The Upper Crush – Chapter Three

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 Three:

One Week Later

Life is good, and the future’s going to be even better.

Striding up Milsom Street in Bath, Estelle had just the right amount of adrenaline running through her veins. It was enough to make butterflies dance excitedly in her stomach, but not enough to turn it. 

She was within touching distance of her dream of staging a music and arts festival at Foxbrooke Manor, but needed outside help and investment to make it happen. After successfully securing both through a partnership with Excelsior Events the previous month, the company had, unexpectedly, been bought out. Now she was on her way to meet the new owner.

Please let them be nice. Not some cocky arsehole or society queen who looks down her nose at me.

Crossing the road, she checked her appearance in the windows of a shop filled with Christmas decorations. She’d swapped her usual wardrobe of jodhpurs, jeans and jumpers for a plum-coloured cashmere coat her mom had given her. Underneath, she’d crammed her curves into a tight pencil skirt and cream silk blouse that complemented her soft brown skin.

Her feet, usually in riding boots or wellies, were now squeezed into uncomfortable designer boots. The added height took her to just over six feet tall and helped her fake the confidence her parents had down to their bones.

Pausing at the window, she ran her fingers through her curly black hair and frowned at her reflection. Should she have worn make-up? Rummaging in her handbag, a gift from her aunt, she pulled out a vanilla lip balm and swiped it over her lips. 

Why did they specify we have to work together in the same office?

The butterflies in her tummy flapped their wings faster. The new owner had honoured the original contract she’d signed with Excelsior, but with a few amendments, one of which was that Estelle had to work directly with whoever now ran the company.

Are they using me to get to Mom and Dad? Mammy?

A year after becoming the Duchess of Somerset, Estelle’s mom, Vivienne Camille Boucher, had fallen in love with a single mother from the village and brought her into the marriage. Arthur, Vivienne, and Dervla Foxbrooke’s unconventional relationship, as well as the sex parties they hosted at the manor, were a source of embarrassment for their six children, as well as gleeful gossip-rag fodder for the wider world.

Growing up, the eldest Foxbrooke siblings—Estelle, her twin brother, Henry, and their adopted brother, Connor—had borne the brunt of the public’s fascination with their family. Even though Estelle loved her parents deeply, she also wished they were a little more normal.

Letting out a long breath, she squared her shoulders.

Come on. You’ve got this. After thirty years dealing with Mom, Dad and Mammy, there’s nothing you can’t handle.

She continued on through the crowds of tourists enjoying the Christmas market, refusing to allow them, or her tight skirt and pinching boots, to slow her pace. Bath may have been small, but she was used to the rural quiet of Foxbrooke and the company of her dogs, horses, and small circle of family and close friends. Here, jostled by strangers, she was aware just how much of an adjustment it was going to be commuting from her comfort zone into the city.

Just breathe. The new owner is just one person. How bad can it be?

Half way up Bartlett Street was the address she’d been emailed for the new offices of Excelsior Events, now called ‘BDE Entertainment’. As she was about to ring the buzzer, a man exited the building and pulled the sign for the company from a frame to the right of the door.

‘Excuse me,’ she began.

He turned. ‘Yes?’

She nodded at the sign in his hand. ‘Are they still here?’

‘Till the end of the day. Then they’re out.’

What? Her tummy prickled with anxious confusion. ‘Why?’

He shrugged. ‘They haven’t paid their rent.’

Estelle’s mouth opened, but her brain was in freefall and all words had been lost to the wind.

‘Do they owe you money, too?’ the man asked.

Only a few hundred grand to pay for the festival…  She swallowed, her mouth drier than a desert.

He punched numbers into a keypad and opened the door for her. ‘First floor. Go on up. They might not let you in otherwise.’

Stammering her thanks, she entered, taking the carpeted stairs slowly, as if doing so would order the thoughts flapping inside her skull like headless chickens. She’d already spent so much of the estate’s money on the festival; securing acts, putting down deposits, building a website. There was no money left if they didn’t have the events company footing the rest of the bill.

Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck! Pausing on the first landing, sweat beading on her brow, she undid her coat to let in some air. She’d only met the previous owners, Colin and Deborah, once before and they’d seemed straight down the line. Surely they were staying on for a transition period?

Just speak to them. Everything will be fine. They signed a contract. Remember?

Jogging up the rest of the stairs, she stopped and stared at a sign stuck to a door. It had the words ‘Big Dick Energy Entertainment’ printed on it, with a logo consisting of an eggplant emoji being struck by a bolt of lightning.

This was BDE Entertainment?

Heart hammering, she knocked.

The door opened inwards and a man in his twenties appeared, dressed in a plaid shirt and navy jeans. His eyes gleamed as he gazed at her, as if she was Santa arriving with presents. Or a strippergram. She re-tied her coat.

‘Lady—’ he began.

‘I told you to take that fucking sign down,’ a man yelled from inside the office. ‘Twice.’

Estelle couldn’t see who was shouting, but the voice was deep, powerful and angry. She took a step back.

The young man rolled his eyes. ‘Bear with,’ he said to her under his breath. ‘Someone hasn’t had enough coffee yet.’ He held out his hand and she shook it. ‘I’m Max, we met briefly a couple of months ago.’

‘Who is it?’ the voice from inside snapped.

Max winked at her and closed the door slightly. ‘Lady Foxbrooke,’ he said over his shoulder. ‘Your ten o’clock.’

Silence.

The anxiety that had been pricking at Estelle’s stomach now turned stabby. She had no idea what was going on, and Max seemed to be taking perverse delight in riling whoever he was talking to.

‘I told you to cancel her,’ the man hissed, still loud enough for Estelle to make out every word.

‘No, you didn’t,’ Max replied calmly.

‘Yes, I did. We’re not doing this now. Apologise and tell her we’ll re-arrange.’

Max turned back to her. ‘Lady Foxbrooke—’

Estelle Foxbrooke, and no.’

‘No?’

‘We’re not re-arranging anything.’

Max smirked. ‘Of course.’ Opening the door, he stepped back, bowing slightly as he extended his arm into the office. ‘Lady—Estelle Foxbrooke. Welcome to Big Dick Enter—Energy Entertainment.’

Summoning all her courage, Estelle marched into the room, then stopped dead.

No, no, no, no, no, no, no

Perched on the edge of a desk, surrounded by boxes, was James Hunter-Savage.

Memories from ten days ago at the Winter Ball winded her. She was once again tumbling through the air towards certain death. Only this time, a duplicitous stranger with a silvery tongue wouldn’t be there to catch her. Her angel was in clear sight, his mask gone, revealing exactly who he really was: Lucifer.

You…’ she choked out.

Even though James’s posture was relaxed, she recognised a tightness around his eyes and jaw. 

He opened his palms. ‘Me.’

‘I don’t understand.’

Pushing upright, he held out a hand. ‘I’m the CEO of BDE Entertainment.’

Estelle’s fingers curled inward to form fists.

You shine brighter than anyone else

Had he really murmured those words in her ear?

Dropping his arm, he glanced over her shoulder at Max. ‘Go to the nearest decent café and get us—’ He broke off and frowned. ‘No, safer to find a Starbucks. Double espresso for me and make sure it’s in two cups to keep it warm.’ His attention came back to Estelle. ‘What would you like?’

You to turn back into Kevin? Disappear in a puff of smoke? Spontaneously combust? 

She shook her head. ‘Nothing.’

James kept his gaze on her as he spoke to Max. ‘Cappuccino?’

Surprise rippled through her like an electric shock. How did he guess right?

His nostrils flared at her reaction, as if scenting victory. ‘And make it a double shot.’

Her mouth fell open. She quickly snapped it shut again. 

A dangerous smile spread across James’s face. ‘No sugar. She’s sweet enough.’

‘Screw you,’ she spat, attempting through the force of will alone to summon lightning bolts from her eyes.

He raised an eyebrow, and a traitorous flame of arousal flickered low in her belly. She stamped it out.

‘Screw me?’ he replied casually. ‘Is that an invitation?’

Estelle’s mind immediately flashed an image of James’s naked body above her, and desire shot from her belly to her chest. She sucked in a breath.

His expression darkened, then he glanced at Max. ‘Go on, then. Use the company card.’

‘No,’ she said.

‘No to…?’ James let the question hang in the air.

Shut this down. Now. ‘Coffee. You. Everything.’

He paused. ‘I’m really not as bad as you think.’

‘I know. You’re worse.’

Something that looked like vulnerability flickered across his features. ‘Will you at least give me a chance to prove you wrong?’

‘When hell freezes over.’

The look disappeared and he shrugged. ‘Apparently the climate is changing.’

She gave him her frostiest glare in return.

He didn’t break eye contact. ‘Max, why are you still here?’

‘Um—’ Max began.

‘He stays,’ Estelle interrupted.

‘Do you feel unsafe around me?’ James asked.

Only because my stupid lips want to kiss your stupid face.

The intensity of his stare was making her tummy swoop.

Think! ‘You attacked my brother.’

‘I did? Which one?’

Henry, of course. Connor and Leo know to avoid you like the plague.’

James stepped behind the desk and sat. ‘Please, take a seat.’

She didn’t move. Despite the unsettled rage, she didn’t trust herself not to lurch straight into his arms like an out-of-control robot fuelled by sex hormones.

‘Look,’ he began. ‘Much as I would rather believe your version of what happened back in June, the truth, and you know it, is that your delightful brother punched me, not the other way around.’

‘You were coming onto Summer.’

James steepled his fingers as his dark eyes held hers. ‘So, talking to a woman during the day in a public space warrants an unprovoked attack and a broken nose?’

‘You stole Henry’s girlfriend,’ she blustered.

‘No, I kept Elizabeth company after your brother stood her up.’

‘He didn’t stand her up.’

‘Oh, yes, of course,’ James replied, his voice dripping with sarcasm. ‘He was just an hour and a half late for their date.’ He glared at Max. ‘Leave.’

Estelle turned. ‘Stay.’

Max was glancing between them, a smirk back on his lips.

She faced James. ‘And you also stole Henry’s client, the deal he was working on, and his commission.’

He gave her a half shrug. ‘So, hitting me was justified?’

Estelle hesitated. She knew it wasn’t, but right now the overwhelming urge to kiss James was nicely balanced by the urge to punch him.

He eyeballed her.

She stared back. Do not break. Do not even blink.

‘Er…’ Max began.

‘Go,’ James snapped, at the same time she said ‘stay’.

‘Estelle—’ James began.

‘Do not call me that,’ she hissed at him.

His eyes widened as if genuinely surprised.

Shit! She’d spoken without thinking. The sound of her name on James’s lips felt far too intimate, but she knew she’d just set herself up for something far worse.

‘Would you prefer “Lady Foxbrooke”?’

She shook her head, her cheeks heating in anticipation of what was coming next.

Foxy lady?

‘No! There’s no need to address me as anything, because this is the last time we’re ever going to meet.’

James leaned back in his chair and put his hands behind the back of his neck. His pose was at ease, but he had the alertness of a tiger preparing to pounce.

‘You know that’s not true.’

‘But—’

‘We need to have a conversation about the festival,’ he interrupted. ‘And in private. If you won’t have it here, then we’ll go outside.’

She strode out of the office, running down the stairs as fast as her skirt would allow.

James caught her up at the front door and leaned forward to hold it open.

Pushing past him into the street, Estelle welcomed the drop in temperature, but wished she was in jeans and riding boots so she could run away.

‘Where are you parked?’ he asked.

She didn’t reply, keeping her gaze fixed forward as she navigated the meandering crowds.

‘Estelle, please can we have a civilised conversation about this?’

Civilised? The word felt like a punch to the guts. Her whole life she’d endured the media describing her family as the polar opposite. She walked faster.

‘Can you afford to put the festival on without the financial backing of BDE Entertainment?’ James continued.

Of course we fucking can’t! She pressed her lips together as if to permanently seal them shut.

‘Do you have the money to pay the penalty clauses if you cancel?’

No! she internally howled.

‘Do you believe you can find another events company this late in the day to invest and pay BDE Entertainment for breaking the contract?’

Oh, god. Oh god, oh god, oh god. What am I going to do?

There was a pause, then he sighed. What was he going to say next? Tell her she was a star? That he wanted to flirt with her?

‘Want a hot sausage? Some roast nuts?’

She glanced at him in shock.

He gestured to a Christmas market stall. ‘Bratwurst? Chestnuts? Glühwein?’

‘Are you trying to be funny?’

‘Not particularly, but we need to have a proper conversation, so I’m trying to lighten your mood.’

Stumbling to a halt, she pointed at him, her finger stopping a centimetre from his chest.

My mood?’

James was far too close for comfort and now she could also smell him. The scent was irresistible, like a love potion crossed with a superconducting magnet.

‘Yes. You’re all thunderbolts and lightning.’

‘Very, very frightening?’ she added sarcastically.

‘I wouldn’t say I was frightened…’

‘What are you then?’ she asked, before immediately wishing she hadn’t.

His gaze flicked to her mouth and she swallowed.

He paused before speaking. ‘Challenged… I think we’re going to work well together.’

‘We’re not going to be doing anything together,’ she snapped.

‘I disagree.’

‘We are never going to see each other again. Ever.’

James took a card from his pocket and held it out. ‘Re-read the contract you signed, then give me a call.’

She snatched it from him and tried to rip it in half. However, it was laminated in plastic and wouldn’t tear. She dropped it to the pavement.

‘Littering? Really?’

Dammit! Bending to pick it up, her face took a whistle-stop tour of James’s perfectly formed body. Despite the December cold, she was burning up. Stalking to a bin, she threw the bent card inside, then headed down Stall Street towards Southgate car park.

He followed.

‘What are you doing?’ she spat.

‘Enjoying your scintillating company?’

‘Fuck you,’ she muttered.

‘Anytime, foxy lady.’

She whirled around. ‘Don’t call me that.’

‘Then what can I call you?’

The question hung in the air.

‘Star?’ he finally asked, his voice low, as if the word was for her and her alone.

A wave of emotion flooded Estelle’s chest. She shook her head, hitched her skirt up under her coat, and ran.

Chapter Four: 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!