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He’s the last man I should’ve picked for a one night stand…

See that guy over there? The insanely tall, broad-shouldered, dark-haired, scowling, “I don’t drink coffee” suit?

Surprise! He’s the new owner of my family’s mountain café.

The café that has been my life purpose since I was born in the kitchen there almost thirty years ago.

The café that he’s planning to completely gut and renovate for revenge against my family.

He’s also the funny, charming, irresistible guy I spilled all of my secrets to last week.

During the hottest one-night stand of my life.

As my dog would say, woof me.

Secrets and gossip keep getting me in trouble, and I swore I was done with both, but now my family’s café is on the line.

It’s time to use every last trick I know to uncover every secret this man is hiding.

I don’t care how much I liked him our first night together, or how much I keep seeing glimpses of that man beneath his gruff exterior.

One of us has to go.

It won’t be me.


EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT: The Gossip and the Grump

Pippa Grant

Expected Release Date: 5 October 2023

Book Series: 

A one night stand, enemies to lovers Romantic Comedy—featuring a woman desperately trying to unlearn everything she knows about everyone and a grumpy misfit hiding a secret heart of gold—is out this week from Pippa Grant, and I have the whole first chapter for you.

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Chapter One

Greyson Cartwright, aka a guy who should’ve picked a different bar…

It would’ve been nice if today could’ve told me it didn’t intend to go as planned.

Rude, today. Very rude.

But not as rude as the woman currently sitting next to me.

Correction.

Pretending to sit next to me while actually attempting to crawl into my lap and take my kombucha.

“Ooh, is that the lime mojito flavor?” she asks, poking at a glass in my sample flight. The outdoor beach bar is lit mostly with tiki torches and the music is drowning out the sound of the ocean waves. But it’s not drowning out the woman. “They ran out before I got any. Is it good?”

Should’ve picked a different seat.

In a different bar.

Considering how much of a failure every bit of today has been, I didn’t even need to come to this state.

My phone buzzes on the bar. I lift it, see that both my sister and my former business partner are sending me walls of texts, grimace, and flip the device back over without reading it.

Much.

The main points are hard to miss.

Selfish asshole.

You agreed to this.

If you were really over it, you’d send her a birthday gift.

Quit being a dick and get the lights turned back on.

Both of them mad at me for vastly different things.

Both of them telling stories vastly different from the truth in order to—oddly enough— try to get back on my good side.

I should change my number. Maybe my name too. And if I don’t quit gripping this glass so hard, I’ll have to change my shirt as well.

I make myself put it down as I realize how badly my hand is shaking.

“Can you think of anything sadder than leaving Hawaii without trying lime mojito kombucha?” The woman leans even closer, her hair brushing my arm.

I landed in Hawaii four hours late because of a maintenance issue with the plane. Then I was assigned a rental car with a flat tire and waited an extra hour before the company could find another car. And once I arrived at the resort where I was supposed to attend—okay, wreck—a wedding, everything was crickets.

The whole reason I flew across the Pacific was canceled. No destination wedding. No reception. No chance to watch Chandler Sullivan’s face when I announced to his family, friends, and new bride that he was a failure who had to sell his family’s Colorado mountain café to me because of online gambling problems.

A jilting, apparently. At a resort with so few staff, I gave up on finding someone to check me in and found a different hotel a few miles up the road.

And while Chandler Sullivan deserves every shit thing that’s ever happened to him, I’m irritated that I didn’t get to play a part.

Not that I’m normally a dick. Current circumstances happen to be extenuating.

I enjoy the hell out of justice being served, and the opportunity presented itself at the exact moment when I needed something to land on the right side of karma but couldn’t get justice anywhere else.

And now I’m debating if I want to finish my flight with this woman next to me, or if I want to give up on trying to figure out the mystery flavor in this lemon ginger kombucha and find a better place to attempt to enjoy my limited time in Hawaii.

Plenty of places to choose from.

Can’t beat paradise, even if I didn’t get to enjoy my long-coming revenge.

Yet.

I still own Chandler Sullivan’s café. Signed the papers this morning before boarding the flight that was supposed to get me here just in time to destroy his life the same way he once destroyed mine.

Not the exact same.

But close enough.

And I still get to watch everyone in his hometown realize what he’s done and what will ultimately happen to his family’s business.

Just not at his wedding.

“Not that I’m asking you to share.” The woman giggles a high-pitched giggle that threatens to split my eardrums while she tries to lean even closer. “That would be too much, wouldn’t it? Or would it? Wow. Your hands are really big. Look at your thumb. That’s…a really big thumb.”

I suck in a breath through my nose, twist on my stool to block her with my body, and pretend I can hear the ocean surf over the sound of this woman’s chatter and the ’80s music playing on the bar’s speaker system.

Really big thumb,” the woman repeats.

I take another swig of my lemon ginger kombucha and close my eyes while I swirl it around my mouth.

What is that aftertaste?

It’s different. Reminds me of the holidays, but fir tree isn’t right, and also doesn’t make any sense.

I love a good puzzle, especially after a long day of not much going right.

“Are your…feet…as big?” the woman next to me asks.

And this kombucha is a mystery I won’t be solving.

Today’s a wash.

I start to move, leaving most of my flight still intact in front of me, when a whirlwind arrives on my other side. “Hi, honey,” a short redhead says. To me. “Sorry I’m late. Parking the car took forever. Did you order dinner yet?”

Is she—is she talking to me?

She subtly moves her green eyes to the woman on the other side of me, then adds an equally subtle eye roll.

“Honey?” she repeats.

My brain kicks in, and so does my mouth right as my phone vibrates on the bar again. “No.”

“Silly. You’re so good at ordering for me. You didn’t have to wait. I know you were starving after…” She winks.

It’s a massive, exaggerated wink that’s so unexpected and legitimately goofy that it startles a small laugh out of me.

That hasn’t happened in weeks. Months?

Laughing at a stranger is uncomfortable enough that I almost reach for my phone to see what half-truth message my sister or my former business partner has sent now.

Instead, I make myself nod at the woman. “I was hungrier than a whale,” I agree.

“And so mellow you forgot to save me a seat.” She laughs and pats my hand like touching me is the most natural thing in the world, her fingertips soft and light as a butterfly’s wings, then pulls away before I can process that she invaded my personal space.

A wave of goosebumps spreads up my wrist and forearm.

Do I know her?

I don’t know her. I’m positive I don’t know her.

Not that it’s likely I’d run into someone I know at a random bar in Hawaii. To the best of my knowledge, Chandler was the only person I anticipated seeing here that I would’ve known before.

Any of his old friends from college would not have been friends of mine.

And this curvy redhead in a shimmery green halter top, flowery skirt, and high-heeled ankle boots wasn’t one of his friends in college. I’m positive I’ve never seen her before.

She has an air.

A sparkle that almost reminds me of my grandmother.

I’d recognize that sparkle if I’d seen this woman before.

“Excuse me,” she says to the kombucha flirt who’s been falling all over me. “Do you mind moving down a seat so I can sit with my husband?”

It should be the most ball-shriveling statement a woman could make.

Especially given the subject of one of the conversations still making my phone vibrate on the bar.

Instead, I realize I’m subconsciously leaning toward her the same way the kombucha flirt has been leaning into me.

The unwelcome space-invading, kombucha-thieving woman stutters out an awkward response while the redhead circles behind me, trailing those butterfly-wing fingers lightly up my arm, over my shoulders, and down my other arm, setting my skin on fire under my Hawaiian shirt. “Thank you so much! You’re the best.”

I barely register that the kombucha flirt is retreating far, far down the bar.

All of my attention is on the redhead.

It’s curly.

Her hair, I mean.

It’s a mass of curly copper frizzing all over her head.

She’s so short, even in the heeled boots, that she has to boost herself into the newly vacant bar stool. And now that sparkle is fading as she gives me a pained smile. “Apologies for invading your bubble. You looked like you needed a save, and I need to do about five thousand more good deeds today. I’ll pretend to talk to you for a few more minutes and then be on my way. You can ignore me.”

“Stay.” The word falls out of my mouth while my guard goes up.

If there’s one thing marital counseling taught me and that recent business developments reinforced, it’s that I’m historically terrible at recognizing when I’m being manipulated.

So I’m studying this woman closely while her smile goes from pained to I have sunk to the most miserable depths of hell and will never get out.

“Oh, honey,” she says, rapidly shaking her head, “you do not want my stink on you.”

Yep.

I’m officially intrigued.

Still massively on guard—can’t help it—but intrigued. “You murder someone?”

She grimaces. “Only their reputation.”

“And how—”

“Get you something?” the bartender interrupts.

The redhead flashes a smile at him. “Water, please. And his drinks are on me.”

Before I can utter a word, she passes a credit card across the bar.

I have umpteen messages from my sister making my phone vibrate endlessly because I failed to contribute to or RSVP for the massive birthday bash she’s throwing for my ex-wife in Antigua next month.

My parents regularly request that I lend—and I do mean lend without repayment—them money because you owe us after the top-notch education we gave you at boarding school all of those years. You know that’s why our part of the family trust fund ran dry.

My business partner just took five years’ worth of my research and sold it to his buddy’s start-up company because you don’t need the money, Grey. Do somebody a favor for once.

For once.

For once.

Fuck that.

So someone else picking up my tab purely for the purpose of doing a good deed for someone else?

This is refreshing.

And paranoia-making.

Is she playing me? Does she know who I am?

Seems unlikely.

None of my siblings or their children were quick or smart enough to become celebrities for being rich, and the trust fund from the old Cartwright apple farm empire dried up before any of them thought to try it. We’re obscure in the world of old rich families. Plus, we’re not actually rich anymore.

Not as a family.

As for me personally, the only people who care who I am and where I made my own small fortune are in apiology or the food packaging industry. Which is exactly how I like it.

“No arguing,” the redhead says when she catches me watching her while the bartender runs her card. “I have too many more good deeds to do today.”

Kombucha forgotten. I like this mystery better.

Dangerous spot, to like the mystery of a woman. The last time, it ended with a hellacious divorce that most of my family still hasn’t forgiven me for.

“How’s a woman like you come to dabble in ruining reputations?” I ask.

She squeezes her eyes shut. “You don’t want that story.”

“Seems like something a wife would share.” Not that mine ever did. I found out what she’d been doing online after our separation.

The redhead laughs, but it’s a sad laugh.

Did I imagine the sparkle?

“I really thought that woman would demand to see our rings,” she says.

“I’m allergic to anything on my fingers, and yours is being upgraded.”

“Quick work making a cover story. But the minute you say allergic to anything on my fingers, every woman in a ten-state radius will know you’re allergic to commitment.”

“We’re in Hawaii. No state radii.”

“It extends beyond the ocean and wraps back around the other side of the world. Also, did you just say radii? That’s adorable. Mathematician?”

“Sure. Let’s go with that.”

“It’s a deal, Mr. Mathematician.”

“Excellent. And your industry is…?”

“Reputation ruination. We’ve covered this.”

“Unique profession, reputation ruination. Is it your side job, or is that your nine-to-five? Is it a work-from-home thing? Or do you have an office? I know a person or two who could use those services.” I add a smile even though I’m dead serious. If my new life mission is to be the superhero Super Vengeance Man, I could use a sidekick who can ruin the reputations of people who deserve it.

She sigh-groans. “Look, you seem like a nice person—”

“Ah, and here comes the blow-off.” I’m actually smiling out of instinct instead of forcing it now. Feels good.

“This isn’t about you,” the redhead says. “It’s about me using gossip improperly.”

“Go on.”

“No.”

“Look, I can take a no. This isn’t me not taking a no. This is me observing that you look sad and you’re still sitting here. You did me a favor. Seem like a good wing woman. Just saying, if you need to get something off your chest, I’m here.”

“Nothing good ever comes of gossiping.”

I lift my brows.

And she sigh-groans again. “That’s such a lie. Lots of good comes from gossiping. Do you know how many of my friends I saved from not just bad relationships, but potentially dangerous relationships because of gossip? How many people I’ve saved from getting into the wrong job? The number of family reunions that weren’t even mine that I saved with a well-placed you should consider bringing something else because potato salad is your fiancé’s aunt’s thing and if you tread on that, she’ll leave her dogs to his sister instead of him and you know how much he loves Fluffy and Sparky? When you know everything there is to know about your community, you can use your knowledge for good. You don’t have to just use it for evil.”

“Saving someone from being disinherited over potato salad seems like a good use of gossip.”

“I’m off gossip.”

“Those poor dogs. I hope they’re happy with second-rate parents.” Huh. I’m being funny.

She chances a look at me, a hint of an actual smile twisting her curvy lips and a little sparkle coming back into her green eyes.

Confirmed.

I am being funny.

“What’s your name?” I ask her.

She shakes her head.

“I’ll go first. Hi. I’m Duke. Lovely to meet you.”

“You’re Duke.”

“Don’t I look like a Duke?”

She bursts out laughing, which does a funny thing in my chest area that I actively ignore no matter how much I want to like it. “No.”

I fake a gasp of horror. “You gossip and mock my name?”

“It’s just so ironic, since my name is Duchess.”

It’s my turn to laugh.

Actually laugh.

Who am I, and what’s happening to me?

She props an elbow on the bar and settles her head in her hand, watching me while she swings one leg. “Are you a gossip?”

“I’m a hermit-in-training.”

She gestures around the open-air bar. “Clearly, that’s working out well for you.”

“This is me being the bigger person and not burdening you with gossip about my life.”

She studies me as though she’s trying to decide which of those statements I’m serious about.

Both.

I might’ve given her a fake name, but I would absolutely be a hermit, and I had no intention of being the bigger person at any point today, so it’s quite remarkable, really.

“You didn’t need a save, did you?” She drops her head in her hands and groans. “I can’t even do good deeds right today.”

“No, no, I did. And lucky me, my savior is fascinating.”

The bartender returns with her credit card and a glass of water. She glances back at the kombucha flirt while she tucks her card away before I can get a glimpse of the name on it, clearly trying to decide if her good deed is done or not.

“You like fried calamari?” I ask her.

“No,” she says, “but thank you.”

“Shrimp cocktail? Poke? Sashimi? She’s still watching us, by the way.”

Apparently one laugh is all I’m getting. Her smile has ghosted her once again. “You’re entirely too good for me tonight. Please. Drink your drinks. I’m not here. Thank you, stranger in a bar who’s being far kinder than I deserve—”

“I’m Duke,” I interrupt. “We’re not strangers anymore.”

She has incredibly expressive eyes.

They’re emeralds in a sea green bay simultaneously telling me she knows I’m lying about my name, that if I was Duke I’d pull out my driver’s license and prove it, and also that exchanging even fake names is too much of a relationship for her.

“Truly, you don’t want anything to do with me,” she insists again.

“I’m failing to understand what someone who saves dogs from awful futures and relationships from splitting over potato salad could have done that’s so terrible that you have to decline the best of what Hawaii has to offer in appetizers.”

Her gaze wavers. “Do you have siblings?”

I grimace, then grab my phone—which is still vibrating with text messages—and shut the damn thing off before shoving it in my pocket.

“Siblings of your heart then?” she presses, obviously not missing what’s going on with my phone. “Someone you love so much that you’d do anything for them?”

Zen springs to mind immediately. My brother’s eldest child doesn’t fit the family mold. Mimi, my grandmother, is such a close second that she might not have been second at all.

How a woman as fascinating and kind as Mimi birthed such an ungrateful and unpleasant man as my father is beyond me.

I tend to blame my grandfather.

And I used to include Vince, my business partner, as my family, but he launched himself firmly into the former friend category when he lied to me about what I was signing. He’s single-handedly responsible for sending me into my villain era and no longer deserves my time.

“Thought so,” Duchess says softly. “Have you ever hurt them so badly you weren’t sure they’d forgive you, or that you could forgive yourself, because you forgot the rules?”

Dangerous question. “Is there a person on Earth who doesn’t have regrets?”

“I just—I don’t want to know what I know anymore. I want it all gone. Permanently erased from my brain.”

“You know where they keep the bodies?” I stage-whisper.

“No. But I know where they water down the drinks and who’s running the fake ID scam for seniors who want an elderly discount before they honestly qualify and why you should never, ever, ever get a muffin from the bake sale at Winter Fest.”

“Why shouldn’t you get a muffin?”

“Because Mrs. Pineapple beats the batter too much and thinks lavender doesn’t make them taste like chewy soap.” She claps a hand over her mouth, but keeps talking. “I have to go. I really, really do.”

Mrs. Pineapple?

“Thank you for that being all that you’ll remember of what I just said. Is your admirer gone yet?”

“Nope. Still watching us. Probably really curious why we haven’t gotten any food yet. We should be starving after our afternoon activities. You’ll have to sit here and actually have dinner with me.”

If her lips weren’t trying to tip up despite the grief in her eyes, I’d leave her alone.

But she did me a solid.

I’m intrigued, and I feel like I owe her.

“Or we could get out of here,” I say.

Her gaze shifts to the flight of kombucha still in front of me.

“Doing good deeds is a much better partner activity.” I rise off my stool and offer her my hand. “And we’ll look like horny honeymooners, and my admirer will fully get the hint. Whereas I’ll be completely and totally at her mercy if she thinks we’re having a fight. You basically have to come with me. At least until she can’t see us anymore. Wouldn’t it be horrible if we happened to do one of your five million good deeds together along the way?”

Her eyes almost light up with amusement. Almost, but not quite. “You are trouble.”

“Not generally. This has to be you.” While she’s clearly struggling, I’m smiling broadly.

Odd sensation. My cheeks will probably hurt tomorrow.

But there’s nothing in the world I want more right now than to see where a night of doing good deeds with a woman who’s having a bad day and trying to do better will take me.

She looks at my hand, then tilts her head to look up at me. Despite how far she’s craning her neck, she hits me with straight-on eye contact with those fascinating green eyes that makes goosebumps break out on my skin again.

Spontaneity and I are distant acquaintances. We get along fine on the rare instance when we’re thrown together—see also, I wasn’t planning on buying a mountain café, but the opportunity presented itself with the best of timing—but neither of us go out of our way to see each other.

Nothing else about today has gone as planned.

I’m leaning into the unexpected and salvaging what I can.

Considering I intend to ruin Chandler Sullivan’s life the minute I set foot in his hometown, it wouldn’t be bad for me to do a few good deeds myself.

No matter how much he deserves it.

“The last time I took someone with me for a string of good deeds, four chickens terrorized the grocery store for a full weekend and the town council asked me to refrain from participating in Random Acts of Kindness Day ever again,” Duchess says.

I don’t even know her real name, and I am all-in on spending the rest of my time in Hawaii with this woman. “I’ve officially been warned. And I’ve had a shitty day that should be balanced with good karma as well. Would it count as a good deed if you took me out on your string of good deeds so that I can have fun and improve the world too?”

She hesitates for another long breath.

But then she slips off the stool, going back to being even shorter, and she takes my hand.

Electricity jolts through my entire body.

I don’t know who she is. I don’t know why she’s having a bad day. I don’t know how much I’ll regret this tomorrow.

“Punishment comes in all forms,” she mutters to herself.

Oh, yes.

This will be a night to remember.

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