Short Stories 366:326 — “Hustle & Bustle,” by Maggie Cummings

I’m back with All I Want for Christmas again this week, with the second of the three women-loving-women holiday romance novellas, and this time it’s Maggie Cummings taking us to December in New York and oh, I was there. We meet Hannah Monroe, who is in the city just for a couple of weeks to try to build up some customers with a pop-up shop in the winter holiday market. She’s flying mostly solo—her partner in business has family in the city (and is pregnant) so she’s imagining most of her evenings alone in her father’s apartment (she saw him briefly before he left with her stepmother for their own holiday trip). Still, it doesn’t matter: she’s here to help nudge her business up a notch, and she doesn’t need any distractions from that.

Enter a distraction, in the form of NYPD beat cop Toby Beckett, assigned to said market, and who Hannah quite literally bumps into. There might be chemistry, but Hannah definitely resists: the last sort of person she wants to connect with is a police officer, and she’s not going to give up on her ideals, regardless of how beautiful the officer in question is. Her business partner isn’t one to let a match-making opportunity slip, though, and a few well-placed nudges and Hannah starts to learn a bit more about Toby, which includes (among other wonderful qualities) Toby’s conflicted relationship with her job and the limits it puts on her doing what she’d really like to do, which has a lot more to do with making a difference and connecting with people than ruining lives by punishing the wrong people. I really, really appreciated the characterization of Toby here, and as more and more is revealed about Toby’s past and trajectory, I was right there alongside Hannah. I was worried about a police officer heroine when I started reading, but by the end of the tale, Cummings seals a denouement with the two characters that put my misgivings completely to rest in an unambiguous way.

Like last week’s novella, this one is similarly low-angst, with most of the issue between the two being borne of timelines and distance: Hannah is here for a few weeks, and then she’ll head back home, which is a two hour distance from New York. It’s a big enough hurdle to give both characters pause (even without the whole Toby’s-a-cop thing) but as their feelings develop, you see them go into problem-solving mode fairly quickly, without the true Black Moment edge you tend to get in full length romance. This is another reason I love novellas so much: generally speaking, it’s a kinder, gentler ride and you know you’re in for the prose equivalent of a hug. The Christmas Cheer and facets of New York sprinkled alongside this one are like wonderful ribbons on top.

I reached out to Maggie Cummings to ask her for some insight into where the idea for “Hustle & Bustle” came from, and she had this to say:

First, I wrote it last February/March (2019), really right before the world exploded. I bring that up because so many things I detail in this story will be so different this year and perhaps even for the foreseeable future. Let me explain…

I’m from NY and I live about 10 miles outside NYC. While I hate the cold and winter in general, I do love Christmastime in New York City. It’s super cliché but it really is magical and it’s the only time I don’t mind being outside in the frigid temps. I can’t even tell you how much I truly love it. And I realize how lucky I am to get to experience it firsthand so I tried very hard to capture the spirit of the season in this novella. So I told a love story that’s unfolding in the midst of all this cliché NYC holiday stuff—the tree at Rockefeller Center, Central Park, the windows on Fifth Avenue, pop up holiday markets, etc.

That’s basically it! I just hope the story help put folx in the holiday spirit and makes them smile, because life and the world is hard right now!

— Maggie Cummings

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