The Mix-Up, by Holly McCulloch

Paige might bake wedding cakes for a living, but that doesn't mean she's dreaming about her own perfect day. Far from it . . . The Mix-Up is a funny, feel-good romance by Holly McCulloch, the author of Just Friends. Read on for an exclusive extract.

The Mix-Up by Holly McCulloch in paperback against a white and yellow background.

I look over at the bar. Guy with black top. I can see him. I can do this. I put my phone away. It feels very heavy in my pocket. A distraction is exactly what I need.

Guy with black top.

I abandon my drink so I can pretend I need another.

Guy with black top.

I am near the bar.

Guy with black top.

I head towards my final destination.

Guy with black top.

I reach the group and, in a rare moment of courage brought on by having nothing to lose, barge my way in very unceremoniously, tripping over a large man shoe. But I am a woman on a mission. I am here to bang the guy with the black top. Luckily, the owner of the shoe catches me before I fall.

I look up to thank him, but the words catch.


He is also wearing a black top.

There are two guys with black tops.

One, that I saw from afar, with a black sweater; and one with a black shirt and large feet. My head flits between the two, kinda like I’m watching a tennis match. I wonder what Mika meant by ‘top’. Between sweater or shirt, which one shouts ‘top’ more? Having made quite an entrance into the circle, I am now not saying anything. I look from one to the other, feeling a mix of horror, amusement and despair.

Snapping out of it, I remember Mika’s advice. She told me to introduce myself, so this is what I will do.

‘Hello.’ One of the black top men has spoken. The one wearing the black shirt, and now a slightly bruised toe.

I half smile, and a noise, something like, ‘Heh,’ leaves my mouth. It’s not a word, but it is all I can think of to say.

Snapping out of it, I remember Mika’s advice. She told me to introduce myself, so this is what I will do. ‘I mean, hi. I’m Paige.’ I hold my hand out, forcing people to shake it as if I’m at an interview.

Black shirt man laughs gently and shakes my hand.

‘Hi. I’m Noah.’ He then points to the other people in the group and says names. I can’t decipher any of them though, it’s all just noise. Through grit and determination, and a lot of ear squinting, I just manage to hear when he introduces the other guy wearing the other black top. The black jumper. Black jumper is very handsome.

Possibly too handsome to be good in bed?

‘This is Michael.’ I hold my hand out again and Michael shakes it. It’s a good handshake. But they were both good handshakes.

Meanwhile, Mika is nowhere to be seen. She certainly isn’t close enough to point me in the direction of the right black top, so I’ll have to go on instinct. But the only issue is: my instinct kinda sucks, as the situation with Jas proved quite clearly.

Everyone in the group is still staring at me and I can’t blame them. I start to squirm. I will have to make a decision quickly, or risk losing both black tops. I look between them.

How can I choose?

I start with black jumper guy. But the only thing I see when I look at him is discomfort. It doesn’t look like he is wearing anything underneath the scratchy jumper. I imagine he is very sweaty under there. But I can’t blame him for sweating. I have also started to sweat from the pressure of having to make a decision based on mere seconds of interaction.

I switch to black shirt guy. He’s not traditionally attractive; his nose has definitely been broken and his teeth could be straighter, but I guess both could add to his charm. He has nice eyes, made even better by the laughter lines that suggest he smiles a lot.

But the ability to smile means nothing.

It’s been a while since I have heard the term ‘shindig’ used. Come to think of it, I don’t know if I have ever heard the word spoken out loud before.

The stretching silence is becoming painfully awkward. Somehow the smiling almost makes it worse.

I need a sign. I need a sign. I need a sign.

And then, as if by magic, the fancy lighting slightly changes. It changes from blue to more of a colourless white.

The sweater is purple.

‘Oh, thank god.’ I hang my head, not entirely aware that I just spoke.

‘Are you OK?’ I look up again, once more into the easy smile of Noah. Noah, the guy in the black top and smile lines. The only guy in a black top. At least in this group.

Oh god – what if I am in the wrong group? I push away the fear and concentrate on the top in front of me.

‘I’m so sorry about your foot.’

He shakes his head. ‘Don’t worry about it.’

I turn to say something to the almost- black-but-actually-purple top guy, but he’s already moved on to a different conversation. Any potential guilt I could have felt disappears.

But Noah is still here, and I’m not exactly upset about it. He gestures around the room.

‘Quite the shindig, huh?’

It’s been a while since I have heard the term ‘shindig’ used. Come to think of it, I don’t know if I have ever heard the word spoken out loud before. Maybe it’s one of those words you are automatically born knowing. It takes me a while to respond, but even when I do, it’s not exactly inspirational.

‘It is.’ I stop myself before I ask how he knows Mika. I know how he knows her and I don’t want to bring it up. Instead I ask another, totally harmless and extremely boring question. In my defence, Mika had said he was a talker, so I haven’t prepared any witty one-liners to dazzle him.

‘So . . . apart from attending spectacular shindigs, tell me about yourself.’

‘Tell you about myself ?’ His tone suggests he thinks this is a slightly strange question to ask.

I shrug. ‘I prefer not to ask people what they do for a living. I think this is a more interesting question. You can interpret it however you like and tell me whatever you want me to know.’

He smiles. ‘OK.’ He pauses before he answers, looking around the room for inspiration. ‘I don’t understand everyone’s obsession with craft beer. I wish it was socially acceptable to play hide and seek as an adult. I changed my jeans twice before I came out this evening. And I use old-fashioned words when I get nervous, especially in front of people I want to impress.’

I smile back.

Mika does have good taste.

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