The Matchmaker's Playbook by Rachel Van Dyken


  Did she get a new dresser?

  Hers was brown.

  This was black.

  And the perfume on top was new.

  Frowning, I picked up the Prada bottle and sniffed, just as the door to the room opened.

  “Holy Garfield and lasagna!” a tall brunette with an exorbitant amount of long wavy hair said. She covered her face with her hands and stumbled backward. The door had already halfway shut behind her, so the doorknob gave her butt a nice high five. With a wince, she stumbled forward, reaching for the hamper next to where I was standing.

  It was plastic.

  Not steel.

  So naturally, the minute she put weight on it, it broke. Laundry scattered all over the floor, and she fell to her knees, her ugly black basketball shorts hiking up to reveal muscular thighs.

  Grinning, I leaned down, still naked, and pointed to a pink thong. “Kinda had you pegged for a boy-shorts girl.”

  The girl’s brown hair was covering her face like Cousin Itt from The Addams Family. Slowly, she pushed her hair out of her eyes.

  “What are you doing in my room?” Her voice was accusatory low, and kind of sexy—if I closed my eyes and thought of it belonging to a different body.

  “You mean Gabi’s room?”

  “No.” Her nostrils flared. “My room.”

  “And you are?” I held out my hand, because I was a gentleman first, a certifiable man-whore second, and because my grandma used to swat my ass every time I introduced myself without a firm handshake.

  Her eyes widened as she stared at my naked body.

  “Fine,” I said with a half shrug. “But I literally only have three minutes before Gabi hands me my ass. You want the bed or the floor, since you’re already there?”

  And Gabi said I wasn’t charitable enough? Damn, look at me, just ready to hand out orgasms for free.

  “What?” New girl’s wide roaming eyes finally lifted to meet mine. Hell, some people charge for that kind of staring. “What are you talking about?”

  “Okay, now we’re down to about two and a half minutes. I’m not gonna say it won’t be difficult, but I could probably do something that would at least conjure up a little panting. Maybe a scream or two.”

  “Scream?” she said, her eyebrows drawing together. “What are you talking about? And why are you naked?”

  “I was looking for clothes before you barged in on me.”

  “In my room.”

  “Look.” I glanced at my watch. “Now we’re really getting into dangerous territory. I’ve been nicknamed Superman in bed, but I’m not actually sure I can do a repeat of 2014, though I’d love to add another instance to the record books. So if we’re going to do this, you need to hurry up and take at least your shirt off.”

  “Are you”—her cheeks reddened—“a stripper for the party?”

  Hmm. The idea had merit. I could do a free show, which would make me a saint, considering what I typically charge each client.

  “No.” I held out my hand. When she didn’t take it, I took it upon myself to lift her from the floor and onto her feet.

  She kicked. She even tried to bite me.

  “There we go. A little enthusiasm!”

  “Put me down!” She jerked away from me.

  I set her away from me and crossed my arms. “Sorry, time’s up. You have ten seconds left, and even I can’t perform a miracle of this”—I pointed at her baggy shirt, baggy shorts, and, holy shit, was she wearing tube socks?—“caliber.” I swallowed. “Just a guess, but were you homeschooled?”

  Her face reddened with either embarrassment or anger. “No! And I live here. This is my room!”

  “But it’s Gabi’s room.”

  “We switched this morning!” She stomped her foot. The girl was wearing old-school Adidas flip-flops.

  They still made those? Huh. It was like seeing a real live T. rex.

  “Why are you staring at my feet?”

  “They have to be worth a mint by now.” I tapped my chin and continued staring at the ugly rubber flip-flops. “Impressive. Really impressive.”

  “Are you even listening to me?” she shrieked. “Put some clothes on and get out of my room. Or don’t put clothes on and just get out of my room. Whichever.”

  “Exactly.” I nodded seriously. “I was just about to do that when you tumbled in. Now,” I said slowly, “you say you switched rooms?”

  She nodded.

  “Which makes Gabi’s room . . . ?”

  She pointed down the hall. I had a brief moment of recollection in which Gabi had mentioned something about switching to the smaller room because the two new roommates were going to share.

  “Ah, you must be Serena.”

  “Blake,” she growled. “Serena’s blonde.”

  I’d have bet she was hot too. Serena was a hot-girl name. Blake? It was what you named a girl that you thought was going to be a boy and therefore projected all your boyhood dreams onto her. Ten bucks that her dad had made her play every sport in the book and she was either the product of divorce or single parenting.

  “Why are you still standing here . . . naked?” This time she looked away, covering her face with her hands.

  “What’s wrong with being naked? You do know you were born that way, right?”

  “Just”—she didn’t look again, but pointed at the door—“go.”

  “Your loss.” I laughed. “Could have rocked your world.”

  “My world doesn’t need rocking.”

  I paused midway through the door and turned back, moving in close, making sure my breath would blow across her neck as I whispered, “Now that’s where you’re wrong, Blake. Every girl needs to allow her world to be rocked, at least once. Or if said rocking is coming from me? Twice.”

  Her stance was rigid, and the only clue I had to her emotions was the fact that her breathing picked up along with her pulse. I leaned forward and licked a spot on her neck that was taunting me. Then I stepped back. “Nice meeting you.”

  The door slammed behind me, nearly slapping my ass in farewell.

  Can’t win them all. Not that I would want to win anything with Adidas Girl. I had too much on my plate already. The last thing I needed was some sexually repressed tomboy who wore sweats because they were comfortable.

  CHAPTER FOUR

  I was still shaking my head after I got dressed and made my way back down the stairs and into the small living room. I mean, Adidas flip-flops?

  Lex was busy chatting up the chick I guessed to be Serena, who had blonde hair, big doe eyes, and a cute little body that would probably be under his lazy ass in a few hours. Or better yet, she’d be on top doing all the work while the bastard placed his arms behind his head, yawned, and said, A little to the right.

  He was bossy in bed and out of bed; he probably handed his girls manuals they had to memorize before getting the honor of doing him.

  Blake wasn’t downstairs yet.

  And Game of Thrones was playing on the TV. Season three, just where Gabi and I had left off. I wasn’t above faking an illness during the next episode so that everyone would go to bed and I could watch it without interruption. I’m a giver like that.

  “Ian,” Gabi growled. “It’s been ten minutes. Tell me you didn’t.”

  “Didn’t.” I winked at Lex and grabbed a beer from the counter, then started piling my plate high with chips.

  Gabi pinched me in the side and twisted.

  “Shit!” The chips nearly fell off my plate. “What was that for? I showered, I no longer smell like baby prostitute, you’re welcome!”

  Gabi released my skin and shoved me in the chest. “Where’s Blake?”

  “Is she on the basketball team?”

  “No.” Gabi rolled her eyes, then gave me a familiar and suspicious look. “Where is she?”

  “Soccer?”

  “No.”

  “Tennis?”

  “Ian, if you touched her, I swear I’ll rip your golden locks from your brain one by one.”

/>   I crunched down on a Cool Ranch Dorito. “Golf?”

  “Volleyball,” Blake supplied, coming up beside us. “Actually.”

  I snapped my fingers. “That explains the clothes.”

  Gabi looked back and forth between us. “The clothes?”

  “What’s wrong with my clothes?” Blake looked down.

  I laughed.

  They didn’t.

  Clearing my throat, I crunched on another chip, flashed a smile, and said, “Absolutely nothing.”

  “He belong to you?” Blake was pointing at me like I wasn’t part of the conversation.

  “Unfortunately.” Gabi sighed. “You know how your parents always tell you not to feed the strays?” Her eyes met mine. “He was so cute at first, like all puppies. Then he started biting all my friends.”

  “Love you too, boo.” I kissed her on the forehead and slapped her ass. “And they’re love-bites.”

  Blake watched the exchange with wide eyes.

  “Ian,” Lex shouted. “Are we going to do this or what? I have a test in the morning.”

  That was his angle.

  And he was so damn good at it that even I had to bow down and give him a pat on the ass.

  He was a computer genius.

  A hot science nerd.

  I imagined he was what would happen if Bill Gates were reborn a Greek god. One day Lex was going to take over the world. That was, if he stopped banging the wrong chicks, i.e., his professors’ favorite students.

  Girls adored him because he had a brain. Too bad he used his powers for evil. In a way, he was the villain to my hero.

  I saved the girls from settling for tools, losers, and frat boys; that is, I saved them from guys like Lex. And Lex made sure, via his illegal computer programs and research, that our clients were legit.

  He took the evil ones.

  I helped the good ones.

  I think we fed off each other’s powers. The perfect balance between good and evil.

  Serena giggled at something Lex said. Hell, she’d probably giggle if he spelled “astronaut” correctly.

  I fought the urge to roll my eyes. Don’t get me wrong, I did girls like that on a biweekly basis to blow off steam, but that’s all they were good for; the one contribution they had to society was that they didn’t care about anything beyond the fact that guys like Lex and me had six-packs and we let them touch each muscle while giggling.

  “Yup.” I tossed my muscular body onto the couch and stretched out. “Final episode. Feel free to watch, girls, but if anyone talks, I’m taping their mouth shut.”

  “Not yet!” Gabi ran and stood in front of the TV. “It’s a welcome party for my roomies. We have to socialize first.”

  “Oh.” I nodded. “Right.”

  The room was silent.

  “Well, if this isn’t like a forced blind date,” I said to myself. Sort of.

  Hey, it was a small living room.

  “You would know.” Gabi’s eyes narrowed. And I froze. Because if there was anything we agreed upon, it was that we never talked about Wingmen Inc. It was like Fight Club, only better, because it revolved around keeping sad girls from having sex with douchebags.

  Stop shaking your head. What I did in my spare time, off the clock, was totally different. I didn’t bang sad girls; I banged stupid girls. Note the difference.

  “Come on, Gabs.” Lex pushed Serena away from him. “Get off it. We met the roomies, Ian brought food, and you’re still single.” He sneered in her direction, running his hand over his dark buzzed hair. “All is right in the world.”

  Gabi lunged for him.

  I jumped in between them and quickly pulled her body back against mine as we sank into the deep leather couch. Gabi might have been small, but she was scrappy.

  “Shh,” I whispered in her ear. “You know he’s just being a prick because he hasn’t gotten laid this week.”

  Lex cursed and rejoined Serena on the couch. He was a pretty easygoing guy, unless he was in the same room as Gabi. Then he lost his shit and resembled Crazy Eyes from Orange Is the New Black.

  “Let’s just watch the last episode,” I suggested. “Then we’ll have dessert.”

  I eyed Serena when saying “dessert.”

  So did Lex.

  Gabi elbowed me dangerously close to the groin.

  “He already peed on her,” I whispered in her ear. “Don’t worry.”

  “You disgust me.” She pressed “Play” and leaned back against me.

  With a smirk, I whispered back in her ear. “You love me, little sis.”

  “Sometimes I wonder why.”

  “I bring up the group average by at least two points, admit it.”

  “Only because you have nice hair,” she grumbled.

  “That’s my girl.”

  Smiling, I comfortably set her next to me, but felt like I was being watched. I turned just in time to see Blake cover her face with that giant mop of hair again and look down at her ugly flip-flops.

  Huh. I wondered what her story was, but only until I heard the familiar music of GoT and was sucked back into a fantasy world that made mine look like child’s play.

  Ten minutes in, I felt the staring again.

  I adjusted myself on the couch and turned.

  Blake wasn’t staring, but she was texting.

  During GoT.

  Which was the equivalent of falling asleep during a Marvel movie.

  I cleared my throat.

  And when she still didn’t look up, I moved away from my spot on the couch, sauntered over to her little barstool, and picked her up out of it.

  She shrieked as I dumped her onto the couch and wiped my hands on my jeans. “There, now we’re all snug and together. Phones on the table.” I eyed the one in her hands. “Now.”

  Narrowing her eyes at me in a sinister glare, she tossed her phone onto the table with the rest of ours and crossed her arms.

  “Shouldn’t have fed him that first treat,” she whispered to Gabi.

  Gabi patted her hand and whispered back. “Haunts me day and night, Blake, day and night.”

  CHAPTER FIVE

  Mornings. I relished mornings. Starbucks in hand, I sat in my usual spot near Drumheller Fountain, more famously known as Frosh Pond. I’d dunked many a freshman in my day, though as a senior, my maturity level had clearly grown leaps and bounds.

  The morning mist was chilly—it was always chilly—but I refused to pick another spot.

  I was like Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory.

  The pond was my leather couch. The space right in front of Bagley Hall, my own personal couch cushion.

  “Damn.” Lex yawned loudly as he walked up to me, his own coffee clearly not doing the trick. “It’s early.”

  “It’s seven.” I took another sip of my drip Pike Place Roast. “It’s only early if you stayed up all night with . . . ?”

  Lex grinned. “Serena. Wildcat in bed. Forgot my name twice. Asked if I believed in unicorns. Has attended Comic-Con three times, every time as a different character from X-Men. Her strength is her ability to say the ABC’s backward, and when I asked for her number, she cried.”

  “Shit.” I let out a low whistle. “Must have had your A game going for you last night.”

  Lex rolled his eyes. “I’m never off my game.”

  “Right,” I said patronizingly. “So that one time you hit on Gabi was a fluke?”

  “I was drunk,” he said defensively. “Can we not talk about Gabi this early in the morning? It ruins my entire day.”

  “Sure, whore. Now let me see the schedule.”

  We moved over to one of the benches and sat. That was the thing about Wingmen Inc. We never did business meetings in the house, never brought clients to the house. It was an unwritten rule. No mixing business with pleasure. We figured we needed some pretty strict ground rules, especially since the last thing we wanted was for everyone to actually know who was behind the company.

  We did all of our work strictly on campus.
/>
  Granted, the girls knew once they met one of us.

  But they were sworn to secrecy. Basically they signed a contract that said if they uttered one word about Wingmen Inc., we’d sue their asses.

  I’m sure you’re wondering how other people on campus haven’t caught on.

  It’s easy.

  Remember how I said we don’t mix business with pleasure? I’ll repeat it. We don’t mix business with pleasure. So from the outside looking in, it’s all pleasure.

  We were players before; we’re players now.

  People just assume we date every color of the rainbow; every size, every shape—we don’t discriminate. It’s why we’re also so approachable to every female on campus. One day I’d date a model; the next I’d be helping a blind chick learn how to ride a bike for the first time.

  You get the point.

  In our world? Every woman is beautiful. Every woman has a purpose. Every woman has one guy she’s been after, one unobtainable piece of man art.

  Just think of the two of us as the brokers.

  You’re welcome, world.

  “So . . .” Lex pulled out his phone and held it near mine. Immediately, an Excel spreadsheet popped up on my screen. “You have Shell for the rest of the week and then an opening before you’re booked for the next two months straight. Two girls a week, starting in three weeks. Can you handle that, or do you want me to take one?”

  I scrolled through the names after Shell. “What’s the story on her?”

  “Avery Adams.” Lex let out a dark chuckle. “Oh, she’s a fun one.”

  “Fun as in, I’ll actually have fun, or I may want to end my life after spending a week with her?”

  “The second, I think.” Lex nodded, furiously tapping on his phone, then pulled up a full profile with her age, height, major, favorite foods, hobbies, dreams, dress size, and coffee drinks she liked. Let’s just say our intake form was extensive. It typically took each client a few hours to fill out. “She’s in love with her study partner.”

  “Aren’t they all?”

  “He’s a chem major, a year younger than her.”

  My eyebrows shot up in interest. It was usually the opposite—the guy was older. Younger was a fun change.

  “And he’s more interested in ring strain in cyclopropane and cyclobutane, which is exactly what he’s helping her with right now. She keeps pretending not to understand.”

 
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