The Upper Crush – Chapter Four

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 Four:

Fuck.

James stood, his focus entirely on the curls of Estelle’s hair as she dashed away. It was only when she finally disappeared from view that he allowed the rest of the world to re-enter his sphere of awareness.

To his right, Day-Glo horses cantered around an antique merry-go-round to chirpy organ music. To his left, stallholders with rosy cheeks and beaming smiles made eye contact with the public to entice them closer.

Every sound grated on James’s nerves. He needed peace and quiet to think, and he couldn’t do it in the middle of this bullshitmas-fest. 

He stalked back up Stall Street, heading for the office he and Max had to vacate by the end of the day.

Max…

James didn’t need to check his phone to know his sole employee had received and read the email he’d sent to cancel the meeting with Estelle, but had blatantly ignored the directive.

Gaslighting little shit

If James wasn’t already up to his neck in it, then he would have kicked him out on his ear a month ago.

Unfortunately, Max, with his two years of experience working for Excelsior Events, not only possessed the shovel to dig James out of the hole he was in, but also the knowledge of how to use it.

Thanks, Dad… James swallowed the bitter taste of anger and frustration souring his mouth. His father was reckless with business dealings, risk-taking with the hope of more successes than failures. Buying Excelsior Events was a knee-jerk reaction to a catastrophic fuck-up and an expensive apology gift to his son.

However, it had happened too fast and without due diligence. Kevin Hunter-Savage hadn’t included a non-compete clause, so before the ink was even dry on the contract, all members of staff, bar Max, handed in their notice and buggered off to the newly formed ‘Excalibur Events’, taking all of their clients, except for Estelle, with them.

To add insult to injury, his dad hadn’t even kept the company name, changing Excelsior Events to Big Dick Energy Entertainment because he thought James would find it funny.

James didn’t.

So, now he was left with one member of staff, who was clearly so disliked by his former colleagues they didn’t ask him to join their new company, and one client, Estelle Foxbrooke.

The music and arts festival had to go ahead, and it had to work. Just as it would cost the Foxbrookes to pull out, it would cost him and his family just as much, if not more. James had no plan B, and he doubted Estelle did either.

Estelle. She would be in her car by now. No doubt steaming mad and on her way home to whine to her brother about him. James wasn’t worried. Henry Foxbrooke was about as threatening as a damp paper bag. 

What should I do now? He shook his head. Nothing. Just get out of the office on Bartlett Street, then make a plan.

* * *

‘Where are you going?’ Estelle asked, her heart rate rising as Henry strode across their shared office, an expression of murderous resolve on his face.

‘To the gun room,’ he replied, yanking the door open with such force it slammed back against the inside wall.

Panic smashed into Estelle’s chest. Her brother was one of the most mild-mannered men she knew and had only ever hit one person before. Now, however, it seemed he was about to up the ante.

‘Henry! Wait!’

But he was gone.

Following him into the main body of Foxbrooke Manor, Estelle tugged her skirt back to the top of her legs so she could catch up with him.

‘Henry!’

He didn’t stop. 

‘Big Dick Energy?’ he muttered. ‘Well, at least I know where to aim once I find him.’

Estelle was glad she’d swapped her designer boots for wellies otherwise she would never have kept up with her brother’s pace.

‘Henry, wait up—’

‘First Elizabeth, then Summer,’ he spat. ‘I know you’re not blonde, but—’

‘What’s that got to do with anything?’

‘Elizabeth had blonde hair, like Summer. I don’t know if he’s got a type, but I’m not taking any risks.’

They were almost at the gun room. Estelle was strong, but her brother was stronger. She wouldn’t be able to physically stop him. Please let it be locked!

‘So you’re going to shoot him?’ she cried.

‘Isn’t that what you want to do?’

‘Of course, but I’m me and you’re you!’

He sped up. ‘Meaning?’

‘You’re the nice twin. The calm one. The yin to my yang or whatever.’

Reaching the door, Henry grabbed the handle and rattled it.

‘Why’s it locked?’ he growled.

‘It’s a gun room.’

‘You keep a loaded shotgun by your bed at the livery.’

‘Yes, but like I said, I’m me. And anyway, numpty tourists don’t visit my house looking for a free souvenir.’

‘Where does Dad keep the key?’

Estelle crossed her arms. ‘Henry, if anyone’s going to shoot James, it’s me.’

‘But this is my fault.’ He strode off, yelling for their father.

‘How?’ she cried, running to catch him up.

‘That man has made it his mission since school to make my life miserable. It’s like some kind of sick game. And I guess he hasn’t forgiven me for punching him.’ 

They reached the bottom of the main stairs and Henry took them two at a time. ‘Dad! Where are you?’

Estelle followed him up and along the first-floor corridor towards their parents’ room. A sock hung on the door knob.

‘Dad!’ Henry yelled, battering the door with his fist. ‘Get out here!’

It opened slightly and their mother glided out of the room, tying a red silk dressing gown around her.

‘Where’s the key to the gun room?’ Henry demanded.

Vivienne ignored him, staring at Estelle’s skirt. ‘Honey, you do know it’s not meant to be worn like that?’

‘I know, Mom,’ Estelle muttered, pulling the hem back to her knees.

‘And rain boots? What happened to the Louboutin’s I gave you?’

‘I can’t walk in them. They’re too uncomfortable.’

‘Fashion isn’t meant to be comfortable, darling.’

‘Mom,’ Henry interrupted. ‘The key?’

The door opened and their father now appeared. He’d made an attempt at decency by wearing a frayed gold silk dressing gown, however had forgotten to do it up.

‘What’s going on?’ he asked. ‘There was a bally sock on the door handle! You know that means Do Not Disturb. Is the house burning down?’

‘No,’ Henry replied. ‘I need the key to the gun room.’

‘Burglars, is it?’ Arthur ran his hands through his salt-and-pepper hair. ‘Why the devil can’t they come at night?’

Dervla, their third parent, now entered the corridor in a tie-dyed silk robe.

‘Burglars?’ she cried, pushing her messy blonde fringe out of her eyes. ‘Have you rung the police?’

‘There aren’t any burglars,’ Henry replied through gritted teeth.

Arthur harrumphed. ‘Then what y’doing disturbing our quiet time?’

‘It’s Monday morning!’ Henry shouted. ‘You should save—’ he waved his hand at the three of them ‘—this for the weekend.’

‘Rot!’ Arthur retorted. ‘We were all too exhausted after Eveline’s wedding. And anyway, you need to take a leaf out of our book. You and Libby should be at it like rabbits, not bloody pandas. With your attitude, we’ll never get any grandchildren.’

‘Do you want me to make you some of my special tea?’ Dervla asked. ‘To help with your libido?’

‘No!’

‘Mom, Dad, Mammy,’ Estelle interrupted. ‘I need you to help calm Henry down.’

‘I’ve got a herbal mix for that as well,’ Dervla said.

‘Why should we do that?’ Arthur interjected. ‘It’s nice to see a bit of fire in his belly.’

‘Because he wants to shoot James Hunter-Savage!’

Their mom turned to Henry. ‘But why, honey?’

‘Because—‘

‘He’s the new CEO of the company footing the bill for the festival next year,’ Estelle interrupted.

‘Ooh! What fun!’ Dervla exclaimed.

Estelle gasped. ‘Fun?’ 

Vivienne’s eyes were alight. ‘Yes, such an interesting and sexy young man.’

What?’ she and her brother yelled in unison.

‘Humph,’ Arthur said. ‘Not as sexy as me.’

‘Never,’ Vivienne replied, kissing his cheek.

‘Mom!’ Estelle cried. ‘This is a disaster. I can’t work with him.’

‘Why not?’

She threw her hands in the air. Why couldn’t their parents see what she and Henry did? ‘Honestly, where do I even start? It seems he’s pissed off ninety per cent of the staff so they’ve all left. He’s being kicked out of his office because he hasn’t paid the rent—’

‘He could work out of the manor?’ Arthur suggested.

‘No!’ Estelle shouted. ‘And to top it off, he’s re-named the company “Big Dick Energy Entertainment”!’

There was a short silence, then all three of their parents started laughing.

‘Ho, ho, ho!’ Arthur chortled. ‘How wonderful!’

‘No, it’s not,’ Estelle replied. ‘The bloody logo is a lightning bolt striking an aubergine!’

Dervla giggled. ‘He’s such a gas.’

Estelle stared at her parents, then turned to her brother. The fight seemed to go out of him and his shoulders sagged.

‘Come on,’ she said, ‘let’s put our heads together and try to find a way out of this.’

He nodded.

‘Crisis averted?’ Arthur asked. ‘Jolly good. Now, off you both trot. Your mothers and I have unfinished bedroom business to attend to.’

Estelle and Henry made their way back to the ground floor of the manor, through wood-panelled corridors lined with ancient oil paintings.

Inside their office, her brother went straight to a coffee machine that sat on a table near the window. ‘Let me make you a cappuccino. Double shot?’

Estelle gave him a resigned nod. She wasn’t going to change the way she drank her coffee just to prove James wrong.

Henry turned the machine on. ‘While I make this, why don’t you grab the contract? We can look for a loophole.’

Pushing herself away from the door, she went to her desk. Where Henry’s workspace was minimalist in the extreme, with only a framed photo of his girlfriend, Libby, a laptop, pad of paper and pen on the top, hers looked like it housed the aftermath of a fight between a stationery cupboard and a gift shop. Moving empty mugs and ornaments off piles of paper, she searched for the contract she’d signed.

‘I just don’t understand any of it,’ Henry continued, taking a bottle of milk from a small fridge. ‘He’s a broker, not an event organiser. How on earth did he get the job? And why?’

Estelle shrugged, picking up a stress ball in the shape of an angry Friesian cow and squeezing. ‘He told me he was the CEO. Could he have bought the company?’

Her brother ran a hand over his head, scratching at the tight curls. ‘God knows.’ He glanced at her. ‘Don’t you have a digital copy you can check?’

She huffed. ‘Yes, I do. I’m all over the place right now.’ Sitting at her desk, she moved a foot-tall wooden letter ‘E’ out of the way and flipped her laptop open. ‘I’ll send it to you now.’

Henry frothed the milk, then poured it into her mug. ‘What about the members of the team at Excelsior that are still there? Could you work with them and ignore him?’

‘How can I ignore someone that big and cocky?’ Estelle grumbled as she searched through her emails. ‘You spent the best part of seventeen years trying and failing. And anyway, there’s no-one left.’

‘Huh?’

‘The only member of staff there, apart from Beelzebub, was some young dude named Max, who seems to hate his boss almost as much as we do.’

‘What?’

‘And didn’t you hear what I just told our folks? They’re getting kicked out of their offices at the end of the day because they haven’t paid their rent.’

‘Jesus Christ!’ Henry rubbed at the lines on his forehead as if trying to remove them, then carried her cappuccino over. Estelle tossed a notepad to the floor to create room, and he placed it down. There was a perfect pattern of a leaf created in the foam.

‘Thanks, little brother.’

He squeezed her shoulder. ‘Anytime, big sister. And don’t worry. I’m a contract whizz. I’ll find a way out of this.’

Estelle slammed the door of her Land Rover Defender shut behind her and breathed in the smell of hay and horse shit, a smile spreading across her face.

Home.

The knot of tension in her stomach eased a little as she gazed at the livery stables. This was her world, and James Hunter-Savage had no claim on it.

At the sound of loud barking she dropped to her knees. A small, fluffy black dog dashed forward and barrelled into her arms, his tail a wagging blur.

‘Who’s my Chester-chops? Who’s a good little doggie? You miss me?’ she cooed as the dog attempted to lick every part of her he could reach.

An English Setter trotted around the corner to join Chester in saying hello.

‘And Joy-dog. You missed me too?’

Joy barked.

‘Well, I missed you more, my gorgeous girl,’ Estelle replied, scratching behind Joy’s ears. ‘Shall we go and find Molly?’

The dogs bounded off and Estelle followed, pulling her irritating skirt up to mid-thigh so she could walk at an almost normal pace.

At the far end of one of the stable blocks was an office. Photos of horses were stuck to the dusty wooden walls, along with rosettes, a calendar from Horse & Hound Magazine, and handwritten names and numbers for the vet, feed suppliers, and livery clients.

The room was dirty but serviceable, and as familiar to Estelle as the manor where she’d grown up. It used to feel like she lived here, but slowly, over the last ten years, when she became more heavily involved with running the estate, she’d ceded day-to-day management of the livery to Molly.

Molly glanced up from her laptop as Estelle entered, a smile on her freckled face. ‘How did it go?’

She grimaced. ‘Don’t ask.’

Hooking a chair with the toe of her riding boot, Molly pulled it forward. ‘Come on now, you can’t say “don’t ask”, and not expect me to want to know more.’

The knot in Estelle’s stomach tightened. She could hardly admit even to herself that part of her fancied James, and the last thing she wanted to do was explain who he was and why this situation was such a nightmare.

So she shrugged. ‘It’s all a bit up in the air again. The company has been re-structured and they’re also moving offices.’

‘But it’s still going ahead? The festival next year?’

Estelle puffed out her cheeks. ‘Well, if it doesn’t, the estate is going to be in real trouble.’

‘Shit. Is there anything I can do to help?’

‘Just keep this place going for me. Anything happen today I need to know about?’

‘Nah, we’re all good. I’ve got a couple of new girls starting, but you don’t need to worry about any of that. You going to take Duke out?’

Estelle nodded. ‘Just as soon as I’ve got this stupid skirt off.’

Molly grinned. ‘You do know it’s not meant to be worn like that?’

‘Bugger off. I’ve already had the fashion police onto me.’

‘Your mom?’

‘Yep. And even Henry asked if my skirt was at the “functioning length” when I went for my meeting.’

Molly snorted. ‘Your brother cracks me up. He’s such an English gent.’

‘From the seventeen hundreds…’

‘True. I can’t believe how different you are.’

Estelle nodded, even as a tiny pang of insecurity pricked at her heart. Did everyone see Henry as polite and well-mannered, and her as the loud-mouthed, abrasive one?

‘Hey,’ Molly began, leaning forward and squeezing her hand, ‘you’re the best, Estelle. Whatever happened today, you’ll sort it. I know you will. Now go and put on some proper clothes and go for a ride. It’ll make you feel better. I promise.’

Swinging herself into Duke’s saddle, a bow at her back and a quiver of arrows at her hip, Estelle whistled for Chester and Joy and set off out of the livery yard into the Foxbrooke estate. The air was cold enough to make the going firm, but not so cold as to make the ground too uneven for Duke. Nudging her beloved horse forward, he broke into a canter, whinnying with delight as he carried her up the grassy incline, the two dogs bounding along beside.

She wanted to speak to her best friend. But Eveline was on a short honeymoon and the last thing Estelle wanted was to disturb her friend’s happiness with her problems. Two days ago, Eveline had married Jack, one of Estelle and Henry’s oldest friends. Their wedding was overflowing with love and happiness, and those warm feelings had still glowed inside Estelle like a wood fire in winter when she’d set off that morning for Bath.

Discovering James Hunter-Savage was the owner of BDE Entertainment had immediately doused the happy flames.

Duke reached the top of the incline where the land flattened out and Estelle had set up targets attached to straw bales. She’d been practising mounted archery for over a year now and was almost ready to enter her first competition. The sport required intense strength, skill, focus, and an almost telepathic relationship with one’s horse. Despite the long hours she’d been working trying to save her family’s estate from her father’s idiotic business ideas, she’d still managed to find a couple of hours a week to practice.

‘Chester, Joy, sit,’ she commanded, pointing to a straw bale safely behind her. They jumped to the top and sat, their tongues lolling and tails wagging as they waited for the action to start.

Clicking to Duke, she let the reins drop, steering him with her thighs and verbal instructions. He trotted to the far end of the course she’d set, and exhilaration rushed through her as she lifted her bow and notched the first arrow into position.

Raising her face to the wintery sky, Estelle let out a wild cry that carried with it every emotion from the day. Frustration, fury, fear and now freedom on the back of Duke.

Her horse took off at a gallop. Gripping with all her might to stay level and balanced, she let the first arrow fly, whooping as it thudded into the straw bale. Duke’s hooves thundered along the grassy track as she let arrow after arrow go. Some missed, but most hit their targets.

When the quiver was empty, she whistled to Joy and Chester, who collected the arrows lying on the ground. The rest she pulled from the bales, then set everything up for another run.

The midwinter sun was close to the horizon when she finally stopped, out of breath and euphoric. For the past hour, her mind had been focused, and blissfully blank. Now, however, as her breathing quietened, thoughts of James woke, demanding attention.

She glanced away from the direction of the livery. The estate James’s parents had bought was only a few fields away. Before she could second-guess herself, she whistled to Chester and Joy and nudged Duke in the direction of the house.

Trotting forward, Duke brought her to the top of a small hill that overlooked the back of the manor.

Standing for two hundred and fifty years, Shoscombe Manor was built at the height of interest in Palladian architecture and was simple and elegant. The formal gardens at the rear of the building were based around geometric patterns, with box hedges and gravel paths in between. 

Lights were on in the house, but Estelle couldn’t see inside. Curiosity getting the better of her, she nudged Duke down the hill to get a better look.

Less than fifty yards away, a man stepped out from behind a tall yew hedge and gazed at her.

James.

With dusk falling, and the lights from the building behind him, Estelle couldn’t make out his face.

He lifted his hand in greeting.

Chester growled, and Duke’s ears pricked up.

Estelle raised her bow and fitted an arrow, aiming for James’s chest.

He stepped fully into view and stood, his legs apart and both arms away from his body, giving her a bigger target to hit.

Arrogant fucker.

Dipping the bow ever so slightly, she let the arrow fly. It thudded into the ground, right between his feet.

James didn’t flinch.

Wheeling Duke around, she urged him to a canter and took off up the hill, Chester and Joy barking at her side.

Chapter Five: 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!