(Wingmen Inc. #1)
Published by: Skyscape
Publication date:April 5th 2016
Genres:Contemporary, New Adult, Romance
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…
Rachel Van Dyken is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today Bestselling author of regency and contemporary romances. When she’s not writing you can find her drinking coffee at Starbucks and plotting her next book while watching The Bachelor.
She keeps her home in Idaho with her Husband, adorable son, and two snoring boxers! She loves to hear from readers!
Want to be kept up to date on new releases? Text MAFIA to 66866!
You can connect with her on Facebook or join her fan group Rachel’s New Rockin Readers. Her website is www.rachelvandykenauthor.com.
Here’s an excerpt from the book, enjoy!
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 math- ematical 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 wob-
bly 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.
“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. “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 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.
She grinned. Nailed it.
“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 arrange- ment, 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 mes- sage 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 shit-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 insecu- rity 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 buf- falo 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 play- book 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 amend- ments 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.
“Shit.” 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 bitch 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 fight- ing, 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 gro- cery 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.” “What?”
“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.