Having just escaped her kidnapper, Hippolyta Royle is running for her life on a cold, rainy night. Struggling down the muddy road in her sodden clothes, the much-sought-after heiress flags down a passing carriage, hoping that the stranger inside will be her savior. Even though he does turn out to be a bit boorish, she can't help being attracted to her handsome traveling companion. Soon she's falling for him and knows that when they reach London, she's going to ask him to call on her.
Matthew Mortimer has just returned from an adventure in India to take up his new title of Earl and doesn't have time for a bedraggled maiden by the side of the road. Being a gentleman, though, he can't very well leave her behind in the rain, but neither does he genuinely believe her wild story about being a wealthy heiress who was kidnapped. Covered in mud and wearing ill-fitting clothes, she looks more like a down-on-her-luck actress or maybe even a prostitute. Matthew agrees to give her a ride and his protection until they reach London, but never in his wildest dreams did he imagine there was an exotic beauty underneath all the muck, who instantly entrances him. But when he finds out she's really been telling the truth, he'll have his hands full dealing with the fact that he's now compromised her, and also with a ne'er-do-well who is still trying to blackmail her over her half-Indian heritage.
Once Upon a Moonlit Night is a short novella that falls between Duke of Sin and Duke of Pleasure in Elizabeth Hoyt's Maiden Lane series. It features Hippolyta Royle as the heroine. She's been seen as a supporting character throughout the last several books of the series. Her story picks up exactly where it left off in Duke of Sin. Having been kidnapped by Val and later helped to escape by Bridget (the hero and heroine of that book respectively), Hippolyta was left out on the desolate Yorkshire moors, trying to outrun Val's hounds and make it to the next village where she could find shelter for the night and a mail coach back to London the next day. Things don't exactly go as planned when she's unseated by the pony she was riding and an unexpected rainstorm hits, leaving her slogging through mud and brambles. Enter Matthew Mortimer, a brand new character to the series, who becomes Hippolyta's reluctant savior. Although not as well-developed as Elizabeth Hoyt's full-length novels, Once Upon a Moonlit Night was still a pretty enjoyable read.
Hippolyta is the most sought-after heiress in England, but she's hiding a secret which Val was previously using to blackmail her. Her father was a vicar's son who went off to India and made his fortune. There he took an Indian bride. Hippolyta's mother died when she was young, so she and her father returned to England. But those of mixed blood are still held as undesirable in society, so Hippolyta has been trying to keep her heritage under wraps. When she meets Matthew on the road, following her harrowing escape, he doesn't initially believe the story she's telling him. Because of her bedraggled appearance, he thinks she's probably just an actress or a prostitute. I liked Hippolyta for her spunkiness in the face of adversity. She continues to hold her head high even when Matthew doesn't believe her, and especially later on when revealing the truth about her heritage becomes necessary. Yet, at the same time, she has a certain sweetness to her character as well, so I really liked her.
Matthew is a scientist and cartographer, recently returned from an adventurous voyage to India to map the country. I liked this about his character and was hoping he might be a little on the geeky side, but if so, that part of him never materialized. He came back to England, because he's unexpectedly come into the title of Earl, due to multiple cousins succumbing to various illnesses. Unfortunately he's also inherited a mountain of debt. Matthew initially keeps his title a secret from Hippolyta, thinking that if she knew, she'd be more likely to try to worm her way into his life to get something out of him. The thing I liked most about Matthew is that in spite of his skepticism regarding Hippolyta's story and his initial reluctance to get involved, he ended up taking very good care of her, and when they were caught in a compromising position, he didn't hesitate to offer marriage. When Hippolyta is further blackmailed regarding her heritage, he also isn't bothered by it in the least, stands steadfastly by her side as she reveals all, and further defends her too.
Once Upon a Moonlit Night is only the second novella that Elizabeth Hoyt has written, and it's very short, less than ninety pages by my e-reader's count. As one can imagine, this doesn't leave a lot of room for developing the characters and plot. Things move along at a pretty good clip, including the romance itself. I didn't find the connection between Matthew and Hippolyta to be as strong as the ones between Elizabeth Hoyt's heroes and heroines in her longer novels. It was still there, but it took a little longer for me to feel it and it simply didn't run as deep as I would have liked. Also the little mini-mystery that pops up regarding who's blackmailing Hippolyta is almost over and done with before it even begins. In spite of things being a bit rushed, I did still enjoy the story. The characters are likable and the plot that's there held my attention. There's a quick visit with Viscount d'Arque, another long-time supporting character in the series, who I believe Ms. Hoyt intends to make the hero of his own story at some point. Also I adored little Tommy Teapot, Matthew's pet mongoose. What an unusual choice for an animal character! And the mini fairy tale accompanying the story is a cute reverse take on The Princess and the Pea. So overall, I thought Once Upon a Moonlit Night was well-done for this shorter format, and I look forward to the remaining Maiden Lane stories that will be released later this year (2016).
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