The Matchmaker’s Playbook
Read Chapter 1:
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.
I stared. Hard.
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. 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.”
She frowned. “Smile.”
“What?” “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.
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. “But—”
“Do it now.”
Gulping, she reached across the table and placed her hand on my shoulder.
On. My. Shoulder. “Lower.”
“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
I smirked. “Three minutes ago.”