The Matchmaker's Playbook by Rachel Van Dyken


  “No,” I said honestly. “But I’m pretty confident in yours.”

  The saleslady knocked. “Everything okay in there?”

  “Yup,” I answered for Blake.

  “Sir, you need to get out of the dressing room. We don’t allow customers to . . . er . . . play in the product before they purchase.”

  “Play?” I said dumbly.

  “Hanky-panky.”

  “Oh,” I said loudly, winking at Blake in the mirror. “Do you mean sex?”

  She knocked louder. “Sir! Get out this instant.”

  Blake’s horrified expression made it all worth it. I smirked. She needed to step outside her comfort zone if she was going to make it to that first kiss with David.

  Her cheeks reddened.

  Virgins.

  “Almost . . .” I started panting, then hit the wall with my hand. “But it’s so good.”

  “Sir!”

  “Wait for it.”

  “Sir, right now! I’m going to call security!”

  Blake opened her mouth, but I covered it with my hand. “Oh yeah!”

  She bit me.

  “Ouch!” I jerked away, shaking my hand. “Did you draw blood?”

  “What’s wrong with you?” She smacked me on the chest and jerked open the door. Three salesladies and at least a dozen customers waited on the other side, mouths open. “He was kidding.”

  I poked my head out. “Not kidding. Have you seen her? Oh, and we’ll take it all.” I pulled out my platinum Visa and winked.

  Nobody moved at first, then the saleslady closest to us grabbed the card while Blake handed her the clothes. “Anything else?”

  “Yeah.” I gave her a wicked grin. “Do you have security cameras for each dressing room, or is that illegal? Because whatever just went down in there really should have been on tape, you know?”

  Blake ducked and covered her face with her hands while a few of the salesladies gave me sultry nods of approval.

  “He’s kidding.” Blake smacked me again. “He’s been drinking all day. All week, actually.”

  “Stone-cold sober.”

  “He’s a pathological liar too.” Blake pushed me toward the sales counter while we made our purchases.

  “This feels wrong.” She watched as the woman went to the counter and started ringing things up, then swiped my card.

  “What does?”

  “You paying for my lingerie.”

  “I always pay for my clients’ clothes, makeup, yoga, whatever’s necessary, then I bill you at the end. It’s easier on my taxes.”

  “Yoga?” Blake asked once we walked out onto the street.

  “Yeah, once. I had a client who really needed to learn some new moves. Missionary was her one and only trick, and even then her guy still had trouble taking her to O-Town.” I threw on my sunglasses and laughed. “To this day, she still thanks me for the suggestion.”

  “O-Town?” Blake frowned. “Like the boy band?”

  I froze, then very slowly shook my head. “Riggins, Idaho, you say? Do you even have Internet there? McDonald’s? Tell me you at least have Taco Bell.”

  Blake still looked genuinely confused. “What kind of moves did she need? You know, besides”—she gulped—“the other.”

  I gave her a soft pat on the shoulder. “Baby steps. You just bought your first real bra. You can barely crawl. Those types of moves are for sprinters.”

  “I can sprint.”

  I winced. “No, you can’t.”

  “Yes, I can!”

  “You do realize I’m talking about the Kama Sutra, right?”

  More confusion. “Is that a type of food?”

  A guy next to me grunted, and his face fell as if saying, Poor bastard has to go home with her?

  “No.” I shook my head as we pushed our way through the crowds at the University Village shopping center. “And the fact that you actually asked that—out loud—greatly disappoints me.”

  “I was a tomboy,” Blake said defensively.

  “Tomboys should still know the terminology, Blake.” I opened the door for her, ignoring the fact that she’d said “was,” as in past tense. Someone really needed to buy her a mirror, then burn all the boy clothes in her room.

  “One more thing,” I said. Speaking of rooms. And beds in general.

  “What?”

  “It’s day two.”

  She chewed her lower lip. At this angle, I could imagine myself tasting her, meeting her mouth, teaching her the art of kissing. “Okay?”

  “Typically”—my eyes trained in on the pink color of her tongue as it slid over her top lip, wetting it—“by day two I know what skill level you’re at.”

  “Because of my questionnaire?”

  I nodded. “And a few other . . . tests.”

  “I thought you were hungry. Spit it out already.”

  My stomach growled on command. “You know what? We’ll talk about it tonight after dinner.” My attitude perked up. “Dessert?”

  “Sure.” She grinned. “Okay.”

  Yeah. We had two very different meanings for that word. And she was about to find out very soon. She may have just gone through one stage of my training, but she was about to start the boot-camp phase, and I was very thorough when it came to making sure my clients knew just how to handle the guy they were trying to land.

  CHAPTER TEN

  Weekly dinners with Gabi were starting to get more and more intense. Not because she was busy, but because Lex and I were a package deal, and ever since freshman year when he mistook her for someone other than my best friend from childhood, things went from bad to worse.

  Now? Every time they were in the same room together, I half expected one of them to end up in the hospital.

  The minute we got to the house, Blake ran upstairs with her bags. I focused really hard on her flip-flops out of necessity. The rest of her looked tight, toned, tan. I angled my head as she made her way to the top of the stairs and turned. Her breasts were really starting to be the highlight of my day.

  Something smacked me on the back of the head.

  “Hey!” I turned around and faced Gabi. She had her angry face on. No smile, eyes narrowed. “What was that for?”

  “If you hurt her, I’m going to break off your favorite appendage.”

  “Silly Gabi.” I grinned. “Is that an invitation to touch?”

  “Guarantee if I ever do touch you, it will only end badly.”

  “Tease.” I winked.

  “Stop that.” She flicked me on the nose. “Your sexual prowess is dead to me. Dead!”

  Rolling my eyes, I wrapped an arm around her and steered us both into the kitchen, where the smell of French bread and spaghetti filled the air. “Have I told you how much I miss our weekly dinners? Think we should do it daily? You know, so I don’t starve?”

  Gabi shrugged out of my embrace. “Learn how to cook.”

  I jutted out my lower lip. “It’s not for lack of knowledge.” I broke off a piece of warm bread, then poured myself a large glass of wine. “It’s because yours always tastes better.”

  Gabi groaned loudly. “Damn, do the girls really fall for that? Still?”

  “Eh.” I shrugged and made a so-so motion with my hand. “Nine out of ten.”

  “You disgust me.”

  “You say that every day.”

  “Because it’s true every day.”

  “When’s dinner ready?” Serena bounced into the room, literally, her head bobbing from left to right. Maybe that’s how girls like her built up more brain cells. They shook the air, and the pressure between their ears exploded, making tiny little brain-cell babies.

  Gabi poked her head into the fridge. “When Lex gets here.”

  “So it’s ready now?” she asked.

  Never mind. No brain-cell babies. I fought the urge to point to the steaming spaghetti and bread sitting on the breakfast bar. Didn’t it look ready, kiddo?

  “Technically,” I answered for Gabi. “But we aren’t eating”—I
stressed the word “eating” even though I’d just taken some bread—“until my sidekick gets here.”

  “Sidekick, huh?” Serena crossed her arms, forcing her boobs to kiss one another and nearly hit her in the chin.

  “Oh, I thought you knew.” I gave her a sad face. “I’m the hero in this scenario . . . Even own my own cape. He’s basically the Robin to my Batman.”

  “Batman’s hot.”

  “So is Robin,” Gabi said defensively.

  Whoa. Did she just defend Lex? I felt her forehead. She pushed my hand away and handed me some Parmesan cheese.

  The door flew open, and Lex stepped through, holding up two bottles of Cab. “Sorry, traffic was shit.”

  “Language,” Gabi called.

  Lex and I shared a look before Lex stomped over to the swear jar and tossed in a dollar bill.

  Gabi and her freaking double standards. She swore frequently. But she didn’t allow swearing in the kitchen. She was half Italian, and kitchens in her family represented peace and love and some other shit I always forget. So swearing during dinnertime? Off-limits.

  Which, knowing Lex, was like asking him to turn into a chick and give me an openmouthed kiss. He said when he was in Gabi’s kitchen, he cursed on the inside and drank to keep himself from slitting his wrists.

  On that note, Lex muttered something under his breath, stole the wineglass from my hands, and chugged it.

  “We doing this?” he asked, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

  Serena hadn’t taken her lustful eyes off Lex yet. Highly doubted he’d actually called her, but he was the king about making things seem easy and less awkward when it came to shitting where he slept and vice versa. I wondered if Gabi knew.

  She wasn’t hitting him.

  Therefore, she was probably in the dark.

  “Where’s the other roomie?” Lex asked, pouring himself more wine and then tipping it back.

  “Here!” Blake walked into the room.

  Lex spit out his wine. All over the floor. Then he started coughing and choking.

  Gabi patted his back furiously, probably knocking a few ribs out of place. “Are you okay?”

  “Shit!” Lex yelled, voice hoarse after his choking spell.

  Gabi held out the swear jar while Lex grumbled and stuffed in another dollar.

  “What’s wrong?” Blake asked, crossing her arms, making her body appear just . . . hotter, if that was at all possible.

  The flip-flops were present.

  But everything else from the ankles up was . . . damn, it was good.

  Tight-muscled legs poured into short blue yoga shorts, an off-the-shoulder white tank top hung loosely on her body, and a leopard sports bra pushed the girls up exactly where they were supposed to be.

  And her hair was down.

  Makeup-free, she was three times the girl Serena was. And Serena looked like she’d just robbed a Sephora and tried on the entire stash.

  “I’m—” Lex coughed into his hand. “Sorry, I just . . . Low blood sugar.”

  “Good one,” I whispered under my breath.

  He sent me an irritated glare but said nothing. Silence began a slow stretch to awkward proportions.

  “Shall we sit?” I rubbed my hands together and moved to the small table directly next to the kitchen, around which sat a mismatched group of green and blue chairs as well as two gray folding chairs. The table was something Gabi had grabbed from a yard sale, and the plates had been passed down to her from her grandma. They had little flowers on the sides and always made me ponder what life would be like with an actual family where kids sat down with their parents and ate food, and they all participated in family conversations.

  Not where nannies made the food and the parents called once a week.

  And then stopped calling.

  And then died.

  “So, Blake . . .” Lex spooned a liberal amount of sauce over a pile of steaming spaghetti and handed the first plate to Gabi, since she’d cooked. In Gabi’s kitchen, cooks always ate first. “I like the new look.”

  “Thanks.” A bright blush flamed across her cheeks. “Ian was a huge help.”

  “Oh, I bet.” Lex grinned.

  I kicked his foot under the table while he continued serving everyone. Serena was staring at Blake. Hard.

  I knew that look.

  Dinner was about to get real.

  “I guess it’s okay.” Serena gave a slight shrug. “I mean, if you’re into working out.”

  “Which clearly she is,” I pointed out. “Look at her.”

  Serena’s lips twisted into something that looked a lot like a snarl. “It’s not like she’s wearing a dress. She’s wearing spandex. Didn’t that go out of style a few years ago?”

  “Says the non–gym rat?” I shrugged. “I don’t know. Didn’t hair extensions go out a few years ago too?” I was pretty confident if I tugged on her hair I could come away with a piece.

  Serena’s face heated to a dull red color before she jerked her plate away from Lex and not-so-accidently dropped it onto Blake’s lap. “Oh my gosh. I’m so sorry. It slipped.”

  Gabi jumped to her feet, grabbing napkins, while Blake just stared at her lap. Then, in a move I wouldn’t have ever seen coming, she started piling the spaghetti onto her own plate before licking each finger.

  I gripped the chair with both hands. Holy shit, that was hot. Spaghetti sauce—who knew?

  “It’s alright.” Blake laughed. “I can always toss them in the wash. They’re workout clothes, after all. I’m sure a few weeks from now they’ll be in worse shape than this after practice.”

  That shut Serena up.

  Dinner was blessedly quiet, except for the chink of flatware against china. I knew it wouldn’t last. After all, Gabi and Lex were sitting next to each other.

  It was against the laws of nature for them not to fight.

  “Wow.” Blake patted her flat stomach. “That was really good, Gabi. Thank you so much.”

  “Thank Ian. He begged for spaghetti night.”

  “I beg every night,” I said. “And not just for spaghetti. Last week I wanted ravioli.”

  “You sure you aren’t Italian?” Gabi laughed and started collecting everyone’s plates.

  “Nope.” I stood. “You cooked. Lex and I will do cleanup.”

  Lex’s eyebrows shot up. “We will?”

  I stared.

  Slowly, he scooted out his chair, stood, and helped me take everything into the kitchen. Once the girls were out of earshot, he whistled and said, “Dude, nice work. I didn’t even recognize her.”

  I smiled proudly. “She looks cute, right?”

  Lex burst out laughing. “Are you high? She looks more than cute.” He stepped backward and peered around the corner, then made his way back into the kitchen. “She looks hot.”

  “Hot?” I let the word roll around in my head a bit, then abruptly snuffed it out. “I guess.”

  “You guess?”

  Dishes. I needed to wash dishes, because if I focused too much on Blake’s small transformation, I was going to be in a world of hurt, and not the emotional kind. Hell no, it would be all physical. Already my body was responding as if my hands weren’t in soapy water but sliding all over her body.

  I inwardly groaned. I had no time to stop by some random girl’s house and alleviate the hurt.

  “Have you kissed her yet?” Lex asked as I held out a plate for him to take. It dropped out of my hand, but luckily he caught it before it smashed into the floor. “I’ll take that as a no.”

  “She’s never kissed a guy. It would be . . . wrong.” I held out another plate. Lex didn’t take it. Instead he stared openmouthed at me.

  “Are you . . . falling for her?”

  “What?” I burst out laughing. “Hell no. Have you seen her flip-flops?”

  “Not like she’d be wearing them in bed, amigo.”

  “What’s our number one rule?” I scrubbed the next plate vigorously as visions of her perky breasts invad
ed every logical corner of my brain.

  “Don’t fall for the clients.”

  “Don’t. Fall.” I scrubbed harder. “For.” My hand was starting to cramp. “The clients.”

  “I think it’s clean, bro.” Lex jerked the plate out of my hands and gave me a pat on the back. “And you’re the one who made the rules. Not me.”

  “We have a legitimate company, one that both of us are hoping will eventually take over as the number one dating app in the world. Why screw that up because you fall for a sad girl who wants the guy who’s never looked twice at her?”

  Lex smirked, his toothy grin making me want to inflict violence on his person. Or another damn dish. “Why, indeed?”

  “You’re seriously shitting up the wrong tree, and you’re pissing me off. Go argue with Gabi or something.”

  “So no kissing?”

  I sighed and braced myself against the porcelain sink. “No. Not unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

  “Hmm.”

  The girls’ chatter got louder as they made their way into the kitchen.

  “No dessert?” Blake piped up.

  I froze.

  Lex and I were both still facing the kitchen window, and I could see his smug expression in the reflection. Just like he could see me flipping him off right above the dishwater.

  “Dessert? I didn’t get any,” Gabi said, “but—”

  “Actually.” I turned around quickly. “About that . . . Blake, can I talk to you upstairs for a minute?”

  “Sure.” But she hesitated.

  “Great.” I grabbed her hand and tugged her toward the stairs, praying that Gabi and Lex would get into it so I’d have an excuse to call the police and get the hell out of that house before I embarked on more rule-breaking.

  Once we were in her room, I shut the door behind me and stalked toward her. She moved backward until her legs collided with the bed.

  “You look upset,” she said.

  Frowning, I grabbed her spaghetti-stained shirt and tugged it over her head.

  Blake let out a little squeak as I dipped my thumbs into the spandex shorts and tugged them all the way to her ankles. Thankfully, she stepped out of her flip-flops as well as the shorts.

  I stood to my full height.

  And blinked.

  Was I hallucinating?

  “You’re—” I coughed into my hand. “You’re”—I glanced away, seeking to restore the balance of power—“in a thong.” It was one thing to hear about her wearing one, but actually seeing the proof? Damn near intoxicating.

 
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