The Mix-Up (Southern Hearts Club #3) - Melanie Munton

“Would you rather…date a man who has the back hair of a wooly mammoth, an incurable gambling addiction, or a disturbingly large collection of Precious Moments figurines?” the husky female voice in my earbud asks.

“So, my only choices are three of your ex-boyfriends?” a different, higher pitched female voice quips.

I choke on my mouthful of coffee. Instead of spewing it all over my computer screen, I manage to contain the spit take to an unladylike dribble down my chin.

“Hey, the only one I actually dated was the gambling addict, thank you very much.”

“Wasn’t he the carnie?”

I muffle my laughter with my hand, but an indelicate snort still escapes.

An indignant huff comes from the first woman. “No, he was working in his food truck at the carnival. He wasn’t a carnival employee.”

“Which is why you didn’t realize he was only five feet tall.” The second woman turns her mouth away from the microphone to cackle. “He had to stand on a footstool just to see over the food truck window.”

“The only reason I went on three dates with him was because he was hilarious. I swear, he could have done stand-up comedy.”

“It probably wouldn’t have made a difference if he was standing up or not.”

A ba-da-cha sound effect comes over the airwaves, making me grin as I type up a quick email on my keyboard.

“Hysterical,” the first woman mutters.

“No, what’s hysterical is your track record. A five-foot-tall, gambling addicted carnie? You can’t make that shit up.”

“He wasn’t a carnie!”

I randomly stumbled across this podcast a couple of months ago and have since become obsessed. Real Talk Romance is a refreshing show that offers a no-bullshit approach to love and relationships, hosted by a twenty-something woman named Kennedy Rhodes. Nicknamed The Love Cynic, Kennedy is based out of Savannah, which is not too far from my home base of Charleston. Her hilariously blunt and unapologetic opinions on the existence of true love and the realities of modern romance called out to me from the get-go. She often brings her best friend on the show, who’s far less cynical than her but a riot in her own right. And when they start riffing on listeners who call in or on their own real-life stories, Kennedy slays me.

A cynic after my own heart.

Her personality actually reminds me of my cadre of girlfriends that I’ve been tight with since college—my former roommate Sloane Williams, Harper St. Clair, and her ex-stepsister, Quinn Prescott. Hell, I listen to Kennedy’s podcast so often I consider her part of our makeshift family.

Few people can get away with listening to a podcast while hard at work at the office, but The Colson Group is not your average marketing and advertising firm. It’s a pretty informal working environment, which is right in my never-take-life-too-seriously wheelhouse. My boss is pragmatic in his approach to his business operations, as well as to his employees. Basically, Mr. Colson doesn’t care what we do or what we wear while at work, so long as we aren’t complete slackasses and the finished product is up to his absurdly high standards. The only time we’re required to adopt business attire is when we have client meetings. Other than that, short of ratty sweatpants and the grungy T-shirt we slept in, we have free reign over our own dress code. Hence why I’m currently sitting in my desk cubicle in dark skinny jeans, peep-toe heeled ankle boots, and a scarlet chiffon blouse that I forced myself to tuck in.

My one, tiny concession to professionalism.

My boss understands that he’s more likely to get the highest level of productivity from his team if we’re happy and comfortable. I respect him for that.

But that’s where the respect ends.

Because for whatever ungodly reason, the man constantly sees to it that I’m neither happy nor comfortable when I’m within these walls.

Ryder Colson is a thirty-one-year-old genius entrepreneur. He’s worth millions. He founded this company while he was still in college and built it from the ground up. He’s respected among the wealthy and elite all over the Lowcountry region. He has a sterling reputation for being a generous philanthropist and an all-around stand-up guy.

He’s also a world-class d-bag.

Mostly just to me.

Probably because I use more than half my brain power and rise to his overachieving expectations without hesitation or complaint. He doesn’t appreciate being questioned or challenged—I excel at both. The fact that I don’t just lie down and roll over like a good little minion whenever he assigns me a new project has