. I knew exactly how he’d respond to every laugh, every sigh. Damn it. It was like sending her out unarmed. She wasn’t ready for battle, not when it came to the stacks of childhood memories David had against me.

  I really should have read through the compatibility results that Lex had given me. At least then I’d know who was the better man, even though the very fact that it could be him made my chest tighten with rage.

  If she was meant to be with him, she would be.

  But she was with me.

  “Ian?” Blake waved in front of my face. “Are you okay?”

  “Go,” I huffed. “I won’t drive you to dinner like the crazy-ass boyfriend who can’t trust his girl. Seriously, go. I’ll, um, I’ll see you tonight?”

  “Yeah.” She frowned. “I’ll stop by your house afterward. Is that still okay?”

  “Of course.” I forced a smile, then kissed her briskly on the cheek. “Just don’t let him touch you. Anywhere. Not even your back, which means he’s thinking of touching your ass, alright?”

  “Promise.” She held up her hand. “Go watch a movie, relax. Maybe do some homework.”

  “Hah.” Like I wanted to do statistics while he was looking down her dress and imagining her naked. Like hell. “Great idea.”

  “Trust me?” she said in a hopeful voice.

  “Yes.”

  She left me standing there in her room, wondering how the hell I’d gone from being a guy who was confident in every area of his life to a guy wondering if I’d made a huge lapse in judgment by giving her a chance. Because the minute you’re in a relationship, like really in it, you have the potential to fail.

  And I didn’t fail.

  That was why after my injury I’d pushed myself so hard.

  It was also why I didn’t take risks, why I didn’t date. I loved women. Loved them. And I enjoyed sex immensely.

  But sex had always been just sex.

  Now it was attached to Blake.

  Shit.

  First thing on the list? I was going to open that damn folder, check out the stats, look at the breakdown, and make a decision, even if it killed me. Besides, how bad could it be? I wasn’t a horrible guy, and things were going great with Blake. I was sure the program had matched us at a high percentage. Hell, maybe even somewhere in the nineties.

  But would I continue dating her if I found out that we were doomed from the start? Even if I really cared for her?

  The thought haunted me the entire way home.

  CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

  Lex had left the results in the living room, where he normally does his work. The dining room table was clear except for a few stacks of file folders and Lex’s ever-present MacBook Pro.

  I pulled out one of the metal chairs and sat, my eyes never leaving the stack. Shit, it wasn’t like it was paternity test results. It was just a number.

  A number that would tell me once and for all if I was the settler or the settlee.

  Damn it.

  I tapped my fingertips against the table, then with a curse pushed back the chair and stood, looming over the laptop, still staring but having second thoughts. What would this really accomplish? If I was wrong, if she really was better off with David, then . . . if I really cared for her, I’d let her go, right? Why would I want to hurt her? I had started Wingmen Inc. for people exactly like her.

  To protect her from guys like me, guys who were players. Is that what was really happening right now?

  “Oh shit,” I grumbled.

  I was turning into a chick—thinking of every possible outcome, analyzing every angle of the situation. So basically I was like Lex with tits.

  “So you are going to read it?” Lex’s voice interrupted my stare down with his laptop, causing me to curse again and nearly push the computer to the floor.

  “Haven’t decided yet.” I crossed my arms. “What are you doing home?”

  “I live here.” Lex’s face was tight. “Unless you’re kicking me out, which you may do after you take a quick read through.”

  “That bad?” The files mocked me with all their organizational brilliance. There was a tab for each client, and I could see my name. I really didn’t want to see my name.

  “Two-shots-of-whiskey bad.” Lex started moving around the kitchen, cupboards slammed, and then suddenly a glass of whiskey was thrust into my hand and he was pulling out the stack of papers labeled “Ian Hunter.”

  “Have a look,” he said. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you. But if this helps, then I’m all for it.”

  “How the hell is this going to help?” I tossed back the entire drink, wincing as the dryness burned like fire down my throat. “Bring the bottle.”

  Lex exchanged my glass for my file and walked back into the kitchen. The file was thick, and holding it made me think back on all of the shitty things I’d ever done to girls. I couldn’t believe my sneaky roommate had kept a running track record just in case I ever decided to be stupid enough to fall for someone.

  “Tell me the truth,” I said once Lex returned with the bottle as well as a full glass. I ignored the glass and swiped the bottle away from him before he could argue. “Did you record all this shit knowing that one day I’d finally jump off the ledge into commitmentland? Or are you really just looking out for our clients?”

  “Odd.” Lex pulled out a chair. “Because it seems like you’re asking me if this is personal or business.”

  “And every single business ethics class has suddenly thrown up inside my head. Thanks for that.”

  Lex smirked, jerking the bottle out of my hand. “To be honest, I did it for our clients, because at the end of the day it’s about them, not us. I input your information the minute
I saw things start to change between you and Blake. Hell, the minute I noticed the linger.”

  “Come again?”

  “Don’t play the dumbass. It doesn’t look right on you.” Lex rolled his eyes. “The linger. You lingered. You leaned. Every single muscle in your body tensed when she walked into the room, you clenched your fists when David walked into the room, and your eyes did that weird narrow thing where it looks like you’re just trying to concentrate or maybe do statistics homework in your head when really you’re just doing everything in your power not to kill the unlucky bastard you happen to be glaring at.” Lex tilted back the bottle and took a giant swig.

  “I mean this in the most complimentary way possible, Lex, but if you were a chick, I’m pretty sure the knowledge you have on me alone would constitute stalker-like tendencies.”

  “Don’t I know it?” He barked out a laugh. “I can’t help that I’m a genius. My blessing, my curse.”

  “Right.” A headache started throbbing between my temples. “Fine, it’s like a Band-Aid. I’m just going to rip it off and look.”

  “I can read the results out loud in my sexy voice if that helps.”

  “You have a sexy voice? No shit?” I laughed, stealing the bottle again and taking a smaller sip this time.

  “Yeah, one of my conquests said that just this morning, though I think she was just trying to get me to come back to bed rather than jump out her window because my house was flooding.”

  I glanced around. “Wow, yeah, I see what you mean. So much water. Good thing we have insurance.”

  “Hey, that’s exactly what I said.”

  “You’re a bastard—you know that, right?”

  “Says the guy whose dog’s died how many times in the past year?”

  I scowled. “No more than ten. Totally different.”

  “Dude, you kill imaginary dogs. At least I make up an excuse about a very possible home disaster.”

  “Fine.” I held up my hands. “I’m not going to argue with you. I’m just going to read, process, and then”—a deep sigh shook my whole body—“get drunk.”

  “Right on.” Lex stood. “Maybe wait to drink more out of the bottle until you’ve read and fully understood all the calculations, alright?”

 
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