Man vs socialite, p.1

Man vs. Socialite, page 1

 

Man vs. Socialite
 


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Man vs. Socialite


  One man. One socialite. Let the battle begin…

  Jack Trent. Star of Survival Camp Extreme. Ex-soldier, national treasure and all-round delectable bad boy.

  Evie Staverton-Lynch. Star of Miss Knightsbridge. It-girl, fashionista, with a smile that can charm anyone.

  When an ill-advised comment from Evie about Jack’s reality TV show goes viral, the producers are fuming! And when they propose a joint show to harness the publicity, it’s hard to tell who’s more horrified—Jack or Evie. But they can’t say no, and one unexpectedly sizzling night under the stars later, it’s clear that the biggest battle will be keeping their hands off each other!

  SNEAK PEEK EXCERPT FROM

  Man vs. Socialite

  She turned slowly in her sleeping bag to face him, her face inches from his own.

  “Good night, Jack,” she whispered.

  Before he realized what she was doing, she’d leaned in toward him and touched his lips softly with hers. She smelled sweetly of the baby wipes she’d smuggled along and she tasted of toothpaste, and the moment her lips were against his he had absolutely no chance.

  Before she could move away he raised a hand and slid fingers into her hair, tugging it from its loose tie and relishing its silkiness, his thumbs stroking along the softness of her jaw. The silk of her skin beneath his hands was delicious, the closeness tantalizingly unfamiliar in the outdoor situation. He tilted her face gently. Another kiss, his own this time, deeper, a chance to savor her.

  The fire spat and popped behind her. Evie was vaguely aware of it warming her back as his tongue slipped softly against her own. One of her hands crept up and around his neck. With the other she felt her way slowly over the padded sleeping bag to curl it around his back.

  Delightful heat coursed through her as she pushed her reservations aside. Jack Trent was not some wannabe partygoer, desperate for the kudos of bedding Miss Knightsbridge. He had his own life, his own agenda, and he wasn’t remotely seduced by shallow motivations. This was not a repeat of her same old mistake, made again and again in her desperation for love and approval. He was different. With him she could be herself, and for once that was good enough.

  Dear Reader,

  I wrote this story in the middle of winter, just after Christmas in that lull of the New Year where going out is on the back burner and it’s cold outside. I spent rather a lot of my evenings back then cozied up on the sofa in my pajamas, fighting my husband for the remote control and watching all kinds of TV. And it was on one of those evenings that the first seeds of this story came together.

  If, like me, you’ve ever watched a reality TV show and thought, “there’s no way that person is really as in-your-face as that,” or “that situation has to have been a setup,” then you’ll know exactly where I’m coming from with Evie and Jack’s story. It’s a story of larger-than-life alter egos and hidden backgrounds, and the world of reality TV was the perfect backdrop for it. A place where you can hide your faults or your past behind an image and be whoever you want to be. Public approval can be a hard thing to give up, but Evie and Jack must work hard to see past the TV hype if they are to find happiness.

  The setting for the book was great fun to plan and write, and as always I hope I can entertain you!

  Love,

  Charlotte

  Man vs. Socialite

  Charlotte Phillips

  About Charlotte Phillips

  Charlotte Phillips has been reading romantic fiction since her teens, and she adores upbeat stories with happy endings. Writing them for Harlequin® is her dream job. She combines writing with looking after her fabulous husband, two teenagers, a four-year-old and a dachshund. When something has to give, it’s usually housework. She lives in Wiltshire.

  Other Harlequin® KISS™ titles by Charlotte Phillips:

  Sleeping with the Soldier

  The Plus-One Agreement

  This and other titles by Charlotte Phillips are also available in ebook format from www.Harlequin.com.

  For my mum, with love and hugs.

  Contents

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Excerpt

  ONE

  The thing about smartphones was that when you were public enemy number one you could pick up all derogatory comments about you in one place. Convenient, not.

  A post online...

  Like to see @evieITgirl eat roasted rat. Where does she get off bad-mouthing @SurvivalJackT? #shallow

  New Social Network group...

  Sack Evie Staverton-Lynch from reality TV show Miss Knightsbridge. 15000 likes and counting.

  Video currently going viral...

  Watch It-girl Evangeline Staverton-Lynch accuse TV survival expert Jack Trent of sham expeditions.

  The hit counter was heading towards six figures and the hateful mobile-phone clip had only been posted two days ago.

  Crisis talks were called that for a reason. Evie turned off her phone with its tirade of abuse and sipped the horrible coffee in the office of the one person who might be able to get her out of this hole she’d dug for herself.

  Chester Smith, PR to the stars, to whom she’d pledged a percentage of her income for the foreseeable future and whose manipulation of the media was responsible for her meteoric rise from insignificant socialite with too much time on her hands to darling of the reality-show-viewing public, sat on the opposite side of the glass desk. Signed glossy framed photos beamed from the office walls showing TV stars past and present whose über-successful careers had been managed by him. The desk was spread with a selection of the day’s tabloids. She could see grainy stills of her own face on the front page of at least three of them. Chester tossed his perfectly styled quiff, pulled out a tablet, flipped back the gaudy cover and tapped ‘play’ on the mobile-phone video, as if Evie hadn’t had it playing on a humiliating loop in her head for the last forty-eight hours.

  There she was, picture quality not great but still perfectly unmistakeable, her favourite designer clutch on the pristine white tablecloth next to her water glass. Her father, stiff-backed, sat opposite her with his back to the camera. In the background she could see the other people lunching earlier this week at the glossy Knightsbridge eaterie, a popular celebrity hangout. And wasn’t that exactly why she’d chosen that venue when her father had demanded they meet? Her father never suggested or asked when it came to seeing Evie, he demanded. When he said lunch, you said how many courses. And if she was going to sit through a couple of hours of criticism she might as well do it on her own territory, somewhere she’d at last begun to feel she fitted in.

  She’d even had a couple of fans of the show interrupt the lunch to ask for photos. Her father’s disapproval had surged towards breaking point each time—and hadn’t that rather been the point? She might not be appreciated by him, might in fact be pretty much insignificant these days unless she somehow showed him up, but at least here she felt as if she was among people who liked her, even if it was the carefully manufactured prom-queen version of her they saw on screen.

  After twenty-odd years of Evie feeling inconsequential and pointless, the public interest and support that followed her appearance in hit reality TV show Miss Knightsbridge had been the stuff of dreams.
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  Turned out it was the fickle kind of support that could be undone with one stupid wrong move.

  * * *

  Chester fiddled with the tablet until the clip was full-screen at maximum sound.

  ‘No, I don’t watch your show,’ her father’s deep clipped voice boomed out. ‘I have absolutely no desire to watch you make a spectacle of yourself on national television. I find it inexplicable that the viewing public would have the slightest interest in how you spend your time.’ There was a pause as her father took a sip of his white wine. She could see her own smile fold in on itself on the opposite side of the table. ‘Should I happen to put the television on, I would be watching the other side. Jack Trent’s Survival Camp Extreme.’

  There was a pause in the conversation. The background buzz of the restaurant could be heard in the gap. Evie wasn’t sure even now which revelation had rendered her speechless—the simple fact that her father watched television at all these days or his traitorous allegiance to the rival show in the ratings to her own.

  After nigh on twenty years of trying and failing, at first to please him and eventually just to interest him, you’d think she would have developed the skin of a rhino by now. This last year the sudden sensation of being liked, of being popular, had been like a dream. After being unexpectedly scouted by the TV production company for Miss Knightsbridge, Evie had found that public affection had even more unexpectedly followed. Interviews and magazine photo shoots poured in as the popularity of the show climbed. And on the back of it all she was just launching her very own jewellery line, a dream she’d secretly nurtured for years but had never before had the confidence to take forward. A new business. Surely that would impress her father. The hoped-for happy response to the news that she would be making a living for herself now instead of cruising along on the cushion of her allowance was instead lost to his disapproval of the TV show. She wondered for a moment what job she would have to do to elicit his good opinion. Brain surgeon, perhaps.

  ‘Making a spectacle of yourself for all to see,’ he was saying. ‘After the upbringing you’ve had.’

  Heaven forbid that he might miss an opportunity to mention her upbringing, the implication ever-present that she should be grateful she still had one, never mind that it had been devoid of anything really except for his money and use of his name. Love and affection had been laughed out of the room from the moment her mother died, no matter how hard she tried to earn them. Her membership of the family had only ever been an honorary one, extended to her for the sake of her mother’s feelings when she was alive and her mother’s memory now she was dead.

  ‘Thank goodness your mother isn’t here to see it,’ he added.

  That last comment hit her low in the stomach and took her breath away even when she watched it back, knowing it was coming, because perhaps the most delicious part of designing her jewellery line had been imagining the glee her mother might have felt about it. Her mum had loved costume jewellery, letting six-year-old Evie play dress-up with her box of sparkly cocktail rings and beads. The memory was a treasured one, a sparkling one among many, many later memories that were grey with obedience, routine and loneliness.

  And that more than anything had triggered the thundering, ill-judged lashing-out that followed.

  Now, in the cold light of a few days later, Evie’s insides churned in anticipatory mortification at what came next on the tape.

  Her own voice kicked in on the video, and did she really sound that pinched and snobby? Another surge of hot shame climbed her neck to burn in her face.

  ‘Jack Trent’s ex-army, isn’t he?’ she heard herself snap. ‘So it comes as no surprise that you’d prefer watching his show to mine.’

  She’d had her fill of military-style closing of ranks growing up. After her mother had gone she simply hadn’t possessed enough female clout by herself to counteract the cold and regimented male-dominated life that was left. The new revelation that apparently a background in the armed forces ranked above his regard for her raised her temper to even dizzier heights.

  ‘Trent’s show is a documentary,’ her father snapped. ‘Completely different. It has substance. Five minutes of your fly-on-the-wall was enough. It’s nothing but vacuous rubbish. You’ve turned the family into a laughing stock.’

  The family. Not our family. Figure of speech? Or dead giveaway about how he regarded her? She seemed to see her exclusion in his every nuance these days. The difference between her and her brother Will that had never mattered when her mother was there to provide the link that held them together. Half-brother, she corrected now in her mind. She was the cuckoo in the nest since her mother had gone, no one left any more to justify her place there. The sadness of that thought had brought a sudden burst of irrational jealous hostility towards Jack Trent and his stupid survival skills. She gathered all the hurt and misery and frustration together and verbalised it, and unfortunately Jack Trent, whom she’d never met, happened to be inadvertently in the firing line.

  ‘Substance?’ she snarled. ‘I can’t believe you buy into all that. Do you really think he’s sleeping under the stars eating barbecued rat? When the camera switches off he’ll be off to the nearest luxury hotel to sleep on duck-down pillows and scoff à la carte.’

  An audible sucking in of breath from Chester brought her right back to the horrible present.

  ‘You know, it doesn’t matter how many times I hear that, it doesn’t lose its shock value,’ he breathed, tapping the tablet to pause the video. A grainy freeze-frame of her own miserable and indignant expression filled the screen. Her head had started to ache.

  ‘What were you thinking? You’ve probably ruined your own career in a couple of sentences and you’ve dragged Jack Trent down with you. The production company are apoplectic.’

  ‘It was a private opinion,’ she protested, the injustice of the whole thing spiking her anger. In actual fact it hadn’t even been an opinion, it had been a lashing-out, no time to be held back by a little thing like the fact it wasn’t true. ‘Jack Trent’s show just happened to be the one my father mentioned he watched instead of mine. It was a knee-jerk reaction, not meant for public viewing.’

  ‘What you failed to consider is that the production company who make Miss Knightsbridge also make Jack Trent’s Survival Camp Extreme. The tabloids are implying that means it isn’t an off-the-cuff bitchy comment, that you must have some insider information.’ Chester leaned in. ‘That Jack Trent really is eating hotel food instead of living off nature’s bounty.’

  Not one to let up for a moment, he swiped the screen a couple of times and brought up the social network group page she’d seen earlier.

  ‘Jack Trent’s fan base are extremely loyal,’ he said. ‘“Get evil Evie off our TV screens,”’ he read aloud. ‘Now sixteen thousand likes and counting—’

  Unlike her fans. She had yet to read as much as a single supportive comment. A spike of miserable envy jabbed her in the stomach at the depth of public affection for Jack Trent.

  She put her head in her hands and stared down at the glass table top in despair.

  ‘Please, I don’t want to hear any more.’

  Now she wished she’d bitten her tongue before she’d spoken, but her subconscious mind had simply taken over in that moment of stress. Jack Trent was an ex-soldier, bound to be another cold and detached military man. He was basically her father minus thirty or so years, and so he happened to be a handy by-proxy target.

  Because even after all these years of indifference at best and criticism at worst, Evie still couldn’t bring herself to diss her father. Not to his face anyway.

  Unfortunately she hadn’t reckoned for a moment on having her comments overheard by the world at large. And apparently an immediate apology via social media just didn’t cut the mustard when an inflammatory comment went viral.

  ‘In the public consciousness right now you ar
e pond life, sweetie.’ Chester pointed at her with his pen. ‘And worse than that, you’re pond life with money. Public support has been based around fascination with your ditsy-but-sweet image, your how-the-other-half-live fashion sense and your socialite mates. That kind of thing doesn’t hold much water now you’ve bad-mouthed a national treasure. They think they’ve seen the real you, and, honey, it ain’t pretty.’

  He tapped the screen again and shoved it in front of Evie’s face. She batted the tablet aside, but unfortunately not before she’d seen the comment at the top of the list.

  @evieITgirl lives in luxury. @SurvivalJackT fought for his country #wasteofspace

  She clapped her hands over her eyes and pressed her palms against her eyelids. On the opposite side of the table criticism carried on. Unfortunately she didn’t have enough hands to cover her ears too.

  * * *

  Jack Trent gritted his teeth and climbed out of the taxi at the glossy offices of Purple Productions, the usual sense of resignation kicking in at time required to be spent schmoozing in the city, which he considered to be time completely wasted. He wondered if he would ever in his life get the train into London without then counting the hours until he could get the train back out again.

  Back in the wilderness at the outward-bound centre he owned in the Scottish Highlands, fine-tuning preparations were unexpectedly on hold for his latest venture, one which for the first time meant more than just a business opportunity based on his military skills. This new initiative was close to his heart. He had more invested in it than just time and money. The sudden requirement to leave and come to talk to suits would have had his mood on a knife edge at the best of times, let alone when he was on the cusp of such an important new venture.

 
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