If she jumped high enough into the air, Maddy Harvey could see the party carrying on without her, blissfully unaware of her absence. Well, she could see in a blurry, abstract kind of way — the lights in the house, the trees surrounding it and the outlines of other party-goers either drifting from room to room or dancing manically along to Kylie Minogue (truly a girl for all age groups).
It was an inescapable law of nature that sometimes you went along to a party, everything went right and you had the best time ever. The flip side of the coin, needless to say, was that sometimes you didn’t. Everything that could possibly go wrong did go wrong.
Maddy heaved a sigh and considered her current predicament. She blamed Bean for launching herself joyfully at the backs of her legs just as she’d been poised to put her left contact lens in. The little dog had caught her by surprise, the lens had flown off her fingertip and, in good old contact lens fashion, had promptly disappeared. It could have fallen into the sink and slipped down the plughole. It could have landed literally anywhere in the bathroom. Bean could have stepped on it, eaten it. Not for the first time, a tiny transparent sliver of plastic had simply vanished into thin air.
Since wearing only one lens was no use at all, she had been forced to wear her glasses instead. But only in order to be able to drive herself the few miles from Ashcombe into Bath. Not to wear to the party itself. Oh no, good grief, she was far too vain to actually wear her glasses at a party, which was why they were currently stowed away in the glove compartment of her car.
So that had been mistake number one. Mistake number two had come about when, desperate for a wee and discovering that there was a major queue for the bathroom, she had slipped outside in search of somewhere discreet and al fresco. And since there wasn’t anywhere discreet in the back garden, she had climbed over a five- foot wall into next door’s, where a weeping cherry tree promised absolute privacy.
If she hadn’t been too vain to wear her glasses, she’d have spotted the nail sticking out of the wall, encouraging a clematis to entwine itself around it, and her trousers wouldn’t have got disastrously ripped.
Mistake number three had been climbing over a five-foot wall with the help of a sawn-off tree trunk without pausing to wonder if the drop might be greater on the other side, and whether there would be another handily positioned tree trunk to enable her to get back.
And I’m not even drunk, Maddy thought, exasperated. At this rate she could be stuck out here for the rest of the night.
Never had the sound of a door clicking open been more welcome. Realising that this could be her big – OK,
Still, he looked tall. And tall was good, tall was definitely what she needed right now. Failing that, a circus dwarf with a stepladder.
Within seconds he’d crossed the lawn and was peering over the wall at her.
‘Are you a burglar?’
In the pitch blackness, Maddy couldn’t see what he looked like, but he had a nice voice. And she was hardly in a position to be choosy.
‘If I was a burglar I’ d have a swag bag,’ she told him. ‘And a stripy jumper and a mask.’
‘Sorry. Of course you would.’ He sounded amused. ‘So .. are you lost?’
‘I’m stuck. I jumped over the wall,’ Maddy explained, ‘and now I can’t get back. There’s no other way out of this garden except through the house, and all the lights are off, which means the people who live here are either out or asleep. If they’re asleep, I don’t want to wake them up.’
‘Probably don’t want to have to explain what you’re doing in their garden either,’ observed the man she was rather relying on to rescue her. ‘Out of interest, what were you doing in their garden?’
‘A gentleman wouldn’t ask.’
‘Get him to help you over the wall then,’ he said lightly, beginning to walk away.
Letting out a muted shriek of frustration, Maddy hissed, ‘Oh please, don’t leave me,
This time, she heard him laughing. Returning, he gestured for her to move away from the wall, and the next moment had vaulted effortlessly over it.
Now he was close enough, despite the darkness and her own myopia, for Maddy to be able to tell that this was no troll. Dark hair, dark eyes, good cheekbones and a flash of white teeth as he smiled. She was about to be rescued – hopefully – by a rather nice-looking man. Blurry, but nice.
‘OK. Come and stand in front of me.’ He beckoned to her. ‘No, face the wall, then I’ll lift you up.’
‘Er ... I ripped my trousers jumping down. They caught on a nail.’ Maddy’s hand moved protectively to the gaping hole at the back of her trousers; if he lifted her, he was going to see it – and her fluorescent orange knickers – at close range.
Smiling, he said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll close my eyes.’
He was impressive, she’d say that for him. One moment she was on the ground, the next his hands were round her waist and she found herself being whooshed up into the air. It was all very Torvill and Dean. Her own arms outstretched, Maddy made a grab for the top of the wall, raised one knee and landed on top of it. Not very elegantly, she dragged her other leg over, wriggled to the edge and dropped down on the other side.
Oh, the relief.
Impressively, her rescuer hauled himself over too, his feet landing with a soft thud on the grass.