The Matchmaker's Playbook
PRAISE FOR RACHEL VAN DYKEN
“The Consequence of Loving Coltton is a must-read friends-to-lovers story that’s as passionate and sexy as it is hillarious!”
—Mellissa Foster, New York Times bestselling author
“Just when you think Van Dyken can’t possibly get any better, she goes and delivers The Consequence of Loving Coltton. Full of longing and breathless moments, this is what romance is about.”
—Laurren Layyne, USA Today bestselling author
“The tension between Milo and Colton made this story*crane impossible to put down. Quick, sexy, witty—easily one of my favorite books from Rachel Van Dyken.”
—R. S. Grey, USA Today bestselling author on The Consequence of Loving Colton
“Hot, funny, and will leave you wishing you could get marked by one of the immortals!”
—Molly McAdams, New York Times bestselling author on The Dark Ones
“Laugh-out-loud fun! Rachel Van Dyken is on my auto-buy list.”
—Jill Shalvis, New York Times bestselling author on The Wager
“The Dare is a laugh-out-loud read that I could not put down. Brilliant. Just brilliant.”
—Cathryn Fox, New York Times bestselling author
ALSO BY #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR RACHEL VAN DYKEN:
THE CONSEQUENCE SERIES
The Consequence of Loving Colton
The Consequence of Revenge
The Consequence of Seduction
The Consequence of Rejection
THE WINGMEN INC. SERIES
The Matchmaker’s Replacement
THE BET SERIES
THE RUIN SERIES
THE ELITE SERIES
THE SEASIDE SERIES
THE RENWICK HOUSE SERIES
The Ugly Duckling Debutante
The Seduction of Sebastian St. James
The Redemption of Lord Rawlings
An Unlikely Alliance
The Devil Duke Takes a Bride
THE LONDON FAIRY TALE SERIES
Upon a Midnight Dream
The Wolf’s Pursuit
When Ash Falls
SEASONS OF PALEO
THE WALLFLOWER SERIES (WITH LEAH SANDERS)
Waltzing with the Wallflower
THE DARK ONES SAGA
The Dark Ones
Hurt: A Collection (with Kristin Vayden and Elyse Faber)
Every Girl Does It
The Parting Gift (with Leah Sanders)
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2016 by Rachel Van Dyken
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Skyscape, New York
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Skyscape are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc., or its affiliates.
Cover design by Shasti O’Leary Soudant
To Jilly. Thank you for pushing me with this book and listening to me freak out over all the scenes that I knew I had to make hotter. You make me smile.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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 badass-looking scar near my chin? 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 asshat 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. Shit, 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, 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.
Shit. 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.”