The Matchmaker's Playbook by Rachel Van Dyken


  “They’re comfortable,” Blake said with a shrug. “And it’s not like I planned on getting a spaghetti bath or having my love coach strip me down to nothing.”

  “Love coach.” I still wasn’t looking at her. “I love the way you say it.”

  “Does this stripping have a purpose?”

  I jerked my head in her direction. “Stripping should always have a purpose.”

  Her eyebrows rose.

  My eyes were fighting a battle with my head. My eyes wanted to stare at her nearly bare ass, while my head told me that there was no part of the screening process that involved me groping her smooth skin or asking her to turn around, bend over, and arch her back. Unfortunately.

  Blake’s hair lay tousled around her shoulders, giving her this wild sex-kitten look that I was about 200 percent sure David wouldn’t know what to do with.

  Damn David.

  “Ian?”

  “We need to wash your clothes,” I said dumbly.

  “And I needed your help getting them off, or what?”

  “Next lesson.” I seriously needed to get my mojo back before I lost my shit. “Kissing.”

  Blake slumped onto the bed and let out a little whimper. “You read my answer. I’ve never been kissed.”

  “I’m not going to kiss you.”

  Her head jerked up, blue eyes burning a hole through my chest, making it itch, or tighten, or—what the hell was wrong with me? “No.”

  “Is that normal? Do you usually kiss your clients or just teach them?”

  “Each client is different,” I said smoothly. “But right now, I’m going to focus on teaching you how to get him to kiss you, as well as how to get him to see you in a sexual way. Think you can handle that?”

  She nodded.

  Her boobs bobbed slightly. I ruffled my hair and then stalked over to her small closet. “You got any giant hoodies in here or muumuus or something?”

  Blake came up behind me. Her body heat blasted me. A few more inches and her breasts would be pressed up against my back, and in that position I could almost lean forward, then in one move twist her around so that she was in my arms, straddling me.

  Too easy.

  “Right”—her arm brushed mine—“here.”

  “Honest moment.” I frowned at the ratty blue hoodie. “Why the hell do you wear clothes like this?”

  Blake tossed it over her head and huffed out. “We all have our things, right?”

  “Guess so.”

  Funny, a day ago I wouldn’t have looked twice at her in that sweatshirt, but now that I was actually getting to know her? And knew what was underneath? It looked sexy as hell as it hung past her hips to midthigh. It teased me.

  And I didn’t do well with teasing.

  I was an instant-gratification type of guy.

  She sat on the bed and crossed those gorgeous legs. My mind went wild with different possibilities, angles, positions.

  “Ian?”

  I rubbed my hands together. “Right. So tomorrow we’re going to work out together. I took another look at David’s schedule, and he works out from five a.m. until seven. We need to be at the gym before he gets there so we catch him by surprise. Your schedule said you typically work out as he’s leaving the gym. Is there a reason for that?”

  Blake chewed on her thumbnail. I tugged her hand down and held it firm, my eyebrows arched as I waited for her answer. “I figure it’s the easiest way to get him to talk to me. If I show up at the end of his workout, he’s tired, and his walls aren’t up. Is that stupid?”

  “No.” I was thoughtful. “Not stupid, just misinformed. The last thing a guy wants to do after he works out is flirt with a girl. Now, beforehand? Even during? No problem. Adrenaline pumps during workouts, and if a hot chick’s watching, you better believe the entire hour’s going to be eye-screwing.”

  “You said hot chick.” Blake shrugged. “Not cute.”

  “You’re hot,” I grumbled. “Believe me. Just wear one of the outfits we picked out, alright?”

  She nodded, her chest puffing up slightly. I itched to unzip the hoodie. Five seconds, that’s all I needed, maybe six, then I’d walk out of the room and leave her to it.

  “Right.” I removed my hands from hers. “So when he sees us together, we need to flirt. The issue is that you flinch most of the time when I touch you.”

  “I do not!”

  I cupped her face. She flinched, and then her eye twitched. “I’m touching your face, not spitting on your eye there, sweet cheeks.”

  Her teeth clenched.

  “Good.” I nodded. “That look right there, the very pissed-off one you’re giving me? It’s often confused with lust. So maybe I’ll just piss you off the entire workout. Shouldn’t be hard, just imagine me heckling you the entire time. In fact, imagine me staring at your ass and tits the entire time. Because I guarantee you, that will be happening. Ninety minutes in heaven. Can you believe I get paid for this shit?” I was goading her on purpose, even though I probably would be staring at her. Who wouldn’t?

  Her chest heaved as she pushed against me. I used the weight of the push to pull her back on top of me. “Now”—I looked at our bodies as they pressed together—“say this happens tomorrow. What do you do?”

  “Get off.” Blake tried to wiggle away. I locked my legs behind her.

  “Oh, I’m sorry. That’s incorrect.” I tugged my ankles against her ass, forcing her against my chest. “Next question. If we’re this close, do you fight, or give in?”

  She was strong. I’d give her that. Blake tried to buck away from me, her hands dangerously close to my face.

  “Fight.” Her lips nearly brushed mine. It was painful when she didn’t break the rest of the distance. The lust I was feeling for her was so unnatural I didn’t know what to do with it, so I tucked it away.

  “Wrong.” I grinned, flipping her onto her back and pinning her arms above her head. “Body language is everything. You don’t want to appear too pissed at me, but you don’t want to be meek either. Right now you’re doing a good job balancing both of them. If things start going south, I may need to kiss you, and I need to know that if I do you aren’t going to knee me in the balls or scratch my eyes out.”

  “I may.” Her teeth clenched as her eyes lowered toward the goods. A smug smile crossed her features. “Guess you’ll have to find out.”

  “Don’t play a player,” I instructed smugly. “It never works, sweet cheeks.”

  “Why are you calling me ‘sweet cheeks’?”

  I released her wrist and moved my hand down her side to her bare thigh, then very slowly inched my fingers around until I came into contact with one butt cheek. “Sweet cheeks.”

  Rage crossed her features as she let out a little bellow and tried getting from underneath me.

  “Lesson’s not over.” I pressed my body harder against hers. “If I kiss you, you don’t have to kiss me back, but don’t push me away. Just let it happen.”

  “Why does it matter?”

  “Because.” My position was starting to make my body ache in more ways than one. “If he sees us as too happy, he won’t think he has a chance. If we’re fighting, he’ll think you’re a bad lay, or worse yet, he’ll think you’re dramatic. We need the perfect medium. Just let it happen, and try not to lose your shit when you feel my tongue.”

  “Is that necessary?” she asked, voice desperate.

  “Not at all.” I grinned.

  “I think lesson time’s over.” Blake glared.

  “Great.” I jumped off of her and dusted my hands into the air. “I’ll pick you up at four thirty.”

  “So early,” she grumbled. “This better work.”

  “It’s never not worked.” I reached for the door. “Unless”—I turned to face her—“you’re having second thoughts?”

  “No!” Blake stumbled toward me, getting her foot caught on the comforter.

  I caught her before her face collided with the floor, but the impact of her body slammed me agai
nst the door.

  Our mouths touched.

  Accidently.

  But in my current state, it was enough. Like lighting a fuse, pouring gasoline on top of a roaring fire.

  I leaned in.

  “You sick son of a bitch,” I heard Gabi yell. “Ian, get your ass down here now!”

  “Aw, hell,” I grumbled as I released Blake, tore open the door, and ran down the stairs.

  Gabi was currently beating her fists into Lex’s back as he carried her around the kitchen, his eyes frantic, like he was searching for a switch to swat her with.

  “Everything okay down here?” I chuckled, folding my arms across my chest as I leaned against the doorframe.

  “Oh, just great,” Gabi yelled, lifting her head briefly to make eye contact before slapping his ass again.

  “A little to the left.” Lex bounced her up and down. “Or if you’re feeling really frisky, I can dig a squeeze.”

  “I’m killing you in your sleep!” Gabi shouted.

  “What happened?” I asked Lex while Gabi started cursing.

  “That’s five bucks, slut,” Lex laughed. “We’re in the kitchen!” With his free hand, he scooted the jar to the end of the counter and then heaved Gabi toward it.

  “You sick bastard!”

  “I take it she found out about Serena?”

  “Stop”—Gabi pounded his ass again—“sticking”—another smack—“your diseased”—two hits, and Lex burst out laughing—“dick”—I winced as Lex heaved her higher over his chest, and her face suddenly smacked his ass—“in my roommates!”

  Lex smirked as he locked eyes on her. “It was an accident.”

  “Accident.” Gabi’s eyes were wild as she moved her hand from his ass to his balls and squeezed.

  With a heave, Lex dropped her. “Damn it!” She crumpled to the floor while Lex joined her, cupping himself. “You bitch!”

  “It was an accident.” Gabi shrugged.

  Sighing, I went over to help Gabi to her feet. “Look at the bright side. At least now, you won’t constantly worry about him seducing her. It only took a day.”

  Gabi glared at both of us.

  Lex used her head to help him stand, then limped toward me. “I think it’s time to leave.”

  “Wait!” Gabi stood and held out the swear jar. “Two bucks.”

  “Are you shitting me?” Lex roared.

  “Three.” Her face broke out into a saucy grin as she shook the jar.

  My eyebrows shot up in respect as Lex let out a string of curse words, then dumped a ten-dollar bill into the jar and pinched her cheek. “I hate odd numbers.”

  “Make sure you get tested at the free clinic, Lex. Who knows what you’re carrying now.”

  “Don’t worry. I’ll be clean before I bang you.” He winked.

  She lunged again, so I pushed Lex toward the door. “Time to go, man.” I waved at Gabi. “See ya next week for lasagna!”

  “You can stick your lasagna up your—”

  I slammed the door on her tirade.

  “Dude.” I chuckled. “You really need to learn when to stop.”

  “Can’t.” Lex pushed past me. “One day I really am going to kill her. Or she’s going to kill me. Hope you don’t mind bailing your two best friends out of prison.”

  “Is it really that impossible for you two to get along?”

  Lex’s sour expression said everything. And if that wasn’t enough, he continued cursing Gabi’s name as he got into his car and peeled away from the house.

  CHAPTER ELEVEN

  “Thanks for the coffee,” Blake mumbled. “I’m not a morning person.”

  “I am.” I casually sipped my black Pike Place Roast as we weaved a path through the weight machines. “Well”—I tossed my cup into the nearest trash can and grabbed a piece of cinnamon gum—“it’s showtime.”

  Without asking, Blake stole the gum right out of my hand, then shivered. “It’s freezing in here.”

  “Well, if you’d wear clothes . . .”

  She elbowed me. “I wore what you said to wear.”

  “You’re wearing a sports bra.” I pointed to the black-and-pink bra that pushed the girls up high. “And tight spandex pants. So, basically, you’re almost naked.”

  Blake pulled her thick hair into a ponytail holder and placed her hands on her hips. “Let’s do this before I chicken out.”

  “Well, since I won’t have time to actually work out today, we’re going to do one of my WODs.”

  “WODs?”

  “CrossFit.” I shrugged. “Workout of the day. We’ll do a quick warm-up, bust out an EMOM, and some max weight lifting, then end everything with an AMRAP and stretching.”

  Blake gave me a blank expression. “Are you speaking in code?”

  “EMOM—every minute on the minute you do the prescribed exercise. AMRAP—as many reps as possible.”

  “Sounds fun,” she said sarcastically.

  I winked and slapped her ass hard. “Let’s go, sweet cheeks. Weights to lift, guys to make jealous.”

  “All in a day’s work.” She rubbed her ass and glared in my direction, but I was already too busy getting our warm-up set together to care.

  I grabbed two twenty-five-pound weights for her, and three for me.

  “We’ll do a two-hundred-meter jog and ten pull-ups, followed by hand-release push-ups and then plank holds, alright?”

  Blake gave me a thumbs-down, then flashed me a beautiful toothy smile. “You’re going to make me sore, aren’t you?”

  “So sore you can’t walk,” I said with a naughty grin.

  “Double entendre?” She laughed. “Nice.”

  “Love coach. Kinda goes with the title.”

  “Does it?”

  “On your hands and knees.”

  “What? To run?”

  “No.” I laughed. “I’ve always just really wanted to say that. You know, all dominating . . . Hey, can I tie you up later?”

  “No.” Blake’s cheeks burned red. “I highly doubt that’s part of the program.”

  “Don’t knock it until you try it.” I jogged away from her.

  With a curse, she followed. “The answer’s still no.”

  I sped up. “Blindfold?”

  “No!”

  I turned and started running backward. “I guess that means no costumes either, huh?”

  “Client.” She said the word slowly, then rushed past me. “That means the only man tying me up will hopefully be David.”

  Something pinched the middle of my chest as I tried not to allow what she’d just said to seep through the little rips she was making in my heart. What the hell was wrong with me?

  David.

  A man could really grow to hate that name, and the person. And every other male in the universe who played basketball.

  “I know why Gabi says she wants to kill you all the time,” Blake yelled hoarsely midburpee.

  “Two more!” My chest hit the floor, and I pushed myself up to my legs and jumped into the air with a clap, then dropped again.

  Blake was seriously holding her own. I didn’t even have to slow down, which was impressive. She only complained once we started doing death by burpees, which basically meant you do burpees until you lose the will to live.

  “I.” She dropped to her chest. “Hate.” She tried to push herself up. “Burpees.”

  “One more!”

  Her arms trembled as she pushed herself up to her feet and finally managed to stand and do a weak jump. Her pretty face was dripping with sweat. With a wide smile, she held up her hand for a high five.

  Was she high-fiving me?

  After putting her through hell?

  I hit her hand, then pulled her against my sweaty chest.

  “Ahh!” She pushed against me. “Thanks for that. Clearly my workouts pale in comparison. You wouldn’t . . .” She glanced away. “Never mind.”

  “What?”

  “Do you work out like this every day?”

  “Yeah.” I toss
ed her a towel and checked my watch. David was late, not that I cared. I’d forgotten about him even working out during our time in the gym.

  “You can say no.” Blake put her hands in front of her. “But would you mind if I tagged along a few times a week? I can even pay you or something. My coach has really been after me to work on my cardio lately, and I think this will help.”

  I rolled my eyes. “You don’t have to pay me . . . It’s not like I’m a trainer. You can just do my workouts with me. I get bored being by myself, and for some reason Lex refuses to work out with me.”

  “Gee, I wonder why,” Blake joked, tossing her sweaty towel at my face.

  “Hey!” I reached for her, then pulled her into my arms and set her against the mat on the ground, my body hovering over her. “You tired?”

  “Exhausted.” She laughed. “But I love that feeling.”

  “It’s the best,” I said, my throat suddenly dry as her eyes fell to my mouth.

  “So”—I put some distance between our bodies—“I’ll help you stretch and—”

  Blake’s eyes widened as she jerked her head to the right, as if to say, Look!

  David was making his way toward us, head bobbing to the hip-hop pounding from his phone. I’d always assumed guys like him listened to Josh Groban. Hell, he even looked like a taller version of him.

  “Stay calm.” I grabbed her leg and quickly pushed against it so that it was getting stretched toward her head, then placed my body over hers, my legs in between hers. Basically we were doing a Kama Sutra move with clothes on and no happy ending. Damn it.

  Nodding, Blake closed her eyes and let out a little moan. “Ouch, that hurts.”

  “Sorry.” My fingers fumbled as they moved down her calf to her thigh. “Shit, you’re tight.” Her muscles quivered beneath my fingers as I slowly massaged.

  “Yeah,” she breathed. “Right. There.”

  I dug deeper with my hands, then continued stretching her until we were nearly chest to chest. She arched as my hand found the knot.

  “Sorry.” I shared a wince with her as I continued massaging.

  “Feels amazing.” The knot relaxed, and I moved on to her next leg. “Oh.” She nearly came off the mat.

 
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