Welcome to the Upper Crush – a 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!
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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?
Saturday December 2nd – Seven-twenty p.m.
There were no last thoughts or words from Lady Estelle Gloria Elizabeth Foxbrooke as she plummeted towards certain death. No scream. No swearing. No internal cry at her own carelessness. Just a gasp, then whooshing panic as she toppled over the banister and headed straight for the tiled floor of Foxbrooke Manor’s entrance hall, thirty feet below.
Ten minutes earlier
‘Oh, no,’ Estelle muttered as the sound of barking dogs echoed towards her down the corridor. It was the night of the revamped Winter Ball at Foxbrooke Manor and her family couldn’t afford to have anything go wrong. Thanks to her wayward father, Arthur, the Duke of Somerset, the estate was on a financial precipice, and it only needed one more cock-up to send it over the edge.
The guests had arrived and were making their way from the bar areas to the two dining rooms. The corridor of her family home was empty, so Estelle tried to run towards the noise she knew could only spell trouble. However, her long legs were constrained by a tight turquoise dress that felt a size too small, and her feet were in heels that belonged in hell.
Both had been gifted to her by her aunt, Simone, a famous American fashion designer who’d settled in Paris thirty-five years previously. Lady Estelle Foxbrooke may have had the height and looks of a model, but she had no interest in following her mom onto the catwalk, or restricting her calories until she reached the required weight.
Up ahead, the barks were now interspersed with excited growls.
Kicking off her heels, she yanked the skirt of her dress to the top of her thighs and sprinted forward. Her stockinged feet slid on the tiles of the entrance hall and she grabbed at a coat rack to steady herself.
Arthur Foxbrooke owned two black hellhounds: Caligula, a Great Dane, and Borgia, a Labrador Retriever. Both animals were more unmanageable than their master, which was saying something, and were now enjoying an orgy of destruction as they attempted to fight, eat, or shag each other, as well as all the decorations running up the stairs.
Her tone may have worked on her own dogs, as well as most people, however Caligula and Borgia were having none of it. They took one look at Estelle, then bounded up the stairs and away.
Clenching her hands into fists, she let out a cry of frustration. Despite her twin brother, Henry, returning to the family home a few months ago to help run the estate, their father always seemed to find a way to undo their good work. Neither she nor Henry could babysit Arthur or his pets twenty-four-seven and so, in a few brief minutes, two uncontrollable dogs had destroyed a day’s worth of work.
What a mess…
Winding up the banisters had been metres of lights, winter foliage, garlands of fragrant dried fruit, and loops of popcorn threaded on gold string. It had been a magnificent feast for the eyes as well as the nose, but now everything lay in tangled tatters.
Should I get Jack?
Jack, one of her oldest friends, had just moved back to Foxbrooke and had spent the last few weeks helping to organise the Winter Ball. During that time, he’d also fallen in love with Eveline, Estelle’s best friend, and tonight was their first official outing as a couple. Estelle didn’t want to disturb them, or any of the staff who were rushed off their feet preparing for dinner. She could clear this up on her own.
Hands on her hips, she surveyed the scene. If she ignored the confetti of popcorn, leaves, and oranges studded with cloves that littered the floor, most of the decorations were still intact—just not in the right place. She glanced at her watch. Twenty minutes until dinner was served. She could do this.
Dashing to the bottom of the stairs, Estelle began disentangling the lights from the greenery, popcorn and fruit garlands. The bulbs had gone off, but she didn’t care about fixing them. She just needed to get the overall appearance back to how it was and hope people were drunk enough not to notice.
And this is why I did a final check, she thought as she made her way up the stairs, looping the decorations around her arms. As with most matters relating to her family and their home, Estelle could never truly relax. It was like keeping an eye on a delinquent toddler centipede—having to be on constant alert as you waited for one of the hundred shoes to inevitably drop.
Tonight was meant to be the moment where everything came together and they made a decent profit. A night where she could relax and let her hair down. But no. Here she was, cleaning up her father’s mess, whilst he chugged champagne and partied with her two mothers elsewhere in the house.
Estelle paused and briefly closed her eyes as her throat tightened. Her three parents were still happily in love after over thirty years, Henry was smitten with his girlfriend, Libby, and now Eveline had found her perfect man in Jack. Despite her public protestations to the contrary, Estelle’s love life was non-existent and had been that way for years.
And no surprise. There’s no room or time for a boyfriend.
As well as managing the estate, Estelle ran a livery. Until Henry had returned, she’d been working fourteen-hour days, seven days a week, for years without a break. She had more time to herself now her twin was back, but the only man she was interested in didn’t seem interested in her.
Isaac Hayward was a brilliant yoga teacher, kind, and extremely hot. He had dark curly hair, emerald green eyes, seven-day-stubble, and the body of a gymnast. Yet despite Estelle inviting him to every event she could, he always declined.
No-one else makes me—
Another man’s face came to mind, sending a wave of heat crashing through her.
No, no, no. A thousand times no! NOT him!
Turning back to the miles of lights, she looped more around herself and staggered up another step like an overloaded Christmas tree. There was no way in hell she was going to let her treacherous body and mind think of, or react to, the man who was her brother’s worst enemy: James Hunter-Savage.
Estelle had known about James for years, but had only met him in person twice. From Henry’s description, she’d always pictured an ogre with the social skills of a cocky troll. James was definitely overflowing with attitude, but his self-confidence was not misplaced. Six foot four, a body that rowed Oxford to victory in the Boat Race and looks that would make a male model feel insecure, James had been the most successful broker at Conqueror, the company Henry had worked for in London. He was now living on the other side of the Foxbrooke river which bordered her family’s estate.
The first gong for dinner rang, signalling everyone to move to their tables. Shit! Estelle was almost at the top of the stairs, but her decision to wrap every piece of decoration around her body was slowing her progress.
Forget doing all of it. There’s no time. Just start mending it and work your way back down.
By now, the loops of lights were almost at her eyeballs. She stumbled, reaching for the support of the wooden banister. Be careful! She was barely able to move her arms under the weight of decorations and they were heavy around her neck, making her unbalanced.
Staggering forward, she managed to unhook the first loop of lights and tie it to a railing with one of the wires the dogs had ripped off earlier. It was going to take forever. Pushing a garland of dried fruit to her forehead, she leaned over the support to work out if she could fix it any quicker.
Suddenly, there was the sound of barking behind her and the rumble of feet.
She turned to fend the dogs off, but one of them jumped up, hitting her in the chest. Tangled and weighed down by decorations, her feet left the floor and she toppled backwards over the railing.
Pivoting, she flailed her arms, her fingers making contact with a branch. Time seemed to slow as she gripped it, pain searing into her palm from the holly leaves.
For a brief second, she hung, suspended in air. Then the branch snapped, and she plunged towards a painful and inglorious death. There was no time to think, scream, or brace herself for impact. One moment she was falling, and the next she’d landed.
However the floor was no longer flat and felt very much like someone’s arms.
‘I’ve got you,’ a man’s voice murmured.
She shook with adrenaline, her breath coming in shaky gasps.
‘Shhh. It’s okay. I’ve got you,’ he repeated.
Estelle opened her eyes. All she could see were strands of lights and leaves.
‘You saved my life,’ she stammered.
‘I don’t know about that. I think I saved a Christmas tree. You just happened to be hiding inside it.’
A nervous laugh burst out of her. The man’s voice was deep and confident. It held her fractured mind together with the same assurance as his arms held her body.
‘Are you okay?’ she asked.
‘Me?’ He sounded surprised. ‘Never felt better. Why?’
‘Well, you’ve just caught me and enough decorations for an average-sized house. That’s quite a weight.’
His arms shifted, as if he were flexing his muscles. ‘I’ve benched far more without breaking a sweat.’
A giggle slipped from her lips, and she mentally slapped herself. Stop it! She was being as ditsy as her youngest sister, Summer.
‘Should I get down?’ she asked.
‘I wouldn’t advise it just yet. I presume the lights are plastic, but a lot of them are broken. I want to make sure they don’t hurt you as we take them off. How do you feel?’
My heart’s pounding and there’s a tingling in my pants, but I think that’s mostly down to you…
‘Are you in pain anywhere?’ he continued.
Estelle took a deep breath. She may not have been able to see her rescuer, but—oh, my god—could she smell him. His scent was hot, spicy, and woodsy, cut with something citrus. Her mouth watered.
‘What are you wearing?’ she blurted.
There was a pause. ‘Clothes,’ he eventually replied. ‘Are you disappointed I’m not also festooned in baubles and garden clippings?’
Another giggle bubbled out. Stop it! ‘No, I mean, what aftershave or cologne do you have on?’
‘Is it too much?’
She shook her head and the lights rattled. ‘It’s really nice.’
Another pause. ‘So are you.’
Her pulse rocketed. ‘You don’t know who I am.’
‘Yes, I do. Even though you’re ninety-nine per cent Christmas tree, I’m still one hundred per cent sure I’m holding Estelle Foxbrooke.’
A flash of panic and arousal slammed through her. Was this James?
‘What’s your name?’
He cleared his throat. ‘When I was born, my parents christened me Kevin.’
Her body relaxed, but she wasn’t sure if it was with relief or disappointment.
‘You don’t like it?’
Estelle tried to arrange her thoughts. The name ‘Kevin’, didn’t seem to fit the voice, or the size, of the man who held her.
‘No, that’s not it. It just doesn’t seem to go with you, that’s all.’
‘Hmm. And what do you think should go with me then?’
Er, me? ‘A name like “Atlas”, or “Thor”.’ Or James…
He laughed, and the vibrations rumbled out of his chest into hers.
‘Well, I think your name suits you perfectly.’
‘Yes. You’re a star.’
Oh, my god. Was this mysterious stranger coming onto her?
She swallowed. ‘In what way?’
‘You shine brighter than everyone else.’
A lump formed in her throat. Had anyone ever said anything like that to her before?
‘Are you flirting with me?’ she whispered.
He huffed out a short breath. ‘I’d like to.’
‘Are you married?’
‘No. I’m ninety-nine per cent single.’
‘And the other one per cent?’
‘Has a crush on a Christmas tree.’
Laughter burst out of her, free and unrestrained. She was alive, and in the arms of a sexy stranger, who—thank god—was not James Hunter-Savage.
The sound of the second gong for dinner sounded.
She sighed. ‘I really should get back.’
‘Can we have a drink together after the meal?’
Excitement rippled through her, and she nodded.
‘I want to get to know you,’ he continued. ‘But I also need to talk to you about some things.’
Excitement veered off track into nervous-land. ‘What things?’
She froze in his arms. Had he followed her into the hall? Waited for her to tumble before making his move? Don’t be ridiculous!
He lowered her feet carefully to the ground. ‘Let me help get you free of all this first. Don’t move and I’ll untangle you.’
Standing stock still, her eyes squeezed shut, Estelle allowed him to unwind the decorations from her arms. As soon as they were free, she shuffled the loops from her waist, down and off her legs, then tugged the hem of her dress back to her knees.
The man stayed behind her, lifting the final strands over her head.
With the decorations gone and her shoes still in a corridor, Estelle felt naked. She could feel the heat of him behind her, her own heart hammering inside her chest. She’d gone from fear to excitement to dread.
‘Estelle?’ His voice was low.
She slowly turned and opened her eyes. They confirmed what her gut already knew.
Hurt, anger and confusion fought for her attention. She’d been vulnerable with him. She’d let her guard down. And what had he given her in return?
‘You lied to me,’ she whispered.
He shook his head, a muscle twitching in his jaw.
‘You lied to me!’ she shouted.
‘No! Estelle, I didn’t.’
He reached his hand towards her and she recoiled.
‘Don’t touch me.’
Shaking, she bent to lift the pile of lights and foliage, but it was too much and half of it dropped back to the floor.
‘Let me help,’ he said behind her.
‘No.’ She ran the bundle to a side door, opened it, and threw the decorations inside.
‘Please, can we talk?’
Returning for the rest of the pile, she carried as much as she could, kicking the rest in front of her.
‘I need to tell you something,’ he continued.
‘I’m not interested in anything you have to say, Kevin,’ she spat. ‘I don’t care how you managed to wheedle your way in here tonight, but I’m going to make sure you never darken our doors again.’
‘Darken your doors?’ His tone sharpened. ‘I’m not a vampire.’
‘No, you’re the antichrist.’
Furious with herself for falling prey to his charms, and livid that tears were threatening to spill, Estelle turned on her heels and ran.
Chapter Two: 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!