A Tale of Two CousinsKatie MacAlister
PRAISE FOR THE NOVELS OF
Memoirs of a Dragon Hunter
“Bursting with the author’s trademark zany humor and spicy romance . . . this quick tale will delight paranormal romance fans.”—Publishers Weekly
“Balanced by a well-organized plot and MacAlister’s trademark humor.”—Publishers Weekly
It’s All Greek to Me
“A fun and sexy read.”—The Season for Romance
“A wonderful lighthearted romantic romp as a kick-butt American Amazon and a hunky Greek find love. Filled with humor, fans will laugh with the zaniness of Harry meets Yacky.”—Midwest Book Review
Much Ado About Vampires
“A humorous take on the dark and demonic.”—USA Today
“Once again this author has done a wonderful job. I was sucked into the world of Dark Ones right from the start and was taken on a fantastic ride. This book is full of witty dialogue and great romance, making it one that should not be missed.”—Fresh Fiction
The Unbearable Lightness of Dragons
“Had me laughing out loud. . . . This book is full of humor and romance, keeping the reader entertained all the way through . . . a wondrous story full of magic. . . . I cannot wait to see what happens next in the lives of the dragons.”—Fresh Fiction
A TALE OF TWO COUSINS
A Papaioannou Novel
Copyright © Katie MacAlister, 2020
All rights reserved
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.
Cover by Croco Designs
Formatting by Racing Pigeon Productions
For everyone who’s hung in there while I wrote other books: this is your thank you. You’re the best!
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A Note to Readers
Other Books by Katie
“My room is an utter and complete crap hole. What’s yours like?”
I looked around the small room. Despite the bright sunlight of Athens in a late spring afternoon, the room felt oddly gloomy. There was a distinct air of glory days long relegated to the past, but despite that, I liked it. “It’s fine,” I called back through the connecting door to Maggie’s room. “Not great, but the online reviews say that the owners are diligent about keeping the hostel clean. And it’s cheap.”
Maggie appeared in the doorway clad in only her underwear, her face expressing mingled sadness and disappointment that made me feel like a heel. “I know you did the best you could, but I really wish you could have found us somewhere nicer, Thyra.”
“Nicer costs more money.” I pushed down the guilt, and shook out the gold lace cocktail dress that had been my mother’s, thankful that vintage garments were in style again. “Of which I have none.”
Maggie gave a little snort before withdrawing into her room, leaving the door open so we could talk. “I thought the magazine paid you?”
“An advance only,” I reminded her.
“So? That’s still money, and we could have been staying somewhere that reeked a little less of a low-class youth hostel.”
“The advance was spent. This is all I can afford. If you want to stay somewhere else, you’re welcome to, but I simply don’t have the money to pay for it.” I hoped that would stop her from continuing the gentle stream of complaints that had drifted my way during the last hour, which was the entirety of the time we’d been in Athens. This was our first venture, and already I was regretting having agreed to her plan.
Dammit, I told myself, this is what comes from depending on other people. This is why it’s better to just do things by yourself rather than rely on others.
“What did you spend it on?” What sounded very much to me like annoyance tinged her words. I was a bit surprised—Maggie had always been so supportive in the past that now her sense of unhappiness prickled on my skin. “It can’t have been clothes.”
“Transportation to the airport, plane tickets for two from London to Athens, transportation from the airport, and two rooms at this hotel for four days,” I said, peeling off my t-shirt, which was glued to my back with sweat. Although neither of our budget hotel rooms had its own bathroom, we did each have a sink, and I had a quick wash at it to clean off the worst of the sweat and dirt of travel. “Not to mention food and the incidentals you wanted.”
“That was five hundred euros? Somehow that doesn’t seem right.”
“Well, it was, and we’re here.” I looked out of the window, excitement driving away the sudden worry and misgivings about my cousin. “We’re in Athens, Maggie! Exotic, glorious Athens! On our first job! Aren’t you excited?”
“I’d be more excited if I was in a proper hotel. A princess doesn’t stay in a budget hotel. A princess stays in glamorous places with room service, and fresh towels, and chocolates on the pillow.”
“I’ll buy a candy bar and put it on your pillow tonight,” I promised, hugging myself with the joy that filled me, determined to enjoy myself even if Maggie’s unhappiness was a bit wearing. Although I hadn’t seen much of Athens on the ride in on the bus, what I had seen made me itch to be a tourist.
But first I had to get through the events of the evening that Maggie insisted were necessary. I dug through the meager belongings of my suitcase and for a moment, thought I’d lost my purse. “Do you still have my bag?”
“The black one that wouldn’t fit in your little carryon? Yes, it’s locked away in my suitcase. Do you need it now?”
“Well, it does have my passport, although I don’t suppose I will need that for a cocktail party,” I said, pulling the gold lace dress over my head, and immediately snagging my hair on a metal hook and eye. “Ow. Ow ow ow.”
“What on earth is the ... oh.” Maggie bustled into my room, where I spun around with my hands over my head, my arms partway through the dress, flailing ineffectively as I tried to remove the hook from my hair. “Honest to God, Thyra, you’re the only woman I know whose hair deliberately does things to make itself difficult. No, stop struggling—I see where it’s hooked ... there.”
“It’s just because there’s so much of it,” I said, pulling the now freed dress down onto my torso before rubbing at a spot on my head where Maggie had inadvertently pulled my hair getting it untangled. �
�Mom always said unruly hair was the curse of the Patoise family, although your hair never seems to fight you like mine does me.”
She patted the shoulder-length old-gold-colored hair that lay in perfection framing her face. “Maybe you and Aunt Sunny got some bad hair genetics from Grand-mère Patoise, but Mom and I didn’t. Are you ready?”
“I suppose,” I said, taking the small beaded coin purse I used on those rare occasions when I went out for an evening event, and stuffing the entirety of my bankroll—less than one hundred euros—into it. On second thought, I removed half of it, and hid the remainder in my bra, under one of my breasts.
Maggie had been admiring herself in the small mirror over my sink, turning this way and that before giving a big sigh. “It’s just not what a princess should have,” she told me.
“It may not be, but it’s what we can afford, so let’s stop focusing on the negative and enjoy our time while we’re here. Are you sure you need me tonight? I’d be happy to just wander around the city while you gate-crash the party.”
“It’s not gate-crashing if you know about a party,” she said, flashing a smile before hustling me out of the narrow room.
“It is if you aren’t invited, and we aren’t,” I pointed out.
“Meh. We would have been if people had known that Her Serene Highness Princess Juliane of Sonderburg-Beck was in town.” Maggie sailed blithely ahead, completely missing the fact that I rolled my eyes.
“It’s just that ... well, you know how I am at parties.” I followed her down the narrow stone stairs, emerging into a small but clean reception room, where two young men with backpacks were checking in. I gave a little wave to Nita, the co-owner who had welcomed us earlier, and hurried after my cousin when she charged out the door, pausing to glance up and down the busy street.
“I know you’re insular, yes.”
“I’m not insular!” I protested, catching up to her.
“Oh?” She tipped her head to study me. “How many friends do you have?”
“That’s a silly question. I have friends,” I said, lifting my chin to attempt to look down my nose at her. This was a move that never worked, mostly because she was taller than me, but also because I had to look through glasses to see her.
“How many?” she repeated, arching one eyebrow.
“I have four roommates—” I started to say.
“Those are roomies, not friends,” she said, waving them away. “You don’t hang out with them for fun, do you?”
“Well ...” I didn’t want to continue on with the subject, because I had a horrible feeling she was right.
“Uh-huh. What friends—other than that weird group of computer geeks you live with—do you have?”
“Well, Chris, naturally—”
“Chris is your brother,” she interrupted. “Other than family members and your roomies, who do you consider a friend?”
I thought for a minute, swearing under my breath before waving a vague hand. “I don’t see what your point is. OK, I’m particular about how many people I consider friends. It’s not like that defines me as a person.”
“No, but the fact that you don’t let anyone get close to you does.” She softened the words by giving my arm a brief squeeze. “I’m not trying to pick on you, Thyra, I’m really not, but other than family, you don’t really let people know you, the real you. I just want you to see what others and I see.”
“Others? What others?” I asked, narrowing my eyes. I was extremely uncomfortable with the discussion and would happily have changed the subject if I thought she’d let me. “Who are you talking about me with?”
She was silent, looking away, her gaze scanning the cars that drove past us.
A horrible thought struck me. “Oh, Maggie, you didn’t.”
“I did. He called me. He’s been very worried about you.”
I groaned aloud. “I don’t know why, since he’s done everything he can to make my life a living hell.”
“Kardom?” She whirled around to give me a little frown. “Are you crazy? He’s wild about you. Why would he try to make you unhappy?”
“Because he wants to be top dog in Beck, and he’s doing everything in his power to make that happen. No, don’t tell me you’ve fallen for his line of bull; I don’t want to discuss it. I just want to enjoy Athens and do this interview right. If the magazine likes it, it might lead to other things in addition to the column.”
“I like that!” She whapped me on the arm. “You get to drop statements like your own cousin Kardom is trying to do you a nasty, and then forbid me to talk about it? This is exactly what I’m talking about, Thyra—you put up barriers between yourself and everyone.”
I took a deep breath, and reminded myself that arguing was not how I wanted to spend the evening. “I have a lot of reasons for protecting myself, as you well know, but I admit that perhaps I might go overboard once in a while. If you’re done dissecting my psyche, can we go?”
“Yes, but just remember that I know all about you, and how you are. And you can’t be standoffish and isolated if you want to be the secretary to a princess.”
“Personal assistant,” I corrected, resigning myself to an evening spent in an introvert’s hell—a cocktail party. Afterward, I promised myself, I would take one of the free walking tours that were available around town. There had to be some that ran at night. Perhaps even a ghost tour ... “Not to argue the point, but I think royal assistants are isolated and standoffish. It goes with the job.”
She gave a ladylike snort, then asked, “Where are all the taxis?”
“Is that what you’ve been looking around for?” I shook my head, and gave her a little push in the direction of the address she’d given me the day before. I’d looked it up at the library and memorized the location. “We don’t have money for a cab. Come on, it’s only about twelve blocks.”
“Twelve blocks!” She gasped and looked appalled, but hurried after me when I set off at a brisk pace. “I’m going to have blisters if I walk that far.”
“Don’t be silly. Twelve blocks is nothing on a nice night like this. It’s cooled down, there’s lots of people out, and mmm, just smell the smells from the restaurants. You did say there would be food at this party, right?”
“Of course there will be food, cocktail party food. Little nibbles of this and that, but, Thyra, promise me you won’t scarf down great big platefuls of appetizers.”
“I haven’t eaten since this morning, so if there is food, I’ll be partaking, but I promise I won’t let anyone see me making a pig of myself.”
She chatted for almost the entirety of the twelve blocks, telling me how much fun the party was going to be, how much she was going to enjoy being seen as a princess, and that if I wasn’t comfortable, I could find a quiet spot to sit. She finished with a reminder of, “Just remember that these people are going to be very impressed by having a princess in their midst.”
I made a face at that. “Assuming they have even heard of Sonderburg-Beck, which most people in the world haven’t.”
She whapped me again on the arm. “It’s a perfectly fine title. It’s just a little ...”
“Of course not.”
“Landless? Worthless? Impossible to cope with?”
“Now who’s being negative?” she asked, giving me a quick grin.
“Just you remember that if this party is as elite as you were told it’s going to be, it’s likely there may be some real royalty there, like one of those Middle Eastern princes that are all over the society magazines. If you take my advice, you’ll steer clear of anyone who looks important,” I warned her. “Oh, I think that’s the hotel there on the next block.”
“Damn,” she said, pausing to fret. “I hate to just walk up to it. Look at all those limos and expensive tiny sports cars. What sort of a princess arrives on foot to a hotel like that?”
“One who is flat broke.” I glanced down
a cross street and noticed a smaller, less busy entrance. “Let’s go in the side entrance. That way we will be in the hotel before you make your grand entrance.”
“All right, but I really wish we could have gotten a car. Appearances matter so much.”
I managed to not comment on that, but it was a near thing. Just as I passed the dark entrance of an obviously closed shop, a girl of about ten or eleven popped out, holding a large cardboard box in her arms.
“I hear you talking. You are English lady?” she asked me, her eyes red as if she had been crying.
“Oh, hello. I live there, yes.” I hoped Maggie would stop with me to help the distraught child, but she proceeded on, obviously unaware of the girl.
“You like cats?”
I looked at her box. “Uh ... sure, but—”
“I give you cat. Papa say Valentino has to go, but he will die if he is in the street. English like animals, I saw this in TV we watch at school. You take him. I love him. Maybe you love him, too?” Her dark eyes filled with tears that spilled over, making my own eyes prick painfully.
“Wait, I can’t take a cat—”
“He is very good cat. You look like nice lady. You will love him, and treat him well, and then he will have a better life than with me, just like on the English TV shows,” she said, and, with a heart-wrenching sob, turned and dashed down the street.
“Hey, I can’t—I’m not the best person—well, hell.”
No one else was around on that side of the street, certainly no one who looked like a suitable home for an unwanted cat. I flipped open the lid of the box to find an orange cat curled up on a ratty Bugs Bunny blanket. His head tilted back to give me a long, assessing look. There was a black splotch that completely covered one ear and dribbled down the back of his head a little bit. He was wearing a harness, and included in the box were a plastic bag filled with dried cat food, two small cans of what looked like tuna, and a couple of beat-up toys.
“Oh, God,” I told the cat, my heart breaking at the thought of a young girl driven by desperation to find her beloved kitty a home. Then I thought of what it would take to care for a cat properly, and my heart broke a little more, because I knew I couldn’t do it. I didn’t have the time or situation or money. “I can’t, Valentino. I just can’t. Tell me you understand.”