The Upper Crush – Chapter Twelve

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 Twelve:

‘What’s happened to your hand?’ Eveline cried as she opened the back door of the rectory for Estelle the next week.

‘James Hunter-Savage,’ she muttered.

Eveline’s hand flew to her chest. ‘Are you okay? Did you hit him?’

‘I wish,’ she replied, following her best friend through into the kitchen. 

Jack was at the Aga, an apron over his clothes. ‘Morning, Stelle,’ he said over his shoulder. ‘Bacon sandwich?’

‘Yes please, and a cup of tea, and a slice of cake if you’ve got one. Failing that, a custard cream.’

‘Darling,’ Eveline said to him. ‘Look what James did to Estelle!’

Jack’s gaze fell to her bandaged hand and the spatula he was holding dropped with a clatter. ‘What the hell did he do?’

‘Nothing! James didn’t do anything,’ Estelle replied quickly, before Jack escalated the issue to Henry levels.

‘Then what happened?’

‘I was making him another gift and accidentally cut myself.’

‘Oh, thank goodness you’re alright,’ Eveline said.

Jack went to his wife. ‘Sit down, angel.’ He guided her to a chair and knelt by her side, holding her hand, his thumb making circles across the back of it. ‘Just breathe. Estelle’s fine, okay? Nothing to worry about.’

Estelle narrowed her eyes. Jack was being even more attentive to her friend than usual.

‘So, er, how did you hurt yourself?’ Eveline asked her.

Both she and Jack were staring at her with concern. Estelle suddenly felt very foolish. 

She sat at the table. ‘I borrowed Finn’s angle grinder and was cutting up forks,’ she mumbled. ‘And one of them pinged off and cut my hand.’

‘Have you been to the doctor?’ Jack demanded.

‘Yes, I did. I promise it’s okay.’

In the silence that followed, Estelle knew all of them were thinking about the time last year when a cut on Eveline’s arm had become infected and she’d nearly died. 

‘So!’ Eveline said, with tension-diffusing enthusiasm. ‘What were you making with all the forks?’

‘An enormous letter U.’

‘I don’t understand. Why a U? And why out of forks?’

‘Angel…’ Jack began.

Estelle watched the penny drop.

‘Oh… A fork U…’

The corner of Jack’s mouth twitched, and Estelle knew he was trying not to laugh.

‘Did James like the last gift you made for him?’ Eveline asked.

She shrugged, not wanting to admit that he’d seemed delighted.

Getting to his feet, Jack went back to the Aga, whistling ‘Love is in the Air’.

‘Bugger off, Newton,’ Estelle muttered at him.

Eveline reached across the table and gave her unbandaged hand a squeeze. ‘Do you think it might be time for you to bury whatever hatchet you and Henry have been wielding since you were children, and make an effort to get on with James?’

‘It’s pointless.’

‘How come?’

Estelle threw her hands in the air. ‘Because he doesn’t want that either! Whenever I ask him anything personal, he shuts me down. He’s like a professional tombstone.’

‘But surely that’s a good thing? It means you can just get on with the job?’

‘It’s miserable. I don’t know if he lo—likes or hates me.’

Jack changed the tune he was whistling to the Beatles song ‘He Loves You, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah.’

Estelle ignored him.

‘So, you’re unhappy because you can’t get a rise out of him?’ Eveline asked.

‘I dunno. I can’t get a handle on him. Sometimes I think a tiny part of him might actually be nice, but then he blows it by being an arsehole.’

‘In what way?’

‘Saying we have to have cheap and crappy burger vans feeding people at the festival. Making me run every tiny expense past him. Not giving me any updates on hiring staff. Hiding his girlfriend—’

‘I thought he told you he didn’t have a girlfriend?’

‘Then who’s the “beautiful blonde” living next door?’

‘Have you actually seen her?’ Jack asked, placing a pile of bacon sandwiches on the table.

‘No, but Max has.’

‘This is the bloke left behind when the rest of the Excelsior staff ran away?’ Jack continued. ‘The one who you said was, and I quote, “shifty AF”.’

‘I actually said “shifty as fuck”. If you’re going to quote me, Newton, get it right. Although props for not swearing.’

Jack rolled his eyes.

‘The point is, my lovely friend,’ Eveline said, ‘you have no way of knowing she actually exists. And why does it matter if he has a girlfriend or not? You’re there to work with James, not date him. Isn’t that the case?’

Estelle took a huge bite of a bacon sandwich to avoid answering.

Jack brought mugs of tea to the table, then dropped a kiss on Eveline’s head and sat next to her.

Eveline gazed at him as if he’d just cured all known diseases and all future ones as well. ‘Thank you.’

Jack’s smile was so broad, Estelle thought it might split his face in two. She glanced between the two of them as they stared at each other, their eyes becoming liquid.

Holy shit. She placed her sandwich down. ‘You’re pregnant.’

Eveline turned, her eyes sparkling with happy tears, and nodded.

‘Oh, my god, congratulations!’ Estelle leant over the table and grabbed them both into a hug. ‘I’m so happy for you! When are you due?’

‘It’s very early days. So we aren’t getting our hopes up.’

‘And we’re not telling anyone,’ Jack added.

‘You know I won’t say a word,’ Estelle said, sitting back down. ‘How are you feeling?’

‘The same,’ Eveline replied. ‘I can’t quite believe it’s actually happened.’

A lump filled Estelle’s throat. This was her friend’s dream come true—a handsome, doting husband and a baby on the way. She took another bite of her sandwich and tried to chew, but her jaw clenched tight with pain as she tried to hold back her own emotion.

Giving up the attempt, she pulled a tissue from her pocket and rubbed the tears away. ‘Ucking ell!’ She swallowed her mouthful of food. ‘You know I don’t do tears.’

Eveline took her hand and Jack reached across the table to squeeze her shoulder. 

‘Circle of trust, Stelle,’ he said. ‘We’ll never let on that our baby’s godmother cried when she found out Eveline was pregnant.’

‘Godmother? Me?

Eveline beamed as she nodded. ‘If you’ll accept?’

Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t fucking cry!

Her lower lip was trembling as she took a breath. ‘I’d be honoured,’ she whispered.

Eveline’s face lit up as if her answer had not been a foregone conclusion. ‘Thank you so much!’

Estelle blinked rapidly, but her facial muscles were not powerful enough to hold back the flood of tears.

‘For fuck’s sake!’ she cried.

Jack’s smile was as big as his wife’s. ‘We love you, Stelle.’

‘Shut up, Newton! I can’t cope.’

Eveline laughed. ‘You’ve got the biggest heart, Estelle. If anyone can handle love, it’s you.’

‘Bollocks,’ she mumbled, then blew her nose. ‘I’m going to have to pretend I’ve got hay fever this morning, so Hunter-Savage doesn’t see through my armour.’

‘You could let him see this side of you?’ Eveline suggested.

Estelle shook her head. ‘When hell freezes over.’ She glanced at Jack. ‘You need to take me to work now before I start skipping down the high street, singing about rainbows and kittens.’

Eveline giggled. ‘That’s quite an image.’

‘Yeah, and one that will live in your imagination only.’ She picked up her sandwich and stood. ‘Come on, Daddy Newton, let’s go.’

‘What time should I pick you up later?’ Jack asked as he drove Estelle down country lanes towards Shoscombe Manor. 

‘Four-ish? Alan is going to ring me when they’ve finished working on the Defender, so I’ll let you know. As long as I get her before the garage shuts at five, it’ll be okay.’

‘Cool.’

‘Thanks for doing this. I didn’t want to ask Henry in case he caused a scene with James.’

‘Any time, Stelle.’ Jack indicated and turned left. ‘Henry’s not calmed down then?’

Estelle huffed. ‘No. It’s like he’s been saving all the anger up since he was thirteen and now can’t stop it coming out. He’s exercising even more at the moment, as if he’s preparing for some kind of twatty CEO cage fight.’

‘That doesn’t sound good.’

‘It’s not. Thank god he’s got Libby to talk some sense into him. Can you stop here?’

Jack eased to a halt at the side of the road. ‘You don’t want me to drive you in?’

She shook her head. ‘I’ll walk the rest of the way. I need the time to get my game face back on.’

He grinned, then started singing the theme tune from Rocky.

Estelle rolled her eyes, got out of the car, and closed the door behind her. ‘I’ll ring you later,’ she called through the window.

Jack gave her a wave and pulled away.

Lifting her chest and taking a deep breath of wintery air, Estelle strode along the muddy verge towards the entrance to the manor. She loved all seasons, but now January was nearly done, she yearned for the first signs of spring. 

But as each day passed, it brought them closer to the festival. Despite her ideas and all the planning she’d done the previous year, it still felt like they were light years away from making it happen.

She passed through the stone gateposts towards the house. The garage doors were shut and she couldn’t see Max’s car. Letting herself into the office wing, she found it empty. She’d emailed James and Max the previous day, letting them know she would be late. Were they out at a meeting?

The office she shared with James felt unnaturally quiet without him or her dogs. His desk was immaculately tidy, the fur Q sitting in the middle behind his closed laptop. Hers was its usual mess, but a manilla envelope, labeled ‘CVs’, was resting on her chair.

Had James finally found some good candidates?

Sitting, Estelle opened it up and flicked through them. Confusion and anger swirled inside her like the start of a storm. This was who James thought was suitable? A load of completely inexperienced pretty girls, all under the age of twenty-one?

Fucker.

Shoving them back inside the envelope, she left it on her desk and strode to the kitchen. It was ten o’clock, and a headache was brewing from caffeine withdrawal. She stared at the coffee machine, the instructions still in Italian, and pressed a few buttons, but nothing happened.

Before she could stop herself, she left the kitchen, went to the door leading to the main house and knocked.

No reply.

Trying the handle, the door opened.

Oh, my god. Adrenaline spiked through her. It was like discovering the back of the wardrobe was no longer solid, but now led to an unknown land.

‘Hello?’ she called hesitantly through the crack. ‘James?’

Silence.

Still standing on her side of the door, Estelle pushed it open and stared down the corridor. The parquet floor was old but clean, and the walls were white and empty. Used to panelling, paintings, and suits of armour cluttering her family home, this one looked naked.

‘Hello?’ Her voice echoed back to her.

Feeling like a naughty schoolgirl, she stepped across the threshold, half expecting to be met with a siren, a poisoned dart, or a rockfall.

‘James?’

Continuing forward to the first door, Estelle knocked. When there was no reply, she poked her head in. It was a living room; the sofas upholstered in animal print fabric, the low tables made from glass and polished chrome. It was the absolute opposite of what she imagined James’s taste to be. Was this what his mum chose? His not-girlfriend?

Back in the corridor, she noticed the door at the far end had an inch gap at the bottom, revealing lino. Was this a kitchen? Would they have instant coffee? A machine in English?

Pushing open the door, Estelle entered a large kitchen. The room was a mismatch of styles, as if previous owners had taken a kitchen from the nineteen sixties, and turned half of it into an industrial one. The cupboards were plain beige, with stains around the handles from age and use, but the cooker was five-foot wide and stainless steel, and the fridge big enough to grace an American McMansion.

Going to the kettle, she flicked it on, then opened the nearest cupboard. Inside were glass jars of instant coffee, instant hot chocolate, instant tea granules and Ovaltine. Repressing a shudder, she pulled out the coffee. It would taste like shit, but it would do the job. Beside the kettle was a wooden mug tree with identical leopard-patterned, gold-rimmed mugs hanging off it.

Resisting the urge to snoop any further, she stared at the kettle as it came to the boil, her eyes unfocused as her thoughts returned to Eveline.

‘Oh, hello.’

Whipping around, Estelle’s hand jumped to her chest. ‘Jesus Christ!’ she gasped as her conscious mind attempted to reassure her unconscious one that the figure was not a threat.

A blonde woman stood just inside the door.

Estelle blinked as rumour, conjecture and myth converged into flesh and blood.

‘I’m Elyse,’ the woman said, her heels clacking on the floor as she came forward with a manicured hand extended.

So, this is the mysterious ‘E’… Estelle tried not to stare as she took in everything about Elyse, the perfectly straight blonde hair that grazed her shoulders, the pressed white shirt and pencil skirt that revealed just how slim she was, and her beautifully symmetrical face.

She took the woman’s hand, hoping her own nails were clean. ‘I’m Estelle.’

‘I know. Do you need anything?’

Estelle’s cheeks heated. She’d broken into this woman’s home and was helping herself to her stuff without asking.

‘I wanted a coffee, but I don’t know how to use the machine in the office. The door was open. Sorry.’

Elyse smiled and went to the fridge. ‘It’s not a problem at all. Milk?’

‘Yeah, thanks.’

‘I know what James is like about that coffee machine. He doesn’t like anyone touching it. I tried to use it once at the flat in London and he got very cross.’ Elyse rolled her eyes. ‘Men, eh?’

How long have they been together?

Opening a drawer, Elyse took out a teaspoon, then went to Estelle’s side and scooped coffee granules into the mug. ‘Sugar?’

‘No, thanks.’

‘Oh, yes. I should have remembered.’ Elyse grinned at her. ‘He said you’re sweet enough.’

Estelle tried to smile but her stomach was turning over. Elyse seemed to know everything about her. Did she and James discuss her in bed at night? Was she some kind of joke to them?

‘Is he around?’

‘Not at the moment,’ Elyse replied, making Estelle’s coffee, then putting the dirty spoon by the side of the sink. ‘Can I get you anything to eat? We’ve got some pain au chocolat.’

‘No, thank you.’

‘Green smoothie? I was about to make myself one.’

‘I should really get back.’

Elyse smiled. ‘It’s lovely to finally meet you.’

Estelle didn’t think she could hate James any more than at this moment. Elyse seemed really nice. Why did he have to deny her existence?

‘How long have you been together?’ she blurted.

Elyse’s face froze, then cracked to reveal a core of desolation. ‘We’re on a break,’ she whispered, her gaze falling to the floor.

Without thinking, Estelle reached out to touch her arm. ‘I’m so sorry.’

Elyse raised her head, her pale blue eyes glistening like the surface of the sea. ‘No, I’m sorry.’ She sniffed. ‘I’ve only just met you and I’m blubbing like a baby.’

Estelle was torn between wanting to hug her, and finding James so she could immediately run him over with a combine harvester. ‘It’s fine, honestly. I’ve got five siblings and at any given moment, at least one of them is crying.’

‘Thank you. It’s been really hard, especially as we’re still living together.’

‘What happened?’

‘Our relationship has always been very intense. Very sexual…’

Estelle’s stomach turned, as unbidden images of James and Elyse in bed together jabbed at her mind’s eye.

‘But he can be very cold,’ Elyse continued. ‘And he said—’ She broke off, her lower lip wobbling, ‘he wanted us to cancel our future, er, plans…’

Did that arsehole break their engagement?

‘And that we should see other people…’ Elyse took a gulping breath. ‘But I don’t want to. I only want to be with him. I love him.’

Estelle’s heart squeezed at the sight of Elyse’s tears. Despite knowing how low James could go, this behaviour was scraping the bottom of the bastard barrel in hell.

Oh, god, the CVs. Was James using the festival as a way of finding new women to screw, then screw over?

Elyse’s eyes widened. ‘Don’t worry, you’re safe. He would never go for you.’

Estelle knew that, but the masochistic side of her still wanted Elyse to voice the reasons why James Hunter-Savage wouldn’t touch her with a barge pole. ‘Why not?’

Elyse’s face turned a delicate shade of pink. ‘You’re very attractive… But James has a type…’ She twisted a strand of blonde hair around her finger as if to emphasise the difference between the two of them. ‘And I’m it.’

Grinding her teeth, Estelle nodded. ‘I’m really sorry, Elyse. Please, let me know if there’s anything I can do.’

‘Thank you,’ she whispered. ‘That means so much.’ Her eyes became liquid again. ‘There is one thing…’

‘Cut off his balls with a pair of rusty shears?’

Elyse gasped. ‘Oh, no!’

‘Sorry! I was only joking.’ Kind of… ‘Go on, what can I do?’

‘Please don’t tell James you saw me. He can get very…’

Estelle’s blood ran cold. ‘Are you in danger? Has he threatened you?’

‘Not in so many words. He’s never hurt me.’

‘Jesus, Elyse! You need to go to the police! Why are you still living here?’

She shrugged, helplessly. ‘I have to. I work for his father.’

‘What is this? The fucking mafia? Do you need money? A place to stay? Come and live with me. We can leave right now. I can help you find another job. I’ll ask my best friend about charities that deal with modern slavery. We’ll make sure you’re safe.’

Elyse shook her head so fast, her face was a blur. ‘No, I’m fine, I promise. Kevin is lovely.’

Kevin?’

‘James’s dad. He’s a bit rough around the edges, but he’s very sweet. James and I will keep trying to save our relationship, and if we can’t, then I only have to wait till the beginning of July, then he’ll be gone.’

‘Gone? Where?’

‘Back to London. He doesn’t want to organise the festival. He’s only doing it to help his dad. And he hates Somerset.’

Estelle’s blood went from ice to thermonuclear in the time it took her to draw breath. James had made Henry’s life hell, he’d not told her he owned BDE Entertainment until she’d signed the amended contract, he didn’t give a shit about making the festival a success, and now he didn’t even like Somerset? 

Elyse clutched Estelle’s hands. ‘Please don’t say anything to him! For me?’

‘I won’t, I promise. But if you need to get out, come to the livery. If I’m not there, then ask for Molly. Okay?’

Elyse nodded. ‘You’d better go. He might be back now.’

Estelle looked longingly at the cup of instant coffee. If she took it, then James would know she’d been in the main house. Going to the door, she peeked around it into the corridor. Still empty. Nodding at Elyse, she slipped through. She wouldn’t say a word to James about meeting her, but she was going to make him wish he’d never been born.

Chapter Thirteen: 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!