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The Importance of Being Alice

Katie MacAlister

  Praise for the Novels of Katie MacAlister

  The Art of Stealing Time


  “I highly recommend this book for the humor, the romance, and the wild ride it takes us on.”

  —Cocktails and Books

  “[MacAlister is] still a brilliant writer, funny, fast, silly, and completely irreverent. . . . Her sassy wit and crazy characters will still entertain her fans.”

  —Bitten by Books

  Time Thief


  “If you enjoy a good murder mystery mixed with familial betrayal, the otherworld, and a romance, then this is the book for you.”

  —Dark Faerie Tales

  “Silly, sassy, and salacious—Katie MacAlister . . . gets up to her usual tricks in this comical paranormal romance.”

  —The Urban Book Thief

  Sparks Fly


  “Once again I was drawn into the wondrous world of this author’s dragons and hated leaving once their story was told. I loved this visit and cannot wait for the next book to see just what new adventures lay in wait for these dragons.”

  —Love Romances & More

  “Fast-paced . . . an entertaining read and a fine addition to MacAlister’s dragon series.”

  —Bookshelf Bombshells

  “Balanced by a well-organized plot and MacAlister’s trademark humor.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  It’s All Greek to Me

  “This author delivers again with yet another steamy, sexy read with humorous situations, dialogue, and characters. The plot is fast-paced and fun, typical of MacAlister’s novels. The characters are impossible not to like. The hiccups in their relationship only serve to make the reader root harder for them. The events range from amusing to steamy to serious. The reader can’t be bored with MacAlister’s novel.”

  —Fresh Fiction

  “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

  “Katie MacAlister sizzles with this upbeat and funny summer romance. . . . MacAlister’s dialogue is fast-paced and entertaining. . . . Her characters are interesting and her heroes are always attractive/intriguing . . . a good, fun, fast summer read.”

  —Books with Benefits

  “Fabulous banter between the main characters. . . . Katie MacAlister’s got a breezy, fun writing style that keeps me reading.”

  —Book Binge

  A Tale of Two Vampires


  “A roller coaster of giggles, chortles, and even some guffaws. In other words, it is a lighthearted and fun read.”

  —The Reading Cafe

  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

  “An extremely appealing hero. If you enjoy a fast-paced paranormal romance laced with witty prose and dialogue, you might like to give Much Ado About Vampires a try.”


  “I cannot get enough of the warmth of Ms. MacAlister’s books. They’re the paranormal romance equivalent of soul food.”

  —Errant Dreams Reviews




  TIME THIEF, A Time Thief Novel


  SPARKS FLY, A Novel of the Light Dragons



  A Novel of the Light Dragons


  A Dark Ones Novel


  A Dark Ones Novel


  A Novel of the Light Dragons

  STEAMED, A Steampunk Romance


  A Dark Ones Novel


  A Dark Ones Novel

  ME AND MY SHADOW, A Novel of the Silver Dragons

  UP IN SMOKE, A Novel of the Silver Dragons

  PLAYING WITH FIRE, A Novel of the Silver Dragons

  HOLY SMOKES, An Aisling Grey, Guardian, Novel

  LIGHT MY FIRE, An Aisling Grey, Guardian, Novel

  FIRE ME UP, An Aisling Grey, Guardian, Novel

  YOU SLAY ME, An Aisling Grey, Guardian, Novel










  Published by the Penguin Group

  Penguin Group (USA) LLC, 375 Hudson Street,

  New York, New York 10014

  USA | Canada | UK | Ireland | Australia | New Zealand | India | South Africa | China

  A Penguin Random House Company

  First published by Signet, an imprint of New American Library,

  a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC

  Copyright © Katie MacAlister, 2015

  Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.


  ISBN 978-0-698-16912-8


  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.




  Also By Katie MacAlister

  Title page

  Copyright page


  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16


  This book is dedicated to Janet Avants,

  because she inspired a group of us to form

  the Church of Jante,

  and also to her husband, Gary,

  because he rescues k
ittens and dogs.

  But mostly to Janet, because hello! How many

  people inspire their own Internet religion?

  Smooches to you both.

  Chapter 1

  Expense Account

  Item one: ten pounds

  Remarks: Brothers are the bane of my existence.


  “Oh lord, not that again.”

  “El-eeee-uuut. Phone home, El-eeee-uuut.”

  “There is nothing else on this earth that you can be doing at this exact moment but that?”


  Elliott Edmond Richard Ainslie, eighth Baron Ainslie, and eldest brother to eleven mostly adopted siblings—mostly brothers, due to his mother’s belief that boys were easier to raise than girls—donned a long-suffering expression and leaned back in his office chair. “Very funny, Bertie. Almost as funny as the first one thousand, two hundred and thirty-two times you blighted me with that movie quote, although I feel honor-bound to point out yet again that it was E.T. who wanted to phone home, and not the young lad who found him.”

  “Dude, you always say that, and I still don’t see that it matters. I mean, Elliott would have wanted to phone home if he went up in the mother ship with E.T., wouldn’t he?” Bertie, the youngest of his brothers, slumped into the armchair nearest Elliott’s desk with the boneless grace of young men of seventeen.

  “You’re getting your alien movies mixed up again; the mother ship was in Close Encounters. What’s set you off on this eighties movie binge anyway? I thought you were studying for your exams.” Elliott eyed his laptop with longing. He really needed to get this book started if he was going to have it finished in time to join the family on their annual trek to visit the orphanage and school his mother endowed in Kenya.


  “Really, Bertie? Whatev? You can’t even be bothered to add the last syllable?” Elliott shook his head. “If this is what time in America has done to you, I shall have to speak to Mum about letting you return there in the autumn.”

  Bertie clicked his tongue dismissively, swiveling in the chair until his legs hung over one arm. “Mum’ll let me go no matter what you say. My family is there. It’s my crib, you know?”

  “Your family is from a small village two hundred miles outside of Nairobi,” Elliott corrected him. “At least that’s what the people at the orphanage told Mum when she adopted you, and I see no reason why they would confuse a small village in Africa with Brooklyn, New York. But never mind all that. Did you want something in particular, or have you just come to blight me on a whim?”

  “Elliott!” a voice said sharply from the door.

  Elliott sighed to himself. This was all he needed to utterly destroy the morning’s chance at work.

  “You will not be cruel to your brother! He is needful of our love and understanding in order to help him integrate into this family. If you abuse him like that, you will end up making him feel that he is a stranger in a strange land.” Lady Ainslie bustled into the room, clutched Bertie to her substantial bosom, and shot a potent glare over his head at her eldest son.

  “He’s been a part of the family since he was two months old, Mum. If he feels like a stranger, it’s because he’s cultivating that emotion, and not due to any ill will on my part,” Elliott couldn’t help but point out.

  “You must love all your brothers and sisters,” his mother went on, smooshing poor Bertie’s face into the aforementioned bosom. Elliott winced in sympathy when Bertie’s arms flailed, indicating a lack of oxygen. “No matter what their origins, color, or cultural roots.”

  “I do love all my siblings, although I will admit to preferring those you and Papa adopted rather than the two related by blood.”

  “Yes, well, that’s because your dear papa and I were first cousins,” Lady Ainslie admitted, utterly ignoring the fact that she was smothering one of her beloved sons. “To be honest, we’re lucky that your sister Jane’s webbed toes are the worst that came out of that. But I digress. You must not pick on dear Bertie, or he will get a complex.”

  Elliott gave consideration to the fact that Bertie’s wild gestures were now more feeble twitches than anything else. “I don’t think that will be a problem if you continue to asphyxiate him like that.”

  “What? Oh.” Lady Ainslie looked down, and with an annoyed click of her tongue released Bertie. He collapsed to the floor, gasping for air, his face, already dark due to his ancestry, now strangely mottled. “Silly boy should have said something. Now, what did I come to see you about?”

  “I haven’t the slightest idea. Is it something to do with the builders? They haven’t rescheduled again, have they?”

  “No, no, they’re still coming on Monday as planned. It will be terribly inconvenient having them underfoot for the monthly Mothers Without Borders meeting, but I suppose it is necessary to have the work done.”

  “If you wish for the walls to remain upright, then yes,” Elliott said mildly.

  He’d worked and saved and scrimped until he had, after seven years, managed to accrue enough money to start the restoration of the seventeenth-century house he had inherited. Along with a lot of debts, he thought sourly to himself, not the least of which was a nearly crippling inheritance tax.

  If only his father hadn’t been such a poor financial planner. If only his mother hadn’t spent her own modest fortune on endowing any number of charities in her late husband’s name. It wasn’t that Elliott was against supporting such worthy causes—he was as charitable as the next man, doing his part to end child hunger and abuse to animals and to provide homes for needy hedgehogs—but he couldn’t help but wish that supporting his large family and money-sucking estate hadn’t fallen so squarely on his shoulders.

  He had to get this book done. Hell, he had to get the damned thing started. Without the money the book contracts brought in, he’d be sunk. They all would be in desperate straits, everyone from his spendthrift mother right down to Levar, the second-youngest brother, who was recovering from a very expensive operation to straighten one of his legs. “Is there something in particular you wanted to discuss with me? Because if you’ve just come to chat, I will have to beg off. I really must get this book under way if I’m to meet the deadline. Bertie, for god’s sake, stop with the dramatics. You aren’t dying.”

  “I saw spots,” Bertie said, ceasing the fish-out-of-water noises in order to haul himself up to the chair. “I saw a light. I wanted to go into the light.”

  Elliott bit back the urge to say it was a shame he hadn’t, because he truly did love all his brothers and sisters. Even impressionable, heedless Bertie, who had recently returned from a two-month visit to see distant family members who had long ago emigrated from the small village in Kenya to the U.S. “Right. What have I told you both about my office door?”

  “When the door is shut, Elliott is working,” they parroted in unison.

  “And if I don’t work . . . ?”

  “We don’t eat,” they answered in unison.

  “So why is it you’re both here when this is my working time?”

  “I need a tenner,” Bertie said with an endearing grin.

  Their mother looked askance. “You just had your allowance. What did you spend that on?”

  “Girls,” he answered, his grin growing. “Three of them. Triplets with golden hair, and golden skin, and knockers that would make you drool.”

  “Bertie!” Elliott said with a meaningful nod toward their mother.

  “Oh, well,” Lady Ainslie said, dismissing this evidence of teenage libido. “Young men should be interested in girls. Unless, of course, they’re interested in boys, which is perfectly all right no matter what the Reverend Charles says, and if he thinks he’s going to make an example of dear Gabrielle simply because she ran off with his poor downtrodden wife, well then, he simply needs to think again. The Ainslies have bee
n a part of Ainston village since the Conqueror came over, and I shan’t have him blackening our name now. That brings to mind the letter I intended on sending Charles after that scathing sermon he read last week, which was quite obviously pointed at me. Elliott, dear, have your secretary send a letter expressing my discontent, and threatening to cease our donations to the church if he doesn’t stop writing sermons about women who raise their daughters to become wife-stealing lesbians.”

  Elliott sighed and looked at his watch. “I don’t have a secretary, Mum.”

  “No?” She looked vaguely surprised. “You ought to, dear. You are a famous writer, after all. No one can kill off people quite like you do. Now, much as I would like to stay and chat, I really must go write an article for The M’kula Times & Agricultural Review regarding the upcoming celebration at the Lord Ainslie Memorial School of Animal Husbandry. I’ve been invited to speak at the opening of the new manure house next month, and I want to alert all our friends in Kenya to that worthy event. Do give your brother ten pounds. Young men always need ten pounds.”

  “And, speaking of that, have you given any thought to my suggestion?”

  “What suggestion?” Her face darkened. “You’re not still intending on committing that atrocity?”

  “If by ‘atrocity’ you mean requiring that the members of this family find gainful employment elsewhere, then yes.” He held up a hand to forestall the objection that he was certain she would make. “Mum, I have explained it at least three times: I cannot continue to support every single member of this family anymore. All those brothers and sisters are a drain on the estate, one that cannot continue unchecked.”

  “You are exaggerating the situation,” she said dismissively. “They are your family. You owe them support.”

  “Emotional support, yes. Help where I can give it, of course. But the financial situation has made it quite clear that only those members of the family who actually work for the estate will continue to be employed. Everyone else is going to have to find a job elsewhere. We can’t afford to support them simply because they are family.”

  “You are heartless and cruel!” his mother declared, one hand to her substantial bosom. “Your father would turn over in his grave if he knew how you were willing to disown all your siblings without so much as a thought for their welfare.”