Adam Rutledge, Viscount d'Arque hates Christmas, but he loves his grandmother and wants to make her happy. To that end, they undertake a journey to the country to celebrate the season, but when their carriage wheel breaks on a cold, snowy night, Adam must ride to find help. The closest estate belongs to the St. Johns with whom he didn't exactly get off on the right foot, but nevertheless they welcome Adam and his grandmother, giving them shelter for as long as they need it. One of the St. Johns present is the beguiling Sarah to whom Adam is deeply attracted, but he isn't certain if he's ready give up his rakish lifestyle to settle down and that's exactly what a woman like Sarah deserves.
After an experience with a rake in her youth that led to her reputation being ruined and her becoming the talk of the gossip mill, Sarah St. John doesn't trust any man who isn't a perfect gentleman. So why is it that she's so attracted to Adam? She knows she shouldn't want a man like him and that he'll probably break her heart, or worse, but she just can't seem to stop herself from thinking about him. Then a passionate kiss only stokes her desire for him all the more. Can Adam find a place for Sarah in his life this Christmas? And will Sarah discover that not all rakes are the same?
Once Upon a Christmas Eve is the final wrap-up novella in Elizabeth Hoyt's Maiden Lane series. It's been a great ride, and I'm sorry to see it finish. But as clichéd as it may be, all good things must come to an end. This is a story that I know many long-time fans of the series have been clamoring for. As for me, it was a welcome addition to the series, but not one that I was going ga-ga for, like so many others. If memory serves, Sarah and Adam were first introduced in Sarah's brother, Godric's book, Lord of Darkness, which was over four years ago. I have some vague recollection of an attraction between them, and in checking my review of that book, I discovered that I mentioned Sarah possibly making a good heroine. However, I recall so little of them that I wouldn't have been bothered one way or the other, even if they hadn't gotten their own novella. As it is, I liked the characters and their story was nice, but it was somewhat lacking in substance. Therefore, I could only give it four stars, which is perhaps a tad generous, but I often tend to be more forgiving of deficiencies in novellas since there's less room for story development. So as long as it holds my attention fairly well and has decent characterizations and plot, then I'm generally happy.
Sarah had a bad experience with a rake in her youth that led to her reputation being ruined. Therefore she doesn't trust them. Adam is as rakish as they come. He knows how appealing he is to women and is always pursuing a different woman, most of whom are married. He hates Christmas for sympathetic reasons, but because he loves his grandmother and wants to make her happy, he's taking her to the country for the holidays when their carriage breaks down on a cold, snowy night. Riding to the nearest estate for help, he finds the St. John family in residence with their holiday festivities in full-swing. Adam and his grandmother, who has a bad cough, end up staying through the holiday, which gives Adam time to woo Sarah, who is rather dismissive of him at first. However, the attraction between them burns bright.
While the physical attraction between Adam and Sarah is immediate, I can't say that I felt much of an emotional connection at first. In fact, I detected a bit of telling rather than showing, which is highly unusual for this talented author. That combined with the rapid pace of the story-telling made it difficult for me to engage with the characters on the deeper level that I crave. It was in the couple of quieter moments they shared, when stories of their pasts began to emerge, that I really started connecting with them. But ultimately I found myself wishing that the story was just a little longer to delve a bit more deeply into their respective issues. As is, they overcome them in pretty short order, leaving nothing more than for Sarah to decide whether she can trust Adam enough to give him her heart and Adam to decide if he finally wants to settle down. All of this occurs in a matter of days, so it's a little too quick to be completely believable, but overall it wasn't too bad.
As for the supporting cast, all the St. Johns were there along with a few new holiday house party guests, but the only previous characters to put in an appearance were Godric and Megs. While they're one of my favorite couples and I very much enjoyed seeing them, I still found this to be a tad disappointing. In this respect the previous novella, Once Upon a Maiden Lane probably would have been a more fitting end to the series, only because all the characters appeared (in cameo) at the very end. This might have been because Once Upon a Christmas Eve was originally slated for a 2016 release, but for some reason was pushed back until this year (2017). This was a relatively minor thing, though. It might not have been the most memorable story with which to end this long-running series, but I did like it. Now I'm just patiently waiting to see what Elizabeth Hoyt comes up with next.
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