When Grumpy Met Sunshine by Charlotte Stein (Excerpt)


The Fairy Cakes Were a Mistake in Hindsight

Mabel knew that working with the grumpiest man of all time was going to be tough. She just didn’t appreciate how tough, until he stalked into the meeting room.

An hour late. With a face like thunder.

And a complete unwillingness to say so much as a word.

No hello. No sorry. Not even a response when Greg Pemberton introduced them.

“This is Mabel Willicker, the absolutely first-rate writer we’ve selected for you now,” Greg said. And didn’t get so much as a grunt as an answer. The grumpiest man to ever live—or Alfie Harding, as he was more commonly known to much of the British public—simply shoved himself deep into the nearest chair.

Then proceeded to glare at everything so hard, she couldn’t understand why it didn’t all immediately burst into flames. The fairy cakes she’d baked and rather optimistically brought along should have been a melted mess; the glossy oval table between them little more than ash. And when he bothered to look in their direction, good Lord. She actually felt the heat peeling off her skin. By the time he looked away, she was sure that she was little more than a skeleton. Only without the benefit of being nothing but bones.

Because at least then she wouldn’t have been able to blush.

But blush she did. Her pale face was the color of a ketchup bottle. She knew it was, because she could see it reflected back at her in the polished surface of the table. And any second now, he was going to look back and notice it. Her blazing cheeks, like a sign that said:

I am never in a million years going to be able to do this.

Even though she absolutely knew she could.

She was a good writer, damn it.

And great at getting things out of people.

You just have to find that way in, that little whatever-it-is that someone loves and responds to, she’d said to Greg, when Greg had suggested that she might not be up to the task. Then she’d seen it on Greg’s face: that hint of belief, mixed in with the initial doubt from when her agent had gotten in touch with him about this project.

So it was infuriating that her cheeks were betraying her.

And now Alfie was looking back, and he could see it, and this weird expression just broke all over his face. Like anger, only of a slightly different variety that she wasn’t quite familiar with. Which made sense, when she really thought about it, because Alfie Harding was so furious all the time he had probably unearthed layers of the emotion that nobody else had ever even heard of. He practically had a PhD in Being Really Annoyed. This was just his latest find:

Baffled Contempt.

Or maybe Amazed Disgust.

She couldn’t tell for sure.

And before she was able to decipher it, Greg stepped in.

“Now, I know we’ve had some missteps. And that you’re very wary of working with a particular type of person,” he started, and honestly in any other circumstance Mabel would have felt relieved. She would have thought that this was definitely the way to go. Do a bit of schmoozing, get them to come around to your point of view.

But with a man like Alfie Harding?

No, Mabel thought.

Abort, abort, abort.

And when Alfie suddenly snapped to attention, she knew she was right.

Then braced herself for the coming storm. The ten-inch-deep frown, between his black-as-pitch eyebrows. That jaw suddenly clenched so tight you could see every muscle through his stark-as-a-January-sky skin. And finally, that voice—that somewhere-just-past-Manchester voice, familiar to her not only from his numerous surly TV appearances, and that time he’d tried his hand at an acting career, but from her own home. From the places she’d grown up.

From all the pubs and parks teeming with a million men like him.

Because she’d wanted to believe he might be different.

But of course he wasn’t at all.

“What do you mean by that, exactly? Are you trying to say something about me?” he barked out, and of course Mabel knew why. Blokes like that always hated being thought of as scared. They never wanted to be wimps in anybody’s eyes.

And certainly not in the eyes of some shiny editor.

Copyright © 2024 by Charlotte Stein

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