‘Twas the Night Before Mischief (Daring Hearts #2.5) by Nina Rowan



‘Twas the night before mischief and all through the house, a lady was plotting—it was time to break out!

When Penelope Darlington is persuaded to elope with a most unsuitable suitor, she wastes no time. With visions of passion and adventure dancing in her head, she steals away in the middle of the night, just before her father’s Christmas feast.

Fearing for his daughter’s reputation, Henry Darlington begs Darius Hall, the Earl of Rushton’s daring yet discreet son, to bring Penelope home. When Darius finally catches up to Penelope, he is shocked. She’s not the silly little girl he expected, but a beautiful woman with a sharp mind and an allure that cannot be ignored.

Now forced to kidnap Penelope in order to bring her home, Darius and his new charge spend the next several days—and nights—in very close quarters. Penelope wanted passion and adventure, but she never could have imagined the pleasures Darius can provide…

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Publisher and Release Date: Forever, 10 December 2013

Time and Setting: Victorian England
Genre: Historical Romance Novella
Heat Rating: 1.5
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Caz

This novella is part of Ms Rowan’s Daring Hearts series, and follows book two, A Passion for Pleasure, which I read and enjoyed earlier this year. In my review, I expressed an interest in reading stories about the two remaining Hall brothers, Darius and his mysterious twin, Nicholas, and this is Darius’ book.

It’s a short and enjoyable read and definitely one of the better novellas I’ve read lately; mostly because the author has fleshed out her two principals quite well, considering the limited page count.

Penelope Darlington is twelve years old at the beginning of the story, and has run away from her father’s confectioner’s shop because he has – rather thoughtlessly – not only announced his intention to re-marry (his wife having died three years before), but arrived home from a journey with his new wife in tow. It’s almost Christmas and Penelope thinks she must be the only child in the city who does not enjoy the festive season. Her mother died the week before Christmas and it evokes too many unhappy memories for her.

She’s also unhappy because she thinks her father never really sees her. She’s a model daughter – quiet and obedient, but she longs to be something different, someone who seeks excitement and adventure rather than being proper and doing as she is expected.

Penelope is retrieved by Darius Hall, who, at twenty, is a very serious-minded young man with a keen interest in mechanics and science. The Halls have known the Darlingtons for years, and Darius spends a lot of time with Penelope’s father talking about the machinery involved in the manufacture of confectionery and discussing theories as to how to make solid chocolate (which was available only as a drink until 1847). Despite little more than a passing acquaintance and the gap in their ages, Darius actually seems to understand Penelope’s inner yearning for something more and I thought his little gift to her of something we would today recognise as a Christmas Cracker was a nice touch.

Seven years pass, the majority of which Darius passes abroad. He spends most of his time in Russia and returns home infrequently, but always at Christmas. Pressed into attending a party, he is stunned to discover that Penelope, far from growing up into the dutiful and quiet young lady he had always expected is instead vivacious, lovely and clearly very popular with the local young men.

But Penelope’s outward cheer is just a front to mask her unhappiness. She is still seeking that something ‘more’ she’d been longing for years ago, and has, she thinks, finally hit upon the way to do something shocking and become ‘Penelope the daring’ rather than ‘Penelope the dutiful’. Added to her discontent is dismay at her father’s decision to host a celebration to mark a very special occasion (the granting of a royal patent) on the eighteenth of December, the anniversary of her mother’s death.

When she runs off with a very unsuitable man who subsequently abandons her, Mr Darlington takes Darius up on the latter’s offer to go after her and bring her home.

He knows Darius to be reliable and very discreet and has no qualms about entrusting his daughter to the young man’s care. The long journey back from the Orkneys affords Darius and Penelope plenty of time in each other’s company in which to talk and fall in love – and it’s very charmingly done.

What set this novella apart from some of the others I’ve read recently is the depth to the characterisation – of Penelope in particular. She’s spent her life being dutiful and obedient to the extent that she feels she’s invisible, and I really liked how Ms Rowan had her reach the conclusion that she may have had a hand in the way she was perceived, and that she had been as guilty of misunderstanding her father as he of her. I thought that Darius – while lovely – was less well-developed, although he does change throughout the course of the story. Like Penelope, he has become rather hemmed in by his public persona; he is perceived as a stick-in-the-mud, a man far more interested in mechanics and facts than he is in living his life, a man who can provide an exact meaning for the word joy but who has no idea what it feels like. Yet all he needs is the right incentive to show a more dashing, romantic side.

‘Twas the Night Before Mischief was a very pleasant way to spend an hour or so. It’s well written, and the central couple is very engaging and well-matched. The romance between them is tender and sexy-sweet, and it, together with the underlying themes of acceptance and reconciliation serve to make this an ideal seasonal read.


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