The engine spluttered as she rounded the corner at the top of the hill. Instinctively she dipped and released the clutch, trying to coax a spark before reaching the cattle grid marking the estate's boundary. Nothing. She tried again. One final attempt, then she coasted the dead car onto the gravel beside the road, remembering to leave enough space for a horse and rider to manoeuvre around the gate in front of her. She was learning fast.
She waited a minute, glancing over the fuel gauge, the temperature gauge and the various warning lights (all in order), then tried the ignition. The engine turned over grudgingly, but gave no hint of firing up.
She slapped the dashboard in frustration, and the fuel gauge plummeted below empty. Maybe she had a few lessons to learn yet.
Had she passed a phone box recently? Someone in the village was bound to have a can of petrol, assuming that was her only problem. Walking back the way she'd come involved climbing the hill: it would be as quick to walk to the village and then ask for the loan of a petrol can and directions to the nearest petrol station. If she had more of a problem than an empty fuel tank, then she would have wasted an hour, but it wasn't as if she had anywhere she needed to be.
There was a flash of blue in her rear-view mirror. Glancing back, she saw an expensive-looking sports car pulling onto the gravel behind her. The driver's door started to open, and she hurriedly pressed the lock down on her own door, and wound up the window, leaving a half inch gap at the top.
The man strolled casually over. Expensive suit, slicked back fringe, a lit cigarette in his right hand: he looked harmless enough, but she knew better than to trust appearances.
"Having a spot of bother?" He rested his arm along the roof of the car and leaned down to the window.
"You could say that." If she'd lied, he might have gone away, but then again he might wait a short way down the road and accost her as she was walking to the village.
"Want me to take a look?"
"I'm sure it's nothing a splash of petrol won't fix." Not wanting to sound completely hopeless, she quickly added, "I just bought it. No one told me the fuel gauge wasn't working."
"It could happen to anyone. I've got a can in the boot of the Aston."
She watched him walk back to the highly polished DB4 -- one of those V8 versions the Super had always gone on about, she was prepared to bet -- and get the promised can out of the back. Flicking his cigarette onto the tarmac, he made a beeline for the filler cap. The non-locking filler cap, she remembered. Had some young tearaway siphoned off her petrol while she'd been shopping, or had she really been careless enough not to think of filling up before leaving the town?
"Try it now." He leaned down to the window again.
The engine tried to turn over, then gave up.
"I think we may have a battery problem as well." He shook his head, apparently in disbelief that anyone would choose to drive such a failure-prone vehicle. "How much did you pay for this thing?"
"Too much, obviously." She should have hung onto her perfectly good car, with all its attendant memories, then she wouldn't be stuck inside this tin can that was getting hotter by the second, making an idiot of herself to a handsome stranger.
"Where were you headed? If it's not far, I could give you a lift."
"Lower Haddon: I'm staying at the guest house." Her new hairstyle would be ruined by the walk back. If this man did have any thoughts of killing her -- which she very much doubted -- at least she'd die stylishly.
"Oh, Mary Ollerenshaw's: you must be Linda." He pressed his right hand on the window. "Very pleased to meet you: Mother's told me all about you."
"And you are?" She had a sinking feeling that she already knew exactly who he was.
"Edward Peveril, Duke of Derby, former black sheep of the family, now lamentably respectable, at least north of Watford."
"And South of Watford?" She tried not to giggle at the idea that a peer of the realm not only looked like an older -- and possibly sturdier -- Bryan Ferry, but also had a wicked sense of humour. Then again, she'd met his mother.
"We don't talk about what happens South of Watford, at least not when we're North of Watford."