Daring in a blue dress, p.1
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       Daring In a Blue Dress, p.1

           Katie MacAlister
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Daring In a Blue Dress


  Praise for the 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.”

  —Booklist

  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

  ALSO BY KATIE MACALISTER

  CONTEMPORARY ROMANCES

  Matchmaker in Wonderland Romances

  A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S ROMP

  THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING ALICE

  IT’S ALL GREEK TO ME

  BLOW ME DOWN

  HARD DAY’S KNIGHT

  THE CORSET DIARIES

  MEN IN KILTS

  PARANORMAL ROMANCES

  Time Thief Novels

  THE ART OF STEALING TIME

  TIME THIEF

  Dark Ones Novels

  A TALE OF TWO VAMPIRES

  MUCH ADO ABOUT VAMPIRES

  IN THE COMPANY OF VAMPIRES

  CONFESSIONS OF A VAMPIRE’S GIRLFRIEND

  CROUCHING VAMPIRE, HIDDEN FANG

  ZEN AND THE ART OF VAMPIRES

  Novels of the Light Dragons

  SPARKS FLY

  THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF DRAGONS

  LOVE IN THE TIME OF DRAGONS

  Novels of the Silver Dragons

  ME AND MY SHADOW

  UP IN SMOKE

  PLAYING WITH FIRE

  Aisling Grey, Guardian, Novels

  HOLY SMOKES

  LIGHT MY FIRE

  FIRE ME UP

  YOU SLAY ME

  STEAMED

  THE LAST OF THE RED-HOT VAMPIRES

  EVEN VAMPIRES GET THE BLUES

  SIGNET

  Published by New American Library,

  an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

  375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

  This book is an original publication of New American Library.

  Copyright © Katie MacAlister, 2016

  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.

  Signet and the Signet colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

  For more information about Penguin Random House, visit penguin.com.

  eBook ISBN 9781101990674

  PUBLISHER’S NOTE

  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.

  Version_1

  Teri Robinson is a wonderful woman

  who saves animals, cherishes her family,

  and has a wicked sense of humor.

  It’s with much appreciation for

  her fine llama sensibilities, her maker talents,

  and her love of mustaches

  that I dedicate this book to her.

  Acknowledgments

  Once again, my fabulous street team has been out and about rocking socks off. Many thanks to the following people:

  Dawn Oliver

  Tina Solomon

  Veronica Godinez-Woltman

  Cheryl Ann Moore

  Heather W. Mottel

  Amy Lochmann

  Nikki Harris

  Julie Atagi

  Katie Fortenbacher

  Barbara Bass

  Kathryn Chasteen

  Stacey Schleisman

  Lisa Partridge

  Peg E. Olkonen

  Susanna Jolicoeur

  Tracy Goll

  Sabrina Ford

  Sandra Poseley Masche

  Tonia Wert

  Andrea Long

  Gabrielle Lee

  Kristina Spargo

  Mary S. McCormick

  Mandy Snyder-Johnson

  Theresa McFarland

  Dawn Addleman

  Contents

  Praise for the Novels of Katie MacAlister

  Also by Katie MacAlister

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Dedication

  Acknowledgments

  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

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Epilogue

  Excerpt from The Importance of Being Alice

  Chapter 1

  “If there is anything worse than a sister-in-law afflicted by pregnancy hormones,” Emanuel Alden Ainslie commented to his brother, “it’s a sister-in-law afflicted by pregnancy hormones while planning to marry off every available male within a five-kilometer range.”

  “Don’t be ridiculous,” Elliott Ainslie, eighth Baron Ainslie, scoffed, watching with a smile as Alice sat chatting with the dowager baroness on the newly rebuilt stone verandah.

  Alden was a bit jealous of the emotion behind that smile, although he certainly wouldn’t mention that. Not now. Not when Alice had decided that matchmaking was her new hobby.

  “She’s not trying to pair off every unattached male,” Elliott continued. “Just you lot. She said, and I believe I’m paraphrasing her accurately, that there was no sense in Mum and Dad’s adopting ten children if she—Alice—couldn’t find her many brothers-in-law women to make them all as happy as she made Gunner and me.”

  Alden looked from his eldest brother, Elliott, to the second eldest, Gunner. The three men had climbed to the top of the r
estored tower in order to verify the recent repair work had been done according to Elliott’s expectations. “I must have missed the part where Alice found Lorina for you, Gun. I thought she was part of that archaeology show that filmed here last year.”

  “She was,” Gunner answered, smiling when his wife of six months strolled out to join the other two ladies as they sipped lemonade, ate a copious amount of seedcake—the current focus of Alice’s food cravings—and made plans for god only knew what. “Alice is stretching it a bit to claim our meeting as one of her triumphs, but Lorina had met her some years ago, so we don’t mind if she adds us to her matchmaking curriculum vitae.”

  Alden peered over the edge of the tower and looked down at the three women on the verandah. Although Alice had been installed at the castle as its chatelaine for more than a year, he’d met her only half a dozen times. She was pleasant enough, as was Gunner’s bride, but of late . . . He sighed. “I could do without her turning her sights on me.”

  “Who? Alice?” Elliott stopped smiling at his wife and glanced at Alden. “I thought you liked her.”

  Alden sensed the undercurrent of warning in Elliott’s voice. “I do like her. She’s funny. I like a sense of humor in a woman. But . . . it’s just . . . you know me. I’m not very comfortable around women.”

  “You’re shy, that’s all,” Gunner said, glancing at his mobile phone. “It’s nothing you can’t overcome with a little work. Try one of those speed-dating setups. That will force you to meet a large number of women, so many you will have to be extroverted by sheer act of preservation.”

  Alden grimaced. There was nothing worse than speed dating that he could think of short of gelding or global nuclear war, and frankly, he’d question the war’s being as bad as the idea of meeting a bunch of strangers, especially female strangers. “Can’t Alice pick on one of our other brothers? Surely some of them aren’t dating anyone.”

  “She could, and she no doubt will at some point, but for now, she’s insisting that it’s time you settle down.”

  “You’re over thirty, Alden,” Gunner said with a nod. “You’re not getting any younger.”

  “Exactly. And more to the point, Alice is pregnant,” Elliott said as if everyone in the immediate area didn’t already know that. “She has . . . fancies. And if one of those fancies is to find a woman for the next brother, chronologically speaking, then, by god, you are going to humor her.”

  “Josiah is older than me,” Alden protested. “She should be focusing on him, and letting me get on with life.”

  “He’s only a few days older than you, and since he’s out of the country, Alice decided it was time you were made deliriously happy.”

  Alden made a face. “But I don’t want to be deliriously happy! I just want to be left alone.”

  “To do what?” Gunner asked him, the men slowly making their way down the stone spiral staircase to the ground floor. “Go back to university? You’ve already earned more degrees than all the rest of us put together.”

  “I like learning new things,” Alden said stubbornly. “There’s nothing wrong with having curiosity, and wanting to learn more about life, you know.”

  “There is when you are part of the drain on the already stressed estate income,” Elliott said firmly. “We’ve had this out already, Alden—I simply can’t support you any longer.”

  “Which is why I’m flipping Bestwood Hall. I should make a packet off of it.”

  “Bestwood,” Gunner said with an obvious roll of his eyes. “That monstrosity. Whatever possessed you to take every last pound you had and invest it in a decaying old house out on the edge of nowhere?”

  “And more importantly, why do you think you can sell it at profit?” Elliott, the more practical brother, asked as they emerged into the sunshine of the early-summer day. “If no one but you was willing to buy it, why do you think slapping a bit of paint around will increase the value?”

  “The solicitor said that Lady Sybilla sold the house to me because she liked my name,” Alden said with as much dignity as he could muster. “I’m sure there were any number of other interested parties. In fact, I know there were—the estate agent who put the deal together for me said that someone had asked if I was willing to part with it. And that was less than a week after I closed on the sale. So, you see, you annoying brothers of mine, I’m not the fool you think I am.”

  “Is that so?” Elliott paused and tipped his head to the side. “How much was the offer?”

  “Well . . . as to that . . .” Alden gave a little cough.

  “As I thought. Less than what you paid for it?” Elliott asked.

  “Perhaps.” Alden tried to look down his nose at his eldest brother, but unfortunately, at that moment they’d emerged onto the verandah, and both Elliott and Gunner had all their attention focused on their respective women.

  Once again, Alden was aware of a little pang of jealousy. No, not jealousy, he decided as he strolled over to the table and accepted a glass of lemonade. Envy. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad if Alice was to find a woman for him. Perhaps the hellish nightmare of meeting someone new wouldn’t be quite so terrible if Alice prepared the ground for him. Perhaps . . .

  “Alden!” Alice said brightly, pushing a white metal chair at him. “Just the man I wanted to see. Now, I promised you I’d find a woman for you, and I’ve done it.”

  Perhaps he was out of his mind.

  Panic swamped him at the thought of a woman expecting him to be romantic. To court her. Hell, even the thought of dinner with a woman made his palms sweat. He gulped down the lemonade, thrust the glass onto the table, and said hurriedly, “No time to chat. Must dash. Have to be at Bestwood first thing in the morning, and I have to pack.”

  “But—you haven’t heard anything about the woman I found for you,” Alice said, a frown on her brow.

  “Later,” he said loudly over his shoulder, bolting for the nearest door.

  “I’ll send her down to Bestwood Hall to meet you,” Alice called after him. “She’d probably like to help—”

  The slam of the library door thankfully cut off the rest of her comments. Alden hurried up the stairs to the small room at the back of the castle that had traditionally been his when he was in residence.

  “Stupid, stupid, stupid,” he said aloud, thrusting various pieces of clothing into a couple of suitcases. “You’re a grown man. It’s just stupid that the thought of meeting women puts you in such a panic. Gunner’s right—you need to just get a grip, go to a bar, and start talking to the nearest woman.”

  A little shudder ran through him at that thought. He swept through the room, dumping books, photos of family, and his collection of antique astronomical equipment into his two bags, all the while lecturing himself on the futility of being such an idiot. The lecture did little good—he’d been over it all so many times before—but the familiarity of it provided an odd sort of comfort, at least enough that his heart was no longer racing, nor were his hands shaking by the time he got his bags loaded into the Mini Cooper that he’d bought from a former university roommate.

  “You’re not leaving now, are you?” Elliott asked a few minutes later when Alden ran him to earth in the room that Elliott used as his office. He was seated at a laptop, and was no doubt writing away on his latest book. “I thought you were leaving in the morning. Surely you can stay to dinner.”

  “It’s better if I’m off now. It’ll take me almost eight hours to drive to Bestwood, and if I get in late tonight, I’ll be ready to start the renovations first thing in the morning.”

  Elliott rose from his desk and came around it, embracing Alden in a bear hug. “You don’t have to date this woman, you know.”

  “What woman?” Alden asked, a spike of panic shooting through him. Dear god, had Alice brought the woman to Ainslie Castle during the time he’d been packing?

  “Alice’s old college friend. The one
she thought would be perfect for you. I know the last thing in the world you want to do right now is think about dating, but I’d appreciate it if you were polite to her when she shows up at your eyesore.”

  Alden made a face. “That’s what I need, a woman hanging around expecting me to entertain her when I will have loads of work ahead of me. Couldn’t Alice—”

  “No. Trust me, this is the best way. If you don’t like her—and love Alice as I do, I have to admit that she’s not necessarily the great matchmaker she thinks she is—then you can simply cry off by telling the woman you have work to do. Just show her around the house—that’s all I ask. You can do that for us, can’t you?”

  “I suppose,” Alden replied, aware he sounded ungracious. “It’s not that I have anything against your wife. It’s just . . .”

  Elliott gave him another hug, then clapped a hand on his shoulder, and walked out to the back drive with him. “I know. It’s not easy for you. Just don’t try so hard to be a scintillating conversationalist.”

  Alden laughed. “I’d settle for being able to talk without my tongue twisting around itself.”

  “You’re a smart man. You have the Ainslie charm, when you let people see it. Stop worrying so much about what others think and just be yourself.”

  “I try, El,” he said, his shoulders slumping in defeat. “But it just doesn’t come to me the way it does to the rest of you.”

  “Think of it as a game,” Elliott said, stopping at the door to the car. “And, Alden?”

  Alden opened the door and tossed in a small backpack. “Yes?”

  Elliott smiled. “Stay out of trouble, all right? I’m tied up with this book, and the baby coming in a few months, and I really don’t want to have to rescue you like I did Gunner.”

  “I have absolutely no intention in getting myself locked into the bowels of Bestwood Hall,” Alden replied with much dignity.

  “See that you don’t.”

  Alden waved as he fired up the car, and, with a little spray of gravel that had Elliott shouting abuse, zoomed down the drive and off to his new life. Despite the threat of Alice’s friend hanging over his head like a particularly depressing cloud, his spirits rose at the thought of what lay ahead of him.

 

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