Desert Isle Keeper
Once Upon a Christmas Eve
Elizabeth Hoyt celebrates the holidays with the final entry in her delightful Maiden Lane series, this time in a novella about the curmudgeonly Adam and the somewhat stiff-necked Sarah.
Adam Rutledge, Viscount d’Arque, hates Christmas, which often serves to remind him of his dysfunctional childhood and cheating parents. The only reason he’s out and on the road in the chill and freeze during Christmas week is because he loves his Christmas-adoring grandmother, the Baroness Whimple, and is accompanying her on a round of visits when their carriage axle breaks and they and their footmen are left stranded in the middle of nowhere. Adam hikes back to the nearest home for help, which happens to belong to the somewhat eccentric St. John clan – and Adam is mightily attracted to Sarah, the family’s eldest daughter, who would rather have nothing to do with him. Naturally, he finds himself invited to stay for the holiday.
Sarah St. John hates rakes, and in her opinion Adam is a rake ne plus ultra. Not that she has actual romance on her mind – even with multiple suitors competing for her hand, Sarah prefers to hang back from the crowd, reluctant to risk an already-bruised heart. She ought not to even be intrigued by Adam in the first place, yet she sees the softer part of his heart, just as he sees the vulnerability hidden under her tougher exterior. With the healing magic of the holiday season at work, Adam and Sarah are forced into closer proximity thanks to their situation. Until his grandmother’s health finally improves and his coach is properly mended, Adam’s going to have to confront the tempting miss before him – and both will have to realize that love might be on the cards for the two of them after all.
No one weaves society romance the way Hoyt does, and Sarah and Adam are wonderful. Adam is roguish but flummoxed – if distant – and hides his loving core due to a tragic past. Sarah is a bit prim and overly sure of her own correctness, but possesses a great sense of humor and a warm sense of self. Both have deep scars running under the surface of their sarcasm, and it takes gentle probing to bring them to the surface. Their chemistry is lovely, even though the hero is a bit pushy.
Adam and Sarah are the victims of their own presumptions and prejudices (and yes, their pride), and thankfully they have relatives willing to help them. Megs (Sarah’s sister-in-law) and Adam’s grandmother both appear as sounding boards with lives and ambitions of their own. The result is delightful and beautifully hewn, and written with great delicacy and warmth. Even though Once Upon a Christmas Eve is short, it’s perfectly paced and feels like an exhilarating and touching jaunt through the woods.
As Ms. Hoyt says, ‘perfection is overrated’. Fortunately, this treat of a story is as close to perfect as possible, and a real holiday gift for Maiden Lane fans.