The Upper Crush – Chapter Ten

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 Ten:

‘It’s never going to work,’ Estelle huffed as she stomped through the back door of the rectory a few days later.

‘It’s only been a week,’ Eveline replied. ‘You can’t expect a miracle.’

Estelle fixed her best friend with a look. ‘That’s blasphemy coming from you. Have you forgotten your boss made the whole bloody universe in less time than I’ve had to convert Hunter-Savage into an actual human being?’

Eveline rolled her eyes. ‘Come into the kitchen. Jack made a chocolate fudge cake earlier.’

‘Ooh! Yum!’ Estelle followed her through the ground floor into a large room which was in the process of being modernised. New taps sat above the butler sink and the doors were missing from the cupboards. ‘Where is your domestic god, anyway?’ she asked, going to the kettle and flicking it on.

‘At Wickes, buying paint and looking at cabinets.’

‘Sexy stuff. I see you’re still in the honeymoon phase.’

Eveline blushed. ‘He’s just perfect in every way.’

Estelle bit back a retort. Her friends had found true happiness with each other and she didn’t want to keep raining on their parade just because she was single and grumpy. Pulling out several items from her bag she’d bought from a craft shop earlier, she laid them on the table.

Eveline gazed at what she’d brought. ‘What are you making?’

‘A present for the antichrist.’

‘Half of that sentence sounded nice. What is it?’

Estelle held up a giant wooden letter in one hand and some neon-pink fake fur in the other.

Eveline glanced between them, a frown creasing her forehead, before realisation struck and her eyebrows hit her hairline.

‘Estelle!’

‘What? Beelzebub expressed an interest in the letter E that Leo got me, so I’m making this for him,’ she replied with a smirk.

Eveline shook her head, cut two slices of cake and brought them to the table.

‘This smells like heaven,’ Estelle said, her mouth watering. Taking a fork, she sliced off a piece and popped it into her mouth. ‘Uck ee, at’s ood,’ she moaned as her mouth and brain simultaneously orgasmed.

Eveline grinned. ‘Why don’t you take some with you to give to James?’

‘Uck off!’ Estelle cried, then started coughing as a crumb went down the wrong way. 

A glass of water appeared in front of her. ‘I think God wants James to have a piece of cake.’

Estelle gulped from the glass. ‘Never. He doesn’t deserve it.’

‘He can’t be that bad, really?’

‘He’s so horrid to his cleaner that she’s literally terrified of him. He claims he doesn’t have a girlfriend, but a ‘beautiful blonde’ smothered his cheek with her lippie—’

‘You don’t know—’

‘He drives a Ferrari with a personalised number plate—’

‘Jack owns an Aston Martin—’

‘Which is stylish and classy and also a British company—’

‘It’s still a very expensive sports car.’

‘It’s not the same. Anyway, Jack is lovely, but James is…’ Estelle wanted to say that James also smelled amazing, made the perfect cappuccino, and perhaps had a sense of humour hidden under the tightly tailored shirts. But if she did that, it would become clear that her feelings towards him were complicated.

‘And you haven’t driven him mad yet?’

Estelle shrugged. ‘He’s hiding it well. He tends to come in first thing, make me a coffee, stick a pair of headphones on when I play the Spice Girls, then bugger off to the conference room when I start singing.’

Eveline visibly winced.

‘Oh, come on. My voice isn’t that bad.’

Her friend deflected. ‘He makes you coffee?’

‘Yeah, the machine looks like NASA designed it, and the display’s in Italian, so I don’t want to press the wrong buttons and break it.’

‘It sounds like he’s being more than accommodating to you.’

Estelle crammed another chunk of cake in her mouth to avoid answering.

‘And have you asked him if you can work from home?’

She swallowed. ‘No, that’s too obvious. The suggestion has to come from him. But I did ask if I could bring Chester and Joy with me to work next week.’

‘Oh, that sounds nice.’

‘Yeah, their training is almost complete.’

Eveline frowned in confusion. ‘What training?’

‘Um…’ Estelle dropped her gaze to the table, where it fell to one of Eveline’s romance novels. This one was entitled A Cornish Christmas at the Fluffy Puppy Therapy Café on Starfish Cove. ‘I’m training them to be therapy dogs.’

‘Really?’ Eveline didn’t sound convinced. ‘And what does that involve?’

‘Making them friendlier.’

‘How?’

‘You know, exposing them to lots of different smells, sounds, and so on.’

‘Oh.’

Estelle took a tube of glue and a pair of scissors from her bag. ‘Anyway, enough about me. How are you? Got a bun in the oven yet?’

Eveline’s cheeks pinked.

‘Holy shit! You have?’

‘We don’t know yet,’ she replied hurriedly. ‘But I am a few days late, so…’

‘Have you done a test?’

She shook her head. ‘Jack’s going to pick one up this afternoon.’

Estelle’s heart squeezed and her eyes pricked with emotion. She knew how much her friend wanted to be a mum. 

‘How are you feeling?’ 

‘Apart from head-over-heels in love, I feel exactly the same. I’ve never been pregnant before, so I don’t know what to look out for.’

‘I remember when Mammy was pregnant with Summer, she was knackered all the time. But then again, it was her fourth, and Summer was as demanding in the womb as she is out of it.’

Eveline laughed. ‘You have to make a lot of noise if you’re the youngest. How’s she getting on in France?’

‘According to her, she’s a “social media sensation”. But as far as I can tell, this mainly involves being photographed constantly, going to glitzy parties and accumulating “followers”. Henry and Willow worry about her, Dad, Mammy, Connor and Leo say she’ll be fine, and Mom’s over the moon that Summer’s living the life she wanted for me and Henry.’

‘And you?’

Estelle let out a sigh. ‘Despite how full of herself she is, I do miss having her around. But right now, I’m happy the English Channel is between her and Hunter-Savage.’

‘He only talked to her once, and apparently it was innocuous?’

‘Summer’s blonde, pretty, young and loves attention. I wasn’t there when James tried it on with her, but it must have been bad for Henry to lose his shit like that and break his nose.’

Eveline’s hand covered her heart. ‘Oh, my goodness!’

‘It’s fine. His face could do with a small imperfection.’

‘He is rather handsome.’

‘Mmm—I mean NO! He is absolutely not handsome. He’s a troll who got hit several times by the ugly stick.’

‘That’s not true, and more importantly it’s not kind.’

Estelle slumped back in her chair, angry tears building in the back of her throat. She knew she was being a cow, but it felt the safest thing to do rather than admit she fancied a man who seemed to use and discard women as if they were utterly inconsequential.

Reaching across the table, Eveline took her hand. ‘My darling friend. It’s okay to find a man you dislike attractive. And you’re also allowed to like someone even if your twin despises them.’

‘I don’t like him,’ she mumbled.

Eveline gave her hand a squeeze. ‘Would you like another slice of cake?’

She nodded.

‘Okay, I’ll get it for you. You concentrate on creating your gift for James.’

***

Eveline: Just letting you know that the test came back negative. Don’t worry about me, I’m fine. I didn’t think it was likely to happen that quickly, especially as I’m considered ‘geriatric’ xxx

Estelle: WTAF? Geriatric? Down with the patriarchy! I’m so sorry, sweetheart xxx

Eveline: Honestly I’m okay X

Eveline: You know, you don’t have to give your ‘gift’ to James…

Estelle: Do you want it?

Eveline: Absolutely not

Eveline: I do hope he sees the funny side of it

Estelle: Well, if he doesn’t, then he can be consoled by the best therapy dogs in Somerset…

***

‘Will you behave!’ Estelle shouted over her shoulder as she left the livery for Shoscombe Manor the following week. ‘We talked about this, didn’t we? Huh? Huh?

Chester was on the backseat of the Defender, growling and holding Joy’s leg in his jaws as he attempted to engage her in a game of rough-and-tumble.

Joy was ignoring him, barking instead at Estelle.

‘I know we’ve been planning this since before Christmas, but the two of you have got to be chill. Okay?’

Chester let go of Joy’s leg and leapt into the front of the car, down into the passenger footwell, where he proceeded to tear receipts Estelle had left there to shreds.

‘For heaven’s sake!’

Swerving to a stop in a layby, she grabbed Chester and went to the back of the car. 

‘Time out, Mister. You can go full Berserker when we get there, but right now you need to calm down.’

She opened the boot, then the crate in the back. 

Chester started whining.

‘Oh, don’t be like that, little man.’ She kissed his fluffy head.

He licked the end of her nose, his tail wagging against her arm.

Raising her eyes to the wintery clouds, Estelle let out a huff. ‘Okay, okay, but that was your last warning.’

Returning Chester to the backseat with Joy, she restarted the car.

It was less than a ten-minute drive to the manor but it was enough time to send her pulse rocketing. Each time she knew she was going to see James, her tummy swooped and dipped a little more as if she was graduating to higher and higher roller coasters. But now, with her gift for him wrapped in a bag beside her, and Chester and Joy hyped up and ready for action, she wondered if she’d gone too far.

And would her plan even work? Caligula and Borgia were the most uncontrollable dogs she’d ever known, but two words from James had them still and silent at his feet. Would he have the same effect on hers? Even after she’d spent weeks training them to attack his jumper?

She glanced at the clock on the dashboard. Late. She hated running behind for anything. Getting into the office before James meant that she could compose herself and her sassy game-face. Now all the witty remarks she’d carefully prepared had seeped from her skin and were mingling with the sweat trickling down the back of her neck.

Coming to a stop outside Shoscombe Manor, Estelle clipped leads to Chester’s and Joy’s collars. It was a new place, and she knew they’d want to explore. However, the last thing she needed was to be running after them as they chased anything that moved.

Did James’s parents have a cat? He hadn’t mentioned anything about one when they’d discussed bringing her dogs to work. Shit. If they did, she hoped it was the size and temperament of Henry and Libby’s cat, Mr Pussy, who was an evil bastard to anyone but his owners.

Inside the office entrance, she kicked off her boots, her nose twitching along with Chester’s and Joy’s. The cloakroom held the incredible scent of a freshly-showered James. He was here already.

Both dogs barked loudly, their ears pricking up. 

Was this a bad idea? Or a fucking terrible one? 

Chester and Joy were now straining against their leads, desperate to head down the corridor towards the smell they’d been getting to know since Sausage Saturday the previous year.

‘I’ve changed my mind,’ she hissed at them. ‘We’re going home. Now sit whilst I put my boots back on.’

The dogs complied.

‘Stay.’

They did.

She dropped their leads and grabbed her boots.

The office door at the far end of the corridor opened, and James stepped out.

Oh, shit.

‘Stay!’ 

They didn’t, hooning off towards him like Greyhounds with an acute case of the zoomies.

She ran after them, but it was too late. They’d reached him, and were—oh, god.

‘No!’

Chester was humping James’s right leg with the energy of a jackhammer, and Joy was vigorously humping his left. His gaze went from one dog to the other, then travelled up to meet hers.

‘Um…’ she began.

He smirked. ‘Want to join in?’

‘Chester! Joy! Heel!’ she growled.

They ignored her.

‘Dammit!’ Grabbing their collars, she yanked them away.

James extended his arm towards the open door. ‘After you.’

She dragged them inside the office, but it was challenging when their heads were turned almost one hundred and eighty degrees so they could still see James.

He shut the door behind them, crossed to his desk and leant against it, his arms folded across his broad chest as he watched her.

‘Chester! Joy! Sit!’ she yelled.

Joy’s tail was a blur, and Chester was jumping and yipping as if he’d been promised a walk with unlimited squirrel-chasing opportunities.

‘They’re very…’ James began. ‘Enthusiastic…’

His voice was deep with sexual innuendo, and Estelle’s body heated.

‘I didn’t expect them to be like this,’ she replied through gritted teeth before turning back to her dogs. ‘Calm down!’

‘Did you hope they would attack me instead?’

She didn’t reply.

James whistled, and the dogs stilled. 

Pushing himself upright, he came to Estelle’s side. She stared at his chest, breathing in deeply and luxuriating in the warmth radiating out through the crisp white cotton of his shirt.

‘Sit,’ he commanded the dogs.

Estelle forced her own body not to obey as both Chester’s and Joy’s backsides hit the floor.

‘Good girl,’ James murmured. 

Her thighs involuntarily clenched.

‘Good boy,’ he continued.

Estelle let go of her dogs’ collars but couldn’t move, trapped between the hard edge of her desk and the even harder expanse of James’s body.

She held her breath, the scent of him filling her lungs and diffusing into her blood.

James stepped back. ‘Coffee?’

She nodded.

He went to the door. 

Chester and Joy followed.

‘Stay,’ he said to them.

They did.

James gave them a dazzling smile then left the room.

Estelle let out her held breath, then turned to her pets. ‘What was all that then?’ she hissed. ‘That was not the plan.’

They ignored her, sniffing around James’s desk.

‘Come here. Get away from the dark side.’

James’s mobile rang and Chester barked. Estelle crossed the room and picked him up, glancing down at the phone screen. Someone called ‘Char’ was calling. Charlotte? Charlie? The temptation was strong to answer it, so she went back to her own desk and plonked down her bag containing James’s gift. Is this a mistake, too? Undecided, she put the bag on the floor behind the desk and sat, flipping her laptop open.

Five minutes later, James returned. Her dogs acted as if he was the second coming bearing gifts of marrow bones.

‘Chester! Joy! Leave him alone!’

James placed her cappuccino down on a small space she’d cleared, then called the dogs to heel.

Staring at the froth, once again Estelle was convinced he was trying to make a pattern in it. But of what?

‘Do they have beds?’

Huh? Her head snapped up.

‘Your dogs.’

‘Yes, in the Defender, but it doesn’t mean they’ll use them. I’ll get them in a moment.’

James’s eyes fell to Chester. ‘What have you got there, boy?’

She stood to look over the desk. Chester was dragging her bag over to James.

‘No!’

The bag fell open. ‘A present?’

‘It’s not for you.’

He picked it up and read the back of the gift tag. ‘Do you know another James Hunter-Savage?’

‘Er…’

He traced the patterns on the sparkly wrapping paper. ‘Maybe one who’s going through a “unicorn phase”?’ 

‘Um…’

‘How did you know it was my birthday?’

‘It is?’

‘In eight months’ time.’ The corner of his mouth lifted. ‘I appreciate how—’ his gaze fell to the mess of her desk ‘—organised you are.’

Heart thudding in her chest, she took another sip of her perfectly-made coffee.

‘I wonder what it is.’ James gently squeezed the package, a pensive look on his face. ‘It feels soft, but at the same time, very, very hard…’ The tip of his finger slid under the edge of the wrapping paper. ‘May I?’

Estelle stared, her eyes unable to break away from their locked position on his hands as he slowly undressed her gift. The fact he was taking so much care not to rip the paper just made the situation in her pants even worse. Yes, he was objectively hot, but his sinfully sexy personality was a siren call her body didn’t want to ignore.

Placing the wrapping paper to one side, he held her present in his hands, his forehead furrowed.

‘My name doesn’t start with the letter Q.’

‘I know,’ she replied, trying to sound cool, even though everything inside her was anything but.

Running his fingers over the fur, he inspected her handiwork. His hand stilled as he found an uneven edge. ‘You made this?’

She shrugged.

His smile was broad. ‘You made this for me.’

Estelle forced her lips to stay shut. This was not how she thought this would go down. Eveline had been right. The amount of time and effort she’d put into creating the fur Q had demonstrated just how much she’d been thinking about James.

He placed it carefully on his desk, then held her gaze. ‘Thank you. I’ll think of you every time I look at it.’

Oh, god. She swallowed. Quick! Think of something cutting to say!

His phone rang. Not breaking eye contact, he reached to pick it up, only glancing at the screen when it was in front of him.

His expression immediately changed. 

Pushing off the desk, he moved towards the door. ‘I’ve got to take this.’

Chester and Joy went to follow.

‘Stay,’ he said to them.

James went into the corridor, closing the door behind him, but not before Estelle heard him say the word ‘Char’.

Chapter Eleven: 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!