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The Perils of Paulie (A Matchmaker in Wonderland)

Katie MacAlister

  Praise for Katie MacAlister’s Matchmaker in Wonderland Romances

  A Midsummer Night’s Romp

  “Gut-wrenchingly funny! . . . If you want romance, some hilarious sex scenes, a bit of a mystery, and to have a goofy grin . . . then by all means read this book!”

  —Open Book Society

  “Charming, sexy, and laugh-out-loud funny.”

  —Fresh Fiction

  “As entertaining as the romance, comedy of dialogue and action, and amusing cast of characters prove to be . . . the intriguing underlying setting and mystery provide something extra for the reader to enjoy.”

  —Heroes and Heartbreakers

  The Importance of Being Alice

  “Witty, charming, and erotically tender . . . [a] sparkling romance.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “Hilarious and seductive in all the right places . . . a funny, adventurous, sensuous romance with something for everyone.”

  —Fresh Fiction

  “Mutual attraction, madcap adventures, and sexy fun ensue. This delightfully fluffy romance . . . is the perfect antidote to the blues.”


  More Praise for the Novels of Katie MacAlister

  “A humorous take on the dark and demonic.”

  —USA Today

  “Amusing to steamy to serious. The reader can’t be bored with MacAlister’s novel.”

  —Fresh Fiction

  “A brilliant writer, funny, fast, silly, and completely irreverent.”

  —Bitten by Books

  “A wonderful lighthearted romantic romp.”

  —Midwest Book Review



  Matchmaker in Wonderland Romances










  Time Thief Novels



  Dark Ones Novels







  Novels of the Light Dragons




  Novels of the Silver Dragons




  Aisling Grey, Guardian, Novels









  Published by Berkley

  An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

  375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

  Copyright © 2017 by Katie MacAlister

  Excerpt from The Importance of Being Alice copyright © 2015 by Katie MacAlister

  Penguin Random House 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 Random House to continue to publish books for every reader.

  A JOVE BOOK and BERKLEY are registered trademarks and the B colophon is a trademark of Penguin Random House LLC.

  Ebook ISBN 9781101990698

  First Printing: January 2017

  Cover art by: woman in a red dress © wacpan/Shutterstock Images; green meadow, blue sky with asphalt © Sergeyit/Shutterstock Images; 1909 Thomas Flyer Flyabout © Car Culture/Getty Images

  Cover design by Adam Auerbach

  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.


  This and so many of my other books would never have been possible without the love and support of my darling agent, Michelle Grajkowski. She is not only the best agent in the world—she’s also the nicest woman I know. I want to be her when I grow up.


  No man is an island, and no author is . . . well, I guess an island . . . without her street team to help spread the word. Mine is particularly fabulous, and so it’s with much gratitude that I thank the following ladies for all their help: Mary S. McCormick, Amy Lochmann, Patricica Doose, Barbara Bass, Amanda Whitbeck, Cathy Brown, Dawn Oliver, Gabrielle Lee, Katie Chasteen, Susanna Jolicoeur, Veronica Godinez-Woltman, Erin Havey, Rebecca Taylor, Leona Merrow, Sabrina Ford, Tracy Goll, Cadra Hebert, Andrea Denmon, Monett Wray, Tori Lhota, Tammy Gahagan, Peg E. Olkonen, Julie Atagi, Lisa Partridge, Candice Allen, Dawn Henry, Amy Hallmark, Andrea Long, Misty Snell, Jennifer Quirke Clavell, Susan Baez Randleman, Shiloh Gibson, Nikki Lhota, Nikki Harris, Teri Robinson, Laura Hondl, Cely Havens, Teresita Reynolds, Mandy Johnson, Sarah Cromley, and Sandy Musil.


  Praise for Katie MacAlister

  Also by Katie Macalister

  Title Page




  Chapter 1: Paulina Rostakova’s Adventures

  Chapter 2: Paulina Rostakova’s Adventures

  Chapter 3: Paulina Rostakova’s Adventures

  Chapter 4: Paulina Rostakova’s Adventures

  Chapter 5: Paulina Rostakova’s Adventures

  Chapter 6: Paulina Rostakova’s Adventures

  Chapter 7: Paulina Rostakova’s Adventures

  Chapter 8: Paulina Rostakova’s Adventures

  Chapter 9: Paulina Rostakova’s Adventures

  Chapter 10: Paulina Rostakova’s Adventures

  Chapter 11: Journal of Dixon Ainsley

  Chapter 12: Paulina Rostakova’s Adventures

  Chapter 13: Journal of Dixon Ainsley

  Chapter 14: Paulina Rostakova’s Adventures

  Chapter 15: Journal of Dixon Ainsley

  Chapter 16: Paulina Rostakova’s Adventures

  Chapter 17: Paulina Rostakova’s Adventures

  Chapter 18: Journal of Dixon Ainsley

  Chapter 19: Paulina Rostakova’s Adventures

  Chapter 20: Journal of Dixon Ainsley

  Chapter 21: Paulina Rostakova’s Adventures

  Chapter 22: Paulina Rostakova’s Adventures

  Chapter 23: Journal of Dixon Ainsley

  Chapter 24: Paulina Rostakova’s Adventures

  Chapter 25: Journal of Dixon Ainsley

  Chapter 26: Paulina Rostakova’s Adventures

  Chapter 27: Paulina Rostakova’s Adventures

  Chapter 28: Paulina Rostakova’s Adventures

  Excerpt from The Importance of Bei
ng Alice

  Paulina Rostakova’s Adventures

  JULY 14

  9:22 a.m.

  The house (where else?)

  “This,” I announced to Angela at breakfast, “is definitely the worst day of my life. No, worse than worst . . . it’s the pinnacle of horribleness. It’s hell and a nightmare combined. It’s serial-killer awful.”

  That’s how it all started two days ago, with me complaining about my life. I have to say, it feels a bit weird writing everything that happened down in a journal, but hey, if it was good enough for a certain intrepid lady reporter, it’s good enough for me.

  “Serial-killer awful?” Angela is the best stepmother a girl could have, if only for the fact that she is used to dealing with the drama queen that is Dad. So rather than calling me on my dramatic statements—which I admit were a bit over-the-top—she simply looked up from her laptop and gave me a sympathetic look. “I’m sorry, dear. You don’t have to help your father, you know. He simply said if you needed an occupation, you could help with the inventory. I will admit that there are few things I’d rather do less than spend the next four days inventorying flooring materials stacked in five warehouses, but if you are as bored as you say you are—”

  “Of course I’m bored. I have nothing to do!” I said, slapping my hands down on the marble counter.

  She pursed her lips, making me feel like a spoiled brat. “I’m sure if you needed something to fill your time, I could find a charity—”

  “I volunteer everywhere,” I said, despair making me feel like I was floating in a sea of molasses. “I read to the old folks at the assisted-living place, I was a Big Sister until my kid moved to the other side of the country, I walk dogs at the old-dog sanctuary, and I bundle stuff at the women’s shelter. I help at the library with the special- needs kids’ hour, and once a week I get a cardio workout by mucking out stables at the horse rescue. I hate to seem ungrateful, but . . . but . . .”

  “But you want something to do other than volunteer at charities,” Angela finished for me, nodding. “I wish I could help you, dear, but charities are all I have experience with, especially now that we’ve founded the group to oversee all of the local area charitable organizations.”

  I sighed and slumped down on a barstool that sat at the counter. The remains of my meager breakfast lay before me. “And now I sound petulant and spoiled.”

  “Not spoiled—not in the sense that you grew up with affluence around you,” Angela said kindly. “You can’t help it if your father is the flooring king of Northern California. And I do understand your ennui. Your father is a bit . . .”

  “Overprotective? Maniacally intent on ruining my life by not letting me have any freedom? Borderline obsessive about keeping me away from anything even remotely interesting?”

  “He is afraid for you,” she said, giving me a gently chiding glance. “He fears you will be kidnapped again.”

  “He’s just using that as an excuse,” I said, rolling my eyes. “I was six when that happened, and it was my mother’s parents who took me. They weren’t trying to extort any of his millions. They just wanted to see me since Mom had died and Dad was being his usual paranoid self.”

  “If he is a bit overprotective—and I will grant you that not allowing you to choose a career that will take you away from us is not healthy for either you or him—it comes from a good place. He loves you, Paulie. He fears for your well-being.”

  “He worries I’ll hook up with some man who wants me for his money, you mean,” I said sourly. “He’s beyond unrealistic if he thinks he can keep me stuck at home until I’m an old lady. I’m going to be thirty in a year! Thirty! Who else do you know who lives at home until she’s thirty?”

  Angela had gone back to reading her e-mails, but she did pause long enough to cock an eyebrow at me.

  “OK,” I admitted, not bothering to look around a kitchen that was bigger than most of the apartments in San Francisco. “I will give you that living in a house that is borderline mansion and having my own suite of rooms makes it ludicrous to complain, but the point remains that he’s got a stranglehold on me, and I want out. I want to be free. I want to go places, and meet people, and . . . and have adventures!”

  “Like that Nancy Bly,” Angela said, nodding as she continued to peruse her in-box.

  “Nellie Bly,” I corrected, sighing. “She didn’t let anyone tell her she couldn’t do anything. She wanted to be an investigative journalist, so she just marched into a newspaper and demanded the editor give her a job. And he did, despite the fact that in the late 1800s there were no women reporters.”

  “It’s not that your father doesn’t want you to be happy,” Angela said absently. “He loves you very much. He just wants to make sure you’re protected against those who might wish to do ill to you.”

  “He wouldn’t be so paranoid if he hadn’t been part of the Russian Mafia,” I muttered under my breath.

  “What’s that, dear?”

  “Nothing. I swear, Angela, if it didn’t sound too ridiculous for words to say this, one of these days I’d tell Daddy that I’m going to run away from home.”

  “Oh, I wouldn’t do that,” she said, tapping on the laptop’s keyboard, her mind obviously on her work. “Your father would insist you take a bodyguard with you.”

  “Bodyguard,” I said, snorting derisively. Daddy had threatened me with that particular atrocity every single time I told him I wanted to move out on my own. As it was, every time I left the house I ended up having one of my father’s goons (as I thought of them) trailing me everywhere, every day, “just in the case,” as Daddy said. Only recently had Angela and I managed to convince him that I could do my volunteer duties without a steroid-swilling ex-military Russian muscleman accompanying me. “I just want to have a life. Is that so much to ask?”

  Angela didn’t answer, being thoroughly engrossed in her correspondence. So, feeling like an overgrown child, I glumly made my way back to the three-room suite where I spent my time at home and pulled out a well-worn copy of one of Nellie Bly’s books. “I bet she would have made Dad listen to her if she was in my shoes,” I grumbled to the book, then felt a thousand times worse because what did it say about me that I couldn’t get out from under his thumb?

  “I’m doomed,” I said morosely two hours later, lying on the floor with my cell phone held to my ear.

  “What, again?” asked Julia, my closest friend, who ran the women’s shelter where I volunteered twice a week.

  “I’m never going to get out of this house. Fifty years from now, I’ll be rattling around the big old empty place, just me and about four dozen cats.”

  Julia laughed, but sobered up quickly enough. “I’ve told you that you’re welcome to seek shelter here, Pauls. You don’t have to have been in an abusive relationship with a romantic partner to qualify for our program—”

  “I know, but my father isn’t abusive. He’s just super overprotective because he used to be in with a bunch of bad people before he left Russia and he thinks everyone in the world is just lurking outside the house, waiting to nab me and hold me for ransom.”

  “Maybe they are,” she answered lightly, then spoke rapidly to someone who had evidently come into her office before returning to me. “He is the flooring king of Sacramento, after all.”

  “And environs,” I said glumly. “He’s very big about making sure people know how far-reaching his flooring empire is.”

  “That doesn’t mean you have to remain a captive in your own home.”

  “I’m not a captive,” I pointed out.

  “You might as well be one. Paulie, you can leave! I keep telling you that. I’ll help you break free.”

  “It’s not quite that simple,” I said with a sigh. Sometimes it was difficult making people understand my father. “Dad is very old-school. Daughters, to him, stay at home until they get married.”

ulia snorted. “This is not Soviet-era Russia. You don’t have to give in to outdated and misguided thinking. You are a modern woman.”

  “I know, I know. It’s just that the couple of times I started to move out, Dad made himself sick with worry. I mean physically ill. Cardiac-unit kind of ill. I just couldn’t put him through that again.”

  “That’s emotional blackmail, and you know it,” she argued.

  “Yes, but it’s easier to deal by staying here than to risk killing my dad with worry.”

  “Pfft,” she scoffed. “He’d survive. You’re just too devoted to family—that’s what it is.”

  “Mmm-hmm,” I said, not wanting to continue the argument. We’d had it before, and nothing would change until Dad finally saw reason. “Change of subject time—oh hell.”

  “Your life again?”

  “No, Angela just texted me. She said she wants to talk to me at dinner about a new opportunity that just came to her attention. Probably she has another charity for me to spend time with. Ugh. Speaking of that, I have to get to the farm and help out with the horses. Today is the farrier’s day.”

  “I’ll talk to you later. Maybe we could go see a movie.”

  “Ha! Without escort?” I mimicked my father’s heavy accent. “Is not reasonable. Pipples want to take what is not theirs. Pipples want to break Rostakov, to make him much pain. Is not good to go out without protection.”

  She giggled. “Well, then we can just get a pizza and binge-watch something on Netflix.”

  “We’ll see. Maybe some handsome stranger will be at the stables and want to sweep me off my feet in a nonkidnapping sort of way, and then I can escape the Rostakova Dictatorship.”

  “Laters,” Julia said, and hung up.

  I spent the day at the rescue stable, enjoyed my time among the horses, donkeys, and other four-legged beasts, chatted with the other volunteers, and returned home in time to find a raging argument going on in what my father called his study (but was really just a large panic room that he’d outfitted as if he was a nineteenth-century British lord).

  “—is not safe!” my father was saying in his loud, gruff voice. “You want her dead? Or worse? You work with my enemies? You want her fingers cut off slowly and sent to me, one by one?”