The Upper Crush – Chapter Seven

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 Seven:

Hurt prickled inside Estelle’s tummy the moment James re-entered the conference room. She hid it by putting two fingers in her mouth and wolf-whistling.

He frowned at her and retook his seat.

‘Who was that?’ she asked.

‘No-one you need to concern yourself with.’

The prickle turned into a blade, slicing open the box containing his words from the Winter Ball. The ones where he said he wanted to flirt with her, have a drink with her. Henry was right, James was a manwhore who couldn’t be trusted. He didn’t even care enough about his latest shag to give her a name or introduce her to them.

Max sniggered.

‘Is something funny?’ James snapped.

‘Not at all, boss,’ Max replied, lowering his head, the smirk still in place.

Estelle took a packet of Wonder Woman tissues from her bag and held it out. ‘It would appear that “No-one” wears some pretty bright lippie.’

James rubbed his cheek, then stared at his stained fingertips, his mouth a tight line. 

Taking a tissue from the packet, Estelle handed it over. 

Snatching it from her, he wiped his face, as if attempting to remove a layer of skin along with the lipstick.

‘You’re making it worse,’ she said. ‘Now it looks like half of you is auditioning for the role of Bashful in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.’

Both his cheeks coloured.

‘And now you’re one hundred per cent in character!’ She scrunched up her features as if in deep thought. ‘Although maybe Grumpy would be a better part for you to go for in this year’s pantomime… Max, what do you think?’

James shot him a look that could cut through steel. ‘Let’s keep this environment professional, shall we?’ His fingers jabbed at the keyboard of his laptop.

‘Absolutely!’ Estelle replied, channelling the eternally sunny enthusiasm of Libby. ‘So, no more passionate trysts in the stationery cupboard then? Heated glances over the water cooler?’

He glared at her.

‘Hang about. I didn’t know we even had a stationery cupboard. Do I have to pass my probation before I find out where it is? Or work my way down to the seventh layer of hell?’

James slammed the lid of his laptop shut, stood, then turned to Max. ‘Set Estelle’s laptop up and go through our systems with her.’ He stalked to the door.

‘Where are you going?’ she asked.

‘To my office,’ he replied, not looking back. ‘I’ve got work to do.’

Yanking the door open, he strode into the corridor.

‘Don’t you mean our office?’ she called after him.

He didn’t reply.

Estelle waited until the door closed, then turned to Max.

‘So who was at the door?’ she asked, unable to stop the question bubbling out.

Max leaned back in his chair, a smug and secretive smile on his face. Estelle immediately wished she’d kept her mouth shut. Max was more slippery than a bagful of eels.

‘Well,’ he began. ‘I haven’t met his family, but I have seen a woman coming and going. Blonde hair, slim, pretty.’

Estelle’s stomach tightened. That sounded like a description of Henry’s ex, Elizabeth, who James had stolen from her brother.

Max cupped his chin and glanced up and to the left, frowning. It was as if he’d been practising expressions at drama club, and this one was entitled ‘recalling a piece of information from the past of utmost importance’.

‘Younger than you,’ he continued. ‘Maybe late twenties?’

Bugger off! I only turned thirty last summer! Estelle tried to keep calm, but every one of Max’s words made her hackles rise. He wouldn’t have known James made a play for Summer, her youngest sister, another blonde, however his words described a woman who was the physical opposite of Estelle.

‘She’s always dressed in pencil skirts and heels,’ Max said, as if he were in court and it was imperative he remembered every detail. ‘Her make-up—’

‘I get the picture. Can we get on with setting up my laptop now?’

Max’s eyes lit up, as if he knew he’d found another of her weak spots. ‘Yes, Lady—Estelle…’

Estelle stared out of the window at the formal gardens as Max fiddled with her computer. The winter solstice had been and gone, but the land was still sleeping under a blanket of frost and the unbroken expanse of clouds had turned everything into a palette of greys.

Just like my mood…

But isn’t this what you wanted? The little voice in her head sounded exactly like Eveline. To have more reasons to dislike James?

Yes, but he smells so good. It’s like the man equivalent of chocolate, Chelsea buns and horses.

He smells of horses?

Course he doesn’t! Jesus. I can’t believe I’m having this conversation.

You’re not. I’m you.

Shut up.

Estelle forced her gaze back to her laptop. She used to wholly despise James, but the percentage of her dislike had slipped from one hundred down to ninety-seven, which was dangerously low. She needed to stop him wearing whatever it was that made him smell like an attractive human, and force him to use a cologne that revealed his true nature.

Her toes curled as she relived the sensations of him sitting so close to her—the heat, the scent. The attraction was clearly sorcery on his part. Re-crossing her ankles, one foot made a supposedly magical sound and she swallowed a grin. When Willow had asked what she wanted for Christmas, Estelle said she wanted the most garishly offensive slippers her sister could find.

James clearly hated them, but the noises they produced each time she took a step also irritated the hell out of her. Still, it wouldn’t be for long. She was giving it a week before he begged her to work from home.

She pushed her chair back. ‘I need the loo. Can you just crack on without me?’

Max nodded. ‘Sure.’

Outside, the corridor was empty. Estelle passed by the bathroom, straight to the entrance hall and the door through to the main house. 

Still locked. 

She wasn’t naturally nosy, but the masochistic part of her needed to know who the woman was that had kissed James.

Don’t go there! You don’t like him, remember?

Turning around and going to the bathroom, she avoided her reflection in the mirrors, instead focusing her attention on a wicker basket filled with toiletries. They were high-end, mostly organic, and had never been used before. Had the ‘beautiful blonde’ selected them? Estelle sighed. If she had, then the woman could also add ‘has impeccable taste’ to her long list of attributes.

Going through the products, she found a small glass bottle without a label. It was intricately cut crystal, with the letter ‘E’ incorporated into the design. Her heart fluttered. Was the ‘E’ for Estelle?

Pulling off the cap, she held it to her nose. 

Nothing. 

She sprayed it into the air and wafted her hand through the fine mist. Suddenly, every nerve ending in her nose and brain lit up, as if the perfume was the perfect key to activating the essence of her. She sniffed again, her nostrils flaring to take in more of the scent. It was earthy and spicy but at the same time utterly feminine, with light floral overtones.

Depressing the top twice more, she moved through the spray. An image came to her of riding at dawn through fields of flowers, the air holding the scent of early morning dew and damp earth, but also the murmurs of brightly coloured petals as they woke up and reached towards the rising sun. It contained the spice of cedar and the warmth of beeswax, with bold base notes and delicate top ones.

Breathing it in, the corners of her eyes prickled with emotion. The perfume felt like the truest representation of her, in all her complexity. Estelle knew she rubbed people up the wrong way, but the scent seemed to recognise that under her ballsy exterior, she could be just as nurturing as Willow, as sweet as Eveline, and as sunny as Libby. She’d never worn perfume before, but this seemed to become effortlessly part of her, something that would complement and amplify both her and the smells she loved from her daily life.

She stared at the bottle, wondering who ‘E’ was. She wanted to meet her as much as she didn’t. And which other mysterious woman had written the note she’d found stuffed down the side of the chaise longue? Surely not the same person. Did James have a sister?

Estelle sprayed more of the scent on the inside of her wrists, rubbed them together, then onto each side of her neck. Maybe she could ‘borrow’ the perfume and take it home? Apply it before her next yoga class? Would it be the magic that made Isaac respond to her advances?

Ugh. It was easier to break a wild horse than get Isaac Hayward into bed. No matter what she tried, he remained professionally aloof. Why couldn’t she just listen to Eveline and let it go? 

Because he’s the only hot man in the village, and he’s also really nice

She let out a heavy sigh. Unlike James, who may have been hotter than the devil, but had a far less attractive personality.

Spraying the perfume one more time into the air, she walked through it. 

Come on. Just follow the plan, then soon Beelzebub will be out of your hair.

‘Hey, co-worker,’ Estelle said breezily to James as she re-entered their office. ‘My laptop’s all set up now, so I’m good to go.’

James was staring at his computer screen, his hands steepled in front of him as if he was posing for the cover of Mafia Today magazine.

Estelle could see how tight his jaw was, so did a turn of the office, making sure each step was small, to increase the amount of noise coming from her feet.

‘Do you mind?’ he spat through gritted teeth.

‘Mind what?’ she asked, standing in the space between their desks and doing star jumps.

‘What are you doing?’ he growled, his gaze finally flicking up to meet hers.

‘Exercise,’ she replied, her feet continuing to impersonate Genghis Khan and his horde invading fairyland. ‘Getting the blood flowing.’

James’s blood seemed to be pooling in his temples. ‘Do you normally do this?’

She changed to jogging on the spot. ‘I usually do yoga.’

‘But today…?’

‘I don’t have my mat. I could bring it tomorrow?’

‘That would be preferable,’ he replied, his gaze returning to the screen in front of him.

‘Can I bring some more things from home?’ she asked, picking up the pace. The noises from her feet were grating on her nerves, however James’s nerves looked frayed to the point of tearing so she wasn’t going to stop.

‘What kind of things?’

‘Personal items. For my work environment.’

He stood. ‘Bring whatever you need.’ Picking up a piece of paper from his desk, he held it out. ‘The code for the main door, so you can come and go as you please. You have my number if you need to reach me outside of work.’

She stopped running and went forward, taking it from him. His gaze was fixed on a point an inch above her head, but suddenly his nostrils flared and his eyes snapped to meet hers.

Her breath stuttered in her throat at his expression. She saw surprise, something that looked like victory, then dark heat. 

Oh, shit. The perfume! Do I remind him of whoever ‘E’ is? Turning, she dashed back to her desk.

By the time she took her seat, James was at the door. ‘I’ll leave you to it for a bit. If you need me, ring my mobile.’

Then he was gone.

Estelle put her hand to her heart. It wasn’t the star jumps or running that was making it race out of control. It was James.

Hold it together until the end of the day, then it’s time to put phase two into action.

***

Henry: I know I don’t need to worry about you but I can’t help it. Please ring me when you can and let me know you’re okay X

Libby: How was your first day with the Big Bad Wolf? Did you blow his house down? XXX

Eveline: I have complete faith that today will work out perfectly but you are still in my thoughts and prayers xxxx

Finn: Have you served James his balls on a plate yet?

Willow: How’s it going? What did he think of the slippers????? 

Jack: My wife is calmly confident you’re absolutely fine, but Henry is fretting. So could you message him when you get a chance and get him off our backs? Ta x

Connor: Been thinking of you today and hope it went well. If Eveline’s right and James does fancy you, then it should make things easier? Big hugs xxx

Leo: Your favourite brother here. Henry says I need to be worried about you working with this James bloke. I told him not to get his knickers in a twist and you’d eat James for breakfast. Speaking of food, when are you next coming over for dinner? X

Estelle: I’m creating this group chat and entitling it ‘The Destruction of James Hunter-Savage’. Here are the headlines from today

I’m alive!

Unfortunately, so is JHS…

The slippers are GENIUS torture. James HATES them. I did star jumps and ran on the spot in front of him and he nearly popped a vein. I’m aiming for an aneurysm by Friday

Eveline, I’m sorry my darling, but you were WRONG about him liking me. Someone came by but JHS didn’t let us see them. Five mins later he comes back with lipstick on his cheek. Apparently, there’s a ‘beautiful blonde’ living with him and his folks

Leo, I’m too busy in the evenings making sure the stables are doing okay, but I’ll come over as soon as I can. It needs to be Sunday through Thursday though, and Dad has to make onion bhajis. I want to be able to fart at will the next day. Maybe I could gas JHS to death?

Love you all xxx

Eveline: I’m so glad your first day went well! However, the blonde lady might be his sister? And maybe you could think about changing the name of this group chat from ‘the destruction of James-Hunter Savage’ to ‘the befriending of James Hunter-Savage’? He seemed perfectly pleasant when I met him xxxx

Henry: Estelle, I’m so glad you’re okay. Eveline, you’re far too kind and forgiving. Trust me, that man doesn’t deserve it

Connor: How about the ‘ignoring’ of James Hunter-Savage?

Libby: The ‘mindful acceptance’ of JHS?

Estelle: Ugh. No way. I’m thinking of changing ‘destruction’ to ‘annihilation’

Leo: Is he really that bad you want to inflict Dad’s onion bhaji farts on him?

Henry: YES!

Estelle: YES!!!

Finn: How about ‘the boning of James Whatisface’?

Estelle: EXCUSE ME?

Finn: Well, the line between love and hate…

Estelle: Fuck off, Finley, then fuck off some more

Henry: Really not helping, Finn

Finn: LOL. Stelle and Savage, sitting in a tree…

Estelle: I’m going to kick you out of this group if you don’t shut up

Finn: K-I-S-S-I-N-G!

Finn has been removed from the group.

Estelle: Right. That’s Finn gone. Anyone else want to side with Savage?

Leo: I’m not saying a word. This is top quality weekday night entertainment and I’ve got a ringside seat

Henry: We’re here for you, Estelle. Whatever you need

Estelle: Thanks bro X

Willow: So, what’s the plan for tomorrow? Xxx

Estelle: I’m gonna spice up his life…

Leo: With bhajis?

Estelle: No, the girls are coming with me to work…

Chapter Eight: 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!