This was a novella that felt like pure fan service, but I'm not complaining. It takes two characters from earlier in the series, Sarah St. John (sister of Godric) and Viscount D'Arque (Adam), and sticks them together at the St. John holidy house party.
The set-up is a classic. Adam and his elderly grandmother are stranded when their carriage breaks down during a snow storm. Naturally, the closest residence is that of the St. Johns. Lady Wimple, Adam's grandmother, is ill and in need of at least two weeks bedrest, so even after the carriage is repaired, they're stuck. Forced proximity with snow and Christmas shenanigans!
This isn't pure fluff, however. As always, Hoyt brings the feels. Sarah has been mistreated and publicly shamed by an unscrupulous man about a decade earlier, and she sees Adam's rakish ways as an indication that he'll do the same. Adam, on the other hand, is rather smitten from the beginning. I was worried that his thoughts (I want her, I need her) would lead to a dubious consent situation, but never fear - the consent is clear, enthusiastic, and frequently repeated. Perhaps because of Sarah's past, Adam is careful to make sure that he pulls back to check for consent before going forward with anything. It was a relief to read with everything going on in the news these days.
ONCE UPON A CHRISTMAS EVE is a novella, so the two quickly move from barbed comments to longing glances to happily ever after. It worked quite well and was a blessedly happy finish to the series after the painful angst of DUKE OF DESIRE.
Content Warning: Reference to a past incident of not-quite-assault and one on-page assault that is stopped in early stages.