The Matchmaker's Replacement

  Two Ways to Read

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  Freshman year 2012

  University of Washington campus

  Zeta Psi Christmas party, 1:00 a.m.

  A thick haze of smoke blanketed the living room. Whoever thought it was a good idea to get a smoke machine, toss it into a room full of sweaty dudes, and flip it on should burn in hell.

  “Where are all the girls?” I asked my friend Ian. He was thinking of pledging Zeta Psi the following year, but as a star athlete he wasn’t sure if he had the time. We’d been invited to what was being called on campus “the party of the year.” “It’s a freakin’ sausage fest!” I said with disgust.

  Ian frowned. “Maybe they’re coming later?”

  “Nobody likes that . . . the coming later part. Coming should always happen sooner rather than later, all things considered.” I slapped him on the back. “But those are things you find out when you become a man . . .”

  “You’re such an ass, Lex.” He shoved me hard into the blinding smoke. It burned my eyes and made me immediately want to take out my contacts. If I kept walking through that smoke, chances were I was going to accidently kiss a dude, and I wasn’t into those types of parties. “Let’s just go.”


  Ian set his beer on a nearby table and followed me as we weaved our way through the crowd. Just then a trumpet sounded as a hundred girls burst through the door wearing red and green Christmas bikinis.

  “Woohoo!” they screamed. Sorority girls always screamed, but this time I didn’t mind since said screaming was paired with lots of bouncing in tiny fabric. I smirked as Ian choked out “God bless us, every one” under his breath and started making his way toward the girls.

  “Hold up, Tiny Tim.” I grabbed him by the shirt and pulled him back. “We don’t go to them, they come to us. Remember the rules?” I’d never in my life had to exert myself to get a girl, and I wasn’t about to start just because Ian was afraid all the good ones would be taken.

  “We’ve been holding our dicks for the past three hours, and you want to wait longer?”

  I rolled my eyes. “It’s science.” Which is why I specified in our private playbook, also known as How to Get Laid 101, that we never approach a girl.

  “What’s science?”

  “Sex.” I nodded to a few girls who already looked bored with the guys who had bombarded them and were now making their way toward us. One was wearing a red thong with a tiny Santa skirt to match and nothing but a red lacy bra on top and a cute-as-hell Santa hat perched at an angle on her head. The other was dressed like a naughty reindeer, with little cuffs on her wrists and bells around her neck.

  “Hey.” Naughty Reindeer performed a little wiggle and wave. “Wanna ring my bell?”

  It was on the tip of my tongue to say yes because, hello, she wanted me to ring her bell, and I would be an idiot if I didn’t take her upstairs, or down the hall, or even to the pantry to see how many bells I could make chime. But I wanted more of a challenge.

  Maybe it was the computer genius in me that needed a complicated formula or something that would at least pose more difficulty than opening my mouth and asking if she wanted to be on top, bottom, or a mixture of both.

  “Ian.” I elbowed him. “Why don’t you go take these lovely young ladies for a drink while I . . . grab something out of the car?” It was a lame excuse, but as one of the stars of the UW football team, Ian could easily take care of himself. Besides, he liked to spread the love, though it was more of a challenge when he had to please two girls at once.

  “Right . . . something out of the . . . car.” The one we didn’t drive. Clearly he got the hint, since he swept both girls under his bulky arms and walked off, a smug smile plastered across his face.

  I rolled my eyes as both girls giggled and clung to him like he was Russell freaking Wilson, which, if he kept his stats up, could easily be his reality.

  I quickly scanned the room. The rest of the girls looked the same. In a sea of red and green, all I saw were easy chicks ready to spread their legs for muscles and a killer smile—both of which I had in spades. They didn’t nickname me Lex Luthor because I was a button-down-wearing gentleman who said “please” and “thank you” in the bedroom.

  I was the villain.

  The Dark Side.

  The dirty.

  The bad boy the girl brought home to piss off her father, though the joke was almost always on the girl, considering I was a Mensa member—I just didn’t look it. To most girls I was the dark, brooding, motorcycle-driving loser just waiting to flunk out of college. Little did they know: I had more brain cells in my pinky finger, more money in my bank account, than they could possibly imagine—or add using all ten fingers.

  Frowning, I moved through the thick crowd of hormones and nearly collided with a short girl, dressed in an elf costume, who had a cute little white mask covering part of her face. Two big emerald green eyes scrutinized me.

  “Sorry.” My gaze fell to her cleavage, which was . . . refreshingly . . . perfect. Not too much on show, leaving just enough to the imagination. I liked it. Plus she smelled like peppermint.

  And I was a damn sucker for mint.

  Or maybe it was just tits.

  I licked my lips as her green eyes blinked up at me with a mix of shock and then confusion, as though she wasn’t sure if I was friend or foe.

  Hah, I was both—a little bit of both, anyway. But for tonight? I’d be the best friend she ever had. Her pink tongue snuck out, wetting her lips, and my cock twitched with envy. As if she sensed the direction of my thoughts, a bright red blush stained her cheeks. With a sigh she huffed out a breath. Damn, more peppermint. She could handle my candy cane any day of the week.

  There was something oddly familiar about her, though, like we’d met before—but that was the oldest line in the book. And the truth? Had we met before, I’d still be buried balls deep in her. She was gorgeous.

  “Lex.” I held out my hand, immediately breaking one of my playbook rules. A dude should never offer his hand first. It seemed too polite, and girls immediately assumed you were in the market for a relationship.. Ian and I had created the rules the minute we realized there was a serious need to strategically navigate the college world of sex and women in a mutually satisfying way where no strings were attached. I never approached, I never offered my name, and I sure as hell didn’t shake a girl’s hand when I could be flicking her nipple with my tongue.

  Her eyebrows furrowed and then she slowly, methodically reached out and shook my hand firmly. “Gabrielle, but my friends call me Gabi.”

  Gabi? I grew up with a Gabi. But no chance in hell the scrawny and awkward Gabi that Ian and I used to torture was the vision of sex standing in front of me. Besides, she would be on her last year of high school and probably hadn’t even grown into her stubby little legs yet.

  “And your boyfriend, what does he call you?” I pressed my body closer to hers.

  “Sara.” Her lips twitched.


  She laughed, and that damn sound went to all the wrong places. It was an automatic physical reaction; being near her was driving me insane, and I had no freaking idea why. “He was dating me and Sara at the same time and got confused when he kissed me goodnight.”

  “Damn.” I shook my head and s
mirked. “Did you knee him in the junk?”

  “And bit his tongue,” she said, smiling like a feral cat. “I’m violent like that.”

  “Feminism.” I nodded. “I give to the cause . . . swear.” I put my hand over my heart. “And I hope he walks funny for a year.”

  “Eh.” She gave a casual shrug. “It’s not like he had much for me to hit anyway.”

  “Can we be best friends?” I blurted out with a laugh.

  She joined in the laughter just as someone pushed her from behind, sending her flying into my arms. Her delicate fingers pressed into my biceps while her breasts slid against my chest.

  My breath hitched as she lifted her face toward me.

  And I did it.

  I lost my mind, forgetting all about my rules of play, and just went for broke, softly kissing her like I’d known her for years instead of four minutes and thirty-six seconds. Her candy-cane tongue met mine with enough aggression to momentarily surprise me as her fingers ran down my buzzed hair, making my skull and the rest of my body sizzle with awareness.

  Groaning, I lifted her into the air as she deepened the kiss. What the hell? How did I get this damn lucky? We pulled apart for air, and her cheeks were still so freaking red I had to laugh.

  “You’re adorable,” I admitted. “Hot. But adorable. How is that possible?”

  “Well, if I was Sara, I’d say it’s because I’m awesome in bed.”

  “Oh yeah?”

  “Yeah, but since I’m just me, it’s probably because I’m too innocent to know how awesome I really am.”

  “Innocent is okay,” I said, feeling protective of the cute girl in my arms who responded so readily to my touch.

  She frowned and then slid out of my embrace, her feet touching the ground just as the lights flickered and turned down.

  “I don’t want to be innocent anymore,” she whispered in my ear.

  Holy shit.

  I quickly glanced around the darkened room as the sound of techno pumped through the cheap speakers, crackling every few seconds.

  “Well”—I grabbed her hips and leaned down, my lips caressing the outline of her ear—“I think you’ve found the right guy.”

  “Me too.”

  I grabbed her hand and led her toward the stairs. On the outside, I was calm; on the inside, I was high-fiving myself while my dick was doing cartwheels.

  My grip tightened on her hand as I dragged her up the stairs, my feet floating as she ran behind me. The sound of her laughter, the look of her flushed cheeks, was too much to handle.

  We made it to the bedroom in ten seconds.

  The door was closed. I opened it, slammed it shut again, and pressed her against it. My lips found her neck as she twisted the doorknob, sending us into the room in a fit of frenzied hands.

  “What the hell?” Ian’s voice shouted behind me.

  Gabrielle and I pulled apart.

  “Oh shit,” I said around a breathless laugh. “Sorry, man, didn’t know you were in this room.”

  “Gabs!” Ian shouted. “What the HELL are you doing?” Ian was half naked with two nearly naked girls, and he looked more pissed than I’d ever seen him in my entire time knowing him. He never got angry.

  I took a cautious step back and held up my hands. “Ian? What’s wrong, man?”

  “Gabs!” Ian shouted again. “Do you know who that is?”

  He was pointing at me like I was a criminal.

  “Ian, stay out of it!” She raised her voice, placing her hands on her hips. “Just . . . go!”

  “Go?” he repeated, then louder: “GO?” He stomped over to her. “Why are you at this party? I told you to stay home, to do homework. You promised after Mark—”

  “Mark?” I repeated, my mind fuzzily coming to terms with the fact that this was Gabi, the Gabi I grew up with, the very same one who’d called Ian last week in tears over her ex-boyfriend cheating on her. “Oh shit!” I took a step back. Was she even eighteen?

  She rolled her eyes. “I’m eighteen.”

  Thank God!

  “Doesn’t matter.” Ian looked like he was ready to puke. “You can’t be here, Gabs. I’m your best friend.” He shared a look with me, a look that said more than I needed to know. This was Gabs, the girl who was at every one of Ian’s birthday parties when he was little, who never missed one of his football games. The same Gabs I used to throw rocks at before moving across town.

  The Gabi I had sworn up and down to Ian I’d never touch, not even for a million dollars. Then again, we were eleven when I made that promise.

  She wasn’t just off-limits.

  She was untouchable. The one object between Ian and me that could destroy our friendship, create a chasm so deep and wide that I’d never be able to come back from it.

  “It’s cool.” I quickly held up my hands. “Nothing happened.”

  “Nothing happened?” Gabi whipped her head around and glared.

  I knew I had two choices: play the gentleman, let her know that I wasn’t a horrible guy, that I was just trying to be protective of the girl who was basically my best friend’s only family; or lie and make her think I was a horrible person. A girl like her—hell, most girls—wanted the gentleman, wanted to believe all men were good and just needed a chance. She was giving me those eyes, the eyes you give the mean dog at the shelter just as you reach out your hand to pet him.

  I could nuzzle.

  Or bite like hell.

  And a girl like Gabi needed the bite . . . if I was to keep the waters peaceful between Ian and me. I sighed. I needed my best friend, sometimes more than I think he needed me. Hell, I needed him like he needed Gabi, damn it.

  I had no choice.

  “Shit.” I burst out laughing. “I’ll just go downstairs and find another one. It’s not like there aren’t a million others just like her.” I winked, then grabbed her by the ass and pulled her against me and said gruffly, “It was real, but I have other tits calling my name.”

  I nearly puked as I made my way out of the room and down the stairs, not even looking at the people around me as I left the party and the only girl who had ever tempted me . . . to want more.

  Chapter One


  Four years later

  Senior year

  Right. There.” I could feel her breasts pressed up against my back as she pointed to the book that just happened to be at least two feet above her. “The one with the blue spine.”

  Smirking, I read the title aloud: “A Thousand and One Ways to Please Your Man?”

  “That’s the one.” Was it my imagination or did her voice get husky? Her hands snaked around my waist. “Oh sorry, I thought I saw another book that looked . . . exciting. My mistake.” She pulled her hands away from my crotch and the empty shelf near it.

  With a snicker I pulled the book down, still not turning around. “You know, I’m a really good study partner.”

  “I’ve heard,” she purred.

  Of course she had. My reputation was legendary. By day I was a typical computer nerd, spending most my time in the labs teaching my own professors how to code. Hell, I even adopted dogs, handed out fliers on Greenpeace, and donated to homeless shelters.

  But by night?

  “So . . .” Soft, wet lips caressed my right bicep. “What do you say?”

  An irritating female voice broke through the lustful tension. “Of course, you know it’s a real sex addiction when you actually hang out in the Kama Sutra section just so you can pick up girls you won’t feel the need to grade in bed—or, God forbid, give a manual to.”

  “Gabs.” I turned around, teeth clenched, fists tight, ready for a fight or ready to cover my dick lest she try to kick it off again. “You g
ain weight?”

  “Hmm, I don’t know. Did the free clinic help you get rid of those crabs?”

  The girl—whose name escaped me, as most did—grabbed the book out of my hands and quickly scurried away while Gabs gave me a pointed look.

  “For your information, she asked me for help.” I don’t know why the hell I was defending myself to the spawn of Satan. Maybe it was because she looked at me as if I was one bad decision away from going to prison.

  Gabi’s soft pink lips pressed together in a judgmental line as her green eyes narrowed. “You’re late.”

  “Actually”—I shoved past her—“I was early, saw a damsel in distress, and made myself available. You know how it is. I can’t help that I attract estrogen on an hourly basis.”

  “Yes.” Gabs pointed to the stool right next to the bookcase. “So very needy . . . and so very stupid. Was that the best excuse she could come up with? Why not just say, ‘Hey, I’m afraid of heights, mind grabbing that book for me?’”

  I rolled my eyes. “Gabs, I know you’re short so everything from down there looks really, really scary, but that stool’s only a foot tall. If she’s scared of that, then it leads me to believe she’s afraid of all things that equally measure up.” I smirked and leaned down, lifting her hair so I could whisper in her ear. “Though who am I kidding? I love it when girls scream in bed.”

  Gabi shoved against my chest. Hard. “Gross! Go give a disease to someone else.” She shuddered and then stomped off, calling over her shoulder, “Let’s just get this over with, alright?”

  “Fine.” At the pace of a handicapped turtle, I followed after her, dreading every freaking step that took me to the table where she’d laid out her pink backpack and highlighters.

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