Stardust of Yesterday – Lynn Kurland

“Damn you, man!” Kendrick of Artane exclaimed. “Have you no idea who I am?” Matilda’s lover looked at him blandly. “I know perfectly well who you are. It hardly matters, as your illustrious father is not here to save you.” “He will have your head for this,” Kendrick spat, his pale green eyes blazing. “You won’t live out the year once he discovers what you’ve done.” He jerked against the chains that bound his wrists and ankles to the cold, damp wall. Richard shrugged. “Perhaps he’ll think wolves found you, or ruffians. The possibilities are numerous.” “You’ll rue this day, Richard. I’ll see to it myself.” Richard smiled and raised his crossbow. “I appreciate the gold you brought so discreetly to give Matilda a dowry. You’ve made me quite a wealthy man.

” “Wait,” Kendrick said. “I want Matilda to witness this. I want to be looking at her when your arrow finds my heart.” Richard laughed. “Of course. She is eager to be here.” A motion of his hand sent his squire scurrying up the cellar stairs. Kendrick continued to look at Richard, unable to believe the events of the past few hours. Was it only yestereve that he had ridden through Seakirk’s gates with such a light heart, pleased the king had awarded him Seakirk and Seakirk’s lady as a bride? Was it merely yestereve that he had gazed upon Matilda, bewitched by her beauty, only to watch her expression turn to one of hatred and satisfaction once Richard of York had entered the great hall with his guards? Even though Kendrick had killed many of his attackers, he and his few companions had been hopelessly outnumbered. Now he stood, chained to the wall, awaiting certain death.

Kendrick met Matilda’s eyes as she came down the steps, and cursed himself for his foolishness. Why had he been so blind? Surely her treacherous manner should have been plain to him: the coy way she batted her lashes, the sly way she had of twisting words and avoiding plain speech. And that smile. A shudder went through him. Her smile chilled him more fully than the stone at his back. He shook his head, cursing himself again. Aye, he had been a fool indeed and perhaps deserved what was coming. He swung his gaze back to Richard. He looked his murderer full in the face and waited, daring him to release the arrow. Richard did.

Chapter One SAN FRANCISCO, JULY 1995 It was good to be home. Genevieve set her suitcase on the curb, propped her portfolio against her leg and sighed in pleasure at the sight of her office. The sign had been painted to perfection, the flowers behind the windows were blooming obediently and the door was ajar, beckoning clients to enter. Yes, it looked like the kind of place a homeowner would come to with pictures of his dilapidated house, hopeful some kind of magic could be done to restore it to its former glory. And without exception, every such homeowner left satisfied. Genevieve knew her business and she had hired others who knew it just as well. Her clients were never disappointed. Genevieve lugged her baggage inside the front door, then laughed at the sight that greeted her. “Welcome home, Gen” was painted on a huge banner taped across her office door. She set her things down and went into her office.

Flowers covered her desk, balloons hung in great bunches against the ceiling. “Surprise!” Her small staff crowded around her. A plate of cake was put into one hand and a cup of punch in the other as she was herded to her chair. Questions came at her from all sides. “So, did you see any stars?” “What did they think of the proposal?” “Did you bring us anything back?” Genevieve laughed as she looked around her. How good it was to be back among friends. On her right was Kate, who had been with her the longest and was mainly concerned about what kinds of celebrities hung out in old houses. Then there was Peter, carpenter extraordinaire, who was interested strictly in the details of each job. Angela, who held down the fort, was twenty going on ten when it came to presents. She stood on Genevieve’s left, practically salivating with anticipation.

Genevieve smiled. “Well, as for stars, I saw only the big dipper. They loved the plans, and, Angela, your present is in my suitcase.” She took a bite of cake and looked at the three of them crowded around her desk. “Does that satisfy you?” “I want a better report,” Peter said, “but I can see I’ll have to wait. Angela, go get that phone. Gen, I’m going to the Murphys’ this afternoon. Don’t eat too much cake. Chocolate makes you sick.” “Yes, Dad,” Genevieve said, with a mock salute.

“I’m out too,” Kate said, moving to the door. “I have things to put together for your trip to Carmel this afternoon. You remembered that, didn’t you?” “Right,” Genevieve said, with another salute. “Thanks for the reminder.” “That’s what I’m here for,” Kate said, smiling. “It’s nice to have you home. We’ll have to do a long lunch tomorrow and you can give me the scoop.” Genevieve nodded and then leaned back in her chair with a sigh. Life was too good to be true. After eight years of hard work, her business was booming.

What more could she want? She looked around her office and sighed. Actually, a knight in shining armor might have been handy. Maybe he could have saved her from the mess surrounding her. She closed her eyes in self-defense. Despite its charm, Dreams Restored was a tiny place scrunched between other tiny shops in one of the quainter areas of San Francisco. Tiny was fine when it came to how much square footage she paid rent on, but it was a problem when it came to storing all her supplies. Her desk was piled with fabric swatches, paint sample cards and photocopies of her tax forms from 1991. The floor around her desk boasted everything from half-stripped moldings to books on medieval architecture. At the moment, it was also piled high with flowers and balloons. Everyone else’s desks were tidy.

Maybe that knight should come along with a Day-Timer and some file boxes while he was at it. “Gen, you have a call on line two. Some attorney with a great British accent.” Angela was breathless. “Think he’s a royal?” So, the cavalry had arrived. Genevieve laughed at the absurdity of her previous thoughts. “I’ll let you know.” “Well, take the job anyway. I bet Buckingham Palace has great souvenirs.” Genevieve picked up the phone.

“This is Genevieve Buchanan.” A man cleared his throat. “Ah, Miss Buchanan, my name is Bryan McShane. I represent the firm of Maledica, Smythe and deLipkau, based in London. I am in San Francisco this week and I wondered when it would be convenient for me to drop by. I have a legal matter to discuss with you.” “A legal matter?” she echoed. Who in the world would want to sue her? And for what? For leaving them with uneven floorboards in the kitchen or stenciling that wasn’t quite up to snuff? She was certainly as human as the next person but she considered herself a far sight more meticulous. She took her restoration work very seriously. “About an inheritance,” the man replied.

He lowered his voice, as if he were afraid others were listening in on the conversation. “This is a matter that needs to be discussed in person, Miss Buchanan. Are you free this afternoon?” “Mr. McShane,” she said, slowly, “I think you have the wrong person. I’m an only child and my parents were only children. They have both passed on and I have no other relatives.” “Miss Buchanan, I assure you that you do have an inheritance and it is quite substantial. You are the last living direct descendant of Matilda of Seakirk. Rodney, the last earl of Seakirk, passed away recently and I have been sent to inform you of what awaits you.” “Who? Are you certain?” “The earl of Seakirk.

And yes, I’m quite certain. My research in that area has been meticulous. When would it be convenient for you to meet and discuss this?” Genevieve shook her head. “But there must be thousands of Matilda’s descendants—” “Regrettably, all others have either passed on or are otherwise unable to claim the inheritance.” “Otherwise unable?” Mr. McShane was silent for a long moment. “Insanity seems to run rampant in the family, Miss Buchanan.” Genevieve was sorely tempted, despite that last little morsel to make her think twice about having anything to do with her ancestors. Unfortunately, reality had other plans for her that afternoon. She’d promised the Campbells she would take a look at their property in Carmel.

She cradled the phone between her shoulder and ear as she set to work on a jumbled pile of paperwork. “I’m sorry, Mr. McShane,” she sighed, “but this afternoon is impossible. Is there something you could mail me and let me look over?” “I fear I was specifically instructed to speak to you about this in person. Perhaps later in the week?” The man was persistent, she would give him that. And despite her doubts, she was intrigued. The thought of inheriting some bauble from an ancestor of noble blood set her mind working furiously. What could it be? And the history behind it? What if it were an ancient treasure? “Perhaps over dinner?” Mr. McShane prompted. “Dinner would be fine,” she heard herself saying.

Well, she could make it back for a late supper. She gave Mr. McShane the name of a restaurant downtown and hung up the phone. Maybe it was some gaudy dinner ring. The meager contents of her safety deposit box could use some company. She would sign the papers, claim her prize, and that would be that. The restaurant noises around her seemed magnified far beyond what they should have been. She heard silverware clanking against china, the sound of liquid being poured into glasses, people chewing, swallowing, burping discreetly. She noticed the redness of Bryan McShane’s watery blue eyes, the pinched lines of strain around his mouth, the unfortunate lack of hair on top of his head. And, most notably, the way his hands fluttered over his silverware and around the crystal stem of his wineglass like little butterflies, too timid to land on something that might suddenly come to life and have them for a snack.

And this new awareness was all due to the shock she felt over his announcement. “A castle?” she repeated in a strangled voice. “A castle,” he nodded, his hand fluttering up to pull at the knot of his tie. “Seakirk once boasted a nunnery and one of the finest halls on the coast of what is now Northumberland. The abbey is in ruins, but the keep is in almost perfect condition. It merely awaits your loving touch.” Genevieve moistened her lips, realized it was a futile gesture, then downed the contents of her water glass in two gulps. A castle? No, she was dreaming. Things like this didn’t happen in real life. “You’re kidding, right?” she managed.

Mr. McShane shook his head. “The castle is yours, Miss Buchanan. All you need to do to claim it is live there.” Genevieve ruthlessly squelched the exuberance that flooded her. She put her hands on the table and pushed her chair back a bit, shaking her head. “I couldn’t,” she said, shaking her head again just in case her words hadn’t sounded convincing enough. “Please don’t be hasty,” Mr. McShane said quickly. “By all means, take a few days and consider it.

Did I mention that along with the castle, you have inherited a blank cheque?” “I beg your pardon?” Mr. McShane pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped off the fog that had suddenly accumulated on his glasses. “Miss Buchanan, the bank account that awaits you is so large, I doubt you could spend a tenth of it in your lifetime. In essence, you have free rein with more funds than you can imagine, to use any way you want. Perhaps in the refurbishment of your castle.” He deposited his glasses back onto his nose and peered at her intently, waiting. “Oh, no,” she moaned, clutching the edge of the table. “This can’t be happening to me.” “A stroke of marvelous fortune, if I might venture an opinion. Certainly an opportunity not to be missed.

” Genevieve grasped frantically at her fast-disappearing shreds of reason. “I can’t just up and leave my business,” she said, mentally making a list of all the travails she had gone through to build it up. “Do you have any idea how many years it’s taken me to convince people I was a restoration artist, not just a glorified interior decorator? I have clients all over the country.” There, that was beginning to sound reasonable. “I love my work,” she said, warming to the topic. “Discovering the personality of the original structure, scraping away all the layers of living and old paint is what fires my imagination. How could you possibly ask me to give that up in return for spending the rest of my life in a castle I might hate at first sight?” “But, Miss Buchanan, what could be more stimulating than doing restoration work on a marvelously preserved thirteenth-century castle?” He looked at her pleadingly. “Just think of all that money and the fine antiques you could buy with it. Why, you could even restart your business in England.” Oh, a lawyer’s logic.

Genevieve felt her fine resolutions begin to slip away from her like water down a drain. Heaven help her, she was actually considering it! She had to escape—quickly, before she did something she’d regret. Her business was her life. She’d worked hard to build it from nothing. It was the one thing she had done on her own, without any help from anyone. Money and property weren’t more important than that. “Mr. McShane, I’m going to have to say no.” “But—” The butterfly fingers set to rapid, helpless flight. “If you do not take the castle, it will go to a distant relative of the late earl’s.

Surely you don’t want that to happen.” Genevieve stood. “I have to go,” she said miserably, then turned and ran from the restaurant. A half hour later, Genevieve walked into her apartment and shut the door behind her. She bolted it by feel, then leaned back against it, letting the darkness envelop her. She let her bag slide to the floor. Her jacket followed. She pushed away from the door and started down the hallway, counting the doorways by touch. Second on the right. She put her hand on the knob, then turned slowly.

She stepped inside the room, then closed the door behind her. It was only then that she reached for the switch. Pale, golden light immediately filled the room, throwing the shadows back into corners and crevices. She sat down on the floor right where she was and simply stared at what surrounded her. Castles. Castles of all sizes, shapes and colors. Paper castles she had taped, puzzle castles she had laminated, primitive wooden castles she had hammered. Then there were the castles she had purchased, replicas of ones that had existed in times past, castles that were only shells now on that distant isle. She smiled faintly. It was her shrine, the place where she came when life wasn’t going so well.

No matter what had really happened in the Middle Ages, to her a castle represented security. It was a place of refuge from the storms of life, a place full of family and laughter and love. And now she had been offered one. Was Bryan McShane a fairy godmother in disguise? Good grief, the structure alone was enough to send her mind reeling. What would it be like to own something so deeply coated with layers of history that she could never have scraped away all the signs of living? Not that she would have wanted to. No, she would have restored the structures and their interiors to their original glory, searching for months for the perfect piece to go in that corner, or the perfect tapestry to line that wall. It would have been a restoration expert’s dream. And if that had been as deep as her feelings ran, it might have been easier to walk away from the opportunity. Unfortunately, her fascination didn’t stop with just the stones and mortar. In grade school when the other girls had been playing with dolls, she had been daydreaming of dragons and knights.

In high school when the other girls had been worrying about makeup and boyfriends, she had been daydreaming about dragons, knights and their medieval abodes. During college when the other girls had been either trying to catch a man or hopping on the fast track, she had been busily designing, sketching and furnishing medieval dwellings for her knight to come home to after a hard day of dragon slaying. Castles had always figured prominently in her imagination, and certainly no castle had been complete without a charming, chivalrous and handsome knight who loved only her. Freud would have had a field day with her daydreams. She didn’t want to speculate on why she continually felt the need to be rescued, but she suspected it had a great deal to do with the fact that most people tended to walk all over her and she tended to lie down and let them do it. Well, that wouldn’t happen this time. Who knew what kind of domineering kin waited for her on yon isle, ready to leave footprints on the back of her shirt? No, it was best she stay right where she was. Her business was her life. She had sweated and slaved to get where she was. Her work had eased the pain of having lost her parents, distracted her from thoughts of a lover, kept her from agonizing because she had no children.

Her staff had become her family. They loved her, fussed over her, gave her a sense of belonging she’d never had, even in her own family. Her work demanded all her energies. What love she would have given to little ones, she lavished on the houses she restored. No detail was too small or insignificant. Old wood became beautiful under her hand, weathered stone threw off Sheetrock coverings, brick emerged from under layers of paint. Houses blossomed and took on a homey feeling. No matter that she created such a feeling for others. It was her joy. And no amount of money was worth giving that up.

Her father had been obsessed with money, her mother obsessed that he didn’t make enough. He’d had a heart attack at fifty and her mother had soon followed him to the grave. After the estate had paid the bills, the attorney had handed Genevieve her inheritance. The irony hadn’t escaped her. Two lives spent chasing after things that hadn’t lasted just to leave her a five-hundred-dollar legacy. She still had the check. It helped her keep her perspective. No, she wouldn’t give in to temptation. She rose and walked back to her front door. After flipping on the lights, she picked up her purse and retrieved Bryan McShane’s card from her wallet and carried it into the kitchen.

She turned on the faucet and started the garbage disposal. And she froze. Well, perhaps that was a bit drastic, even for her. Maybe she could bargain for visitation rights. She shut the disposal off and turned off the water. Perhaps a month during the winter, when things were slow. She hesitated. Then she put her shoulders back. She did not need this distraction. It was best to just walk away while she still had the determination.

Foolish or not, she had her reasons and she was very clear about what they were. She threw Mr. McShane’s card on top of a pile of papers she intended to recycle. And it was with only a slight twinge of regret that she turned off the kitchen lights and went to bed. Chapter Two “But—” “We have nothing further to discuss, Miss Buchanan. Good day.” There was a click and then a dial tone. Genevieve looked at the phone in her hand and felt the urge to take it apart and see just what kind of bug had been put inside to torment her. That was the third client in a week who had dropped her like a scalding potato. Her office door opened and Kate walked in.

Genevieve pushed aside her concern. “Well, how did it go?” she asked. Kate shrugged helplessly. “It was going fine until the phone call, then they threw me out of the house. No explanation, just good-bye and good riddance.” Genevieve sighed and replaced the receiver she still held. “Maybe it’s something in the air. I just lost the Montgomery account.” Kate sank down into the chair facing Genevieve’s desk. “You’re kidding.

” “I wish I were.” “Gen, that was a half-million-dollar account! What in the world did you do?” Genevieve pursed her lips. “I didn’t do anything.” “But you must have! Why in the world would they have dumped us unless you offended them or something? You know how touchy they are.” Genevieve knew exactly how touchy her clients were because she’d been hung up on by several of them over the past two weeks. “If you’re trying to help, Kate, you’re doing a terrible job.” “I think you should take some kind of class, Gen. Maybe you need to work on your delivery. I can’t afford to work for someone who offends everyone she meets. In fact, I don’t think I can afford to work for you at all.

” She stood up. “I quit.” Genevieve watched in complete astonishment as Kate left her office and slammed out the front door. The phone rang. When it continued to ring, Genevieve frowned. Where was Angela? She finally reached for the receiver and picked it up. “Dreams Restored, this is Genevieve.” “Gen, it’s Peter. I’m at the airport. In Denver.

” “What’s up?” “They fired me, that’s what’s up! What did you do to these people?” Genevieve could hardly believe what she was hearing. “I didn’t do anything.” Hadn’t she just said the same thing to Kate? This was starting to become a bad habit. “Listen, Peter, let me call the Johnsons and see what’s—” “Don’t. Don’t do anything else. They want nothing to do with you and told me they would sue for harassment if they heard from any of us again. I quit, Gen. You’re ruining my reputation.” “But—” “I’ll clean out my stuff when I get back. Sometime when you’re not there.

” The phone went dead. Genevieve could hardly believe her ears. She replaced the receiver slowly. The phone began to ring almost immediately. Where was Angela, anyway? She got up and walked out to the tiny reception area. Angela’s souvenir collection was gone, but there was a note secured to the computer screen with well-chewed gum. I quit, too, Gen. Sorry. Angela. Genevieve put her head in her hands and tried to groan.

It came out as more of a whimper. Business reversals were one thing. Having the entire crew abandon ship was another thing entirely. She sat down heavily at Angela’s desk, staring at the phone lines that were blinking furiously. Maybe she could get a temp in for the day until she could find someone permanent. But until she took a few calls, she wouldn’t have a phone line free to get out on. She picked up line one, steeling herself for the worst.

.

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