The Upper Crush – Chapter Six

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 Six:

January 4th

Icy rain relentlessly carpet-bombed the gravel driveway as James peered out of the window, waiting for Estelle to arrive. He shivered, his nose so close to the thin glass he could practically feel the cold gusts as the pane rattled in the wooden frame.

Overpriced dump, he thought for the millionth time.

Shoscombe Manor was a listed building, so his family wasn’t allowed to replace the single-paned windows with triple, or even double-glazed ones. As such, the manor leaked heat like boiling water pouring through a sieve, and the bill to bring the inside temperature slightly above freezing was currently running at over a thousand pounds a week. 

His father had always played fast and loose with his finances, but this was the first time in his life James had seen him on the back foot. The money for the music and arts festival had been ring-fenced in BDE Entertainment’s account, but it wasn’t as much as they’d promised to invest. So now James had to find ways to cut corners and hope Estelle never found out.

Estelle.

A flush of heat moved across his skin. He hadn’t seen or spoken to her since their meeting in the church, but he’d thought about her constantly. She was like a racehorse; strong, powerful, beautiful… and skittish. He had no desire to tame her, he just wanted to harness and direct all that wild energy towards him.

Rein it in. 

If Estelle lived in London instead of this damp and dreary backwater and he was still the highest earning broker at Conqueror. If she wasn’t related to Henry and James’s parents were different, then maybe…

Shut up. It’s never going to happen.

It wasn’t just one obstacle he had to clear to reach her, it was an entire course of them. Pits lined with sharpened stakes, netting electrified by two hundred and forty volts, and sheer walls topped with razor wire.

He let out a sigh of frustration, his breath fogging up the glass. Contracts could be broken, and by the way Henry had talked to Estelle at the church, it was clear her family were trying to get out of the one she’d signed with his company. James hadn’t wanted to push his luck, so had left her alone, crossing his fingers she showed up this morning.

His heart beat faster as a Land Rover Defender roared into the drive and skidded to a halt in a shower of gravel.

Right on time.

Pulling open the manor’s heavy front door, he dashed to the driver’s side of Estelle’s car carrying a golfing umbrella. As she got out, he clocked her battered, moss-green Barbour jacket and Le Chameau wellies. Both were clues to the fact that the only people above her in the British class system were the King and his immediate family.

‘Welcome to Shoscombe Manor,’ he said, the words sounding stiff and formal.

‘Thank you, Jeeves,’ she replied with a smirk, shunting the strap of a large bag to her shoulder.

Holding the umbrella out to protect Estelle from the rain and from having to stand too close to him, James extended his arm towards a long, single-storey wing of the house.

‘This way. The offices are here.’

She strode towards the building and he followed, trying to gauge her mood. However, her stunning face was also alarmingly impassive. Having Estelle Foxbrooke all thunderbolts and lightning felt far easier to handle than this. She was currently calmer than a day without a whisper of wind and it was unnerving.

He opened the door to the building, and she passed through into a bare entry room, the walls lined with coat hooks and low shelves for shoes.

‘This is to accommodate temporary staff nearer to the event date,’ he said.

There was a door to the right that led to the offices, and one to the left with a sign on it reading ‘No Entry’.

Estelle nodded again, tugged off her wellies, and took a pair of slippers from her bag. Each one was twice the size of an adult head, and in the shape of a demented, Day-Glo unicorn. She fiddled with something inside, and the googly eyes lit up, cycling through a rainbow of colours.

James bit his tongue to stop a comment from escaping.

Putting the slippers on, she gestured at the door to their left. ‘What’s through there?’

‘My parents and their staff.’

She turned the handle. ‘It’s locked.’

‘And will remain that way.’

‘Where’s the key?’

‘There’s no reason for you to pass through.’

Pass through? Is it a portal to another dimension? One where Kevin lives?’

His heart rate quickened. You don’t know how right you are, foxy lady… Even though anxiety prickled in his belly at the thought of her being so close to his family, so too did a frisson of excitement. This was the Estelle he wanted around, the sassy one that delighted in needling him.

‘May I take your jacket?’

She took a step backwards and one of the slippers whinnied then made a sound like it was galloping away.

‘No, thank you,’ she replied, unzipping her coat.

James wasn’t sure what he was expecting to see underneath, but was disappointed to discover a shapeless jumper over baggy jeans.

Her eyes narrowed. ‘What? Expecting a stupid tight skirt?’

‘I was hoping for Xena, Warrior Princess.’ The words spilled out of his mouth before he could stop them. Shut-up!

Her nostrils flared slightly, and her cheeks darkened.

Electricity tingled at the base of his cock, and he moved back. ‘Let me show you around.’

Holding the door to his right open for her, she walked through, one slipper whinnying and clip-clopping, the other making a jingling sound that reminded him of a revolting pink plastic wand his little sister used to wave about.

‘Well, that’s not annoying at all,’ he muttered, before realising he’d just vocalised his thoughts. Again.

‘What was that?’ she called over her shoulder, above the sound of a fairy being trampled to death by a horse.

‘Nothing,’ he replied, forcing his jaw to relax. ‘On the left here, we’ve got bathrooms for men and women.’

She pushed the door to the ladies open, revealing three stalls on one side, and a shower cubicle and a bank of sinks on the other. ‘Ooh, fancy. Are the tampons and sanitary towels free?’

‘Help yourself to whatever you want.’

‘I want that hairdryer. Check out the diffuser on that bad boy.’

James didn’t reply. He’d stocked the bathroom thinking of Estelle.

Shutting the door, she glanced around the corridor, her nose wrinkling. ‘Has it just been painted?’

He nodded, putting his hands behind his back in case any flecks of paint remained on his skin. There’d been no money to pay for a decorator, so he’d done it himself over the Christmas break.

The next door had a pane of glass in it, and Estelle gazed through into the small kitchen.

‘Then we’ve got two offices for general staff,’ he said, moving away from her. ‘And a small conference room. Our office is at the end of the hall.’

‘Where’s Max?’

‘Next door to us. He’ll be arriving shortly for our first meeting.’ James had made sure Max wouldn’t turn up until half-nine, giving him a chance to show Estelle around and check out her mood without an audience.

She twinkled and whinnied down the hall, then laid her hand on the last door on the left. ‘Is this us?’

‘Yes.’

Pushing it open, she stepped through. James followed.

The room was bright and spacious, with a set of full-height windows on the far side that overlooked the rose garden. In front of the window was a pink velvet chaise longue his sister hadn’t wanted, framed by two tall house plants in glazed pots. On the left of the room was a desk containing a computer screen, with an office chair behind it. On the right was an identical set-up, but with James’s laptop hooked up to the screen and his jacket over the back of the chair.

He watched Estelle taking it all in, trying to read her expression. Both she and her slippers were silent. He didn’t want to ask her if she liked it, as they were still, unofficially at least, at war. However, he hoped she did.

She skipped to the chaise longue, the sound of her slippers already grating on his nerves, and sat, jamming her fingers down the sides.

‘Looking for loose change?’

She shrugged. ‘That or a winning lottery ticket.’ Her eyes lit up, and she pulled out a folded piece of paper. ‘What have we here?’

Crossing the room, James held out his hand. He didn’t know what it might be, but he didn’t want her knowing anything about his family.

‘Give that to me,’ he said, his voice more commanding than he’d anticipated.

She held the paper to her chest.

‘It could be confidential or proprietary information,’ he continued, fully aware he was sounding like an utter twat.

One corner of her mouth twitched up. Opening the piece of paper, she skimmed it, then smirked.

‘Oh, Mr Hunter-Savage, this is quite the dilemma.’

Fuck. What had she found?

‘“Who I love, and why”,’ she read out loud. ‘“Oliver Simmonds, because he has a nice smile and gave me his pencil in Latin. He is a nice boy.’ Estelle glanced up. ‘How terribly nice…’

James folded his arms across his chest and lifted his chin an inch.

Estelle gave him a bored once-over. ‘Your power stance could do with a bit of work. Try manspreading your legs more.’ She turned her attention back to the piece of paper. ‘“Blaise Ponsonby-Urquhart—good grief. And there was me thinking “Hunter-Savage” was posh—’

‘So says Lady Estelle Foxbrooke,’ he interrupted before his filters had a chance to spring into action.

She ignored him. ‘“Blaise Ponsonby-Urquhart, because he is tall, dark and handsome, and asked to copy my prep, so he knows I am clever. But he’s a bad boy”.’ Estelle sighed. ‘Who did you choose in the end? And did they love you back?’

Striding forward, James snatched the piece of paper out of her hand, scrunched it in his fist, then dropped it into the wastepaper basket by his desk.

Estelle sniggered. ‘Oh, don’t be like that. Love is love. You should never be ashamed of falling for someone called Blaise Ponsonby-Urquhart. Even if he is a bad boy.’ Putting her feet up on the chaise longue, she rested her hands behind her head. The movement made the fabric of her jumper ride up and frame her breasts.

James looked away.

‘I wonder if he’s still a bad boy,’ she mused. ‘Does he park his Bentley across the disabled bays at the supermarket? Fail to recycle?’ Her tone hardened. ‘Or simply steal his colleague’s client and commission?’

His gaze snapped to hers. She was smiling at him, but there was no warmth behind it.

‘Boss-man!’

James jerked his head as Max entered the room carrying a laptop, then knocked on the inside of the door.

Irritation flared in James’s gut, but he dampened it down.

‘Hi, Lady Foxbrooke,’ Max continued with enthusiasm.

His words emptied a full can of petrol on the smouldering embers of James’s annoyance.

‘Max—’

‘Just my first name please,’ Estelle interrupted, getting to her feet and going to shake Max’s hand. ‘Did you have a good Christmas?’

He stared at her noisy slippers, then glanced at James, a smirk on his face. ‘Yes, thanks. I’ll make sure to call you Estelle from now on. It’s just that Boss-man insisted I use your full title.’

No, I fucking didn’t. ‘Really?’ James replied, his tone artificially pleasant. ‘And there was me thinking I requested you do theexact opposite.’

Max shrugged. ‘How about we get started?’ he said to Estelle, then took a spare chair from beside James’s desk and carried it across the room to hers. He sat, placing his laptop down and flipping it open. ‘James,’ he continued, addressing the screen as he tapped in his password. ‘Why don’t you pull up a chair, buddy?’

Why don’t you go fuck yourself? Buddy

‘We’ll use the conference room,’ James replied, grabbing his laptop, stalking to the door and leaving the room without a backwards glance.

Entering the corridor, he took a long, slow breath, filling his lungs with the headache-amplifying smell of fresh paint.

Just stay calm. This is your only option right now.

The sound of Estelle, Max, and a herd of unicorns heading his way made him continue towards the kitchen.

‘I’ll get us coffee,’ he called over his shoulder.

‘Nice one, Boss-man,’ Max said. ‘I’ll have a—’

Entering the kitchen, James body-slammed the slow-closing safety door behind him. Flipping on the ludicrously expensive coffee machine that had once sat in his London flat, he rested his hands on the edge of the countertop and dropped his head.

Fuck. My. Life.

He’d once had the world at his feet, but now he was in the arse-end of nowhere, waiting hand and foot on an obsequious little wanker who undermined him at every turn, and a goddess who despised him.

Six months. That’s as long as your sentence needs to be.

He just had to make the event at Foxbooke Manor turn a profit. Then his mum could keep her dream life in the sticks and he could get back to civilization. He didn’t give a shit about his dad. Hunter-Savage senior could do whatever he liked with BDE Entertainment once the festival was over.

But until that glorious moment when James could drive out of Somerset without a backward glance, he had to find a way of working with Estelle and Max and keeping his sanity intact at the same time.

Going to the fridge, he pulled out the carton of ‘soylmond milk’ that Max insisted was the only thing his stomach could tolerate in coffee. Well, that and a pump each of vanilla, caramel, white mocha, toffee nut, toasted coconut, and peppermint syrup, plus cinnamon powder, monk fruit extract, stevia and cold foam. James had studied chemistry at Oxford and the concoction Max had created turned his head as well as his stomach.

He made Max’s coffee-like substance as quickly as he could, then left it on the side whilst he prepared Estelle’s cappuccino. The part of him that wanted to show off demanded he create a pattern in the foam. As well as hearts, leaves and ferns, he could also do a swan, a peacock, and even a horse.

Could I try a unicorn?

Brow furrowed in concentration, he gave it a go. The attempt was passable, but not up to his exacting standards, so he rubbed it out with the tip of a spoon, shook a blend of cocoa powder and coconut palm sugar over the top, then made himself a triple espresso.

Holding the drinks on a tray in one hand, James pushed the door open and entered the conference room. Max sat at the end of the long table, his attention on his laptop. Estelle was beside him, trying to see over his shoulder.

Max raised his hand, but not his head. ‘Cheers, buddy, chuck it down over there. I won’t be a sec.’

James sat on the same side as Estelle, placing the tray between them and out of Max’s reach. Working for years at Conqueror, one of the City’s top brokerage firms, he was used to facing off against Ivy-league-educated alphas, men who’d arrived in London from New York with balls even bigger than their pay packets. He’d outwitted and out-alpha’d them in the boardroom and the bedroom and wasn’t going to let Max take control.

He passed Estelle her drink. ‘How would you like me to address you?’ he asked, his tone mild.

Her eyes darted away from his, then settled on the coffee. ‘Estelle would be fine, thank you.’

The tension in his stomach eased a little. Nodding, he flipped open his laptop. ‘We’ll spend today getting you up to speed with our intranet, so we’re all using the same systems and sharing information.’ Max glanced up and James continued, his voice a little firmer. ‘Over this week we’ll discuss big-picture stuff, like confirming the artists, then allocate tasks. Is there anything in particular you’d like to take the lead on?’

‘Well—’ Max began.

‘Estelle?’ James interrupted, not allowing any of his focus to shift from her face.

She also appeared to be tuning out Max, her deep brown eyes holding his. ‘I’d like to continue with scheduling the stages and liaising with artists.’

‘But—’ Max interjected.

‘Agreed,’ James said. ‘This festival is your baby, and thanks to your efforts, UberGraft are headlining. BDE Entertainment is here to support you. Isn’t that right, Max?’

Reluctantly breaking Estelle’s gaze, James stared at the younger man. Of course Max wanted the fun jobs. After being abandoned by his former colleagues, the most exciting reason to stay on at BDE was the chance to arselick famous people. James didn’t care about any of that. He viewed everything over the next six months as a marathon to be endured, not enjoyed.

‘Thank you,’ Estelle said.

His gaze flicked back to her. She seemed surprised he’d agreed so readily to her request. Her expression seemed softer, more real. Another tingle began at the base of his spine. 

Glancing away, she took a sip of her drink. A speck of foam clung to her soft brown lips. He wanted to lick it off. 

There was a tentative knock at the door and he leapt up, urgent alarms going off inside him.

‘Stay here,’ he growled at Max and Estelle, then went to the door and opened it a crack.

His eyes briefly closed at the sight of his mother, holding a plate of shop-bought cakes.

‘How’s it—’ she began.

Shaking his head to cut her off and using his body as a shield, he slipped into the corridor.

‘Mum,’ he whispered urgently. ‘You and Dad have got to keep to your side of the house.’

Taking her arm, he ushered her away.

‘But it’s your first day with Lady Foxbrooke, babe.’ She held the plate up. ‘I bought you your favourites.’

Memories flashed through his mind, as clear as the day they were formed. There was a time in James’s life when Mr Kipling’s French Fancies were the very definition of ‘posh’. The appearance in the house of the pretty little sponges covered in coloured fondant icing had signified his mother was trying to impress someone, and James had always hoped there would be one left over for him. On his seventh birthday, as well as having a cake in the shape of a football pitch, James had been allowed to eat a French Fancy for every year of his life, and it had seemed the ultimate treat.

However, by the time he turned eight, he’d learned ‘chav cakes’ were as naff and lower-class as the people who bought them.

Still, his mouth watered at the sight.

‘How’s it going?’ his mum continued.

James propelled them both through the door marked ‘No Entry’ into the main house.

‘It’s been less than half an hour,’ he ground out.

‘Is it clean enough for Lady Foxbrooke? I ran the hoover around first thing, but she showed up in wellies. Shall I wash them for her? Give the cloakroom floor a quick mop?’

‘No!’ He took a breath, trying to control his irritation. ‘Mum, please. The cleaners who do the main house are going to do the offices as well.’

‘But they don’t do a good enough job,’ she fretted, the skin around her heavily made-up eyes creasing. ‘And she’s so posh!’

‘Mum, Estelle lives at a stables. She’s surrounded by horses, dogs, rats—’

‘Rats? Oh, my Christ, babe. You serious?’

He nodded, remembering the smaller of her two dogs carrying a rat as long as it was.

Beverley Hunter-Savage rearranged her shocked features into a reassuring smile. ‘Well, they must be classy rats then. What with her being a lady and all that.’

James resisted the urge to roll his eyes. ‘Mum, I appreciate the concern, but you know what we agreed. Please, can you stick to this side of the house?’

For a second, her smile slipped, then it was back. ‘Of course, babe.’ She held the plate up. ‘One for the road?’

His mouth controlled his hand before his brain could catch up, selecting a pink one and popping it whole into his mouth. As his teeth sank through the fondant icing and his tongue found the vanilla buttercream hidden underneath, he hummed with pleasure.

Beverley beamed. ‘You sure you don’t want to take these back with you?’

He shook his head as he chewed. The Honourable Lady Estelle Foxbrooke wasn’t a Mr Kipling kind of woman.

‘Okay then, I’ll take them to Elyse and your dad.’ Raising onto her tiptoes, she planted a kiss on his cheek. ‘You’ve got this, babe. We’re so proud of you.’

James swallowed the cake and a feeling of unease. He could do this. He was James Hunter-Savage. Nothing could crack the façade he’d created.

Chapter Seven: 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!