Twelve Kisses to Midnight
Both Karen Hawkins and Christmas novellas are on my auto-read list. Not auto-buy, because these days I like to be 100% certain I’ll reread a book before I buy it, but if I see anything by Karen Hawkins (or any Christmas novella) on a shelf at the library or available for review, I’ll grab it without a second’s thought. Although Twelve Kisses to Midnight isn’t destined to be my favorite book by Ms. Hawkins, or my favorite Christmas novella, it was well worth picking up.
When Marcus Sutherland’s engagement to Lady Kenna Stuart went up in flames, he got on a ship and sailed off to Oxenburg, hoping to forget all about it. Ten years later, he’s back in Scotland at a Christmas house party when he spies her across the room. Since they broke it off Kenna, has been married to an elderly man and then widowed, and Marcus has been all over the continent as a political attaché. But one look at her, and all the old feelings of love and hurt come back.
Kenna has a very different reaction when she sees Marcus. She hasn’t forgotten how he ran off after their first major fight, although she finds herself a bit curious about this older version of her first love. Against her better judgement, Kenna dresses in the same costume as Marcus’ mistress for the evening’s masquerade ball, standing under the mistletoe where she overheard her and Marcus planning to meet. He comes up and sweeps her into a passionate kiss, realizing too late exactly whom he has grabbed. When she realizes a scandal is brewing, Kenna tries to flee the house the next morning, but Marcus follows her, intent on apologizing.
What follows is something best described as a “cage match.” Marcus falls from his horse and hits his head, Kenna finds them shelter at an empty cabin nearby, and a heavy snowfall compels them to stay inside together for the night. Given time and forced proximity, the two rehash their past, and acknowledge that they are both at fault for their botched engagement. Kenna failed to stand up to her father while he pressured her toward other matches, and Marcus ran away from their fight rather than trying to work through it. Time has given each some perspective and they move towards healing.
Having a prior history together allows the reader to feel a connection between the pair, even though the story gives them little time to meet and fall in love. It also allows for a fair impression of their characters. Kenna is a bit of a blue-stocking who always carries a couple of books with her, but ultimately bows to her father’s directives regarding her life. Marcus is a headstrong man used to directing his own life but who feels strangely vulnerable when he cares about someone. The story progresses naturally as the characters first reconnect, acknowledge they still care about each other, and then work through why their relationship ended years ago.
Unfortunately, as their time in the cabin draws to a close, the story begins to feel rushed. Having only just agreed they still love each other, Marcus and Kenna are suddenly swarmed by friends and family, some of whom are sympathetic and pleased by their relationship, others who are vehemently opposed. Kenna is forced to choose what to do (and whom to marry) in the wake of the burgeoning scandal. Although I had no doubt that Marcus and Kenna could make their relationship work the second time around, the rushed, forced manner in which they jump into another engagement put me off a bit. There is no game plan for if a similar argument occurs down the road, only the assumption that all problems are solved from here out.
Still, barring the too-pat ending (which, to be honest, is fairly typical of both novellas and Christmas stories) Twelve Kisses to Midnight is a solid addition to Karen Hawkins’ catalogue. Both characters exhibit some depth in the short time we spend with them, and the snowy country setting makes it perfect to curl up with on a cold December night.