Once Upon A Maiden Lane by Elizabeth Hoyt is out now! This stand-alone novella is something romance lovers will really enjoy. Read our review and enter the giveaway for the first novel in the Maiden Lane series!
Miss Mary Whitsun is far too intelligent to fall for the rakish charms of a handsome aristocrat. But when the gentleman in question approaches her in a bookshop, mistaking her for his fiancée, Lady Johanna Albright, the flirtatious encounter only raises more questions. Could Mary, a servant raised in a St Giles orphanage, actually be Lady Joanna’s long-lost twin sister? If so, Mary has been betrothed since birth—to the rakishly handsome artistocrat himself . . .
Henry Collins, Viscount Blackwell, is far too intrigued by Mary to let her go so easily. He’s drawn to her sharp mind, indomitable spirit, and the fiery way in which she dismisses him—ladies simply don’t dismiss Lord Blackwell. But as Mary makes her first hesitant steps into society, she can’t help but wonder if she truly has a place in Henry’s world—or in his heart.
As soon as I read the summary for Once Upon a Maiden Lane, I was so excited to read it. I rarely read historical romance novellas. I was attracted to the idea of enjoying the elements of a juicy HistRom in a short and sweet package. But more importantly, the story was intriguing–the mystery of a long-lost twin who is secretly an aristocrat. Throw in a little enemies-to-lovers swoons, and I was here for it!
While Mary is enjoying her day off at the bookstore, her life is completely upended when she meets Henry Collins, Viscount Blackwell. Henry knows right away that Mary is the long-lost Albright twin, Cecilia, and the older sister to whom he’s been betrothed since they were babies. Mary was raised in an orphanage and now works as a servant caring for Lord and Lady Caire’s children. The idea that she’s the daughter of an earl is preposterous. But when Henry tracks Mary down with supposed mother and grandmother in tow, everyone is convinced that this is a miracle. They’re insistent that Mary assume her place and Cecilia Albright and enter society as Henry’s fiancee. At first, Mary is hesitant, but she eventually agrees because her twin sister, Joanna, is desperate to be freed from the engagement to Henry. Then there’s Henry, himself–presumptuous, arrogant, pushy…handsome, well-read, attentive… Mary is definitely attracted to his wit and intellect. Similarly, Henry sees a kindred spirit in Mary:
She had the bearing of a countess already. His countess, Henry reminded himself, feeling almost possessive. Lady Cecilia would be his bride within the month. Would warm his bed and bear his children. And beyond that? He might have something he’d never thought to have with Joanna: a commonality of mind. A possibility of real companionship, in intellect, wit, and interests. Lady Cecilia could be the wife he’d never hoped to have. Lady Joanna had reseated herself next to her sister, and the similarity between the two of them was striking. Yet he could tell them apart easily. Lady Cecilia held herself differently, was more calm and reserved—and her biting wit was revealed in the small twist of her mouth as she listened to the marchioness. His own lips twitched. Cecilia might have learned to tamp down her fire and to feign meekness, but he well knew she was a prickly little thing. He looked forward to navigating her thorns to find the rose within…
“I am content with what is expected of me, my lord,” she replied coolly. He glanced at her again as he opened the door to the town house garden.
“Indeed? I trust you’ll let me know if it becomes too arduous.”
She stopped and turned to him, and he saw that her large brown eyes were narrowed. “And what exactly will you do about it if I tell you I no longer wish to become a lady?”
He hesitated, eyeing her. She nodded sharply. “Exactly.”
His mouth firmed. “I can advocate on your behalf, my lady.”
“Can you?” she called carelessly over her shoulder as she descended the wide granite steps into the garden. “I find that unlikely, my lord.”
Little termagant. He strode after her and caught her arm to turn her. “I will be your husband.”
She pursed her lips. “But you are not yet. I am governed by my family now. Pray do not pretend otherwise.”
“Cecilia,” he growled.
“Don’t call me that.” Her oval face was suddenly alight with passion. She was glorious. He blinked, trying to wrest his mind back to the conversation.
“My name is Mary,” she hissed, stepping closer, tilting her head up to glare at him. How had he ever believed her fire had died? It was merely banked. Hidden from public view. “I may be Lady Cecilia now, but the name is a stranger’s. The people who gave me room and board named me Mary. I’ll not give up my name, who I am, simply because it would serve other people for me to do so. I am Mary, not Cecilia, and I’ll thank you to remember that.”
“Very well, Mary,” he drawled. He shouldn’t. It wasn’t done. And yet he simply could not help himself. She was a flame alight—a living, breathing woman he couldn’t resist. He framed her face and kissed her…
“I find myself…pleased with the prospect of marrying you, Mary.”
“Truly?” she asked softly, her heart warming at his words. “But you hardly know me, my lord.”
“No, you’re right, I don’t,” he replied. “I had years in which to understand Lady Joanna, and now only a little while to discover you.” He stepped closer so that his chest almost, almost touched the tips of her breasts, and she was forced to tilt back her head to keep her eyes locked with his. He bent and murmured in her ear softly. Intimately. “Only a small time to learn your likes and dislikes. Your favorite foods. The thing that disgusts you the most.”
He paced around her, and she was reminded of how he’d stalked her in the sitting room. His voice came from over her left shoulder.
“What authors you like to read. What you look like when you laugh from your belly. How your tears fall. If you like to stroll in the morning or if you’d rather laze abed. If the sound of an orchestra makes your heart sing or leaves you unmoved. How to make you smile and how to make you sob.”
His breath was hot in her right ear, and Mary shivered, closing her eyes to keep herself calm.
“I want to learn all of you. I want you to know me in return. When I next kiss you, I want you to welcome my lips like a lover instead of a stranger.”
She inhaled sharply. This was like a waking dream, for this man, this fascinating, handsome aristocrat to speak to her so bluntly. So passionately.
“Do you want that as well?” He was in front of her now.
“Yes,” she said, opening her eyes to meet his gaze boldly. “Yes, I do.”
Though Mary and Henry come to care for one another, obstacles emerge to force them apart. The person/people who conspired to steal Mary from her family seem to be back and determined to finish the job. On top of that, Mary’s father, William Albright (Earl of Angrove) and Henry’s father, the Earl of Keating, aren’t very welcoming to Mary or encouraging of the betrothal to Henry.
There are two big twists at the end that really throw the reader for a loop and make me even more angry with Mary’s and Henry’s fathers. But in the end, Once Upon a Maiden Lane gives us a very sweet HEA, where Mary and Henry are happy and in love.
Once Upon a Maiden Lane is a great read for fans of historical romance, especially if you like your HistRom with some mystery/mistaken identity.