Sneak Peek: Read the First Four Chapters of The Matchmaker's Playbook by Rachel Van Dyken
Today, we're pleased to give a sneak peek of The Matchmaker's Playbook by Rachel Van Dyken, releasing April 5, 2016 from Skyscape.
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*Note: This sneak peek contains mature sexual content and language*
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Here it is!
The tea? Cinnamon.
The coffee shop? Secluded. Dark. Inviting.
The girl? Late.
And not just fashionably late, but the type of late that had me thinking she was going to be a no-show, which was common for a first meeting. At least 15 percent of our clients were no-shows. It was nerves. And fear that our system wouldn’t work for them and they’d be in worse shape than before.
The wood chair creaked as I leaned back and examined the small shop. A year ago people would have asked for my autograph. Then again, a year ago I had just been drafted by the Seattle Seahawks.
I rubbed my knee self-consciously as the aching pain returned, causing a raw edge of irritation to burn through my chest.
I checked my watch again, biting my cheek in annoyance.
Twenty-three minutes late.
With a sigh, I reached for my tea one last time, drawing out the sip as I peered over the cup. Two more minutes and I was leaving.
The glass door shot open, the bell nearly clanging to the floor as it slammed against a nearby chair. A small mousy girl with plain brown hair stumbled through; her pale skin turned crimson as she touched her cheeks and nervously glanced around the room.
Most would give her a passing glance.
But I wasn’t most.
When her fidgety eyes finally settled on me, she blushed even deeper. It wasn’t unattractive, just very telling.
I pushed my chair back and stood.
I had a feeling she wanted to run.
They were always nervous. Which was expected. Besides, I knew what I looked like. I wasn’t being vain, just drawing a logical mathematical conclusion after adding how many times I’d gotten laid to how many times I’d been asked if I was an underwear model.
Caramel-blond hair that somehow managed to look wavy and thick all the damn time? Check.
One dimple on the right side of my cheek? Check.
Sexy crooked smile? Check.
Rugged badas*-looking scar near my chin? Check.
Smoldering hazel eyes? Check.
And don’t even get me started on penis size. Really, it just gets better the farther south your eyes go—trust me.
She took a faulty step backward, colliding with the magazine rack. Several copies of the Seattle Weekly went flying across the floor.
With a flutter of busyness, she bent down.
Her jeans ripped at the knees.
Yeah, I was going to have to rescue her. She was already a danger to herself.
With a patient sigh, I slowly walked from my seat and approached her. Lowering to her level, I peered over at the newspapers, calmly collected every last one, and stood.
She was frozen.
It happened. Often. And unfortunately, it was a huge time-waster. Because my business? It was flourishing, and time was my currency.
She was late.
Meaning she was wasting not just my time, but my money. Typically, I met my clients elsewhere, but I was short on time and wanted to see her in action. I was having some serious second thoughts as she grabbed one of the paper napkins and proceeded to blow her nose before stuffing the napkin in her front pocket.
“Stand,” I instructed, trying to keep the scowl from my face.
She gaped up at me, her mouth ajar, her eyes widening as her skin went from pink to white, all within a few seconds.
“Or,” I whispered, pinning her like a bug with my stare, “you can sit. But I highly doubt that’s the way to get on the good side of that barista you’ve been trying not to check out ever since you walked in that door.”
“But I haven’t—”
“You have.” I nodded, giving her an encouraging look. “And if you don’t stand right now, you’ll lose your chance with him. Most experts believe that jealousy is the most crucial emotion men feel before falling in love.” I held out my hand.
She stared at it.
“I won’t bite.” I smirked, then leaned down and whispered in her ear, “Yet.”
“Take it.” I gave a curt nod. “That’s what I’m here for, remember?”
With reluctance, she placed her hand in mine and stood on wobbly legs. I eyed the barista with mock annoyance as I helped my new client to her seat.
“What’s this?” She pointed at the red cup in front of her chair.
“Tea.” I yawned. “But yours is probably cold.”
“I hate tea.”
“No.” I shook my head and leaned forward, my hands placed directly in front of her cup as I scooted it closer to her. “You love tea.”
“Just do it.”
She forced a smile, which actually transformed her face quite nicely. A bit too much tooth and faux enthusiasm, but I could work with enthusiasm. Apathy, despondency, despair . . . not as easy.
“Hey . . . you, uh . . . guys need anything?” Jealous Barista asked as he wandered over to our table. Any jackass with half a brain knew that if we wanted something, we’d just go to the counter and ask.
“Nope.” I didn’t give him a second glance.
“Oh.” He didn’t leave. Idiot. “I just—”
“I’ll send my girlfriend over if I need something, how’s that?” This time I did meet his gaze. Sometimes it was just too easy. Really. His eyes burned through me, nostrils flared, fists clenched. Dude may as well have been wearing a sign that said “Mine” with an arrow pointed at Mousy Hair.
“Thanks, though,” my client squeaked, tucking that flat hair behind her ear in a seminervous gesture that as*hat probably found cute.
We were going to have to work on that squeak. It was endearing . . . like a fat puppy that couldn’t walk.
But in order to gain the barista’s attention? She needed to move on from fat puppy to something more like a greyhound—sleek, beautiful, unique.
Jealous Barista walked off.
“He hates me.” She slouched.
I let out an irritated sigh as I reached for her hand and gripped it. Clammy fingers. A personal favorite, said no man ever.
“Stop fidgeting and sit up straight.” I squeezed her hand.
Her chest rose and fell like she was running a marathon. Sh*t, if I had another fainter, I was going to walk.
“Sorry,” she huffed as she leaned in. “It’s just that he’s actually talked to me only a few times, and only ever to ask if I wanted sugar in my coffee.”
“He hates coffee,” I whispered. “Every time someone orders coffee, he actually sneers. It’s hard to tell if you don’t look for it. But his nose lifts, his eyes narrow, and the bastard sneers, as if coffee is the equivalent of getting high behind the Dumpsters.”
“But . . .” She bit down on her bottom lip. It was plump. Juicy. Finally! Something I could work with. “He works at a coffee shop.”
Impatience pounded through me. “And you run five point six miles every day at three in the afternoon, yet you hate running. We all do what we gotta do to get what we want. You want a nice body? You work for it. He wants to pay for parts for his motorcycle? He works for it.” Damn it, I really needed to stop taking clients when I was running on no sleep.
“Should I be taking notes?” she asked softly.
“You love tea. You hate coffee.” I reached out and brushed my thumb across her bottom lip. “He despises public displays of affection, probably because he wishes he was the one involved with a girl who can’t keep her hands off her man.”
Her head swayed toward me, eyes heavy, cheek pressed into my hand. Bingo!
“Touch me,” I instructed.
“Do it now.”
Gulping, she reached across the table and placed her hand on my shoulder.
On. My. Shoulder.
“But . . .” Her eyes darted to the counter.
“Stop staring or we’re done.”
She moved her hand lower and ran her hand over my chest, her forefinger grazing my nipple. Probably by accident, but the barista’s reaction would be the same.
“Laugh?” She giggled nervously.
“That works too.” I grinned smugly. This was always my favorite part, the part that solidified me as a certified genius. A rich one too. The moment when the guy suddenly realizes there’s something brewing between him and the girl who’s been vying for his attention for weeks, years, whatever.
Jealous Barista waltzed back over. “Shell, if you need anything besides tea, let me know.” His chest puffed out as he crossed his arms. I fought the urge to roll my eyes and give the douche the finger.
“No.” Shell met my gaze with a reluctance that slowly turned into triumph. “I think I’m good with my tea.”
“You hate tea,” he pointed out.
“No,” I said. “She loves tea.”
“Asshole,” he grumbled under his breath before walking away.
“He knows my name.” She gave a rapturous sigh of longing.
Again, the urge to roll my eyes was so strong my cheeks twitched.
I shrugged and leaned back.
“Who are you?” she said.
“Ian Hunter.” I nodded. “Master wingman and your only chance in hell of getting”—my eyebrows lifted as a sigh escaped between my lips—“that.”
Jealous Barista stared at us with his lips pressed into a firm line.
“When do we start?” Her words rushed out so fast they nearly ran into one another.
I smirked. “Three minutes ago.”
Shell was reciting a monologue. Lucky for her, I was used to my clients rambling nervously, their words toppling over one another until I felt my head start to ache. So while my hot tea turned to ice, I let her talk, let her get every damn thing off her chest.
“And then my cat started getting sick, and we couldn’t figure out what was wrong.”
“I’m so upset with my mom! She never told me I was pretty!”
Pat on the hand.
“Do you think I’m pretty?”
Aw-shucks look followed by a wink.
“It just makes me so angry. The way guys ignore me like I’m some sort of nerd. If I knew how to wear lipstick, I’d freaking wear lipstick! I just, for once, I want the hot guy to notice me.”
“I completely understand.” I needed to pick up my dry cleaning in about ten minutes, and she was going longer than I’d originally projected.
“I know.” Shell sighed helplessly, her posture making my entire body itch to strap her upright to the chair and put a book on her head. “I just wish . . .”
You know what I wish? That we could go back in time and I could reschedule her as a client for my wingman, Lex. Damn, she’s a talker.
Sh*t. I dropped the ball. What did she wish? “I don’t think anything you say is stupid.” Blanket statement.
“Th-thanks.” She grinned again. “You know, you’re a pretty good listener.”
They always forget they pay me to listen. Always.
Shell’s eyes zeroed in on my mouth. Oh, here we go. Had to admit, she was moving through my playbook stages a lot faster than I’d anticipated.
“You’re really . . . hot.”
“I know,” I said in a bored tone. “But remember, you’re my client. I’m helping you so you can help yourself.”
Shell frowned. “So you don’t ever date your clients?”
No, because all of my clients were in love with someone else, and I didn’t have time to play the hero. I almost always created a catastrophe that their crush had to save them from, solidifying that relationship and breaking them away from whatever hero worship they had of me. It made sense, if you really thought about it. The women I dealt with were so starved for male attention that they had a hard time telling the difference between my acting and actual feelings. It’s why I always made my rules very clear.
“Never,” I said, keeping my voice crisp. “Shell, sweetheart. I’m going to e-mail you the schedule for the next week. Let me know if you have any issues, but no phone calls, do you understand?”
She nodded slowly.
“Only texts and e-mails. We don’t talk on the phone. And if you see me around campus, you don’t know me. Outside of our business arrangement, we’re strangers. And if anyone asks about Wingmen Inc. . . .”
She sighed. “I know, I know. Give them the red card with the Superman logo on the front and the giant W on back.”
I winked. Our cards were genius. They just looked like stupid Superman cards, when, really, the message was on the back. The message was always in the details people rarely paid attention to. “Great.” Standing, I held out my hand. “Seven days is all I need.”
She glanced over at the barista, who was still blatantly shooting daggers in our direction. “I hope you’re right.”
With an eye roll, I pulled her in for a quick kiss on the lips and whispered, “I’m never wrong.”
“You smell spicy.”
Aw, how cute, a compliment. Maybe I’ll only need six days. After all, one of the days was completely dedicated to learning how to stroke a man’s ego. Look how fast my little grasshopper was learning!
“Thanks.” I placed my hand on the small of her back and guided her out of the coffee shop.
“Bye, Ian.” She walked toward a red Honda and hopped in. Damn, I’d had her pegged as a green Jetta type of girl. Well, can’t win ’em all.
The minute I jumped into my Range Rover, my phone rang.
“How was she?” Lex yawned on the other end of the phone. I imagined he was probably sh*t-deep in e-mails, since it was two weeks after New Year’s, meaning everyone with a pulse had just created New Year’s resolutions to change their lives. “Because your waiting list is hella long, and if she’s not a good fit, I have another girl that offered to pay me in sexual favors to move her to the top.”
“Cross her off,” I barked. “If she knows how to give favors, she knows how to get her own damn man.”
“Noted.” Lex chuckled darkly.
I made a mental note to make sure he actually checked her off the list rather than making fake promises just so he could get his rocks off.
“Oh,” Lex said, “and Gabi says if you don’t make it tonight for dinner, she’s going to glue your hand to your penis. Though she was much more graphic.”
“Always is.” I grinned. “Text her and let her know I’m on my way.”
“Done.” He hung up.
I didn’t pick this life. It’s not like I woke up one morning and went, Wow, wouldn’t it be so badass to help dowdy women get the guy? And before you stomp off in a huff, look at the facts. Almost 60 percent of women marry down, meaning most women go for a man with the dad bod. The guy who is more than likely going to make less than them; never work out; eat hot dogs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; and, let’s face it, need Viagra by age forty.
All it takes is a simple Internet search to get the facts.
Women are, by nature, insecure creatures, and if by the tender age of thirty-five they haven’t settled down, they’ll most likely marry the guy with the unfortunate bald spot and a heart of gold.
And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
It’s kind of like when you go to the pound and pick the dog with the lazy eye because you feel sorry for it, and you know without a doubt that bastard will never stray.
So what’s the difference between settling and settling?
The first type of settling is cute. The dog with the lazy eye, or in this case, the man, really is what’s best for the girl. A match made in heaven. They’re the couples you see holding hands while you wonder if the girl’s legally blind. It’s the hot tall mom and the short dad. The sorority girl and the guy with the beer gut. The cheerleader and the science nerd.
For some reason, the universe accepts this. I accept this.
What I don’t accept? The insecure type of settling, desperate in nature.
Granted, that’s rarer.
But getting more and more common.
It’s when a girl never reaches her own potential, thus settling for less than what she’s worth. It’s the quiet girl who was never taught how to wear makeup. The chubby girl who eats her feelings but has a hilarious personality, who should by all means be paired with the quarterback.
It’s the matches who never find one another.
It’s my sister.
Quiet, shy, a bit desperate, but gorgeous. She used to crush hard on a guy from my team. And when I say hard, I mean, she ran her car into a mailbox once when I had him over for the Fourth of July.
The crazy part? He was totally into her, but because of her insecurity and awkwardness, she never pursued him. She was too scared to take that next step and meet him halfway.
I was too selfish to care, and she made me swear not to intervene.
A year went by. He got tired of waiting; she got tired of “rejection.” And she settled for her lab partner, Jerry.
Now she’s married to some loser who thinks video games are an Olympic sport, and that when the beer is gone, a magic beer fairy restocks the fridge while he sleeps at night. Idiot probably thinks buffalo are extinct as well.
My friend, on the other hand? He just got drafted by the Steelers and was recently in a Nike commercial.
I was sitting on my sister’s couch, at her birthday party nine months ago, when my life clicked. My knee hurt like hell, but it was nothing compared to seeing the look of complete devastation on her face as she watched my friend on national television while Jerry yelled for her to pick up the baby so he could keep on playing Xbox.
My sister deserved better. Deserves better. And as I iced my knee, thanks to an unfortunate incident I didn’t want to dwell on, I had an epiphany.
If only she had been more secure, known how to read the signs, known how to get the guy she really deserved, she would be happier. An ounce of confidence would have changed her life, and knowing how to read guys, to read a situation? Hell, just learning one rule in my playbook would have changed her life.
She wouldn’t be stuck in Yakima, Washington, the place that’s known as the Palm Springs of Washington but really, if you ask me, is drug and gang central, worse than LA.
She’s a Seattle girl surrounded by cows, drugs, tractors, and a weekly date night at Applebee’s.
To make matters worse, it’s not like she can move back to Seattle, not with her husband taking over the family tractor business and with his entire clan having lived there for over forty years. There was nothing I could do. Nothing she could do except the occasional call or text.
So basically she was stuck in hell until something shifted in their situation. But by the looks of it? World peace would be accomplished before that ever happened.
She’s completely lost to me.
The only family I have left.
Besides Gabi, but I don’t count her, since she’s not a blood relation and would probably stake me with the closest sharp object if I referred to her as my sister. Something about not wanting all the available men to run away when they find out our connection. One time. I threatened a guy in high school one time, and now she refuses to tell me any sort of information about her sex life or lack thereof.
I shuddered. Whenever she wears a short skirt, the only feeling I can conjure up is that of fierce protectiveness and the sudden need to pick up sewing so that I can add fabric to the length.
So, yeah, that’s my story.
It’s how Wingmen Inc. got started.
Think about dating like you would a football game. Coaches have their playbooks, ones that a player will memorize for days, weeks, years on end even, and they work. It’s not enough that you know how to play the game; you have to know how to read the plays, read your opponent.
That’s what Wingmen Inc. is about. What if you could study a playbook for dating? We have rules for every type of relationship scenario, and our process works. Basically, we created a dating version of Minority Report. We see the “dating disaster” before it happens and make amendments accordingly.
Nothing angsty about it. I’m not a sad, lonely bastard in need of therapy because my parents ignored me when I was young—though they did, and probably still would have if they hadn’t died in a freak plane crash when I was seven.
My heart wasn’t broken by the girl next door who finally noticed me and then left me for my best friend. Please. Have you seen me?
And, no, I’m not trying to make up for things in small packages. I think it’s already been established that all’s well in the mechanics department.
I’m brilliant—ask my professors.
I get more ass than even a man with my appetite can keep up with.
And I’m basically the modern-day Superman, saving women from themselves while my best friend, Lex, plays sidekick.
Before you ask—yes. It sucks. I’m pissed I can’t play in the NFL. But when one can’t play . . . one teaches.
And I was more than just a football player.
I was the player.
And . . . of women.
The best of them all.
So who better to teach women how not to get played than an actual player?
It’s not like I’ve turned over a new leaf; I’ve just learned to use both sides. Brilliant? Absolutely.
“Sh*t.” I nearly ran into the small Corolla in front of me as Gabi’s ringtone blared over my speakers.
“Yes?” I answered. “To what do I owe this pleasure?”
“I’m not your client, Ian,” Gabi shouted. “Cut with the smooth-talking love coach voice. You promised!”
“I did.” What the hell did I promise? Movie night? That’s what I thought I promised. The light turned green. My thoughts were still blank. A horn blared behind me, and I took off.
“You forgot, didn’t you?”
“About our date tonight?” I laughed. “Of course not.”
“Sometimes I wonder why we’re friends.”
“Because you like to stare at me when I sleep?”
“One time, Ian!” She growled out a loud curse. “You’re lucky I’m forgiving. I’m having a welcome party for my two new roommates, and you were supposed to bring the chips and dip. And the party started a half hour ago.”
So much for my dry cleaning.
“Was this party on my calendar?”
“You and your freaking calendar!” she shouted. “Sorry that I don’t have time to log into Gmail and plug it in so that you can make time for me.”
“It would be a lot easier on Lex if you did.”
“You know Lex is more your b*tch than your friend these days?”
“Harsh,” I coughed. “You better hope I don’t tell him that.”
She fell silent. Because that was what she did when we talked about Lex. She pretended she wasn’t planning on setting his bed on fire with him in it, and I pretended not to notice that even when they were fighting, it seemed like she was still clamoring for his attention, no matter how negative.
But we both knew the elephant was standing in the room with his face plastered all the hell over it.
I sighed. “Sorry, Gabs. I’ll be there in about fifteen minutes, alright?”
“You better,” she grumbled. Then the line went dead.
My music started up again as I quickly pulled into the closest grocery store parking lot and ran like hell to grab the snacks I’d promised. The busier I got, the worse my memory became, which was why I had a calendar and an online schedule that even my professors knew how to access just in case I wasn’t in class, since I was a TA. I was an A student; I’d trained them to keep up with my schedule well, and it was an added bonus when I could teach their classes while they did more important things.
I grabbed all the chips and dip I could find that promised lots of empty calories, then groaned when I noticed only one checker was open and the guy in front of me had ten coupons.
I was ready to pay for his groceries if the dude would just let me go first.
“I can help you over here, sir,” a perky voice said to my right.
A slow smile spread across my face as I turned. “Oh wow, thank you.”
The girl blushed and flicked on the little light at her check stand.
“Hmm, going to a party?” The scanner beeped as she ran each item through.
“For my sister. Well, she’s basically my sister. And I’m the tool that forgot to bring snacks.”
“You don’t seem like a tool to me.” Her voice was throaty as she arched her eyebrows.
“Well, maybe you should tell her that, which would save me from having to grovel . . .”
Her eyes lit up. “I get off in ten minutes.”
“Aw, it would only take me five. Tops.”
“Your top.” I pointed to her plain white shirt. “Looks gorgeous with your skin tone.”
Her eyes dilated right before me.
Sometimes, it was just too easy.
“Finally,” Gabi shouted as she opened the door and jerked the groceries out of my hand in one fell swoop. “I thought you said you fifteen minutes.”
“Did I say fifteen? Could have sworn I said twenty.” And there was that one checker who needed my help, so . . .
Gabi’s eyes narrowed. “You smell like cheap perfume.”
“Gross, right? Who wears Vanilla Fields anymore? I think your grandma still buys that sh*t, but she’s eighty. She’s allowed to be a creature of habit.”
“You did it again, didn’t you?”
“Did what?” I played innocent while I unpacked the shopping bags. Gabi lived a few blocks away from the University of Washington campus, and I, in turn, lived a few blocks down from her. It was convenient for both of us.
I made sure no idiots plagued her with their existence.
And she cooked for me.
Sometimes she even packed me little-kid lunches with smiley faces.
I’d probably starve without her. A point she liked to make on a daily basis.
Gabi rolled her green eyes and quickly pulled her long auburn hair into a low messy bun. “Sometimes I want to kill you.” She exhaled. “Wow, I feel so much better getting that off my chest.”
“That’s what I’m here for.” I winked. “Your own personal therapy.”
She scrunched up her nose. “Seriously. You smell bad, dude.”
I held up my shirt and winced. “How the hell did five minutes with Shopgirl lead to me being a walking perfume commercial?”
Gabi sighed, then pointed upstairs. “Go. Shower. I’ll put out the food. Your extra clothes are still in my room. Just”—she sneezed and wrinkled her nose—“get rid of the skank.”
“She has a name,” I teased. Not that I actually remembered it. But in my defense, while her lips were wrapped around me, her head was blocking the view of her name tag. See? Not my fault.
“One day.” Gabi shook her head. “You’re going to get smited.” She frowned. “Or is it smote?”
“Oooo.” I shivered and leaned in, pressing a kiss to her cheek. “Sounds dirty. Can’t wait.”
With a hard shove, she pushed me off of her and slapped me on the ass. “Upstairs. Go, before you start attracting more.”
“Girls with no future.” Gabi nodded seriously. “You know, the type you like to give quick—”
“Lex!” I interrupted her on purpose when my best friend sauntered into the kitchen. He was six foot five inches of pure muscled man-sl*t.
Worse than I was.
Which meant he probably deserved some sort of medal.
Or at least a patch with the letter W for “whore.” His own dirty scarlet letter.
Next to me, Gabi tensed.
“I’ll just go take that shower,” I said, leaving them alone. I knew full well that it was best to stay out of the way where they were concerned. I hated breaking up fights. Last time I earned a black eye and a kick to the balls trying to keep the peace.
And with all the clients I had piled up for the rest of the semester, the last thing I needed was to show up to a meeting with both my eyes swollen shut.
I took the stairs two at a time, made sure to knock on the bathroom door before I let myself in, then quickly stripped out of my clothes and jumped into the shower.
All of my essentials were where I’d left them, in the little caddy I kept in the corner.
And before you go getting all suspicious on my ass, remember, Gabi is like a sister to me—as in, the only time I even thought about kissing her was during eighth-grade skate night, and I’m pretty sure that’s because someone had spiked my Mountain Dew.
Regardless, we kissed, and it was awful. She actually puked. But we’re 99 percent sure it was the stomach flu and not my bad kissing skills that caused it.
We shook hands a few days after that.
Swore each other to secrecy.
And haven’t had any issue since.
So, no, I’m not jealous of her fascination with Lex, though if he ever pursued her, I’d probably hang him from a telephone pole and light his nuts on fire. It was cute, her obsession, and I knew it would never go anywhere. Because she was a virgin.
And guys like Lex know what girls like Gabi are worth—gold. He couldn’t afford her, not even if he sold his soiled soul.
The familiar scent of my Molton Brown body wash floated into the air, burning my nostrils but relaxing me at the same time.
I only kept Molton at Gabi’s.
Jean Paul Gaultier was for my place.
And if I was staying overnight and had to meet a client the next day, then I brought along Old Spice. It was another numbers thing. At least 30 percent of guys in college used Old Spice, meaning the girl would start to associate my scent with that of other men, pushing her boundaries, making her comfortable. Because as any dating expert knows, scent is the easiest way to establish memory as well as comfort.
You can’t make this sh*t up.
Which is another reason Lex is invaluable to the company: he loves his charts, data, and fun facts.
A loud knock shook the door. “I swear to the shower gods if you don’t hurry your ass up, I’m going to break the door down and flush the toilet.”
“Five minutes, Gabs.”
“You and your fake time limits!”
I quickly turned off the shower, wrapped a towel around my waist, and made my way down the hall into her room.
With a sigh, I shut the door behind me, dropped the towel, and flipped on the light.
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.
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 sh*t, 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?”
“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.
I was still shaking my head after I got dressed and made my way back down the stairs and into the large 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.
“Sh*t!” 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?”
“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.
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 sh*t 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.
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.”
THE MATCHMAKER'S PLAYBOOK
Wingman rule number one: don’t fall for a client.
After a career-ending accident, former NFL recruit Ian Hunter is back on campus—and he’s ready to get his new game on. As one of the masterminds behind Wingmen, Inc., a successful and secretive word-of-mouth dating service, he’s putting his extensive skills with women to work for the lovelorn. But when Blake Olson requests the services of Wingmen, Inc., Ian may have landed his most hopeless client yet.
From her frumpy athletic gear to her unfortunate choice of footwear, Blake is going to need a miracle if she wants to land her crush. At least with a professional matchmaker by her side she has a fighting chance. Ian knows that his advice and a makeover can turn Blake into another successful match. But as Blake begins the transformation from hot mess to smokin’ hot, Ian realizes he’s in danger of breaking his cardinal rule…
About the Author
A master of lighthearted love stories, bestselling author Rachel Van Dyken has seen her books appear on national bestseller lists including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. A devoted lover of Starbucks, Swedish Fish, and The Bachelor, Rachel lives in Idaho with her husband, son, and two boxers. Follow her writing journey at www.rachelvandykenauthor.com.