The Matchmaker's Playbook by Rachel Van Dyken


  “Are you?” she finally asked.

  “Was.” Where the hell was the soy sauce? I was searching beneath the napkins for the tiny packet when Blake handed me one. “Thanks.”

  “Are you going to just leave it like that? Or are you going to explain?”

  “Not much to explain.” Shit, it felt like a date. I started sweating immediately. Again, this was why I didn’t share meals with clients! It made them think we had something real, something personal. Damn it! “My sophomore year, I got an exemption to enter the NFL draft. I played for the Seahawks but I was”—the sound of metal crunching together jolted me out of my waking nightmare—“injured . . . So here I am.”

  She gawked. “You actually came back to school? After that?”

  “Chew with your mouth closed, please. It aids in digestion. And why not?” I tossed the empty soy packet back onto the tray and started digging into my rice. “I wanted to complete my degree.”

  “But—”

  “We could talk about me, but you pay me to talk about you. So?”

  Her posture went rigid.

  It was a jackass thing to do, basically reminding her I was the wingman for hire, not her friend. I’d paid for her egg rolls, end of story. She paid me for my services, not my life story. Maybe I needed the reminder just as much. I didn’t share personal shit, the end.

  Blake suddenly paled and slumped, folding into herself like she was trying to become invisible, only she lacked the superpower to pull it off.

  “Whoa, what happened just now?”

  “He’s here.” She spoke through her teeth.

  “I know.” I didn’t turn around. He’d just walked in with DJ, a senior guard, and a few more guys from the team. “We’re doing a little recon . . . You’ve known him, according to your profile, since you were four, and you used to take baths together. Why are you suddenly shy around the guy? He’s seen the goods, sister.”

  “I had no goods then!”

  “You may have no goods now.” I shrugged. “No way to tell, considering how loose those damn shirts are. Are you even wearing a bra?”

  “Yes!” Blake’s pale cheeks went crimson. “It’s a sports bra!”

  “No,” I said in fake disbelief. “Tell me something I don’t know. I bet it’s white. I’m guessing Adidas.”

  More blushing. “We need to go before he sees us.”

  “And that would be bad because?”

  “Every time I’m with him I act like one of the guys. I don’t want him to see me like that anymore. It’s bad enough that sometimes he still calls me ‘buddy.’ It’s time for more. I want more.” She slumped onto the table, leaning her head on her hands. “I want him to know I have boobs.”

  “Need I remind you the jury’s still out on that one?”

  “I do!”

  “Show me.”

  “No!”

  “Do it.”

  “We’re in public.”

  “Fine.” I moved to her side of the table, scooting my chair loudly across the floor until I was thigh to thigh with her. I wrapped an arm around her shoulder and tugged her against me. “I guess I’ll just have to cop a feel.”

  “I will seriously cut off your fingers if you cop anything.”

  “No, you won’t,” I whispered in her ear. “Just imagine it’s David.”

  She tensed even more.

  “Relax,” I whispered. Her hair smelled like Hawaii. Fresh flowers and suntan lotion invaded my senses. It was . . . refreshing. Slightly dizzying, in a good way. I lifted some to my nose and inhaled.

  “Are you sniffing my hair?”

  “Is David watching?”

  “No, he’s eating.”

  “Bastard must be clueless then, because no doubt he’s seen you. There’s only fifteen people in here. Okay, turn away from him, toward me.”

  “I’m uncomfortable.”

  I kissed her just below the ear.

  A whoosh of air left her lips.

  “Good. Relax toward me.” My right arm clenched around her while my left hand inched up her thigh toward her shirt.

  Eyes wide, she watched my hand move until it slid under her shirt. Then her gaze met mine, like it was a scary movie and she was afraid to look.

  It was exhilarating, watching her watch me. Most girls looked away, most girls just closed their eyes and screamed my name.

  She stared right through me.

  Eyes trained on mine. Eyes that trusted way too easily.

  “Breathe,” I instructed. “In and out.”

  Blake’s eyes closed for a few brief seconds before she opened them again and exhaled slowly.

  My fingers danced along her ribs. I fought the urge to frown. Why the hell was she hiding her body? She was fit, really fit. Then again, she was an athlete. Her skin was soft, velvety. My hand reached the edge of her sports bra. I didn’t go underneath; that wasn’t my job. Actually, feeling her up wasn’t part of my job either, but I had a dual purpose.

  The minute my hand came into contact with her bra, she sucked in a deep breath, her chest heaved, and her body tensed.

  Holy shit. I kept my response on lockdown. Her breasts were perfect, and clearly they existed. The itch to feel more than a few seconds was enough to make my body throb. Instead, I slowly pulled my hand away just as David approached our table.

  “Blake?” David was around six two, the current point guard for the Huskies. He had dark curly hair and dimples that I guess girls might find attractive. He was a bit on the lean side, but from what I’d heard, he was a nice guy. Really into his game, though, didn’t date, rarely partied, and liked to go home on long weekends. Yawn. “I didn’t see you.” His gaze fell to me. “Who’s your . . . friend?”

  I stood, knowing full well that my height matched his perfectly, but out of the two of us, I could easily kick his ass. I had a football player’s body, and I’d worked hard to keep it that way even after my injury.

  David’s eyes narrowed as I held out my hand. “Name’s Ian.”

  “Ian!” DJ held up his fist. I bumped it. His fiancée was another happy client, one of Lex’s, not that he knew. “How’s it going, man?”

  “Oh, hey, do you guys know each other?” DJ asked. “David, you should have seen this guy play.”

  “Oh?” David crossed his arms. A hundred bucks said that the last thing he wanted to hear was my glory-day stories.

  “Nah, let’s not bore him.” I chuckled. “Nice to meet you, David. Are you a friend of my girl’s then?”

  “Your girl?” He repeated, his eyebrows nearly getting lost in his hairline. “Your girl?”

  And this—this reaction was what I lived for, what I waited for. I’d just touched Blake, intimately. She was still feeling the effects of the buzz, riding the chemicals that were released when any sort of intimate action was explored. Men, for some reason, picked up on that kind of hormonal release, meaning that for the first time in his entire life, David was finally seeing Blake as a woman.

  Her blush helped.

  And the fact that her hair was down.

  Back ramrod-straight, she puffed out her chest a bit. My fingers itched to cover up the treasure I’d just discovered. Instead, I winked. “Yeah, my girl.”

  “Didn’t know you were dating,” David muttered as his gaze drifted toward her chest, then flashed away.

  I burst out laughing. “What are you? Her dad?” When he didn’t say anything, I pushed further. “Aw, how cute. Have you always been like a father figure to my Blake?”

  Blake made a whimpering noise beside me as I held out my hand to her and helped her stand.

  “What? Hell no!” He let out a nervous laugh. “We’ve been buds since we could walk.”

  “Cute story.” I nodded like I was faking being impressed. “Well, it was nice meeting Blake’s dad.” I laughed. “Kidding. It was nice meeting you, man.” I shook his hand, then draped my arm over Blake’s shoulder, waving good-bye to DJ as I dropped our tray off and left the eating area.

  Blake was dea
thly silent until we reached the parking lot.

  This was usually the part where the girl freaked out and jumped up in down in triumph, or tried kneeing me in the balls.

  Granted, I’d never actually groped any of my other clients, but desperate times and all . . .

  Kissing them? Yeah, that’s typically how I got the first reaction out of the clients, but Blake had never been kissed, and I was still a gentleman. It wouldn’t be my right to take that kiss from her, not when she’d clearly been saving it for him.

  A voice in my mind screamed that I’d done a hell of a lot more by touching her boobs, but the ass in me shrugged off the voice.

  Hormones released. Reaction given. It worked. Bingo!

  “You okay?” I let go of her.

  “That was”—she pressed her hands to her temples—“really stressful.”

  I let out a laugh as adrenaline surged through me. “It usually is.”

  Her bright eyes met mine. “Thank you. I think that was the first time he’s actually looked at me—”

  “Like you had boobs.”

  Blake laughed harder. It was deep, and a bit addictive to listen to. She nodded in excitement. “Exactly.”

  “So now will you go to Victoria’s Secret?”

  Sheer delight made her eyes sparkle. “Only if you go with me.”

  Shit.

  Typically, I didn’t need to do this much work. Typically, my clients knew what lipstick was.

  I eyed her up and down. Yeah, she wasn’t typical. Not at all. She was special, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why.

  “Fine,” I grumbled. “But you better treat me to froyo after.”

  I waved good-bye as she jogged off toward her dorm while I slowly made my way back to my car.

  My phone buzzed with a text.

  I knew it was probably Shell, but I didn’t want to think about my other clients. I wanted to think about Blake. And in all my time being a wingman, I’d never done that.

  I’d never given a girl a second thought. I never took business home with me.

  But I was still thinking about Blake long after she left.

  And it wasn’t in a sense of Gee, how can I help her? It was mostly about why the hell she was chasing after some guy who clearly hadn’t seen that he’d had a good thing in front of him for over ten years.

  I was reading too much into it. Guys were blind, end of story.

  Damn egg rolls.

  Yeah, let’s blame those.

  CHAPTER NINE

  “I’m going to count to five.” I banged on the dressing room door one last time. “And then I’m coming in.”

  “No!” Blake’s voice was muffled. “I’m . . . It’s . . . I’m . . .”

  Cursing, I pressed my forehead against the pink wood door. “Blake . . . I’m starving!”

  “You’re always starving! Why don’t you eat before our meetings?”

  “I’m busy! I hate protein bars. I forget. And Gabi didn’t pack me a lunch!”

  She was quiet. And then, “Gabi packs you lunches?”

  Groaning, I made another feeble attempt at grabbing the doorknob and twisting. Still locked. “Gabi sucks. She was supposed to come.”

  “Gabi had a test.”

  “Wanna know how many tests I’ve flunked because of her?”

  Absolutely zero, because she’d never needed me during a test, but I would have gone to her. Maybe. If she was dying, or if the only way for her to pass her class was for me to have sex with her professor.

  “Seriously?”

  “No. But best friends make sacrifices!”

  Blake let out another pitiful groan. “I don’t think it fits.”

  “They measured you. It fits. Just tell me if it looks okay so we can go.” I checked my watch. “Gabi said dinner was at six, and it’s already a quarter till.”

  “This is too much pressure.” Her voice was frantic. “I can’t do this. I mean, how do I know if it looks good? They’re boobs.”

  I groaned. “Boobs always look good. Believe me.”

  “Boobs are gross!”

  Said no man ever. Even the gay ones.

  One of the salesladies eyed me up and down. “Are you two okay?”

  “Great,” I chirped. “Just having a very heated discussion about the beauty of breasts.” I dipped my chin to the sales lady’s chest. “What are you? A double D?”

  Scowling, she marched off.

  Thank God.

  “Blake,” I hissed.

  No answer.

  I’d never had such a difficult client. If anything, they jumped when I told them to, asked how high, and then kept jumping until I was satisfied. Blake fought me at every turn.

  “Open the door before I crawl underneath it. I’ll pick the bras—you can close your eyes if you want so you don’t have to watch me look at you, alright? My stomach literally just ate my liver. I need protein. Open. The. Door.”

  The door slowly creaked open. Taking advantage of the small crack of air, I pushed it farther, then clicked it shut behind me and turned around.

  Blake was facing me, hands on hips, face beet-red, body . . . freaking perfect. My tongue almost lolled out, like a dog.

  Most girls starve themselves to have abs like that, which was disgusting. But her abs? They had muscle, actual muscle, but still appeared feminine.

  She also had a nice tan, just enough to show that she spent time outside, or maybe she just had naturally darker skin.

  My throat went completely dry as I continued to stare.

  “Well?” Her voice was weak. “How awful do I look? On a scale of one to ten?”

  I’d convinced her to buy some new workout clothes to replace her old ones. I knew I’d never get her to actually completely change her style. She liked workout clothes? Fine, at least buy the kind that fit and actually point to the correct gender. I tried to steer her away from the boyfriend sweats and sweatshirts, but she eventually wore me down, so I told her if she bought at least five new pink outfits that had spandex in them, I’d let her get one pair of ugly slouchy sweats. You’d think I’d just given her a million dollars, from her reaction.

  Currently, she was sporting a short pair of bright-blue yoga shorts.

  And a black push-up sports bra that did wonders for her boobs.

  And the world just in general.

  Holy shit.

  I gulped as I became more and more irritated with the fact that my body was reacting as if it had never seen a girl without her shirt on before. “Blake, it’s great.”

  “You sound bored!”

  I had to, damn it! What did she want me to do? Sound interested? Turned-on? Intrigued? Curious? I was all those things. I just tried to ignore the insanity bouncing around in my head and blurted, “Your boobs look really good. Perky, happy, just . . . awesome.”

  Did I just call her boobs “happy”?

  “You think?” She stared down at her breasts, then grabbed them.

  Holy shit, was she seriously feeling herself up? I braced my hand against the door and sucked in a breath.

  “They still feel comfortable,” she said.

  “Do they?” I managed to choke out while she continued bouncing them a bit in her hands. Dear Lord, did she know what she was doing? Waving a flag in front of a bull. My jeans suddenly tight in all the wrong areas, I tried to envision Lex naked, anything to get my dick to clue in to the word “client,” meaning I was in a no-play zone.

  Another first.

  It was because I was hungry.

  And Marissa? Melissa? Hadn’t satisfied me. I’d gotten off, and made sure she did too, but the entire experience left me feeling empty, bored, and—if I was being completely honest?—a bit depressed. Besides, her tits paled in comparison. I had to wonder what the hell I’d been doing all my life if this was the first time I was having such a strong reaction to boobs.

  Something about Blake had me wondering if I’d been satisfied at all up until this point. And I had no idea what the hell was so confusing abou
t her, and about the situation. I was unable to put my finger on it, and the more I thought about it the more my head hurt.

  Hunger does weird things to guys.

  “Yeah.” More bouncing, then turning and staring in the mirror. I wasn’t sure what was worse. Her staring at her own boobs or touching them. “I’m just no good at this stuff. I didn’t grow up with a mom, and I hit puberty really early. The girls made fun of me, and the boys pointed.” Her shoulders slumped inward again.

  Could we please go back to the bouncing? I was a fan of that Blake. The one that rolled up like an awkward armadillo? Not so much.

  Which was a good reminder of why I was helping her. Sprinkle a little confidence fairy dust all over her tight little body, throw her in some hot workout gear, and steer her in the general direction of the gym for round two. Piece of cake.

  “A woman should be proud of her body.” I met her gaze in the mirror. “If you feel good about the outside”—my hands twitched to cup her breasts, to outline the silhouette they gave off, to point out the all the angles and curves that drove a man insane, that made a man want—“then it directly reflects in the way you carry yourself.” I pulled back as we locked eyes in the mirror, and then took a step closer, this time placing my hands on her hips and lightly running my fingertips up her sides. “Guys are turned-on by sight, girls by touch. By wearing something that fits, you’re guaranteeing that he won’t still see you as a buddy, but as a partner. And that’s what you want . . . right?”

  She licked her lips and nodded. “Right.”

  My heart sank.

  I had no idea why.

  I quickly released her and laughed out a simple “You look fantastic. David’s going to be a very lucky man. He’ll be eating out of your hand in no time.”

  The moment was lost.

  If that’s what you could call it.

  Food. Low blood sugar. Aliens invading my body. I needed to leave that small room before I did something stupid, something undoable.

  “That confident in your abilities?” she said. Her eyebrows arched.

  Staring at her in the mirror, I could already visualize him falling for her. Underneath all that hair, she had a really pretty face, a gorgeous body, and a full C cup that would make any guy with two eyes weep with thankfulness.

 
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