Welcome to the Upper Crush – a 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.
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?
Blinking sweat out of his eyes, his heart pounding at the edge of VO2 max, James pushed himself to the limit on the rowing machine. His movements were robotically precise, his gaze glued to the small screen monitoring his progress. Despite the pain wracking his body, he would not allow even half a second to drop off his pace.
James Hunter-Savage was a self-made man. From the age of seven, he was made to understand that his name, his voice, his appearance, his likes and dislikes could all be broken down or discarded, and remodelled into something better. The same went for friends. The people with whom one associated were a reflection of your social status and power. If they elevated you, they stayed. If they threatened your standing in any way, they were cut without a second thought.
No-one worked harder to create and maintain James Hunter-Savage than the man himself. Building and sculpting his powerful physique, still Olympic standard even at the age of thirty-three, required a single-minded focus.
At the start of the year, his life had been ninety-five per cent on track. He was the most successful, and highly paid, broker Conqueror had ever produced, was in the best shape of his life, and could bed any woman who took his fancy.
Now, twelve months later, everything had gone to shit. He’d lost his job in the worst possible circumstances, was currently barred from working in the City, and hadn’t had sex in nearly a year.
James Hunter-Savage was used to holding life by the balls, but it had turned around and kicked him in the nuts.
His body screamed at him to stop rowing, but his mind had a point to prove. Maintaining his physical strength was the only thing left he had control over, so he kept punishing himself until his guts led the final rebellion. Dropping the rower handle mid-stroke, he grabbed a bin from the floor beside him and threw up into it, feeling a perverse sense of satisfaction and relief, even as his chest and stomach heaved.
There was a knock at the door, and a woman in her late fifties entered, carrying a plastic cleaning caddy. Her white-blonde hair was arranged in a donut bun on the top of her head, and her eye and lip liner had been heavily applied. Dressed in a pale pink cleaning tabard over a leopard print top and matching leggings, her feet were in python print Gucci sliders, and her toenails were painted red. James knew her fingernails matched, however her hands were currently inside yellow rubber gloves.
‘Babe,’ she began, her nose wrinkling, ‘you’ve done it again, haven’t you?’
Crossing the room, her free arm extended as if to take the bin from him.
He stood. ‘I’ll do it.’
‘You don’t want to be dealing with that. Give it to me.’
James held it aloft. ‘No, Mum.’
His mother glanced at the bin, a frown on her face as if calculating the possibility of jumping to reach it, then took a bottle from her caddy and sprayed it liberally over the rowing machine.
‘Well, I’ll do this then.’ She vigorously rubbed the wet surfaces with a microfibre cloth.
‘Honestly, babe. For the life of me, I don’t know why you do it to yourself. It ain’t right.’ She tugged at the machine to move it.
‘Let me.’ James pulled the rower back to its original position—no longer facing the wall, but a window that looked out onto a rose garden.
‘And why stare at the wall? If you don’t want to look outside, there’s the telly.’
James glanced around the home gym, filled with state-of-the-art equipment he was sure only ever got used by him.
‘I don’t need the distraction.’
She slapped his chest with her cloth. ‘You need to make it fun. I’ve been bingeing The Real Housewives of Chelsea. You should watch it.’
‘I’d rather have a full-frontal lobotomy.’
His mother laughed. ‘I dunno what that is. Sounds naughty to me.’ She went to the treadmill and began spraying.
‘Mum, I’ve already wiped it down, and we’ve got cleaners for that.’
‘They don’t do a good enough job, babe. I only keep them on to please your dad.’
James tied a knot in the plastic bin liner and removed the bag. There was no point in arguing. Beverley Hunter-Savage could never rest until every surface in her house sparkled and shone. Her clothes may have been designer, but nine times out of ten they were hidden under an apron.
‘Go take a shower, babe, then find your dad. He wants to see you.’
‘Okay.’ James bit back a sigh and left the room, carrying the results of his exercise session.
Striding through the ground floor corridor towards the kitchen, James’s skin itched with irritation. His father should never have bought this Georgian pile. It was far smaller than Foxbrooke Manor, but still impressive enough to have come with a seven-figure price tag.
Overpriced pile of shit. Damp was already showing through the freshly applied paint, and without modern insulation, James knew the fuel bill to heat it over winter would be astronomical.
Earlier in the year, his father had decided the Hunter-Savage family’s progression up the ladder of the British social classes should skip a few rungs. Step one involved consolidating their holdings and buying Shoscombe Manor, a Palladian mansion set in four hundred and eight acres of rolling Somerset countryside. Step two involved ingratiating themselves with the local nobs. However, once James discovered which members of the aristocracy lived on the other side of the river to the mansion house, he’d put a stop to that plan.
Henry fucking Foxbrooke.
James was fifteen when Henry, two school years younger than him, had started at Eton. Lord Henry Foxbrooke was a viscount, his father a duke, his biological mother a glamorous Black American movie star, and his other mother a wild and beautiful Irish woman. Henry’s family were infamous and exciting, and James expected the heir to the Foxbrooke estate to be cut from the same cloth.
Shouldering open the stiff kitchen door, James stamped on the bottom bar of an industrial-sized bin to lift the lid, then dropped the bag he was carrying inside.
He’s a pathetic little dweeb.
What Henry Foxbrooke had been handed on a plate, James had been forced to fight for every day of his life. But despite being born into money and the top tier of society, Henry was meeker than a mouse and appeared embarrassed by his title. That had annoyed James beyond belief. However, analysing exactly why Henry riled him so much would mean a journey of introspection James wasn’t prepared to take. So instead he needled Henry, hoping to provoke a reaction.
It had taken him seventeen years to get one.
Stalking to a cupboard, James took out a tub containing a post-exercise recovery powder he’d created himself, then glanced around the kitchen for his blender.
It was sitting, unwashed by the sink.
Running the hot water, he scrubbed at the flecks of dried green with a brush. What was this shit? Kale? Spirulina? Pond water? And why the fuck couldn’t she just clean it up after she used it?
As if summoned by the power of his thoughts, the kitchen door opened and a woman entered. Blonde, beautiful, and adventurous in bed, Elyse Kirwin should have been a perfect match for James Hunter-Savage. One night three years ago, she’d approached him in a City bar, and they’d had a two-week fling before James had ended it.
Elyse hadn’t accepted his decision.
Her eyes scanned his body, her gaze a calculated mix of amusement and desire. ‘Hard?’ she asked with a smirk.
He turned back to the sink. ‘My workout, or cleaning your smoothie off my blender?’
She giggled. ‘Sorry, I forgot.’ Coming to his side, she leaned against the counter, watching him. ‘There’s a restaurant in the village called The Colour Palate that’s meant to be good. Wanna go tonight?’
He shook his head. When they’d briefly dated, it hadn’t taken long for James to twig that Elyse wasn’t someone he wanted to spend any time with outside of the bedroom. He’d been upfront and honest with her, but she’d insisted they kept meeting to ‘talk things through’.
He’d indulged her a couple of times, but stopped returning her calls when she wouldn’t accept whatever they’d had was over. After six months of her pestering, she went quiet. Three months later, his dad introduced him to his new PA—Elyse.
‘Oh, come on,’ she continued. ‘It’ll be fun. For old time’s sake.’
Shaking his head again, he twisted the cleaned blender back onto the base unit and measured out scoops of powder. Avoiding Elyse when he worked at Conqueror was easy enough, but now? She even lived in the same house as he did. His parents thought the sun shone out of her arse, and hoped their son would get together with her.
Been there, done that, not going back.
‘Do you believe in fate?’ she asked, standing too close to him.
‘No,’ he replied, sloshing raw milk into the jug. No matter what Elyse asked him, the answer was always a negative. He hoped if he kept shutting down every conversation, she might finally leave him alone.
She curled a strand of hair around a finger. ‘But look at us… We’re now living—’
James turned the blender on, drowning out the rest of her sentence. When he reluctantly switched it off, Elyse held out a cup.
He twisted the jug off the base. ‘I’ll take this with me.’
‘Your dad wants to see you.’
‘I’ll find him in a bit.’
James went to the door and yanked it open.
‘Enjoy your shower,’ she called after him.
He didn’t reply, already starting down the corridor.
‘Think of me…’ she continued, the words slipping through the closing door and sticking to his skin.
Back in his bedroom, James went to the tall window that looked out over the formal gardens, gulping his recovery drink.
The small box hedges surrounding the rose bushes had been immaculately trimmed when his parents had bought the house, but without constant upkeep, the garden was beginning to unravel.
Just like my life.
His dad had employed one gardener, but even in the winter it wasn’t enough for a place this size. James wanted to be rich, but he was also pragmatic. What was the point in buying a lifestyle you couldn’t afford to maintain?
He glanced around his bedroom: a chintz palace, where every possible eyesore was hidden by the same flowered fabric. The tops of the curtains were tucked behind upholstered pelmets, the bottom of the bed was obscured by a frilly valance, and the pillows and duvet were hidden by a coverlet as if they’d just died. Even the radiators were tidied away inside wooden boxes with lattice fronts to let the heat out. The wallpaper had the same pattern of blue roses as the soft furnishings, and the overall effect of the room was that of being suffocated by a rich grandmother.
James finished his drink and took the jug into the adjoining bathroom, rinsing it out in one of the two sinks, then tossed his clothes to the marble floor and stepped into the shower. This was the best part of the house: hot water that came out with more power than a herd of stampeding elephants. He let the droplets batter his muscles, releasing some of the tension that seeing Elyse had overlaid on top of the stress of everything else.
I need to get back to London.
But how? His flat was rented out to cover lawyers’ fees and most of his savings were gone. Everything he’d worked so hard for had disappeared because he couldn’t keep his big mouth shut.
Now he was living with his parents and his ex in the arse end of the country, and had taken on a job he had no clue how to do.
Resting his forehead against the back wall of the shower, he let out a breath, his thoughts returning to last Saturday night.
If meeting Henry when they were at school had been a surprise, then meeting his twin sister had been an even bigger one.
Estelle was fire, light and energy. Power crackled from her into him, turning on every cell in his body from his brain to his cock.
Even during their first brief meeting on Foxbrooke high street, a few months ago, the force of Estelle’s personality had met his and given it a kicking. ‘I know exactly who you are… And if you know what’s good for you, you’ll stay away from my family.’
A smile spread across his face and his dick sprang to life. He’d savoured every word she’d hurled in his direction and had replayed the meeting each and every time he’d brought himself off since. Now, that first encounter had been superseded.
Reaching down, James gripped his shaft. He’d blagged himself an invitation to the Winter Ball at Foxbrooke Manor so he could see her again. Thanks to his father’s machinations, he needed to talk to her, but he also wanted another hit. A kick to his heart to keep going when everything else in his life was falling apart.
Catching sight of Estelle across one of the rooms on Saturday night had jolted his heart with electricity. Tall, curvaceous, and devastatingly beautiful, she’d been wearing an iridescent turquoise dress he wanted to rip off with his teeth.
Closing his eyes, he stroked his hard length, sensation shuddering up his body as he imagined her full lips parting with pleasure, her eyelids fluttering in bliss as he slowly fucked her.
Last Saturday, standing at the bar with Henry and the local vicar, Estelle had, once again, sent him packing. But before dinner, he’d searched for her.
His hand stilled around his cock as blinding panic shot through him, his mind replaying the moment when Estelle tumbled off the balcony. He’d never experienced terror like that before.
Thank god I was there.
And after catching her, she hadn’t realised who he was. It was a blessing and a curse. A blessing because he got to see a different side of her, the one he knew she gifted to her family and close friends. And a curse, because he’d been so blinded by her charms that he’d flirted with her, then fucked everything up.
Letting go of his cock, he turned the shower icy. Time to wake up and smell the cold cup of coffee sitting in the chipped mug of reality. Estelle Foxbrooke didn’t want him, and he couldn’t be chasing someone that hot to handle when he needed her onside.
Ten minutes later, James knocked on a door downstairs and pushed it open.
‘Jamesy-boy!’ his father cried. ‘Grab a seat.’
Elyse sprang up from behind a desk. ‘Let me get it.’
‘No,’ James replied, taking a chair and positioning it across from his father. He sat, staring at the bottom of his dad’s loafers.
Kevin Hunter-Savage was leaning back in his leather chair, his feet on the desk in front of him, playing with a fidget spinner. His hair, once naturally black, was now approximately the same shade as before, but with a blue hue to it, courtesy of the dye he used. He was wearing a garish Versace patterned shirt, the top buttons undone to show off a multitude of gold chains, and a pair of Gucci jeans a size too small.
‘Elyse, babe,’ his dad said. ‘Give us five, would ya?’
She nodded. ‘Of course, Kev.’
He gave her a wink. ‘That’s my girl.’
She smiled at him and left the room.
‘Why won’t you make a move?’ his father hissed the moment the door was closed. ‘What’s wrong with you? She’s like family.’
James sighed. ‘She’s not family.’
‘She is to me and your mum—’
‘I’m not going to change my mind.’
Kevin flicked the fidget spinner. ‘She fancies you.’
James didn’t reply.
‘Elyse,’ his father continued, as if James didn’t know who he was talking about.
‘I don’t give a fuck.’
The spinner fell to the desk with a crash.
‘You should give a fuck,’ his father snarled, pointing a finger encircled with heavy gold rings at James. ‘She’s a nice girl and your mum wants grandkids. Do it for her if you won’t do it for yourself.’
James let out a bitter laugh. ‘You want me to impregnate your assistant just to make Mum happy?’
‘Impreg-what? Don’t use your fancy words with me, Jamesey-boy. Just marry her and make babies.’ He flicked his hand at his son. ‘I give you my blessing.’
‘Thank you so much,’ James replied, his voice laden with sarcasm.
‘She’s nice,’ his dad continued.
‘So you keep saying.’
Kevin picked up another fidget toy, this one a poppet in the shape of a dinosaur, and started playing with it. James wasn’t sure if he’d prefer his father scrape his nails down a miniature blackboard.
‘You wanted to see me?’
‘Yeah, yeah,’ his father replied, depressing the silicone circles with his thumbs so fast it sounded like he was making popcorn.
Kevin tossed the toy to the desk and picked up the fidget spinner again. ‘We’ve got a bit of an issue.’
James’s heart sank. What now?
‘We’re going to have to relocate the company I bought for you.’
‘No.’ James stood. ‘Absolutely not.’
His dad flicked the spinner and balanced it on the end of his thumb. ‘No choice, son. If we’re paying rent on that place in Bath then there’s no moolah left to pay for the gig next year.’
Christ. ‘How long have we got?’
‘Gotta be out at the beginning of next week.’
‘What?’ James felt like he was watching what little was left of his life disappearing down a plug hole. ‘It’s buying this shit hole that’s done it, hasn’t it?’ he yelled, gesturing to the house around them.
His father stood. ‘Watch it, son.’
‘They saw you coming, didn’t they?’
‘I got this pad for a steal,’ his father blustered.
‘Bullshit. It was on the market for months. You should have got it for a quarter of what you paid.’
‘Your mum wanted it.’
‘You still could have got the price down!’ James ran his hands through his hair. ‘I’m not doing this. I’m walking away.’
James stalked to the door. ‘Watch me.’
His dad ran after him. ‘Son, if you do that, we’ll lose the house.’
‘What are you talking about?’
Kevin looked away, his hands now fiddling with loose change in his pockets. ‘Our businesses have taken a hit over the last couple of years, and you’re right, I overextended getting this place. I can just about scrape together enough to pay for what we promised in the contract, but if you can’t make the event next summer turn a profit, then your mum and I are out on our arses.’
James took out his phone and fired off an email.
‘What are you doing?’
‘Telling our only surviving member of staff to cancel the meeting on Monday with our business partner.’
His dad’s shoulders relaxed. ‘So, you’ll do it? You’ll stay?’
‘I’m doing this for Mum, not you. And you know what you have to do. Anyone connected with the new business, whether stakeholders or the guy who delivers pizza after hours, they never see you.’
James held his father’s gaze as the terms of a bargain struck twenty-six years ago were aired once more.
His father sighed and held out his hand. ‘Deal.’
Chapter Three: 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!