The Matchmaker's Playbook by Rachel Van Dyken

  “Well, I’d have to pretend to understand. What the hell is a ring strain?”

  “Business majors,” Lex huffed.

  “Science nerds,” I countered.

  “So she’s failed three times, he’s starting to think she’s stupid, which she isn’t, and it’s clearly affecting her chances at settling down with him.”

  “Settling down.” I let the two words roll around in my head a bit. “So this isn’t a quick trip to Bangtown. She wants—”

  “Babies.” Lex shivered while I made a face of disgust.

  “Great.” For her. “Does anything in his background give us an idea of how open he’d be to commitment?”

  “Parents have been married for twenty-five years. Basically, from what I’ve seen, he’s just shy and awkward. And the girl’s kinda cute if you take off her glasses. My guess: he’s intimidated. I put both of their info into my program, and it’s a perfect match.” He scrolled to the bottom of the page. “If they can successfully get past the first date, my data says they have a ninety-eight percent chance of staying together and”—he grunted the next word—“committed.”

  “She does know how to kiss?” I took a slow sip of coffee, and it burned down my throat. Not much worse in life than teaching a girl how to kiss. Awkward, time-consuming, and—I shuddered—most of the time they did this weird tongue thing that made my mouth feel like it was being held hostage by an alien.

  “Passed that test with flying colors, though she seems to be confused on what her tongue’s supposed to do once the kiss deepens. I gave her an A for effort, C-plus for execution.”

  I supposed I could work with that. “Body?”

  “All women’s bodies are beautiful.”

  And people called us jackasses.

  At least we knew that all women had something to offer, regardless of how oddly shaped the package might be. There was always something. Always.

  “And?” I prodded further.

  “She’s a bit on the short side. So is Romeo.”

  “Sexual experience?”

  “She’s had two partners and marked both down as bad.”

  “That may be a problem if he doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

  “We can always make sure to give him a few pointers or conveniently have a conversation while he’s grabbing his daily coffee about how to please a woman. If he doesn’t know what he’s doing, he’ll stay and listen. If he does, he’ll walk off smirking.”

  We both nodded.

  I squinted as the sun started pushing through the clouds. “She’ll be easy then.”

  “Yeah.” Lex scrolled through the next client. “This one actually just popped up on the site this morning, but since your schedule is kinda full, I wasn’t sure if you wanted me to let her apply.”

  “Do it.” I didn’t even look at the screen. “I have some time.”


  “I need to go.” I stood, stretching my arms and my coffee above my head. “Shell has an early class with Douchepants, and I’m supposed to walk her to it while carrying her books, then kiss her on the forehead.”

  “Tale as old as time, my friend.” Lex let out a halfhearted laugh. “It’s not the tongue kissing that gets the guy to notice.”

  “Nope.” I fist-bumped him and started walking off. “It’s the gentle kiss.”

  “It’s always the gentle kiss,” Lex yelled after me.

  I had a sneaking suspicion that once we graduated and this shit went viral, Facebook was going to try and buy us out for a billion dollars.


  The UW campus was buzzing with excitement. Students shuffled past one another as the wet morning mist hung in the air. Just another reason I loved Seattle—the weather was crisp, full of promises.

  Shell gripped one of my hands as we stopped in front of one of the business buildings. I used my free hand to wave at Gabi as we passed by. Her eyes locked on mine. It was times like these that I was convinced I could read women’s thoughts just by staring at them—and I was the only lucky bastard who could do it.

  See? Superhero.

  Her look said that.

  Asshat, another one? Already? Didn’t you just get done helping out that chick last week with the sob story about how she really wanted world peace but nobody ever took her seriously because she has a nervous laugh?

  Stella had been an easy one. She took four days. Dude didn’t even know what hit him. One minute they were just friends. The next, I saw his car parked outside her apartment all . . . night . . . long.

  “Gross,” Gabi had said. “You were doing recon during their sexcapades?”

  “I’d like to call it research,” I said.

  “Didn’t she laugh at his dad’s funeral?”

  “Right. It’s a nervous laugh, and it’s a real thing.”

  Another eye roll. “Lunch later?”

  “Sure thing.”

  “Have fun saving the world, one girl at a time.”

  “Don’t I always?”

  Okay, so maybe she didn’t say “Have fun saving the world.” I may have exaggerated that part for my own benefit.

  “I’m nervous,” Shell said, squeezing my hand. “What if he doesn’t notice me again? Or worse, what if this doesn’t work, and—?”

  “You read our stats. When has it ever not worked?” I took a deep breath. “That’s why we give you our success rates along with the FAQ sheets, so you know without a doubt that what we do works. But you have to follow the rules, understand?”

  Shell bobbed her head. Her new haircut did wonders for her face, and her bangs brought out a cute trendy side of her that Mr. Barista would totally dig, if he recognized her in the first place. I made sure to give her pointers on what to wear, but I always—and I do mean always—told the girls one thing: A girl should never change herself for a guy. Ever. And if she did? Then they weren’t meant to be. We helped improve what they already had, but we never changed them.

  Though thanks to Lex, we usually knew if it was going to be a bad match before it happened, and we very strategically steered those girls toward more successful matches.

  All in a day’s work.

  Jealous Barista rounded the corner and was just about to look our way.

  “There he is.” I stopped and pulled Shell against me. “Smile.”

  “I’m trying.”

  “You look nervous.”

  “I am nervous.” Her lower lip trembled slightly.

  “Hey, hey.” I cupped her face. Flirting was always more realistic when they were nervous, because nerves could also appear to be tenderness, trust, love. “You’ll do just fine.”

  She already was doing fine. Her body leaned into mine, her eyes wide with fear, but from this angle, my guess was Mr. Barista was ready to punch me in the jaw at her obvious adoration.

  I kissed her cheek, gently rubbing mine against hers before whispering in her ear, “If he looks over here, avert your gaze like you’re guilty.”


  “Do it, Shell. I have a class too.” And unlike her building, Paccar Hall was a good twenty-minute walk across campus, meaning I had to haul ass.

  She tilted her head.

  “Now, grip my back with your fingertips like your hands are almost digging into my skin. Make it look desperate.”

  She did.


  “Sorry,” she whimpered.

  “Good.” I pulled back and kissed her forehead, my gaze meeting Mr. Barista’s as he swore and jerked his head away from the show.

  “Did he notice?” Her voice rose in excitement.

  “Oh, he noticed.” I grinned, then tapped her chin with my finger. “Now, during class he’ll most likely sit next to you. Let him, but try not to talk to him. If he engages, be polite, but not overly excited. He’ll think I told you not to talk to him, which will make him try harder. He’ll drive himself crazy, because you look sad and nervous, and he’ll think something’s wrong with our relationship and basically bother you the rest
of the day until you tell him all the gory details. Give him your phone number, but don’t answer the first text. Answer the third. Always the third.”

  I’d just blazed through rules one, two, three, and four.

  Rule one: Make them curious, slightly jealous.

  Rule two: Don’t appear too interested. Always be polite.

  Rule three: Give them a method of contact, but keep the ball in your court.

  Rule four: Never answer the first text, call, e-mail, etc. For some reason, the brain picks up on the number three as being the final try before you look desperate.

  “What if he doesn’t—?”

  “He will.” I winked. “Now, off you go.”

  “Third text, evasive, polite,” she mumbled to herself as she took purposeful steps toward the building.

  “Kind of like watching little ducklings hatch and finally make it into the water,” a deep voice said beside me.

  I grinned. “Lex, what brings you to my side of campus?”

  “Have you checked your schedule?” His grin was way too big for nine in the morning.

  “What did you do?”

  “Not me.” He held up his hands. “I’m sure I’ll be hearing from you later.”

  I was just about to open my schedule when I noticed the time. “Shit.” I ran like hell toward the Paccar building, hoping I wouldn’t be late again. Pretty sure my whole “my aunt was sick and needed someone to talk to” excuse wasn’t going to go over well for the third time, and this particular professor hated me because Lex had screwed his daughter.

  We may be best friends, but at least I looked before I laid, you know? Lex didn’t care who his appetite affected; if he wanted something, he took it. Odd, considering he put so much damn time and energy into Wingmen Inc. It was his baby, his love child. Then again, even though we were best friends, Lex was private. He shared things with his computer, and sometimes, if it was a good day, he shared personal shit with me, but it was rare.

  There were two things Lex trusted in this world: technology and sex. Neither had ever let him down. Hell, thirty years from now Lex will be sitting on the front porch of his mansion sipping lemonade with his computer/automated robot, whispering sweet nothings into its ear.

  I nearly collided with a bench as I continued my sprint.

  Shit. Shit. Shit.

  With one minute remaining, I jerked open the door to the classroom and ran right into a short boy.

  “Sorry, bro.” I leaned down to help him pick up his books.

  Pink nail polish? Well, to each his own, I guess.

  “You,” a very female voice said.

  A hood was covering the she-man’s head. I peered closer and really wished I hadn’t.


  And she was pissed. Then again, my girl parts would probably be pissed off too if I strapped on a tight sports bra, tank top, and long basketball shorts. And, damn, those flip-flops just wouldn’t quit.

  “Why are you always . . . everywhere?” she spat, wearing a look of outright distaste.

  Class still hadn’t started, but I was a very self-aware individual. Meaning I knew that every damn eye in that room was trained on me and probably wondering why the hell I wasn’t charming the chick in dude clothes.

  Can’t charm the asexual, folks.

  I handed Blake her books. She jerked them out of my fingertips and huffed out a breath, pulling the hood from her hair.

  That I could work with.

  Her hair was a pretty golden-brown, thick, glossy, the first thing you noticed about her—other than the flip-flops, mind you.

  “Business major?” I pointed to her books.

  “Gen ed. Why else would I be here if I didn’t have to take the class?”

  “Stalking.” I winked. “Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been followed. Probably won’t be the last.”

  “You clearly have too high an opinion of yourself.”

  “Some may say not high enough.” I let out a low chuckle as a few girls in the front row started whispering loud enough for anyone with two ears to hear:

  “So hot.”

  “Three times! She said it was the best night of her life.”

  Blake clenched her teeth and shot poison darts with her eyes. “Fans of yours?”

  “The club has an opening.”

  Blake shoved past me to make her way up the stairs to the last few empty seats. I followed her, mainly out of curiosity but also from the need to distance myself from the girls in front, who would have most likely tried to fondle me the entire class.

  Last time that happened, I couldn’t even finish!

  And by “finish,” I mean finish my finance class.

  “They made posters last year,” I said with a sigh, plopping into the seat right next to her.

  Jaw slack, she pointed at the other seats on either side of us, seats that would at least put a few empty desks in between us.

  “Desks. Chairs. It’s a classroom, so that’s to be expected. Anything else I can help you with?”

  “Sit in any chair but that one.”

  “This one right here?” I patted my seat right between my legs and grinned shamelessly while her cheeks burned bright red. “Something on your mind, buttercup?”

  “Just . . .” She dropped her book loudly onto the desk and put her bag on the floor. “Don’t talk to me.”


  She blinked at me, the shape of her mouth forming a small O, giving me the best possible daydream of her on her knees in front of me. I sucked my lower lip, allowing my thoughts to trail into dangerous territory. Then again, she was blushing now, blushed often, and was probably too uptight to take direction on any sort of oral activities. Pity.

  Smiling, I kicked back in my seat. I did my best studying in silence . . . I didn’t need to talk to her to get to know her. Most of the important things about people were learned by simply observing.

  Besides, class was starting.

  The professor droned on and on about business organization and different organizational roles within a corporation.

  I tuned him out, because I had my own corporation. I knew how roles worked. It was like going back to first grade after graduating with honors. But I stayed glued to my seat and studied Blake out of the corner of my eye.

  Her face wasn’t bad. She had a smattering of freckles around her nose and cheeks, like someone had just dropped a few for effect right on her face when she was born. She would be cute if her hair wasn’t constantly falling over her eyes, making it impossible for me to really see what shape her face was or what color her eyes were.

  With a huff, she pulled back her hair into a low ponytail.

  I let out a small gasp.

  Purely by accident.

  “Are you going to make it?” she whispered harshly.

  I leaned over, my hand grazing the back of her chair, fingertips dancing along her neck. “Are you?”

  “I’m not . . . interested.”

  “In men?”

  “In you,” she said pointedly. “Now, stop whatever it is you’re thinking about and pay attention. I just transferred here from Boise State this semester, and I already feel like I’m behind.”

  “Ohhh.” I snapped my fingers.

  “What? What ‘ohhh’?”

  The world suddenly made sense. “You’re from Idaho? Hit me with the town you were born in, because it sure as hell wasn’t Boise.”

  She shifted in her seat, moving farther away from me as she gave me a quick sidelong glance. “Riggins.”

  “Dear God, save me from small towns with only one grocery store.”

  “Stop,” she hissed, “talking.”

  “Okay.” I shot her a calculated half smile—just enough to make her wonder. “I got all I needed anyway.”

  I could tell she wanted to ask me what the hell I was talking about, but she had impressive self-control. I’d give her that.

  She was from a small town in Idaho. Transferred here . . . for what purpose? My guess was her dad. I
was still banking on the single-parent thing. He got a job transfer. I racked my brain. Boeing? Possibly Microsoft? Maybe even Amazon. Hell, Seattle boasted so many different corporate headquarters, it was a toss-up.

  I glanced back down at her flip-flops.

  I was going to go with Microsoft. Computer-nerd dad with no fashion sense who used to work from home via satellite. Bingo!

  I tried to pay attention to the lecture but kept getting distracted by the way she tapped her pen.

  And the fact that she had on perfume and pink nail polish. What girl who dressed like she did wore pink nail polish and Prada perfume? Did she have that pink thong on under those basketball shorts? Now those I could definitely work with when the time came. They would look so good dangling from one ankle with her legs in the air. Parts of me twitched with interest just considering the possibilities of exploring all of her diverse . . . nuances.

  A mystery.

  I hadn’t had one of those in a long time.

  Or a challenge. Hah, too bad she wasn’t a client. I could do a lot with those legs. Granted, they wouldn’t be wrapped around me, unfortunately, since I never got involved with clients. Not for lack of trying on their part.

  The lecture ended an hour later.

  We both stood. I let her walk by me and whispered, “Blue.”

  She froze but didn’t turn around. “What?”

  “Your eyes.” I squeezed by her and whispered in her ear, “They’re a really pretty ice blue.”

  “Like my soul.” Her eyes narrowed. “Now, will you please leave me alone?”

  “Why would you want that?” I fell into step beside her as she lengthened her stride. “Besides, any friend of Gabi’s is a friend of mine.”

  “That’s really unfortunate for me.”

  “So you saw me naked,” I said loud enough for people walking by to hear. “Big deal.”

  Wide-eyed, she slapped a hand over my mouth and backed me up against the wall. I grinned against her palm.

  She leaned in. “I wasn’t impressed,” she whispered amidst a cloud of minty-fresh breath.

  I pushed her hand away and laughed. “You’re a shit liar. Then again, that may have been your first time seeing a naked man, and therefore, you’re waiting to compare me to the sad, unfortunate soul-sucking individual you’re going to end up with. I bet he’ll have glasses.”

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