Mary Whitsun is a sharp, intelligent girl who grew up at the Home for Unfortunate Infants and Foundling Children in St. Giles. She now works as a nursemaid for the Caires, an aristocratic family who are long-time patrons of the home. On her day off, she's browsing a bookshop when a handsome aristocratic gentleman mistakes her for his fiancée, Lady Joanna Albright. Although the gentleman is charming and flirtatious, Mary refuses to be taken in, as in her experience most men who are that handsome are arrogant and up to no good. When the gentleman realizes his mistake, he then believes that Mary is actually the twin sister of his fiancée who disappeared as a babe. But how could she, a mere orphan girl and servant, be a long-lost lady of the peerage?
Henry Collins, Viscount Blackwell, is instantly smitten by the sharp-witted, fiery lass in the bookshop. She's far more spirited than his fiancée, Joanna, whom he thinks of more like a sister. The thought that Mary may be Joanna's long-lost twin and the real woman to whom he's been betrothed since childhood stirs both his intellect and his desire. Once she's accepted by the Albright family, Henry is more than happy to escort Mary through the treacherous waters of preparing for her coming out and in the process begins to fall madly in love with her. But when a mysterious individual begins shooting at them, leading to a shocking discovery no one expected, will he stand by his love for Mary or will their burgeoning relationship be destroyed by the machinations of others?
Once Upon a Maiden Lane is the first of the two wrap-up novellas in Elizabeth Hoyt's Maiden Lane series. Whereas the final full-length novel, Duke of Desire, was probably the darkest story of the series, this little novella is quite possibly the lightest. It's a sweet fairy-tale about Mary Whitsun, one of the numerous Marys who were raised at the Home for Unfortunate Infants and Foundling Children. If memory serves she's been a part of the series since the beginning and has now grown up into a lovely young lady. But she's still just a servant - albeit a very valued one who is more like an adopted daughter - in the home of the Caires (Wicked Intentions), until a handsome aristocrat recognizes her in a bookshop and insists that she could be the long-lost twin of the woman to whom he is betrothed. Thus sets in motion a Cinderella tale with a few unexpected twists and turns.
I really liked Mary. She's a grounded intelligent girl who isn't given to flights of fancy, so it's a lot for her to take in when she meets the family she never knew she had and discovers that she, not her sister, is actually the one betrothed to Henry, who is a viscount no less. It's like all her childhood dreams of having a family to call her own are finally coming true, but she isn't sure whether to believe it or not. However, it doesn't stop her from falling head over heels for her fiancé even though they don't exactly get off on the right foot. Mary wasn't raised as a genteel lady, so she's definitely a girl who can stand up for herself and doesn't hesitate to do so when necessary, but at the same time, there's an unmistakable sweetness about her that I loved.
For his part, Henry is a handsome charmer who won't take no for an answer. He's always thought he was content to fulfill his duty as a member of the aristocracy, as well as the marriage contract that was forged between his father and the twins' father shortly after the girls' births. But when the oldest twin went missing as an infant and was never found the contract was amended to have him marry the youngest one instead. The two grew up together and think of one another more as brother and sister than future husband and wife, so when Henry meets Mary, he realizes all he's been missing. She's everything he could hope for in a life partner and her sass intrigues him. He's also not the least bit put off that she grew up as an orphan and a servant. He simply loves her for herself, which made me love him.
Overall, Once Upon a Maiden Lane was a great little story that I very much enjoyed. It was wonderful to see one of the older girls from the orphanage get an HEA, although there are others I would have loved to see more of as well. We do get to see all the past characters come together for Mary and Henry's nuptials, though, which was fun. Val and Bridget (Duke of Sin) appear in one scene as well with Val doting on their little daughter, which was cute. There was also a secondary romance for Mary's sister, Joanna, and Henry's best friend. I loved the little mystery as to who was shooting at Mary and Henry and why. I didn't figure that out until it was revealed and what a twisty reveal it was. I wasn't sure where things were going to go from there, so bravo to the author for keeping me on my toes. I suppose my only minor complaint is that there is only one full love scene that doesn't occur until the very end. I was almost thinking there wasn't going to be one until I got to the final few pages. While admittedly it was consistent with the sweetness of the story, it felt a tad rushed. It was still nice and welcome, but rather unlike this author who is known for her steamy romances. But this was a small thing in an otherwise fun novella, so I can't complain too much. Now I'm just waiting for the final novella that will be released this month (Dec. 2017).
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