The Upper Crush – Chapter Eight

Welcome to the Upper Crusha laugh-out-loud, enemies-to-lovers, steamy, standalone, small town romantic comedy with a fiery country girl giving a cocky city boy a run for his money. No cheating or cliffhanger, but snort-laughs, swoons and a deliciously happy ending guaranteed in this sparkling and sizzling romcom!

As a newsletter subscriber you have exclusive access to the first FIFTEEN chapters of my upcoming release! Please note, even though this novel is finished, edited and ready for my ARC readers, you may still find some small errors or typos, which you are very welcome to let me know about.

Enjoy!

Evie xxx

The Blurb:

Lady Estelle Foxbrooke is done cleaning up the mess left by her wild parents. She’s got a plan: take the reins and save the family estate her way. But then she’s saddled with a business partner she’s hated all her life. He’s her twin brother’s worst enemy and looms in her path like a six-foot-four hurdle.

After a catastrophic business failure, rich and successful James Hunter-Savage has watched his dream life in London crash and burn. Forced to ditch the city for the Somerset countryside, he’s now living with his parents and expected to work with the infuriatingly attractive Estelle. She’s sharper than a whip, pushes all his buttons, and seems determined to break him.

As Estelle and James jockey for position, their explosive personalities combust into passion, sending Estelle’s plans to the edge of ruin. With James’s flimsy reputation in tatters, and the biggest event on the Foxbrooke calendar on the brink of collapse, will they realise their love is worth fighting for? Or are their hearts and hard work heading for the ultimate fall?

Chapter Eight:

The sun still hadn’t risen when Estelle brought the Defender to a careful stop outside Shoscombe Manor the next morning. A couple of lights were glowing from inside the main house, but the offices were dark. Using the torch on her phone, she inputted the code, then propped the door open so she could bring things in.

James and Henry may have had wildly different personalities, but their desks were identically spartan.

Estelle’s was not.

When working, she needed to see everything at the same time, and also have reminders of the people she loved around her. These weren’t photos, but knick-knacks she’d been given, everything from mugs to ornaments to stress balls. Henry couldn’t stand the clutter and Estelle was hoping James hated it even more.

It took three trips to get everything from the car, including some extra additions she’d collected from the livery and bought from a gift shop in the village. Her slippers remained turned off. Despite what she was going to pretend to James later, she not only hated the sounds they made but also any noise when she worked.

By half-past eight, the room was set, and Estelle was ready for the first coffee of the day. The winter sun had finally risen and shone weakly into the corridor as she made her way towards the kitchen. Up ahead, golden light was spilling out from under the door to the ladies’ bathroom. Was it ‘E’ getting her perfume back?

She pushed the door inward to see a woman cleaning one of the sinks. 

‘Oh, my Christ!’ the woman yelled, leaping back and crashing into the hand drier.

Estelle held her hands up in a gesture of defence. ‘Sorry! I didn’t mean to startle you!’

The woman was gasping for breath, her kohl-rimmed eyes wide. She was wearing rubber gloves and a coral-pink tabard over a zebra-striped jumper, and was clutching a neon-green cleaning cloth to her chest.

Smiling, Estelle held out her hand. ‘Hi, I’m Estelle.’

The woman stared at it as if it were a box of chocolates suspended over a bear trap, then turned, grabbing spray bottles and jamming them in a cleaning caddy.

‘You’re not meant to see me,’ she muttered, giving the already spotless sink another quick once-over with her cloth. ‘I shouldn’t be here.’

‘Why not?’

The woman hovered, her eyes flicking to the door behind Estelle as if desperate for escape.

‘Promise you won’t tell him you saw me?’

Estelle’s stomach lurched. Did she mean James? His dad?

‘Tell who?’

The woman swallowed. ‘James.’

She froze. How evil was James for his staff to be this terrified of him?

Drawing her shoulders back, she nodded. ‘I won’t say a word. Your secret is safe with me.’

The woman’s face relaxed a fraction. ‘Thanks, babe.’

Estelle moved to the side and opened the door. The woman glanced around the bathroom with a frown, as if she couldn’t bear to leave without finishing her job.

‘It’s so clean I could eat my dinner off it,’ Estelle said to her. 

‘You sure, babe?’

‘Yes!’

‘Do you want me to wash your wellies for you?’

‘What?’

‘They’re a bit muddy.’

Estelle swallowed her smile. ‘You really don’t need to do that. I live at a stables, so they’re always filthy.’

The woman’s forehead creased again, as if she was working out how she could keep the whole of the countryside dirt free. Then she nodded and went into the corridor.

Estelle followed her to the door that separated the office wing from the main house. The woman opened it and peeked through. There was a big key in the lock on the other side. 

‘Do you like French Fancies?’ she whispered to Estelle.

‘The cakes?’

‘Yes.’

‘Love them. Why?’

The woman shook her head. ‘I’ve got to go. Thanks for not saying anything. You’re a doll.’

Slipping through the door, she closed it behind her. Estelle heard a key being turned, then the faint sound of footsteps as the woman ran away.

Going back into the bathroom, she stared at her reflection in the wall of mirrors, sadness sitting heavy in her stomach. Each time a tiny part of her hoped she’d been wrong about James, some other nasty fact came crawling out of the woodwork to remind her just how rotten he really was. Yesterday it was the girlfriend he didn’t want to acknowledge, and today it was discovering just how petrified his cleaner was of him.

Estelle hardened her expression and her heart. Her, Henry, and Connor, the eldest Foxbrooke children had grown up fiercely protective of each other and their younger siblings. Estelle was used to fighting tooth and nail for the underdog, and right now she wanted to tear a strip off James for being such a bully.

Reaching for E’s perfume in the basket, she sprayed it on. She didn’t give a shit it was someone else’s. The scent felt like it belonged on her skin, making every facet of who she was shine even brighter. And this morning she was a badass who was going to make James Hunter-Savage beg her to work somewhere other than Shoscombe Manor.

Ten minutes later, Estelle’s heart quickened as she heard heavy feet running down the corridor. They slowed as they reached the office door and she quickly flicked on both her slippers.

James strode in. Water dripped off the ends of his jet-black hair onto his collar, and his pressed white shirt clung to his skin, as if he’d pulled it on without having had time to dry himself properly.

Estelle leaned back in her chair and stretched. ‘Morning, colleague!’ 

James’s eyes darted around the room, as if checking no-one else was inside, then his gaze fell to her desk.

‘Can you be a love and make me a cappuccino?’ she continued. ‘That coffee machine is complicated as fuck and I couldn’t find a manual.’

‘What time did you get here?’

She shrugged. ‘Dunno… Seven-thirty? Why?’

He cleared his throat. ‘Did you… Was there anyone else around?’

Estelle tried to look innocent. ‘No, there wasn’t. Should there have been?’

He shook his head.

Silence.

‘So… Coffee?’ 

He gave her a curt nod and left.

James soon returned, carrying a cappuccino. 

He stood by her desk. ‘And where am I meant to put this?’ 

Estelle leapt to her feet, her slippers coming to life. ‘Let me clear a space.’

Moving some papers to one side, she found a coaster that read ‘Coffee. Because adulting is hard’.

James was silent, his gaze on the mug as he placed it down. 

Estelle breathed in deeply, filling her head with the incredible scent of him. Whatever cologne he was wearing seemed to be half pheromone and half tractor beam, pulling her into the heart of the Death Star. She held her breath, but the smell was already inside her, making hot, dirty love to every cell. 

No, no, no, no, no!

James’s chest rose and his nostrils flared.

Oh, shit. He can smell his girlfriend’s perfume. Quick! Do something!

She jumped on the spot, activating her mood-killing slippers.

‘Thanks for the coffee!’ she enthused, lifting it up. ‘Did you attempt a pattern in the foam?’

Turning abruptly, James went to his desk, standing by it with his back to her.

‘You’ve covered the top with cocoa powder,’ she continued. ‘But underneath it looks like you’ve tried to create something, then given up and rubbed it out with a spoon.’

If he’d been still before, now it seemed he’d been turned to stone.

Bingo! ‘There’s no shame in trying.’ She tried to sound kind, and not gleefully smug that her hunch had been right. ‘It took Henry at least a week before he mastered it.’

James huffed, then went around the side of his desk, sat, and flipped his laptop open.

Estelle hid her grin inside her mug as she took a sip. Oh, my god, that’s good. Tapping the foot that jingled, then the one that whinnied and galloped, she tried to work out from James’s micro-expressions which one irritated him the most.

His eyebrows were drawn together, his fingers hammering at the keyboard.

‘What are you doing?’

He ignored her.

Putting her coffee down, she clip-clopped around her desk and made her way over to his.

His fingers moved faster, then he punched the return key and slammed the lid down before she could see what he’d been doing.

She pouted. ‘Aww, you’re no fun.’

His gaze flicked to her desk. ‘And you’re Comic Sans all the way.’

Comic Sans?’ she spluttered. ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’

‘It looks like a joke shop got burgled,’ he replied, his dark eyes glittering. ‘And that was what the thieves couldn’t bear to steal.’

She stamped her feet.

‘You’re the kind of person who has a sticker on the back of their car which says, “My other car’s a Ferrari”,’ James continued.

‘My other car is a Ferrari,’ she blustered.

‘No, it’s not.’ He leaned back, eyeballing her. ‘It’s a broom.’

Estelle stalked back to her desk. ‘You’re just jealous no-one loves you enough to buy you presents.’

‘Ah yes,’ he replied, his voice laced with sarcasm. ‘How I wish someone would give me a giant letter J in case I forget the start of my own name.’

Snatching her moody cow stress ball, she turned and threw it at him.

He caught it with one hand, then squeezed it until the head appeared about to pop.

‘Careful!’ Estelle cried. ‘That’s a present from Eveline.’

‘The lovely vicar?’

Fury punched her in the gut. ‘She’s married.’

‘So you keep telling me,’ he said, still squeezing the cow. ‘That doesn’t stop her from being one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.’

And I suppose you think I’m the opposite?

Isn’t that the point? You’re not trying to make him like you!

James stared at the cow’s frowning face. ‘Did this come with a manual?’ 

‘What?’

‘These are meant to relieve stress, not be used as a weapon.’ He tossed it back to her as if bored with it. 

Catching it, she felt the residual warmth from his hand. She put the toy down and took another gulp of her coffee.

‘Speaking of the vicar…’ James began.

Her heart rate spiked. ‘The one who’s off-limits.’

‘Can you ask her something from me?’

Estelle turned with a jerk, coffee spilling out of the mug onto the saucer.

James smirked. ‘She’s got an item of my clothing and I’d quite like it back.’

It was impossible to compose herself when her mind was flashing images of James naked with Eveline. Estelle wanted to vomit.

His eyebrow raised. ‘My jumper? I left it at the church after you gave me my marching orders last year.’

Breathe! She attempted a nonchalant shrug, but it was so vigorous, the cup and saucer rattled. ‘I’ll ask her.’

‘Thanks. And don’t worry, she’s not my type.’

‘Not your type?’ Estelle hissed, all composure gone as she thought of her youngest sister. ‘We all know what your type is.’

‘You do?’

‘Yes. Your girlfriend is a perfect example of the kind of woman you go for.’

James dipped his chin and levelled her with a stare that stopped her heart. ‘I don’t have a girlfriend.’

Her heart restarted with a jolt, half relieved at his words, and half horrified he was treating ‘E’ so badly.

He gestured to the wall behind her. ‘I like it.’

Huh? ‘The Spice Girls?’

The corner of his mouth twitched. ‘The map.’

‘Oh.’

James rolled back his chair then stood, completely in control of the game unfolding between them. Estelle felt like she’d dropped the ball five minutes ago.

‘Although I have nothing against the Spice Girls.’ He moved around his desk towards the life-size cut-outs of the band she’d propped against the wall. ‘I enjoyed their company multiple times during my adolescence.’

‘You’re a pig.’

‘No, just honest.’ He stroked his chin. ‘Staring across the office at them over the next six months is going to rekindle so many happy memories.’

Estelle’s face heated at the thought of James ‘rekindling’ his memories, and she moved further away from him.

He turned his attention from contemplating her favourite girl band to the satellite photos of Foxbrooke Manor and the surrounding area. Estelle had enlarged them, printed them out, then stuck them to the wall, covering a three-metre squared area.

‘I’ve seen the site plan on a screen before,’ James continued. ‘But this is a far better way to understand the festival. We need copies of this for the conference room and the other offices.’

‘And you expect me to do that?’

His gaze stayed on the wall. ‘No. Just tell Max where you got this done and he can organise it.’

She didn’t know how to reply, so ran her finger around the smooth edge of a mug with a picture of a cockerel on it, and the words ‘Rise & Shine, Mother-Cluckers!’

James glanced out of the window. ‘No rain is forecast today. How about we visit the site this morning?’

‘You want to come to Foxbrooke Manor?’

He shrugged. ‘It would be good to walk the grounds and check the layout works before we set it in stone.’

‘It’s fine. I designed it.’

‘And Estelle Foxbrooke is never wrong.’

She bit the inside of her mouth, remembering the Winter Ball. She’d been spectacularly wrong about James that night, falling into his arms and then for his charms.

He moved closer, picking up another mug from her desk and reading aloud. ‘I’m not opinionated; I’m just never wrong.’

‘You can have that one,’ she muttered, breathing through her mouth so she didn’t fall prey to the power of his scent.

‘What do you think, Max?’ James asked.

Estelle whipped around to see Max standing just inside the door. When had he come in?

‘Hey boss, hi Estelle,’ he replied, a guileless smile on his face. ‘Great idea. When are we going?’

‘Now,’ James said. ‘I’ll drive us.’

Estelle itched to know what car James drove, but didn’t want to be in an enclosed space next to him.

She grabbed her jacket. ‘I can drive us over.’

James went to his desk and picked his keys up. ‘I know where to go.’

‘I’m not getting in your car.’

‘Thank you for your consideration,’ he replied, moving to the door.

‘Meaning?’

‘I like to keep her clean.’

Her? ‘And I’m dirty, am I?’

His lips twitched and her stomach did a somersault.

‘I know your boots are…’

Oh. ‘Well then, Max, you can either go with James in whatever crass overcompensation for personal shortcomings he drives, or come in the Defender with me.’

She stomped to the door and the two men let her pass.

Estelle: Urgent! On way to manor with JHS to check out the site. Release the hounds!

Henry: On it

Willow: Did you mean to send that to the group chat?

Estelle: Fuck! No

Libby: Delete your messages before Eveline sees them

Estelle: Deleted message

Estelle: Deleted message

Eveline: Before I see what?

Estelle: It’s a surprise. I’ll see you later xxx

A loud and aggressive car horn made Estelle jump and drop her phone into the footwell.

‘Fuck’s sake!’ She bent to retrieve it, then glanced through the window towards the garage. One of the wooden doors was open and a black Ferrari exited, the number plate reading ‘JHS 1’.

‘Now there’s a surprise,’ she huffed as the car growled across the gravel towards the main road.

‘Oh, no you don’t,’ she growled back. ‘You follow me, sunshine.’

Slamming the Defender into gear, she swerved to cut him off, assuming James wouldn’t want his shiny toy getting into an argument with her beat-up Land Rover.

She was right, and he came to an abrupt stop.

Smiling, she eased onto the road, knowing exactly how she was going to drive James to the edge of reason during the short journey to her family home.

Chapter Nine: Coming Next Week!!

The Upper Crush – Available for pre-order! Release date April 3rd 2024 if bought via Evie’s site. General release date April 17th 2024

The Upper Crush is a laugh-out-loud, enemies-to-lovers, steamy, standalone, smalltown romantic comedy with a fiery country girl giving a cocky city boy a run for his money. No cheating or cliffhanger, but snort-laughs, swoons and a deliciously happy ending guaranteed in this sparkling and sizzling romcom!