The Upper Crush – Chapter Nine

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 Nine:

James’s fingers tapped the leather steering wheel impatiently, his gaze flicking to the speedometer on the dashboard.

‘She’s a very careful driver,’ Max said from the passenger seat.

James didn’t reply. They’d been tailing Estelle for a couple of miles, travelling at exactly ten miles per hour below the speed limit, and he was thrumming with frustration. Living in the back of beyond was bad enough, but not being able to take advantage of the Ferrari’s handling and performance on these country roads was like forcing a sprinter to perform tied to a donkey.

He couldn’t put his car through its paces in London, but it did come with other advantages. No matter what women may have claimed, they swarmed to it, then him, like bees to black honey. His Ferrari was the one possession he refused to part with when everything went tits up. However the only females who could currently see his car didn’t give a shit. They were either in fields chewing silage, or driving in front of him slower than a tractor.

Six months. That’s all.

Coming up was a short stretch of dual carriageway. James dropped a gear as they approached. Estelle must have anticipated his move as she floored the Defender, shooting forward.

Never take a knife to a gunfight

Slamming his foot down, the car accelerated with a joyous roar, the sound almost entirely covering Max’s yelp of fear. A smile spread across James’s face and he gave Estelle a salute as the Ferrari cruised past her. 

She flipped him the bird in response.

Once the dual carriageway ended, James slowed to exactly one mile per hour above the speed limit, and gave most of his attention to the rear-view mirror, his eyes finding Estelle’s furious ones.

Being in separate cars felt in some strange way like normal rules didn’t apply, as if they were on different planets and he could ignore the professional guidelines he’d forced himself to adhere to. Before he could stop himself, he winked at her. 

The change in her expression was dramatic—her eyes widened and her lips parted.

He grinned.

Slamming her mouth shut, she fixed her gaze on the road ahead, ignoring him completely.

James didn’t care. If he could get under her skin with just one wink, then he’d put up with all the childish games she could throw at him.

Driving between the enormous stone pillars that flanked the entrance to Foxbrooke Manor, James’s grip on the steering wheel tightened. The grandeur of the place was yet another reminder of how different he was from the Foxbrookes. James had had to fight for his position, but Henry and Estelle had grown up as Lord and Lady Foxbrooke and afforded every privilege that class and money could buy.

Easing the car to a stop, he got out, going to the driver’s side of the Defender and opening the door for Estelle.

‘Thank you,’ she said as she exited, moving quickly away and staring at the sandy ground.

‘Shall we begin?’ he asked. ‘Estelle, why don’t you run through how it’s going to work from the start of the festival?’

She nodded, put more distance between them, then addressed Max.

‘The festival begins on Friday, but we’ll be setting up for at least two months before that. There are three entrance points for punters—through the main gates here, and through the parkland to the side and rear of the house. There’s enough room there not only for the main stage but also camping facilities and temporary hard-standing for cars.’

‘Security?’ James asked.

‘A four-metre-high fence with a forty-five-degree overhang, built from aluminium planks and a captive joint system so there are no nuts and bolts. It’s the same one used at Glastonbury.’

And really fucking expensive. ‘Isn’t that overkill?’

She shrugged. ‘If we can’t keep people safe and numbers within our prescribed limits, then we’ll never be allowed to run another festival. And the headline act on Sunday is insanely popular.’

And also stupidly expensive. American electronica act, UberGraft, were the biggest draw and James couldn’t understand why they’d agreed to perform at such a small-scale, and brand new, festival.

‘How did you get them?’ 

Estelle frowned at her phone, then put it back in her pocket, still refusing to meet his gaze.

‘Mom met them in LA last year and pitched the idea. They’re headlining at Glastonbury the weekend before, so they’ll be in the country, anyway. And apparently MisTee likes Shakespeare, so wants to check out the production we’ll be doing in the gardens at the same time.’

‘Hmm.’ Of course, there had to have been a back-door route in. The band, made up of a real-life couple, were notoriously difficult to deal with.

‘What?’ she said defensively. ‘You know how it works. It’s just like what you did in London.’

‘Me?’

‘Yes. Bringing the client onside and getting to know what they like. We’re doing Macbeth so I bought a facsimile copy of the first folio and sent it to MisTee with a hamper of produce from the estate. She rang me to say thank you and agreed to perform.’

‘You actually spoke to her?’ Max interjected. ‘What was she like?’

‘Really nice. Quiet. Not like how she comes across on stage.’

Digging his fingernails into his palms, James tried to hide his stress. ‘I still don’t think we need that level of fencing. We should go for a cheaper spec.’

‘I’ve budgeted for it.’

‘We need a contingency.’

‘We’ve got one.’

No, we haven’t. ‘We need a bigger one.’

‘In case the fence fails and we need to hire a bunch of thugs to kick out another bunch of thugs?’ she asked sarcastically. ‘Or we could just do a proper job the first time around?’

He crossed his arms. ‘All payments have to be approved by me.’

She copied his stance, standing with her legs wider than his currently were. ‘Says who?’

‘The contract. The one you signed.’

She stared him down.

He stared right back, revelling in the chance to dive deep into her dark eyes.

A loud barking broke the moment and panic cracked through his heart like a lightning bolt. The last time he’d heard those dogs, Estelle had almost died.

‘Shit!’ Max yelled, running back to the cars as Caligula and Borgia came bounding towards them.

James dashed forward and grabbed their collars as they leapt at Estelle, using every ounce of his strength to yank them away.

‘No!’ he snarled. ‘Down!’

They immediately obeyed. Borgia started whining, and Caligula shook himself as if drying off after a dunking.

‘Sit,’ he continued, his voice now resonating at extreme-alpha frequency.

They complied. Then, as if seeking further approval from their master, lay down.

When he was certain they wouldn’t move, James turned, crossing the short distance to Estelle.

He took her hand. ‘Are you okay?’

She seemed flustered, her gaze flitting around like a grasshopper on hot coals. James breathed in deeply, powerful pride rushing through his veins as he caught the smell of her perfume, now richer and more complex than when he’d smelled it on her earlier. The combination of chemicals was only part of the picture. Estelle had taken the scent and made it her own. Touching her skin, it had become something else, something as utterly intoxicating as she was.

‘Is everything alright?’ a voice called out from the side of the manor.

Estelle froze, then pulled her hand from his and went forward.

Viscount Nob-end. Fucking brilliant. James turned to see Henry striding towards them, his familiar frown in place.

‘Fine, thanks,’ Estelle said. ‘The dogs must have got out. Can you take them back in? We’re just here to look over the site.’

‘I didn’t think they would go for you,’ Henry said to her. ‘I’m so sorry.’

‘Well, what can I say?’ She fake-laughed. ‘Hahaha! I’m clearly the most attractive member of the team.’

Without question

Max came forward from his hiding place, holding his hand out to Henry.

‘Lord Foxbrooke, I’m Max.’

Henry took it. ‘Just Henry, please.’

‘Sure thing, buddy. You gonna give us the tour?’

Estelle stiffened.

‘Er—’ Henry began.

‘I don’t think that will be necessary,’ James interrupted. ‘Seeing as Estelle is the one who’s planned the festival, as well as having lived here for most of her life.’

Henry nodded. ‘Absolutely. It’s her baby, not mine. I’ll leave you to it.’ He turned to the dogs, still lying on the drive. ‘Caligula, Borgia, come on.’

They looked up at James as if seeking permission to move.

‘Heel!’ Henry shouted.

Neither James, nor the dogs, moved a muscle.

Henry pulled on their collars, but they were dead weight.

Max snorted.

James felt a kick to the back of his leg and snapped his head around. Estelle was glowering at him.

He winked at her, then whistled at the dogs. ‘Go on, boys.’

They lumbered to their feet, giving him one last look before trotting off after a fuming Henry.

‘Now that’s Big Dick Energy, Star,’ James murmured under his breath. ‘You’ve either got it or you haven’t.’

‘My arse,’ she hissed in return. ‘You know what they say about men who drive cars like yours?’

James was feeling far too smug to moderate his words. ‘Rich, good-looking, and the lay of your life?’

‘No. Really fucking tiny penis.’

He laughed.

‘What was that?’ Max called over.

‘Estelle was—’

‘About to go over the rest of the plans,’ she interrupted. ‘Starting with the fact we still don’t yet have permission to run the festival.’

‘We don’t?’ Max asked.

‘No. My family have had a, er, complicated relationship with the local authority over the years and it’s up to us to prove that working with SDE Entertainment will be a different experience. They need to know they can trust us to deliver what we’ve promised.’

SDE?’ 

‘Keep up, buddy,’ James said. ‘It’s what Estelle’s renaming the company. It stands for Sexy Dick Energy. I’m going to fill out the forms with Companies House to get the name changed this afternoon. Maybe add another lightning bolt to the logo.’

Estelle ignored him. ‘Max, can you please set up a meeting with the local councillors approving our application for the week after next? That should give us enough time to finish our plans and cover all bases.’

‘Yeah, sure, no worries.’

‘Thank you,’ Estelle said, then gestured at the long drive in front of them, with large areas of lawn either side. ‘With all vehicles in the park, this is where the outside caterers will go for everyone attending events inside the manor and gardens. There’ll be another food court in the park near the main stage.’

‘Have you booked anyone yet?’ James asked.

‘Provisionally, yes. I’ve spoken to Leia and Ben, who run The Colour Palate restaurant in the village. They’re going to help me coordinate local suppliers.’

‘Get a deposit from them now.’

She frowned. ‘They’re not paying to be here.’

‘What?’

‘We’re not charging any of the concessions to sell food at the festival.’

Anxiety nipped at James’s heels. ‘Why not?’

‘Because they always overcharge for what they sell.’

‘Not our problem.’

Estelle’s hands were now planted on her hips as she faced him down.

‘Yes, it is. We want the festival to be affordable, and that’s not going to happen when you’re being charged fifteen quid for a portion of soggy chips.’

I don’t give a rat’s arse. Without extra money coming in, there wasn’t even going to be a festival.

‘So, by not charging, you expect them out of the goodness of their little hearts to put their prices down?’

‘It’ll be a requirement. Leia and Ben will be working with me and all suppliers to set prices and portion sizes that are fair for everyone.’

‘Except for us! Who’s paying for the electricity to run their stalls?’

She hesitated. ‘I’m sure we can come to an arrangement.’

‘Yes, one that involves them handing us cold, hard cash for the privilege of being here.’ He shook his head. I’m sorry, Estelle—’

‘You’re not sorry at all.’

He paused. ‘You’re right. I don’t give a shit if someone pays fifteen quid or fifty for a portion of chips. It’s all about the bottom line.’

Her mouth dropped open. ‘Don’t you want to create something good here?’

‘No.’ He crossed his arms, as if it would hold back the fear and fury. ‘I don’t care if punters show up to see UberGraft or take part in some stupid Morris dancing workshop. The only thing that matters is making a profit.’

Silence. 

Estelle’s face hardened. ‘And this month’s award for “coldest heart in hell” goes yet again to Mr James Hunter-Savage. Once more he’s knocked Scrooge, Stalin, and John D. Rockefeller off the podium.’ She pointed her finger at him as if it were a weapon. ‘I do care about making a profit, but unlike you, I want to create something so good that next year’s festival makes more money because people actually want to come back.’

James didn’t give a toss about next year. By the end of the summer, he wanted to be back in London with everything in Somerset firmly behind him. Especially thoughts about Estelle Foxbrooke.

‘And another thing, you opinionated arsehole,’ she continued. ‘Morris dancing is not stupid. It’s an ancient cultural practice that goes back over seven hundred years. And it’s not costing the festival anything to put on because my father is running the workshop for free.’

Fuck.

‘Estelle—’

‘Max, if you’d like to follow me, we can go around the back of the manor and I can show you where the open-air theatre will be, as well as the tents for the silent disco, acoustic sets and spoken word performers.’

She didn’t wait for a reply, but strode off, her boots crunching on the hard ground.

Jamming his hands in his pockets, James followed. How had he ever thought this was going to work?

Chapter Ten: 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!