The summer had been brief and none too glorious, despite the predictions of weather forecasters who would have been stoned to death if they'd practised their art in any other age. Rain pattered down outside the great grey manor house, lending a lush green aspect to the rolling lawn, of the type so beloved by the Victorians. It was October in July, holidaymakers were losing their tempers in poky caravans. But high in the hills, all was as it will ever be. Sheep sheltered under hedges, and men bent into the wind, seeking to keep as dry as possible as they hurried home, cowed by a glowering landscape.
By the fire of the great house, a young woman lay on the hearthrug, wearing comfortable jeans and a tee-shirt. Despite the fire, she was trembling, as she read and re-read a letter. It bore the crest of a bank, and the statement was quite clear:
"Dear Miss D'Estrange, further to our letter of the 23rd, inst. We regret to inform you that it will be impossible to extend your overdraft facility further. In addition, we are unable to defer repayment of your loan. We suggest that..."
Jill D'Estrange did not need to read any further. She knew the rest of it off by heart. Crumpling up the letter, she tossed it into the fire. She was ruined, and the house would soon have to go, she knew that only too well. Her father had worked himself into an early grave to keep the estate going, and her mother had not long outlived her. Now the only person left was her. Last of the D'Estranges. Logic dictated that she should give up, meekly surrender the house and grounds to the family's creditors.
But Jill was not a logical girl when it came to the family home. She was a D'Estrange. Her family had wrested this land from its old lords by force of arms, and she was going to die before she let it go any other way. Slowly, the trembling subsided, as Jill rose to her feet. She strode from the room, passingMorgan, the old family Butler, a man who now had to keep his young mistress fed from his own savings.
"Miss Jill?" he asked anxiously. "You goin' somewhere?"
"Out," she told him. "I might be some time. Don't wait up - and don't let anybody in while I'm gone."