The Upper Crush – Chapter Five

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 Five:

From: James Hunter-Savage

To: Estelle Foxbrooke

Subject: Moving forward

Dear Ms Foxbrooke,

I’m emailing to request a meeting at your earliest convenience to discuss a road map for the partnership between yourself, on behalf of the Foxbrooke estate, and BDE Entertainment.

As of tomorrow, BDE will have moved from Bath to Shoscombe Manor. This is where you will be working from the start of next year.

You can contact me via this email address or the mobile number below. Please do not arrive at the manor house without prior warning. There has been an incident with a local warrior, and we need to ensure the area is secure before you visit.

Kind regards,

James Hunter-Savage

From: James Hunter-Savage

To: Estelle Foxbrooke

Subject: Meeting up before the Christmas break

Dear Ms Foxbrooke,

In accordance with the season and the spirit of goodwill to all women and men, I would like to arrange a meeting with you in the next couple of days. I hope this will reassure you our relationship going forward will be mutually beneficial. You can reach me via email or the number below.

Festive greetings,

James

From: James Hunter-Savage

To: Estelle Foxbrooke

Subject: Your contractual obligations

Dear Ms Foxbrooke,

I presume by your continued silence, my emails are accidentally sitting in your spam folder, the letter I wrote to you at the livery failed to arrive, or you have been unable to find a way out of the contract you freely signed with BDE Entertainment. Kindly get in touch, so we may move forward.

Yours,

James 

From: James Hunter-Savage

To: Estelle Foxbrooke

Subject: Your holiday

Dear Ms Foxbrooke,

I visited the livery today in the hope of speaking in person with you, but was informed by your stable manager that you were abroad. When questioned, Ms Kenyon seemed unsure as to your exact location, so I hope you are well, wherever you are.

I also hope your two extremely excitable dogs are being cared for in your absence. I’m particularly concerned the smaller of the two is adequately fed, as he presented a dead rat to me on my arrival. Is this his normal diet?

Safe travels,

James

‘Ugh,’ Estelle muttered, before shoving the phone into the back pocket of her jeans.

‘Everything okay?’ Eveline asked, as she bent to open the oven door.

Estelle dashed forward, elbowing her out of the way. ‘I’ll do that.’

Grabbing a double-ended pot holder from the rail by her head, she pulled out a large tray of sizzling sausages.

‘I know I’m not as strong as you,’ Eveline said behind her. ‘But I’m perfectly capable of doing that myself.’

‘Yes, but I promised Jack I wouldn’t let you do any heavy lifting,’ Estelle replied, putting the tray on a rack by the side of the stove. ‘You might be carrying the second coming.’

Eveline rolled her eyes. ‘It’s only been two weeks since our wedding. I’m not expecting a miracle.’

‘Well, you should. You’re a vicar, so God’s on your side. And anyway, the rate at which you two have been banging, I expect twins in nine months.’

‘Shush!’ Eveline hissed, her cheeks turning pink as she glanced around the empty kitchen.

Estelle grinned. ‘You’re too easy to wind up. Is this the last tray?’

‘Yes, we took everything cold over first thing this morning,’ Eveline began, tearing off a strip of tinfoil and covering the tray. ‘And Jack took the rest of the sausages just before you arrived.’

‘Cool. Well, I’ll take this and you can lock up behind me.’

‘So what’s up, then?’ Eveline asked, as Estelle carried the deep tray from the rectory towards Saint Saviour’s church, across a tarmacked area filled with parked cars. ‘Is it Mr Hunter-Savage?’

Estelle huffed. ‘Of course it is. He sent me an email this morning informing me of a hurricane in the Caribbean and “expressing his concern” that I might have been caught up in it.’

Eveline giggled. ‘You could just talk to him?’

Estelle didn’t reply.

‘And you know what Henry said about the contract being watertight?’

She let her silence continue.

‘I thought you’d reconciled yourself to this?’

Estelle shrugged. She knew there was no way of getting out of it, but James unsettled her in a way no person, no man, had ever done before. It was as if she’d spent her life sailing the seven seas, dealing with squalls and tempests, but now, just as she’d thought she’d got control of her ship, it had been pirated by a sea monster and steered into uncharted waters. 

It felt safer to ignore James and pretend the next year wasn’t actually going to arrive, even though it was less than two weeks away.

Eveline opened the small wooden gate that led into the churchyard. ‘And he’s been pleasant in his communications?’

‘He’s a snake with a forked tongue.’

‘A forked tongue? Now that does sound exciting.’

Estelle nearly dropped the tray she was carrying.

‘Eveline Newton! I can’t believe those words just came out of your pious little mouth! What has Jack done to you?’

Her friend gave her a cheeky grin. ‘Many, many things…’

‘Oh, my god! I want to wash my ears out with soapy water!’

Eveline giggled. ‘We are married, you know.’

‘Humph. Well, anyway. Enough of the sexy talk from you, Missy. From now on, the only kind of sausage you’re allowed to refer to are the pig-related ones.’

‘Deal,’ Eveline replied, pulling the heavy church door open so Estelle could carry the tray through.

Saint Saviour’s usually smelled of old wood and incense, but once a month it was filled with the aroma of sausage rolls and hot dogs. On ‘Sausage Saturday’, Eveline used the pork she reared in her back garden to feed anyone who came by. If you were struggling financially, everything was free. If you weren’t, you could make a donation and the money was given to a local food bank.

Jack was already inside, along with Henry and his girlfriend, Libby, by a row of trestle tables. As soon as Jack saw Eveline, his eyes lit up. He stepped forward as if it had been half a lifetime, not half an hour since he’d last seen her.

A sudden stab of loneliness pierced Estelle’s chest, but she covered it with a smile. She strode towards her brother with the tray. ‘This is the last one.’

‘Thanks,’ he replied, taking it from her and placing it on the table, perfectly aligned with all the others.

Estelle leaned forward and nudged it out of place.

Henry sighed and moved it back.

Reaching out, she pushed at the corner.

‘Stelle…’ came Jack’s voice behind her.

‘What?’ she asked, turning to him.

He gave her a look. ‘Stop winding him up.’

Eveline was nestled into the side of his body as if Jack was her love-duvet. The sight made Estelle’s eyes prickle with emotion. She was so happy for her friends, but it was a visceral reminder of what was missing from her own life.

‘Okay, okay,’ she huffed, turning back to the emotional safety net of annoying her brother.

However, in the short amount of time her attention had been elsewhere, Henry and Libby had started kissing.

Fuck’s sake! Estelle moved down the table, making minute and unnecessary adjustments to paper plates and napkins. All through school, and most of life, she’d never felt like she fitted in. And right now, with her closest friends and family so loved up, she felt like a clunky fifth wheel.

God, I know we don’t speak much, but please deliver me from this love fest. I invited Isaac to come today, so can you make him show up? For me? Please?

The sound of the door creaking open echoed around the empty church.

She closed her eyes with relief. Thanks, God. I owe you one

‘Oh, shitsticks,’ Libby said under her breath.

Estelle glanced up in surprise to see Libby’s mouth open and Henry’s pressed tightly shut.

Huh? Turning, she saw the reason for her twin’s displeasure. 

James was standing in the doorway.

Eveline was the first to move, breaking away from Jack and going towards James, her hand outstretched. ‘Mr Hunter-Savage! What a lovely surprise!’

‘What the fuck is he doing here?’ Henry growled.

‘Hey!’ Jack whispered sharply. ‘Don’t make a scene.’

‘Chill out, Sir Protect-a-lot,’ Estelle muttered. ‘She’s not up the duff yet.’

Libby’s gasp filled the sudden silence, and shame shot through Estelle. She wanted to apologise, but her jaw was quivering with emotion. Turning, she ran to the back of the church and the privacy of the sacristy.

Entering the small room, she sat at the wooden table, sinking her head into her hands.

Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.

Jack had every right to be protective. Three weeks ago, Eveline had almost died. The arrival of James today was inconsequential in comparison. You thoughtless idiot! Even with three wayward parents and working two jobs, Estelle always felt some semblance of control. But now? With James? It was like trying to juggle with jellyfish.

There was a knock, and she glanced up.

Henry poked his head around the door. ‘Can I come in?’

She shrugged.

Sitting across from her, he took one of her hands in his. ‘You don’t have to do this.’

She didn’t reply.

‘You don’t have to work with Hunter-Savage.’

‘I do,’ she whispered.

‘No, you don’t. I’ve spoken to Libby and we’ve decided.’

Huh? ‘Decided what?’

‘We’re putting the renovation of our cottage on hold indefinitely and I’m selling my flat in London.’

Estelle froze. ‘Why?’

‘The money will pay the fees to get you out of the contract with BDE Entertainment, and should leave enough to run a pared-down version of the festival next year.’

Pulling her hand from Henry’s she gripped the edge of the table.

‘No way. You can’t do that.’

Her brother’s gaze was filled with compassion. ‘It’s the least I can do. For the last decade, you’ve managed our parents and the estate and allowed me the life I had in London. Buying your freedom is nothing in comparison.’

‘But—’

‘The cottage isn’t going anywhere and we’re happy to keep living at the manor. I’m just annoyed with myself for not thinking of this solution sooner. I’m sorry, Estelle.’

‘Henry, you can’t.’

‘Yes, I can. You’re my sister, and there’s no way in hell you’re spending another moment in that arsehole’s company.’

There was a knock at the door and Eveline entered.

‘Sorry to disturb you both,’ she began, ‘but quite a lot of people have just shown up. Would you be able to come and help?’

Estelle got to her feet. ‘Yes, of course.’

‘Has he gone?’ Henry asked.

Eveline hesitated. ‘No, but everything is in hand. Would you be able to suffer him in silence for the next couple of hours?’

‘Sorry. I’ll conduct myself properly. I promise.’

‘Thank you, that is most appreciated.’ Eveline gazed at Estelle and raised an eyebrow.

‘I’ll behave,’ she mumbled to her friend.

‘Marvellous! Let’s go and get started then.’

Estelle followed Eveline out into the main body of the church, her feet leaden. There was already a queue of people waiting to be served. Libby and Jack stood at one end of the line of trestle tables, James at the other.

Estelle caught Jack’s eye and mouthed ‘sorry’.

He smiled. ‘It’s okay’, he mouthed back.

‘Nearly there, everybody!’ Eveline called out. ‘Just mustering the rest of the troops!’

Estelle’s fingers itched for a weapon.

‘Okey dokey!’ Eveline continued. ‘Henry and Libby, can I put you with the sausage rolls at one end? Jack, you meet and greet with me, and Estelle, come this way and you can help James with the hotdogs.’

Before Estelle could argue, she was dragged to James’s side, like a child on the way to the naughty step.

Eveline’s enthusiasm was unrelenting. ‘Righty-ho! I haven’t made them up in advance as the sausages are still hot, however the rolls are sliced halfway through. Estelle, you’re in charge of them. Take one, open it nice and wide, and then James, you can stick your sausage in.’

Excuse me? Estelle stared at her best friend’s guileless face, but Eveline just beamed at them both and continued.

‘Then hand it over and the customers can select their own condiments from the table over there. Okay?’

James cleared his throat. ‘I will follow your instructions to the letter.’

‘Estelle?’ Eveline asked.

‘Does this give me a free pass to heaven?’

‘It doesn’t work quite like that.’

‘Or a smiting voucher?’

Eveline laughed. ‘That’s definitely not on the cards.’

‘Shame. What’s the point in having a direct line to God if there aren’t any perks?’

This is one of the perks,’ Eveline replied, gesturing to the people standing at the other end of the table. ‘Isn’t it wonderful how many people have come?’

‘You’re too lovely for your own good,’ Estelle grumbled.

Eveline gave her a quick hug. ‘Thank you so much. Both of you. And don’t forget to “glove up”. It’s important to use protection!’

Seriously?

‘Have fun!’ Eveline dashed off to the start of the line of people, shaking hands and smiling as if eternally grateful they’d made the time to come to eat delicious free food she’d spent months rearing and the past two days preparing.

‘What an incredible woman,’ James murmured, stretching a pair of vinyl gloves onto his large hands.

An unpleasant sensation stabbed Estelle’s stomach. ‘And what’s that supposed to mean?’ she asked sharply, tugging her own gloves on. ‘She’s married. Not that it would stop you. Horn dog.’

‘Hot dog?’

She glanced up. James was addressing a smiling man.

‘Yes, please, I’ll take two,’ the man replied.

‘Excellent,’ James said to him. ‘My charming assistant—’

‘Boss.’

Colleague, will prepare your rolls, then I’ll slip the sausages in.’ James turned to her. ‘Ms Foxbrooke?’

Estelle grabbed a roll and wrenched it apart with so much force, the two sides separated.

For heaven’s sake!

‘Unfortunately,’ James began, ‘my colleague—’

‘Indentured servant,’ Estelle muttered.

‘Is a very powerful woman, and isn’t always aware of her own strength. Plus—’ he lifted his gloved hands, ‘—these do rather reduce sensation.’ 

I should have aimed higher with my bow last week

She took another roll and held it open for him.

Using a pair of tongs, James placed the sausage inside and wiggled it up and down until it was firmly seated inside the bread.

‘Doesn’t that look good?’ he asked.

Estelle’s cheeks pricked with heat. She handed the hot dog over and grabbed another roll, refusing to meet James’s eye.

James was affable and polite as he greeted people, but Estelle was a robot powered by a thunderstorm. When the first flurry of customers had passed, she turned to him, her gaze fixed on the middle of his chest.

‘What are you doing here?’ she demanded.

‘Looking for you. How was your holiday?’

‘Not long enough.’

‘Where did you go?’

‘Up Uranus.’

‘Est—Ms Foxbrooke—’

‘Don’t call me that.’

He sighed, then started taking his cashmere jumper off.

She took an involuntary step back. ‘What are you doing?’

He paused, the top around his broad shoulders. ‘I’m hot.’

Her gaze flicked over the expanse of his chest, the white t-shirt stretched over his pecs, the tantalising glimpse of skin where the bottom had become untucked from his jeans. James was right. He was hot. But that didn’t mean she was going to go anywhere near him.

‘May I?’ he continued.

She shrugged, wanting to look away but being betrayed by her eyes, which appeared to be glued to his body.

He pulled the jumper off and tossed it onto a chair behind him. ‘If I can’t call you by any derivative of your name, then what can I call you?’

I don’t know! she internally screamed, whilst her traitorous subconscious supplied the word Star

‘Look,’ he began, ‘we have to work together, so I’m trying to make the experience tolerable for both of us.’

Tolerable? And no, thanks to Henry, now we don’t have to work together.

‘You think you know me—’

‘I do know you,’ she interrupted. ‘You’re the bully who punched my brother on the arm each time you passed him at school. You’re the one who encouraged others to call him “Viscount Nob-end”. And you’re the arsehole who said Mom and Mammy were—’ She broke off.

James ran a hand through his hair. ‘I don’t remember saying anything about your—’

‘You called them “posh slags”,’ she spat.

He flinched.

‘Remember now?’

James shook his head. ‘But it does sound like the kind of thing I might have said. Look, kids are twats—’

‘Henry wasn’t.’

‘That wasn’t really me—’

Estelle put her hands on her hips. ‘Who was it then? Mr Hyde? Kevin?

Emotion flickered in James’s eyes, but she couldn’t work out what it signified.

‘I’ve changed—’

‘No, you haven’t. You’ve been an unwanted guest in our lives since I was thirteen. I know you.’

He folded his arms across his chest. ‘Really now?’

She mirrored his stance. ‘Yes.’

‘Favourite colour?’

‘Black. Like your soul.’

‘Food?’

‘Babies.’

He rolled his eyes.

‘Or the trampled remains of your enemies,’ she continued.

‘Drink?’

‘Double espresso. You need the extra caffeine to keep your cold, dead heart beating.’

The corner of his mouth twitched up. ‘Favourite music?’

‘The “Imperial March” from Star Wars.’

‘Number?’

‘Six-six-six.’

He smirked. ‘Middle name?’

‘Beelzebub, Lucifer, Satan.’

‘Wrong, wrong, wrong. See, you don’t know me. Give me a chance to prove I’m not who you think I am.’

Estelle stared James down. After today, she didn’t need to spend any time with him ever again thanks to her brother’s generosity.

‘Is everything okay?’

She jumped. Henry was standing on the other side of the table, a frown on his face. Libby was by his side, holding his hand as if  to prevent her boyfriend from launching himself at James.

Estelle’s heart squeezed as she gazed at them. Libby was the only woman Henry had ever brought home and Estelle was desperate for their relationship to work. Forcing them to continue living in the manor with her and Henry’s bonkers parents might end up being the kiss of death. Even though Henry was bigger than her, she was intensely protective of him, and ashamed to be contemplating their offer. It would mean them giving up their dreams just to save her from six months of working with James.

‘Fine,’ she replied, forcing a smile. ‘I was just telling James how much I’m looking forward to partnering with BDE Entertainment next year.’

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw James’s shoulders relax.

‘Estelle!’ Henry cried. ‘You don’t have to do that anymore! We—’

‘James,’ Estelle interrupted. ‘If you expect to see me on January the fourth, you need to leave. Right now.’

He didn’t hesitate, giving them all a brief nod, then striding away and out of the church.

‘You don’t have to do this,’ Libby said as soon as he was out of earshot. ‘Honestly, we’re happy to help.’

Estelle smiled. ‘I know, and I love you both to the moon and back for offering, but don’t worry. I have a plan.’

‘Should we be worried?’ Henry asked.

‘No, but James should. I give it a week before he hands BDE Entertainment’s money over to me and begs me to bugger off and run the festival on my own.’

Libby narrowed her eyes. ‘What are you going to do?’

‘I’m not entirely sure,’ she replied, then glanced at the chair where James had left his jumper. ‘But I’ve got a few ideas…’

Chapter Six: 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!