Excerpt: Dreams of Stardust

Excerpt: Dreams of Stardust

The de Piaget Family

Chapter One

London, England

Early Summer, 2005

Jackson Alexander Kilchurn IV stood in the underground car park of a swanky London office building with his hands up in the air in as close to a gesture of surrender as he could stomach and paused mid-mugging to review the events of the morning to see where he’d gone wrong.

Waking up. Waking up to the unhappy sight of his father leaning over him fully dressed–his father, not he himself–bellowing that they were going to be late if Jake didn’t haul his sorry backside out of bed immediately. Yes, that was a sight that should have merely inspired him to pull the covers back over his head.

Obviously, he was not at his best in the morning.

Not telling his father to go to hell. That had been his second mistake. If he’d just done that, he could have saved himself not only the annoyance of having to get up before the sun to shuttle his filthy-rich but notoriously cheap father to the airport, but also the irritation of having to listen to another paternal lecture on Jake’s shortcomings, which included but were not limited to his marital state (none), his desire to follow in his father’s business-empire-building footsteps (also unsettlingly missing), and his attendance at his father’s London office (scanty, at best).

When his father had begun to compare him to a barnacle on the yacht of prosperity, Jake had quickly pulled up to the curb, deposited his father and his father’s suitcase onto the sidewalk, and beat a hasty retreat into his car before he’d said something he might have regretted, such as, “Sure, I’ll take that thin manila envelope and have it signed by whatever massive, impersonal conglomerate you’re dealing with these days if you’ll just get off my back.”

Which he’d done just the same when his father had tossed it onto the passenger seat before Jake could lock the doors.

That had led to mistake number three: being cheap. Yes, that was the third, final, and potentially quite fatal decision he’d made in a morning that had gone disastrously awry. Cheapness was apparently a trait he shared with the aforementioned disgustingly rich father, but he’d think about that later, when he thought he could stomach it. Maybe he would reterm it thrift and move on.

But for now, he had to admit that he’d been cheap and had agreed to be his father’s errand boy instead of shelling out the £50 for a courier–£50 that he would probably lose just the same to the thug behind him who was currently shoving a gun into his back.

Was that a gun? Hard to say. His well-worn but at one time very expensive leather jacket wasn’t exactly conducive to ascertaining the true character of lethal weapons.

He quickly ran through his arsenal of deadly self-defense techniques, trying to decide which he could use without getting himself thrown in the pokey. He should have compared notes with that high-priced body guard he’d hired for his equally high priced baby sister last year. Somebody MacLeod, he thought.

Well, a last name didn’t do him much good if he hadn’t either written it down or programmed it into his cell phone, and since his cell phone was currently leaving his jacket pocket for points unknown, that last name would do him even less good. Where was that MacLeod character when Jake needed him?

“Blimey, mate, where’re yer keys?” the thug asked, sounding completely baffled. “Should be in this pocket here, I’m thinkin’” he added as he rifled through Jake’s jacket pockets for the third time.

Jake declined to comment. It was bad enough he was getting mugged; he had to get mugged by a moron. He spared an unkind thought for his father. If he hadn’t been humoring the man by delivering a bit of paperwork to a business partner in this building…well, he sure as hell wouldn’t be standing there being groped by a ne’er-do-well. He would have been rolling out of bed to head to his office where he engaged in his own brand of moneymaking.

Which he would get to as soon as he gracefully extricated himself from his current situation. He cleared his throat, “Trouble?” he asked politely.

The thug sighed heavily. “I’m findin’ meself a wee bit frustrated at the moment. Don’t suppose you have anything interesting in that fancy purse of yours, would ye?”

“It’s a briefcase, and no, there’s nothing interesting in it.”

“Didn’t expect there would be. Ah, here’s something.” He removed Jake’s wallet from his inside jacket pocket. “Now, how ‘bout those keys?”

“Front trouser pocket,” Jake instructed.

“The things I do,” the man said with another heartfelt sigh and slid his hand into Jake’s pocket.

Jake decided, once his would-be assailant began to grope more than keys, that the time for action had come. He spun around, to the accompaniment of a very loud rending sound that signaled his pocket parting company with the rest of his trousers, then clouted the thief across the face with his very expensive attaché case. He followed that up with a fist under the man’s jaw. The man slumped to the ground. Jake bent down to retrieve his phone and his wallet only to find himself seeing stars quite suddenly as well. “Damn it,” he swore as he clutched his nose. Blood dripped through his fingers as he looked down quickly at his adversary, prepared to take further action.

But the would-be thief was lying on the ground, drooling peacefully.

Jake wondered how in the hell the man had managed to get one of his joints, either elbow or knee, in the vicinity of Jake’s face, then decided it didn’t merit further investigation. He made certain he had taken back his goods, then removed one of the least official-looking papers from his briefcase and used it for clean-up duty. It wasn’t great, but it would do. He shoved the bloody page into his pocket, then made his way across the car park to the elevators.

Several minutes and a brief detour to the loo later, he was walking into the very posh lobby of Artane Enterprises, Inc., his father’s amour du jour. He had no idea what sort of sweet deal had been cooked up between the two, but since Jake knew nothing about AE, Inc. and did his damndest to know equally little about his father’s own conglomerate, he considered himself happily in the dark. He was, after all, the mugged errand boy, nothing more.

He walked to the receptionist’s desk and flashed her a smile.

“I’m from Kilchurn and Sons,” he said. “I have something for the boss.”

The woman looked at his nose doubtfully.

“A little accident downstairs,” Jake said deprecatingly.

He was apparently only marginally successful in easing her mind, because she put her hand over her mouth as she whispered into the phone. Jake waited patiently, with a harmless smile, until another woman came to fetch him. She looked him over and scowled, obviously not liking what she saw.

“You’re late,” she scolded.


“There’s blood on your shirt and a rent in your trousers.”

“I got mugged in your car park,” he said easily.

She gave him a look of skepticism his father would have envied, then sighed. “Business first,” she muttered, then led him briskly down a long hallway and toward a set of imposing double doors. She opened them with a flourish to let him inside, then closed them with a discreet click.

Jake found himself in an office that somehow managed to be old world and quite modern at the same time. It was probably the smell of money. No wonder his father liked this group. The place just reeked of financial success.

A sandy-haired man sat there, taking notes on a legal pad. “You’re late,” he said, not looking up.

“I was busy getting mugged in your car park,” Jake said.

The other man lifted his head. “Is that so?”

Jake offered his torn pocket as evidence.

“And your nose?”

“Let’s not talk about that.”

“Hmmm,” the other said as he studied Jake for a moment or two. “You’re from Kilchurn and Sons.”

“I am.”

The sandy-haired man studied him a bit longer. “You know,” he said thoughtfully, “you look a great deal like Mr. Jackson Kilchurn III.”

Given that his father was not an unhandsome man, even in his early sixties, Jake had no trouble taking that as a compliment. “I do,” he agreed. “And happily so, since I’m his son.”

“Indeed,” the other man said slowly, as if he couldn’t quite believe it.

“Don’t let it worry you. Today I’m just the errand boy.”

“High-priced errand boy.”

“Not high enough, believe me.” He handed over the manila envelope. “Here you go.”

“Thank you.” The man rose as he took it, then held out his hand. “Gideon de Piaget. I run AE, Inc. I’m surprised we haven’t met before. I seem to have spent an inordinate amount of time at Kilchurn and Sons as of late, but I’ve never seen you there.”

“I try never to be there,” Jake said. “I have three other, quite capable brothers who are soldiering on, doing the family name proud. They mostly live at my father’s offices in Manhattan, but they do make the occasional appearance here in London to put in their obscenely long hours for the firm. I’m quite thankful for that, as it leaves me free to pursue other quite inappropriate interests.”

“Hmmm,” Gideon said, looking faintly interested.

“Just a bit of dabbling in gems,” Jake admitted modestly. Actually, that dabbling took him all over the world in search of the unusual and exquisite, which in turn left him able to create one-of-a-kind pieces that fetched prices even his father found outrageous. All that left him with neither time nor desire to put in the eighty a week that employment at his father’s money machine required. Not that he ever would have anyway. He couldn’t stand the thought of all those hours and nothing but paperwork to show for it.

Gideon’s fascination with inappropriate interests was apparently evaporating. He sank own into his chair, his attention fixed on the documents in his hands.

Jake sat as well, briefly. He didn’t want to be hanging out in some corporate box, no matter how luxurious; he wanted to be slogging through some mosquito-infested swamp in search of a forgotten mine where he might find a cache of something rare. In fact, he had just such a trip planned for the next day–if he could get out of AE, Inc. and over to his father’s office to finish his task before he died of corporate asphyxiation.

He was on his feet almost before he knew how he’d gotten there. Gideon just turned another page and kept reading, so Jake assumed he wouldn’t mind having his things perused.

To Jake’s surprise, Gideon’s office wasn’t filled with important but impersonal pieces of art a decorator would have chosen. It was filled with quite lovely pastoral scenes that were no doubt geared to make one feel as if he needed to spend pleasant afternoons on a little hill in the Lake District. Nice, easily digested paintings that demanded nothing and offered peace.

Well, except for the one dominating the wall to Jake’s left.

Jake’s pacing ended abruptly as he came face-to-face with an enormous photograph of a castle. He was accustomed to seeing castles, having lived in England for well over half his life, but this was different.

It wasn’t that the place wasn’t huge; it was. It wasn’t that it wasn’t imposing; it was. It wasn’t that it wasn’t stark and unforgiving; it was that as well.

It was that it looked so…familiar.

But he was quite certain that he’d never seen it before.


The name whispered across his soul, sending a violent shiver down his spine. He never shivered, not even when facing down spiders the size of his head in the depths of South American jungles.

He wondered, briefly, if that stray blow to his nose had damaged his good sense as well.

“Artane,” Gideon said absently.

I know, Jake thought with a gasp, like a drowning man gulping in his last breath of sweet air before he surrendered to the pull beneath him.

“The family seat.”

“I beg your pardon?” Jake managed with enormous effort, unable to turn away from the photograph. “Your family seat?”

“Yes, actually,” Gideon said. “Have you never been?”


“Why not?”

“I’m not sure.” But if it had anything at all to do with his violent reaction to the place, maybe he was grateful for it.

“You don’t have much of an American accent. Have you lived in England long?”

Jake happily turned his back on Artane and leaned against Gideon’s sideboard. “Years. My father sent me to Eton when he learned I was enjoying my pricey New England boarding school a little too much.”

“Did you enjoy it?”

Jake was ready to blurt out his standard answer of it was hell, but found himself unsettled enough by his recent encounter with photography to have to scramble for something else.

“It was fine,” he managed finally.

“Did you go to University here as well? I assume you live here now.”

“I did and I do.”

Gideon gestured to the castle behind Jake. “You should make a visit.”

“I don’t really have time–”


“No time for that either. In fact,” Jake said, straightening and rubbing his hands together purposefully, “I don’t really have time for much at all. I’ve got to be going, if you’re finished…”

“There are rumors that it’s haunted,” Gideon continued, as if he hadn’t noticed Jake getting antsy. “Artane,” he added, as if he thought Jake might be unsure of which castle he was referring to.

“Interesting,” Jake said, looking for the closest exit.

“Of course, I will admit that Artane doesn’t have ghosts like they do at other castles,” Gideon conceded. “Seakirk, for instance.”

“How unfortunate,” Jake murmured sympathetically, moving toward the door.

“But we have the occasional odd thing turn up at odd hours.”

Jake didn’t believe in ghosts and he certainly didn’t believe in anything else he couldn’t see–unless of course it was the rumor of a bit of sapphire or opal in some obscure third-world country that would require him to don his fedora and hike through malaria-infested jungles or leech-plagued swamps–but even so, he couldn’t deny that just looking at Artane gave him a feeling of déjà vu that was altogether unsettling. All the more reason to get the hell out of there while he had his sanity intact.

Obviously he’d gotten up too early that morning. It had taken a toll on his common sense.

“Artane has been home to de Piagets since the beginning of the thirteenth century.” Gideon continued, apparently oblivious to Jake’s discomfort. “Quite a decent lot, on the whole.”

“How nice.”

“We have a famous collection of medieval artifacts,” Gideon went on. “I come from a family of pack rats, it seems. Books, swords, jewelry. If you’re interested in old, it’s there for the asking.”

“I have to be going now,” Jake said, wondering how rude it would be if he just grabbed the appropriate paperwork from Gideon’s hands on his way to the door.

“We’ve resorted to tourists,” Gideon said. “My father isn’t thrilled about it, you know, and he isn’t open all that often, but you do what you have to in order to satisfy the Inland Revenue. And we have AE, as well. Several other interests globally. I’m hoping the venture with your father will add to that.”

“Well, if it has anything to do with making money, you can be sure my father won’t come to the party unless he plans to take quite a haul away,” he said shortly. “Now, if you don’t mind–”

Then something Gideon had said registered in his busy brain.

“Jewelry, did you say?” he asked.

“Vats of it. Are you into that sort…” Gideon paused, then looked at Jake in surprise. “You aren’t any relation to Kilchurn Ltd., are you? Importers of the rare, the unique, and the ridiculously expensive?”

“We’re not ridiculously expensive,” Jake said evenly. “Considering what I have to go through to procure the rare, unique and equitably priced, as well as all the design time–”

“You design it as well?” Gideon asked, with mind disbelief. “You don’t look like a designer.”

“I’m a full service shop,” Jake said dryly “Acquisition, accounts receivable, and security. I have fewer problems when people think I’m just the bodyguard.”

“I suppose,” Gideon said with a smile, tapping the papers on his desk. “All the more reason for you to go north. You’ll go mad for the rubbish piled in heaps against the walls in the vault. You might even find something useful.”

“No,” was out of Jake’s mouth before he could stop it.


“No,” Jake repeated firmly. “I can’t.”

“My father has to sign this,” Gideon said.

“Send a courtier.”

Gideon looked at him and Jake could have sworn the man’s nose twitched, as if he smelled something suspicious.

Damn it.

“No,” Gideon said slowly, looking at Jake quite seriously. “No, I don’t think so. Either you go, or the deal’s off.”

Jake felt his jaw slide south. “I beg your pardon?”

“I just have the feeling there might be something in my father’s hall that you need to see.” He paused, then smiled briefly. “Call it Fate.”

“I don’t believe in Fate.”

“My father can put you up,” Gideon continued, as if he hadn’t heard. “Or you can stay at my wife’s inn.”

“She runs an inn?”

“She owns an inn,” Gideon corrected. “The Boar’s Head. Very quaint. Very sixteenth century. I’ll ring them and have them set a room aside.”

“I need–”

“A reservation? Don’t worry. I’ll do it for you.” He handed Jake the papers. “I assume you’re going home to get cleaned up?”

Jake glared at him. It wasn’t very polite, but he couldn’t help himself. “Damn you,” he muttered.

Gideon laughed. “I’ll have all the details over to you in an hour. Give my love to my family. Enjoy your stay at the inn.”

Jake looked at him narrowly. “Why do I feel like there’s something more going on here than simple altruism?”

“As I said before, I’m a big believer in Fate, and Fate’s telling me you need to see my father’s hall.”

Jake gritted his teeth. He didn’t have time for Fate, not when high-powered buyers were waiting for goods he was supposed to bring home in less than a week, goods he was going to have to do some ferocious bargaining to get.

That same breath of sea air whispered over his soul, bringing with it a longing so intense, a joy so sweet, that he caught his breath. He, Jackson Kilchurn IV, a take-no-prisoners kind of guy, thought he just might have to sit down. He drew his hand over his eyes and then rubbed them for good measure.

“Not enough sleep,” he announced.

Gideon rose and came around the desk. He clapped a hand on Jake’s shoulder and led him the rest of the way to the door. “It’s been a pleasure. Ring me when you return and let me know how you found things. Perhaps I’ll take some of my hard earned sterling and come visit your shop.”

“I’ll try not to sell you paste,” Jake said sourly.

“You’ll have a smashing time,” Gideon promised, sounding pleased. “Expect directions within the hour.”

“Thank you so much,” Jake grumbled.

“My pleasure.” He held out his hand and shook Jake’s. “Best of luck in my father’s vault.”

“That much of it I’ll enjoy,” Jake said as he left Gideon’s office.

He made it unmolested to his car and returned with all haste to his flat, fully intending to go immediately to bed and forget the unsettling and quite unwholesome events of the day.

Instead he found himself pacing in front of his expensive double-hung windows and pausing every now and again to stare at the equally expensive Georgian manors across the street. But instead of being soothed by their symmetry, he found himself being overwhelmed by the vision of a grim-looking, stone bird of prey, crouched on a bluff by the sea, looking out over the beach as if it dared anyone to come and try to conquer it.

It was just a castle.

The why did the mere sight of it threaten to shatter his quite manly and jaded heart?

Almost an hour to the minute from when he’d left Gideon’s office, a discreet tap sounded on his front door. Jake accepted an equally discreet manila envelope from a well-dressed lad who demurred when Jake offered him a tip. Obviously Gideon paid his people well.

He opened the envelope to find that it contained only a handful of papers. One was directions to the Boar’s Head Inn. The other was directions to Artane. The last was a brief note from Gideon.



My father is expecting you and has invited you to make free with his vaults. Apparently, he purchased one of your more expensive baubles for my mother a pair of years past and finds himself delighted that you’re deigning to grace him with your august presence. He has a magnificent chef and the scenery is not to be missed. Let me know how you find the old pile of stones.



Jake took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He found himself being driven inexorably north.

Against his will.

Without choice.

But driven just the same.

There had better be a damn good reason for it. He shoved all the appropriate paperwork into his briefcase, then, with a sigh, picked up the phone to have his assistant change his plans.