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Once Upon a Christmas Eve is the last novella in Elizabeth Hoyt’s fantastic historical romance series, Maiden Lane. This series has officially ended in 2017 after 12 full-length novels under its belt. It also got some novellas of secondary characters thrown in between. I’ve been with this series since 2011—which originally started publishing from 2010—and have been following the publication of every book ever since. If you’ve followed or read any of my reviews of Maiden Lane, you’ll know this is one of my favorite series by one of my most favorite HR authors and it hurts to know that a series that has been a part of my life for so long, has finally come to an end. Which I suppose probably was for the best because the series had veered away from the original storyline in the recent years.
Once Upon a Christmas Eve is the story of 2 individuals who were introduced in the series quite far back and frankly speaking, I wasn’t really expecting their stories, even in a novella format. Mostly because they were minor characters and I don’t really remember much about them. They are Viscount D’Arque and Lady Sarah St. John. Sarah is the half-sister of Godric St. John, hero of book 5 Lord of Darkness published in 2013. Though I remember the storyline and our H and h, I don’t remember Sarah AT ALL and D’Arque very vaguely.
I’ll not go into the storyline of the original series as I’ve rehashed myself many times over the years. If you want to know more about the series, at this point you really should begin from book 1, Wicked Intentions. Usually Ms. Hoyt’s books in a series connect one another in some way—through characters, circumstances, story/plot flow etc. But Once Upon a Christmas Eve is a really short novella and doesn’t strongly connect to any previous installments. Well maybe a little to book 5 which introduced our main protagonists. All I remembered about Adam, Viscount D’Arque is that he’s a rake and was in some sort of competition with Godric for Margaret or Megs’s affection. D’Arque mostly flirted, cause he’s an incorrigible rake who is not really fond of the idea of marriage. I’ll be damned if I remember anything about Sarah and how she connected with Adam except for the fact that she despises rakes. A girl after my own heart! ;)
Setting-wise, this novella takes place about a year after Lord of Darkness and no other regular recurring characters make appearances in this novella. In that way you can easily read it as a standalone. The only 2 individual I actually knew were Godric and Megs. The rest seemed pretty new characters. The story takes place a few days before Christmas when Adam was accompanying his only living relative, his grandma Lady Whimple, to another relative’s house for a Christmas visit. It was freezing cold in the middle of the night and their carriage suffers a mishap which renders it useless. Adam, the cold and cynical rake, was extremely worried (no, make it quite terrified) about his grandmère becoming ill in this weather. After all Lady Whimple was in her 80s or 90s and she did look like she was coming down with something. Adam pronto needed to find some sort of shelter for them until their carriage was fixed.
On his hunt for a shelter for the night, Adam comes across Godric’s country home that’s called the Hedge House or simply the ‘Hedges’. Of course Godric, however much dislike he held for the man in question, would never back away from helping him when there’s an urgency here involving an elderly lady’s well-being. And so Adam and Lady Whimple find shelter within the Hedges for the next few days until his grandmother was feeling better again.
Adam couldn’t fault the inhabitants of the house— who were apparently also holding a small houseparty consisting of a few outside residents—maybe except for one. Sarah St. John, Godric’s sister who gave him the most disdainful look when he arrived, then welcomed him with a tone dripping with sarcasm. Adam should’ve found her irksome but no matter how much he tried he failed to do just that and much more. He couldn’t even forget about her though they met only once and for a really short time. Sarah is nothing like the women Adam usually prefers; in looks or in marital status. He prefers beautiful married women or widows for affairs. Sarah isn’t what you’d call a ravishing beauty and she’s most definitely a virgin. All of this was aggravating to Adam who was baffled by his body’s reaction to her when what he should’ve been feeling was an equal amount of disdain for her.
Sarah felt much the same about Adam, wanting to hate him but not as much as she would’ve liked to. After all, when you’re extremely attracted to the target of your disdain, er, things become quite sticky. And Sarah, who had a previous experience, wanted to avoid any type of entanglement with a rake at all cost. Or she should be trying to avoid anyway. But as the days passed, leaving Adam and his grandmother stuck with them due to her health troubles, Sarah began noticing things about him that Adam doesn’t usually show the outside world. Like his utter devotion to his grandmother, which was very odd seeing everybody knew him to be cold and distant. Littlest things that begin to thaw Sarah’s heart and make her realize that Adam is not exactly what meets the eyes. Okay so he’s very handsome, that much is true to the eyes. He can be quite cutting and sarcastic when he wants to be. But he also can be very affectionate and Sarah couldn’t honestly say that she secretly didn’t want to be a part of that. :)
I think Adam knew of Sarah’s dislike for rakes, or at least that’s how I felt from their communication. If he didn’t he became aware of it pretty soon. Not that she tried to hide it for the first few days. But in the end it didn’t matter. Adam had stopped trying to act like he didn’t want or care for Sarah in about, I’d say, 2 days into their sojourn to the Hedges. At first it was the roaring lust but no way to act on it. Then after meeting her family, seeing the familial bonds between them that he wasn’t very familiar with, Adam’s intentions begin diverting towards something more permanent with Sarah. And it helped to have his grandmère’s approval on his choice. But Adam wasn’t sure if Sarah would really become his. Could he redeem himself enough in her eyes to convince her to give him a chance? Adam only knew he had to try and try hard because he couldn’t even think of losing her.
I really loved the beginning of the story and was warming up to Sarah and Adam’s banters. The crazy chemistry between these two needed to be explored further, with some storms and issues thrown in the way. Let’s call it ‘the test’. Because, quite frankly speaking, the exceptionally smooth sailing that they had within the span of maybe 2 weeks that Adam stayed, seemed very far out of place. Not really believable. They were attracted to each-other, I get that but I couldn’t quite imagine things moving to marriage for them in such a short span of time, let alone the love they professed to have for one-another. To me it felt like they were only getting to know each-other. :/
Personally, I thought that the end result was something that felt was rushed to the finish just for the sake of it. I can’t honestly say I was happy. I’m actually quite disappointed because this would’ve been such a great full-length novel! I’d have preferred it over Alf’s book. 3 stars.
Putting aside my grief over the end of Maiden Lane, I’m looking forward to Ms. Hoyt’s new series coming in December 2018. So excited! :D