The Upper Crush – Chapter Thirteen

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 Thirteen:

Despite her power walk, Estelle’s feet made no sound as she strode towards the end office she shared with James. Because she’d come via the garage and rectory that morning, she’d worn a pair of clean trainers and hadn’t bothered to take them off.

Hearing a voice inside the room, she paused at the closed door and leaned in to listen.

‘Here? In bumfuck nowhere?’ James’s voice was louder than normal, as if he was on the phone. ‘Somerset’s a pussy desert, mate. Drier than your girlfriend on date night.’

Bile rose up into Estelle’s throat.

James laughed. ‘Fuck you? You’re not my type.’

Her head pounding, Estelle didn’t know whether to keep listening or barge in.

‘The women are alright if you like them in wellies with straw in their hair,’ James continued, ‘but I’d stick to London skirt if I were you.’

Estelle’s fingers raked through her curls. A few days ago, she’d come into work with a piece of straw stuck in them. Was he talking about her?

‘Nah, I’m not here long, just gotta help the old man out for a few months. I’ll be back by the close of Wimbledon. Get me a ticket for the women’s finals, would you? Give me something to look forward to apart from banging your mum.’

Shaking with rage, Estelle shouldered open the door. It bashed against the inside wall.

James leapt to his feet, immediately cutting the call. ‘Estelle—’

‘You utter, utter bastard.’

His face was pale. ‘That’s not me.’

She advanced on him. ‘Really? Well, who was it then? Kevin?’

‘It’s just an act.’

She gave him a slow handclap. ‘And the Oscar goes to… James Hunter-Savage.’

‘It’s not what you think.’

Her blood pressure was rising and her heartbeat pulsed in her temples. ‘Do you think I’m hard of hearing? Stupid?’ She made a show of looking around the room and under the desks. ‘Yep, just as I deduced from outside the room, there’s only one “person” I could have heard being such a total wanker, and that’s you.’

James ran his hands through his hair. ‘Can you let me explain?’

Estelle crossed her arms, trying to contain her fury. ‘Go on.’

‘It was just someone from Conqueror. That’s how we are at work—’

‘Henry’s not like that.’

James let out a terse breath. ‘It doesn’t mean anything. It’s not who I really am.’

‘Bullshit. It’s exactly who you are. You use and abuse everyone.’ She grabbed the envelope containing the CVs, stalked across the room and slapped it against his chest. ‘And because Somerset is such a “pussy desert”, you’re using the festival and your position as boss of Big Dickhead Entertainment to catfish unsuspecting young women. It’s the most disgusting abuse of power and takes sexual predation to another level.’

He took the envelope from her and opened it. Her fight-or-flight reflex was now leaning towards fleeing. She’d never felt scared around James before, but after what Elyse had said, she was now very much aware he had a good six inches on her and considerably more muscle. The door was still wide open and she was closest to it. She tensed, getting ready to run.

James tore the pile of CVs in half. ‘This had nothing to do with me.’ Going to the recycling bin by the window, he threw them in. ‘It was Max.’

‘Bullshit.’

‘He showed me his selection last week. I chucked them out and told him to re-advertise. That’s the last straw. I’m sacking him immediately.’

Estelle forced herself to stay put between James and the door. ‘You can’t do that. He’s the only one of us who’s ever done this before.’

‘I don’t give a fuck. He’s a backstabbing, underhand little shit and—’

‘Oh, that’s rich coming from you!’

‘Meaning?’

‘Stealing Henry’s clients at Conqueror, letting me sign the contract with your company not knowing you were behind it, horn-dogging your way across the county and breaking people’s hearts—’

‘What on earth are you talking about?’ 

‘I’ve never met anyone as soulless as you in my entire life.’

James crossed his arms. ‘And you’re so perfect? With your complete lack of professionalism and childish pranks? I’ve had arseholes beeping me all week before I realised you’d slapped a sticker that says “overcompensating” on the back of my car.’

Estelle paused, her mind whirling. She’d completely forgotten she’d done that.

‘It’s ruined the paintwork. Do you know how much it’s going to cost to get fixed? No, of course you don’t, because Lady Estelle Foxbrooke has never had to worry about money before—’

‘You don’t know the first thing about me.’

‘And you’ve got me all figured out.’

‘Based on your words and your actions. You don’t even want to do the festival and can’t wait to leave once it’s over.’

‘Well, for once you’ve got something right. The last thing I ever wanted was to have anything to do with your family. And I’d rather spend six months in a salt mine in Siberia than holed up in Somerset trying to pull this shit together. The only reason I’m still here is because I’ve got no fucking choice.’

‘And you think I do?’ she yelled.

A movement in the doorway caught her eye. She whipped around to see a couple in their sixties, dressed in dark suits, standing just inside the room. Max was behind them, a smirk plastered on his face.

No!

‘Max, you’re sacked,’ James snarled. ‘Get the fuck off the property.’

Max’s grin faltered for a second, then he flipped James the bird and left.

‘Can I help you?’ James asked the couple, his tone still harsh.

The man drew himself up. ‘I’m Councillor Mark Pensford, from the district council licensing committee, and this is Councillor Sarah Hughes. We were invited to discuss your plans for a music and arts festival at Foxbrooke Manor.’

James turned to Estelle. ‘Did you know about this?’

She shook her head, reaching for the side of her desk as her knees buckled. It’s over. Everything’s over.

‘Please excuse us,’ James said to the councillors, his mouth forced into a smile. ‘It’s been a bit of a morning and tempers have become a little frayed.’ He moved forward, his hand extended. ‘James Hunter-Savage.’

Mark and Sarah stepped back.

‘Shall we go to the conference room?’ he continued. ‘Estelle, why don’t you see the councillors through and I’ll fire up the coffee machine?’

‘No, thank you,’ Mark said. He turned to Sarah. ‘I think we’ve seen and heard enough?’

The woman nodded. ‘Despite my previous experiences dealing with your family,’ she said to Estelle, ‘I came to this meeting with an open mind. However, the unpleasant scene my colleague and I have just witnessed reinforces my opinion that your event should not go ahead.’

‘We can’t speak on behalf of the rest of the committee,’ Mark added, ‘but we’ll be recommending they join us in voting to reject your application.’

‘But you haven’t seen our plans,’ James argued.

‘I can’t see how that would make any difference,’ Sarah said. ‘If the principal stakeholders can’t even be civil to one another or respect their staff, then what hope do you have of pulling off a three-day event?’

The councillors turned and left the office.

‘Wait up,’ James said, running after them and closing the door behind him.

Estelle stumbled to the chaise longue and sank her head into her hands, her nervous system whining in her ears like a swarm of mosquitos. She’d spent the last decade trying to save Foxbrooke Manor from her father’s crazy schemes, and now her own idea was going to sink the estate in one fell swoop because she’d lost her temper at the worst possible time.

Her phone buzzed from her back pocket and she pulled it out.

Henry.

‘I’ve fucked up!’ she stammered as she accepted the call. ‘Henry, I’ve totally fucked everything up.’

‘What’s happened? Are you okay?’

Adrenaline was making her body shake as if she was sitting in an ice bath. ‘I screamed at James in front of two of the councillors from the licensing committee and now they won’t back our application. The festival’s over.’

‘What about the other committee members? When’s the vote? Can you appeal?’

‘It won’t work, Henry. They all hate Dad. They shoot down in flames almost everything he tries to do. I hoped it would be different because the festival is me, not him, but I lost the plot in front of them. It’s all my fault.’

‘It can’t be. What about James?’

‘I started it, Henry. It doesn’t matter what he said. I’m the one who kicked off.’ She took a shuddering breath. ‘God, Henry. All these years I bad-mouthed Dad, and now we could lose the estate because of me.’

‘We won’t. I promise—’

‘I’m so sorry. I’m so fucking sorry.’

‘Hey! It’s all going to be okay. Come home and we can talk to Dad, try and brainstorm a way forward.’

‘I can’t. The Defender’s at the garage.’

‘I’ll come and pick you up. I need to have words with Hunter-Savage, anyway.’

‘Jesus! No, Henry, it’ll just make everything worse!’

‘Estelle. You tried to make it work, and it hasn’t. He needs to hand the money over and walk away.’

She went to the door and peeked into the corridor. 

Empty.

‘Look, you know I don’t like to admit I was wrong,’ she said into the phone. ‘But this morning’s cock up is sixty per cent on me.’

Going down the corridor, an engine roared outside. Looking through a window onto the drive, she saw James’s car accelerate away, the back wheels spinning on the gravel.

‘He’s just left, anyway.’

‘James?’

‘Yeah.’ Estelle ran her hand into her hair, tugging on the roots as if it would help ease her headache. ‘I’m going to walk through the fields back to the livery and spend the rest of the day shovelling shit. I think it’s an apt metaphor for how much crap I’ve landed us in.’

‘Please, come for dinner tonight? We can talk it through then.’

‘Maybe. I’m so sorry.’

‘Don’t be. We’ll sort it. I’m going to fill Dad in now.’

‘If you think that would help?’

‘We’ll see. At least he’ll know which of the councillors might be on our side when we appeal.’

After getting off the phone to Henry, Estelle went around the back of the manor, through the formal gardens, and into the park behind. It was at least an hour’s hike through the fields to the livery and she needed the time away from everyone to process what had just happened.

The clouds were low and angry, the air filled with drizzle. It clung to her clothes as she made her way up the steep slope, coalescing into cold drops that found their way under her collar to run down her neck.

She forced herself to walk faster, her anger at James, and herself, fuelling her pace. She knew she’d been unprofessional in her outburst, but meeting Elyse, then hearing James’s words on the phone, had made the red mist descend until she was choking with rage.

The festival was her baby. Finally, something for the estate that was nothing to do with her parents. She’d been so excited to work with Excelsior, but now she was more miserable than she’d ever been.

You shine brighter than anyone else.’

She kicked a clod of earth with her muddy shoe as she remembered James’s words to her at the Winter Ball. In that moment, she’d fallen just a little bit in love with the nameless, faceless stranger who’d saved her life and held her so confidently in his arms. 

Somerset’s a pussy desert, mate.’

Raising her face to the prickling cold of the rain, Estelle let out a scream of frustration. That was the real James, the one Henry had warned her about, the one who’d treated Elyse so badly, the one who lied,  manipulated and bullied at every turn.

By the time Estelle got to the livery, the exercise had done nothing to take the edge off her anger. Changing into her wellies, she went to work, shovelling the heavy clods of dung and straw out of the stables until her arms and back screamed at her to stop.

‘Bad day?’ Molly asked as she arrived with a steaming cup of coffee.

Estelle took it. ‘Thanks, and yes. Even shittier than what’s in this wheelbarrow.’

‘Want to talk about it?’

‘No.’

‘You do know we’ve got a load of young girls desperate to do this job? You really don’t have to do it.’

‘I needed to.’

‘You could take Duke out?’

Estelle eyed Chester and Joy, who were sitting on the other side of the stable door, waiting patiently for her to do something more interesting that they could join in with.

‘Yeah, you’re right. I should have done that first.’ She slurped as much hot coffee as her stomach could stand, then tossed the dregs down the drain. ‘Thanks, Moll.’

Molly took the empty mug. ‘Anytime. Now leave the rest of this and get going.’

Estelle nodded and went to the tack room, whistling for her dogs. She wanted to keep exercising until she was so tired that an immediate and dreamless sleep was guaranteed.

An hour and a half later, Estelle trotted back into the yard on Duke, sweating and streaked with mud from when she’d fallen off after losing her balance.

Molly dashed out of the stables. ‘You’ve got to ring your brother.’

‘Which one? What’s happened?’

‘Henry. He said it was an emergency.’

Estelle pulled her phone from her pocket. She’d had it on silent and had missed several calls from Henry, one from Jack and two from Alan at the garage.

‘Fuck!’ She glanced at her watch—six thirty. ‘I’ve totally forgotten about picking up the Defender.’

‘Are they still open?’

‘No, they closed at five.’

‘Do you need me to take you anywhere?’

‘I don’t know. Let me ring Henry and see what he wants.’

The call to her brother connected immediately.

‘Estelle? You need to get over here. Now. Dad’s gone and done something catastrophically stupid.’

‘What?’

‘He’s invited the Hunter-Savages for dinner. They’re arriving in the next five minutes.’

Chapter Fourteen: 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!