The Matchmaker's Playbook by Rachel Van Dyken


  I swallowed the bitterness in my throat. “Never fall in love.”

  “Right.” Lex nodded. “And on that same drunken night, what did you make me swear to you?”

  I didn’t answer.

  “Ian, damn it! What did you force me to do?”

  “I made you promise not to let me.”

  “And why is that?”

  “Because I was tired of losing shit . . . I lost my ability to play, and I moved on, but I didn’t like the emotional pain. Hell, who would? So I told you to always have my back.”

  “So”—Lex opened the folder—“I did.”

  I glanced down at the sheet and nearly tackled him to the floor. “Holy shit! How is this supposed to make me feel better?”

  Lex burst out laughing. “I couldn’t do it. I changed the numbers by five points, man. Five whole points. And it was enough to ruin you. Don’t you get it? Fifty percent? Fifty-five percent? It doesn’t matter. Numbers can lie. The heart—”

  “Damn poet. That’s how you get so much ass,” I said in an irritated tone.

  “I rarely have to use my words, Ian. Rarely.”

  “So she’d still be settling with me.”

  “Only one way to find out.” Lex stood and offered his hand. “I know for a fact where David’s partying tonight, and word on the street is he’s at it alone while Blake hangs out with Gabs. Care for a drink?”

  My eyes narrowed. “What? You think Mr. Goody Two-Shoes Oh Look a Butterfly Let’s Rescue It Then Go Hug a Tree is actually as bad as I wish he was? Believe me, I wish that were the case.”

  Lex shook his head. “No, man, because you look like shit. I highly doubt you could even board an airplane without hitting the weight limit.”

  I lifted my shirt. “Six-pack, you were saying?”

  “Stop flashing me.” Lex looked away and covered his eyes. “Where the hell do you put it?”

  “You know, a girl asked me that once. I didn’t answer, just shoved my giant—”

  “Clearly you’re feeling better.” Lex held out his hand again. “Let’s toss you in the shower and get some ‘sex me’ clothes on. Remember one of the most important stats? Guys typically mess up within the first two weeks of a new relationship. And why is this?”

  “God complex sets in,” I grumbled. “They finally won the lottery, and they want to buy everyone a drink.”

  “God complex.” Lex nodded. “Translation: I stole a sexy piece of ass away from Ian Hunter, which means I could have any chick I want, so come hither, my little pretties, and let me show you what a real man can do.”

  I made a face. “Please, like they’d even feel him.”

  “Hah.” Lex nodded. “Alright, my work here is done. Go get your shit together. We leave in fifteen.”

  CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX

  The bar scene had always been my thing. Actually, give me any location with willing girls and alcohol . . . and you’d have my perfect night.

  Except tonight.

  The girls all seemed too eager and fake.

  The lights too dim.

  The crowds more irritating than exciting. And to top it off, Lex had already claimed the one chick who looked exactly like Gabi. When I pointed that out, it must have traumatized him, because after that he took three shots of tequila and mumbled, “Not a chance in hell.”

  We’d taken a cab to the bar, and it looked like I’d be riding back solo. Something that hadn’t happened in years.

  The alcohol wasn’t doing its job properly; I needed it to numb the pain that still stabbed me in the chest every time I thought about Blake.

  And David had yet to arrive, even though Lex swore that he would be there. All in all, it was a shitty night, and thanks to all the pizza I’d had, the alcohol wasn’t really affecting any part of my brain, not yet.

  “Hey there.” A tall Asian girl raked me over with interest. She looked like a Victoria’s Secret model. “Do I know you?”

  “Everyone knows me” had once been my line.

  Tonight? “Nope.” I offered a polite smile and sidestepped her, making my way back to the bar.

  “Jack on the rocks. Make it a triple,” I called out to my new best friend, the one who’d help me get drunk and forget the fact that at this very moment David probably had his pathetic hands all over Blake’s body.

  Damn Lex. Tonight was going to be a dead end.

  I was far from drunk. Only one way to rectify that.

  I lifted my glass into the air. I was just about to take a sip when, through the bottom of my ice-filled glass, I saw a tall figure make his way through the crowd.

  David.

  I lowered my glass, eyes zeroed in on whoever he was with. Because it sure as hell wasn’t Blake. I didn’t want to jump to conclusions. It was too soon. She could be a friend, or even a girlfriend of another team member. Athletes hung out together all the time, so it wouldn’t be a stretch.

  He laughed loudly, already sounding drunk, then lowered his head to hers . . . and kissed her sloppily on the mouth.

  Whoa. Not a friend.

  My grin widened as he kissed her harder and then grabbed her short prostitute-looking friend and kissed her as well.

  The short chick was wearing a painted-on fuchsia dress that any hooker could buy for five dollars and a line of coke.

  “Come here, bitches!” he yelled, slurring a bit, then rocking his sad Jolly Green Giant body toward girl one while girl two smacked him from behind. The crowded dance floor made way for them. Fascinated, I watched. He couldn’t dance worth shit, but clearly he was too plastered to care.

  “Like I said,” Lex said from behind me, seeming to appear out of thin air. “God complex.”

  “Happens to the best of them,” I said, feeling smugger by the minute.

  “And the worst.” Lex winced and shook his head in disapproval as David started swiveling his hips and thrusting back and forth.

  “Hell, he must be shit in bed, if the man can’t even move to the beat.” Lex shivered. “I actually feel sorry for the drunk girls.”

  “Right?” I turned around and started making my way back toward the bar. Lex followed.

  “Hey.” I motioned for the bartender to come over.

  “Don’t like your drink?”

  “Drink’s great.” I slid him $200 cash. “But I have a job for you.”

  He looked down, covered the cash with his hand, and said, “What do you need?”

  “See Jolly Green Giant over there?” I pointed. “I want to know what he orders, who pays, the story on the chicks. And give him at least four drinks on the house so that you loosen up his lips a bit, got it?”

  “Cool.” The bartender stuffed the bills in his back pocket.

  “I’ll be back in an hour or so. Try to keep them here. If they end up partying hard, I’ll pay the entire tab, whatever it takes.”

  “I’ll try, man.”

  “Classic move.” Lex sipped his drink. “I think our work is done here. I’ll catch you at home. Just make sure she doesn’t scream too loud, cool?”

  I rolled my eyes, trying to ignore the rapid beating in my chest. If she came home? Hell, if she came home, I was just going to tie her to my bed so she never left again.

  I fired off a quick text to Blake, asking her where she was and letting her know that if she didn’t get her cute ass downtown, I was going to sing drunken opera outside her window until four in the morning.

  And when she still didn’t respond, I lied and told her I needed a ride and asked if it was normal to see Pinocchio after doing ’shrooms.

  My phone lit up within a minute.

  And just like that.

  I was back in the game.

  “You don’t look high as a kite.” Blake scowled, slamming the car door behind her and pulling down the gray knit dress so it covered her ass. It barely did, by the way, and I offered up a prayer of thanks. I tried to appear inebriated, which was difficult, considering I wanted to kiss her and actually hit her lips, not pretend to miss and make love to the
damn telephone pole.

  “I’m high.” I nodded. “Superhigh. Hey, want a drink?”

  “No,” she said, seething, and slapped my hand. “I don’t want a drink. I’m not your girlfriend anymore, remember? And the only girl you’re friends with tried to kill you in your sleep.”

  “Gabs exaggerates that story every time she tells it. I wasn’t asleep, I was faking it.”

  “So the knife wound was faked too? And the blood?”

  I winced, remembering the time Gabi accidently stabbed me in the arm after trying to scare me on Halloween. “We’re getting off-topic.”

  Blake scowled. “Just get in the car so I can drive your drunk, high ass home. I can’t believe I actually came. What’s wrong with me?” She was doing that cute talking-to-herself thing, and chewing on her thumbnail like it would answer her question.

  “Nothing.” I checked her out, my eyes homing in on her legs. “Seriously, nothing at all. It’s a problem.”

  “Excuse me?” She thrust out her hips, placing her hands on them. I held my groan in, which was difficult. Just about as difficult as not kissing her, then tossing her over my shoulder.

  “Cute. Did Gabs teach you that head-swivel thing?” I laughed.

  “Geez, you are drunk. Last time we talked, you nearly killed David and managed to simultaneously break my heart in the process. I hate you right now, but thankfully you won’t remember it in the morning.”

  “Not drunk.” I steered her toward the bar while she tried to drag me back to the car. “But I do have a confession to make.”

  “Oh?” She stopped fighting.

  “And I realize this isn’t romantic, but”—I shrugged—“I love you.”

  Blake stilled. “Did you just toss out an ‘I love you’? While high?”

  “I lied about being high,” I offered lamely. “And yeah, I tossed it out, because it’s true. Because in a complicated world, where an ex-NFL player decided to change the map of the dating scene, he somehow lost his way and fell ass-over-heels in love with one of his clients.”

  Blake didn’t look convinced.

  I wouldn’t be either. Shit, here I’d been handing out relationship advice for the last year, and I couldn’t even make a convincing speech!

  “The stats told me we weren’t a match. Lex messed with them, but only by five percent. We still have only like a fifty-five percent chance of working. And you want the truth?”

  She nodded. “If you’re able to come up with such a thing.”

  “I desperately”—I tugged her against my body—“want you. Need you. Crave you.” I grasped her by the back of the head and jerked her toward me. Our lips met forcefully, my tongue sliding against hers before retreating. “But I was scared.”

  “Ian Hunter? Scared?” Her lower lip trembled. “I don’t believe it.” She clung to me now, her hands gripping my shirt.

  “David was in the eightieth percentile,” I admitted, feeling the need to come clean. “And the numbers don’t lie—they never have. I was scared that you’d be settling if you stayed with me when he was the one you’ve wanted all along.” I felt my body tightening with the wrongness of the situation. “There, I said it, my insecure confession is done now. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go get drunk off my ass and forget I just told you I can experience fear when it comes to relationships.”

  She caught me by the shirt and tugged me back. “Oh no you don’t. You can’t just make epic speeches and stomp off.”

  “Wasn’t epic,” I said. “And I never stomp. I swagger, but I never stomp. Sometimes I’ve been known to tiptoe, but only when sneaking out of a girl’s bedroom, and I don’t think I have to explain the why behind that.”

  Blake’s eyes were still filled with tears. “Prove it.”

  “You want me to swagger?”

  “Prove your love.” Her eyebrows arched in challenge. “I want you to prove it to me. You made an epic speech, you told me you loved me back, and I can maybe, sort of, understand the method to your madness. But as far as I know, you just don’t want David to have me. How do I know I belong to you?”

  I thought about it for a minute. “Honestly?”

  She nodded.

  “You don’t. You never will. Just like the stats failed me”—I sighed, struggling not to frown—“words fail me too. Hell, I think they fail everyone sometimes, especially when you need them the most. It’s like, the one time I want to be eloquent, my tongue decides to stay glued to the roof of my mouth.”

  I paused, nervous about how to convince her about how I felt. “I can get into any woman’s pants I want”—Blake snorted—“but yours. I could turn around, march into that bar, and leave with anyone but the one I actually want. Probably because when the words actually mean something, when they hold something powerful behind them, they will always, and I do mean always, fall flat. My actions”—I shrugged and grabbed her hand—“they’d fail too.

  “You’ll have moments of doubt, especially considering the type of business I’m in. At the end of the day, the only thing that will really be on our side is us, and the fact that we love each other. We aren’t promised time. We aren’t promised it will be perfect. And I can’t promise I’ll get it right on the first try. I mean, look at the mess I’ve already made. But”—I jerked her against my chest—“I do swear this.” My lips brushed hers. “It will only ever be you, Blake, who I take home at night, who I want to wake up to every morning. I love you. And if you give me time, I’ll prove that. Every minute of every day that you allow me to be with you.”

  “Whoa.” Blake wiped her eyes. “That was—”

  “Wah-wah,” Lex’s voice said from somewhere behind us. “Just kiss him already so you guys can go home. Also, David’s plastered, so—”

  “David’s here?” Blake jumped away from me.

  “Oh yes, that.” I nodded. “So David’s here.”

  “Got that,” she said through clenched teeth. “Not that it matters, since we aren’t dating.”

  “You aren’t?” I said.

  Lex chuckled darkly.

  “You”—I turned and subjected him to a glare—“are a sick bastard. You knew?”

  He shrugged, and I turned back to Blake.

  “David’s an idiot,” Blake said. “When I told him I couldn’t date him because I was in love with someone else, he said, ‘What does love have to do anything? I just wanna screw you, now that you’re hot.’”

  Lex and I stared at her, dumbfounded.

  “Well then.” I shrugged. “I guess I don’t need to lure you into the bar so you can see for yourself how far our young David has fallen. I’m pretty sure he’s with a prostitute, possibly two. If you want to find out, all I need to do is call the police.” I held up my phone.

  Blake burst out laughing. “Sounds kind of fun. I could use a drink after all that confessing.”

  “Pussy,” Lex coughed.

  I rolled my eyes. “Just wait, Lex.”

  “Hah.” He slapped me on the back. “No, thanks. I love my life. There will be no waiting for any girl to sweep me off my feet.”

  “I should hope not, since you have a dick. That’s really not how things work.”

  “Guys?” Blake cleared her throat. “Who’s buying me my first drink?”

  “That honor goes to your boyfriend.” Lex slapped me on the back. “Think I’ll go hang out with Gabs for a while . . . Have fun.”

  “Wait, what?” I narrowed my eyes. “You hate Gabs.”

  “Oh, did I say hang out?” Lex laughed. “I meant torture. Heard she’s home alone tonight, and she still hates clowns. I just happen to have a clown wig and a horn in the back of my car. What are the odds, right?”

  “Don’t get shot, man.” I fist-bumped him.

  “No promises.” He waved us off and walked toward a waiting cab.

  “For hating someone so much, he really does spend a lot of time . . . annoying her.” Blake watched Lex walk away.

  I let out a snort. “Been that way for ages, and it wil
l continue to be that way. It’s best to just ignore them,” I said, nuzzling her neck as we weaved through the crowd.

  Sure enough, David was front and center, dancing with a few drunken girls.

  “You smell good,” I said.

  Blake chuckled, then turned abruptly and pressed her mouth against mine while I waved over the bartender.

  “Two shots of tequila!” I yelled, upon coming up for a breath. Then I twirled Blake in front of me, stopping her so she could watch the free show David was giving.

  I leaned down and murmured in her ear, “Admit it, you so wanna tap that.” David was dry-humping the short chick, but since he was so tall and she was so short, it was like he was trying to fit his tiny penis into her armpit. “Maybe I should draw him a diagram or something.”

  Blake leaned back against me.

  I hissed out a breath, and she thrust her ass against me as she met my gaze over her shoulder. “Yeah, because if anyone knows the game plan to score . . . it’s you.”

  “I love it when you compliment my sexual prowess . . . Do it again.” I kissed down her neck while her hands reached back for me. She tried to turn around, but I kept her pinned in place, then slowly moved her so that she was facing the bar. “Hands on the wood.”

  She reached behind her.

  “Cute.” I tugged her ear with my teeth. “Wrong wood, sweetheart.”

  Slowly, she inched her hands away from me and placed them on the bar top.

  “Bend over.”

  She froze, then glared back at me. We’re in public, she mouthed.

  “Exactly.” My body heated. No, it freakin’ began to hum with awareness. “Just a little preview, only for me. Nobody else is watching, not with The David Show going on.”

  She glanced back, and so did I.

  Sure enough, every eye was glued to the catastrophe taking place over on the other side of the room. The girl’s poor armpit was going to have a penis print on it, along with a zipper scrape. Such a sad, sad morning in store for her.

  “Fine.” Slowly, Blake leaned over the bar and reached for our shots. The view was beautiful. I saw just the slightest hint of ass cheek, enough to make me want to become an exhibitionist.

 
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