It’s a week before Christmas when Jess Smith, a thirty-year-old London copywriter, is hoping that her childhood friend Matthew Churchill will honour a decade-old pact and ask Jess to marry him.
But on the eve of the deadline he announces that he is marrying her old school bully instead.
The heartbroken Jess flees to the beautiful frost-covered village of Birling Grove to stay at her parents’ farm cottage.
However when she clashes with the local earl and they fall for each other, will the couple end up together or will a dithering Matthew get in the way?
Targeted Age Group:: Adult
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Having grown up in a picturesque village, lived on a farm as a little girl and on rare occasions bumped into the odd local aristocrat, I’ve always wondered, ‘What if?’
And a Christmas Romance with the Earl was the seasonal result!
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
My characters tend to be inspired by hardworking women who don't necessarily have glamorous jobs, but would like an escape from their ordinary lives.
Friday 17th December
A WEEK BEFORE Christmas, translucent pellets of sleet tapped against the window panes of PolkaDot Media as Jess Smith tried to ignore the silent phone on her desk.
‘Just focus,’ Jess scolded herself as she typed the finishing touches to the sales copy for Brigadier’s Moustache Pomade.
But how could she concentrate when any minute the phone would hum and she would finally hear the words that would change her life forever?
Her colleague and best friend of ten years, Ashley Evans, peered through her blonde fringe from the opposite laptop. ‘You know a watched phone never rings.’
‘That saying’s meant for pots,’ Jess replied. ‘Besides, Matthew said it was important.’
Her workmate stopped typing and sighed. ‘J, try not to get your hopes up.’
‘You don’t think he’s going to ask me?’
Ashley tilted her head in sympathy. ‘I just don’t want you to be disappointed. Again.’
‘This is different,’ cried Jess. ‘We made a pact. If we both reached thirty and were still single, then we would marry each other.’
‘But you were only eighteen then,’ Ashley sighed. ‘Didn’t you get him an interview here, only for him to back out last minute to work at Smartphone Warehouse?’
‘Matthew’s always been a bit wishy-washy.’
‘Then what makes you think he’ll stick to a decade-old pact?’
‘He’s thirty tomorrow,’ Jess replied. ‘Neither of us are seeing anyone and after all it ‘tis the season.’ But before Ashley could reply, Jess’s phone buzzed. Her heart thundered as she picked up.
‘Meet me for lunch at our café,’ Matthew purred then hung up.
Jess whipped off her tortoiseshell glasses then pulled on a red duffle, cream scarf and matching bobble hat. She grabbed her blue satchel and dashed from her desk. ‘Wish me luck!’
‘Good luck?’ said Ashley with a shrug.
Soon Jess ducked through freezing sleet towards the high street café, Sparrows. Once inside, she clasped numbed fingers around the warm cup of malted chocolate on the wooden table then peered through cloudy windows for Matthew’s slim form.
His workplace was only across the road; why was he always late?
Still, Jess’s heart raced at the thought of him marching towards her through the crowded street on his way to their favourite haunt. His sandy hair slick with melted sleet, those piercing sky-blue eyes and oh, that dimpled smile. She had wanted to kiss those lips from the very first day they met at the school gates of Birling Grove Secondary. But Jess could never quite bring herself to tell her best friend that she had always loved him.
Jess glanced at her watch for the third time, only to be surprised by a soft kiss on her temple. She smiled as Matthew rounded the table to sit opposite, then allowed him to ease the hot chocolate from her fingers to take a generous draught. Matthew grimaced before he slid it aside, then finally held her warm hands in his damp and icy grasp.
‘My Jessie,’ Matthew murmured then lowered his gaze, those pale lashes framing sparkling eyes.
‘What is it?’ she giggled and bit her lip in hope.
‘I have something really important to tell you…’ he began.
‘Yes?’ said Jess, her heart now a hum.
At last Matthew met her gaze.
Oh God. After all those years of sharing meaningful looks over steaming cups of hot malted chocolate, he was finally going to ask her out!
Matthew took a deep breath. ‘I’ve asked Manda to marry me.’
At first his words did not register.
‘What?’ said Jess.
‘You know, Manda,’ he replied. ‘Amanda Huntley from school? We were The Three Musketeers, remember?’
Jess frowned. ‘The Amanda who stole my school skirt during P.E. Amanda?’
Matthew shrugged. ‘Well obviously she’s changed…’
A cold splinter formed in Jess’s heart.
‘I had to go to school in my netball skirt, for a month,’ she hissed.
‘But that was a long time ago.’
Jess withdrew her hands from his.
‘She posted a photo on Instagram wearing my skirt last week, just to prove she could still fit it!’
‘You know Manda’s humour,’ he chuckled.
‘Just say you’re happy for me, Jessica Jane, please?’
Jess stared at him in bewilderment. ‘First of all, no-one calls me that unless they are livid. Second, you are marrying Amanda Huntley of all people?’
Their pact seemed so distant and childish now.
Matthew gave Jess a faraway smile. ‘I know it seems hasty, but I think this is fate.’
Jess’s voice rose to a squeal. ’But why now all of a sudden?’ Were you two even dating?’
He gave a dismissive wave. ‘Sort of,’ Matthew replied. ‘For a month or so before she split up with her ex. I saw my chance and just took it.’
Jess stared at him in disbelief. ‘Haven’t you just…’
‘Oh be happy for me, won’t you, Jessie J?’
And just one day before their pact was due.
The sleet quickened outside.
Jess gulped down the hard knot that had formed in her throat and tried to keep her voice steady. ‘I’m really…happy for you.’
Satisfied, Matthew rose from his chair to plant a wet kiss on her forehead. Jess’s heart sank even further.
She looked up through the first prickle of tears. ‘Where are you going?’
‘Got to dash mate.’
Mate? Mate! That was even worse.
‘Going to ask Mum for a loan to buy Manda a ring. We’re going to hold the mother of all engagement parties Christmas Eve.’
‘This Christmas?’ Jess yelped.
He nodded with a smile. ‘Wish me luck.’
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