Once Upon a December

Once Upon a December

by Amy E. Reichert
Once Upon a December

Once Upon a December

by Amy E. Reichert


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"An absolutely perfect holiday hug."—New York Times bestselling author Christina Lauren

"This feel-good novel brings tidings of joy."—Woman's World

A one-of-a-kind Christmas market offers holiday magic in this new romance from the author of The Kindred Spirits Supper Club.

With a name like Astra Noel Snow, holiday spirit isn’t just a seasonal specialty—it’s a way of life. But after a stinging divorce, Astra’s yearly trip to the Milwaukee Christmas market takes on a whole new meaning. She’s ready to eat, drink, and be merry, especially with the handsome stranger who saves the best kringle for her at his family bakery.
For Jack Clausen, the Julemarked with its snowy lights and charming shops stays the same, while the world outside the joyful street changes, magically leaping from one December to the next every four weeks. He’s never minded living this charmed existence until Astra shows him the life he’s been missing outside of the festive red brick alley.
After a swoon-worthy series of dates, some Yuletide magic, and the unexpected glow of new love, Astra and Jack must decide whether this relationship can weather all seasons, or if what they’re feeling is as ephemeral as marshmallows in a mug of hot cocoa.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593197790
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/04/2022
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 76,317
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Amy E. Reichert is an author, wife, mom, Wisconsinite, amateur chef, and cider enthusiast. She earned her MA in English Literature and serves on her library's board of directors. She is a member of Tall Poppy Writers.

Read an Excerpt

Once upon a December, a girl met a boy, but she didn’t remember.

Chapter One

In a place outside of time, every day was December.

As a resident, Jack Clausen treasured all of the Christmas trimmings that came with living in the Julemarked: the sparkling lights, fresh-­cut pine branches, crunchy snow, joyous music, and abundant holiday cheer. The festive alley contained several shops selling handmade goods like sweaters, toys, ornaments, and so much more. His family’s bakery, Kringle All the Way, was one of many shops run by the Julemarked residents, a tight-­knit community that never stayed in one place for long.

Too early in the day for customers, Jack’s hands carried multiple white bags containing freshly baked kringle slices he would deliver to his neighbors, the smell of cinnamon and almond wafting to his nose as he pulled open the door to A Stitch in Time, the knitwear store near the bakery.

Tables and shelves were stacked with every possible item that could be created with knitting needles, from sweaters and blankets to hats and scarves to stuffed animals and flowers. Behind the counter, Mrs. Pedersen already waited for customers, the soft clack of her knitting needles buried under the jangle of entrance bells. A pale green knit hat covered her soft blond curls, which brushed the shoulders of a matching Nordic sweater. Everyone in the Julemarked had similar sweaters and hats, just like everyone grew up with toys made by the Hagens at Time to Play, or drank coffee from mugs the Estradas made in their store, Kiln Time, or devoured kringle made at Kringle All the Way. The Julemarked residents provided what one another needed, when they needed it, always watching out for one another.

“Set them on the counter, dear,” Mrs. Pedersen said, nodding at the bags in Jack’s hands. “Anika will be out soon if you want to stick around.”

Since birth, Jack’s mom and Mrs. Pedersen had maneuvered Anika and him toward each other—it wasn’t going to happen, but moms will be moms and he didn’t blame them for wanting their children to find happiness with people they had known all their lives. Thankfully, Anika agreed with Jack and was equally amused by their maternal machinations.

“I need to finish deliveries before it gets busy, but tell Ani I say hi.” Jack pointed to the bag on the counter. “There’s an extra pecan slice for you.” Since he still held more bags to deliver, Jack pushed the door open with his backside.

“Always so thoughtful. Tell your mother to stop over later. The new batch of peppermint schnapps is ready,” Mrs. Pedersen said.

“Will do.” Jack stepped out into the alley. A few beams of sunlight streaked across the red brick of the Julemarked’s walls, a reliable sign that customers were soon to follow. He completed his deliveries to the rest of the alley and headed back to the bakery to get ready for a day of slicing and selling kringle to a long stream of hungry customers.

As Jack turned the last corner next to the bakery, he saw the large black wrought-­iron arch that marked the entrance to the Julemarked, the line between his world and the Outside. Next to it hung a large black clock that counted from one to twenty-­five with only one moving hand—a constant reminder that time worked differently here. To any Outsider, the single hand didn’t seem to move, but to the residents it made perfect sense. It marked the days until Christmas. Currently, the hand pointed to the space below the three, indicating it was December 3—­the third day into the current Yule. The clock would stay silent except for the last minute before midnight on Christmas Eve, when it would ring twelve times to let the residents know the Nulstil was about to begin—the seven days from Christmas to New Year’s Eve, when the Julemarked was cut off from the Outside, giving residents time to rest and prepare for the next Yule. When the Outside celebrated New Year’s Day, the Julemarked opened in a new location and it was December 1 again.

Looking at the watch on his wrist that told actual time, Jack picked up his pace. Customers were already starting to wander into the alley from the Christmas market on the other side of the entrance, one of many around the globe that the Julemarked would connect to each year. There were locations, like Copenhagen, Paris, New York, and Milwaukee, that they connected to almost every year, but it was never a guarantee. As far as Jack could tell, no pattern existed. This Yule they were in Milwaukee, the previous Yule was Seoul, the next one might be Paris or Buenos Aires or one of a thousand Christmas markets in between.

Living in a magical alley was like that, and you just had to go with it.

While he loved everything about the Julemarked and each Christmas market they visited, Jack had a soft spot for Yules in Milwaukee. Maybe it was the locals’ fierce and loyal adoration for all things kringle or their enthusiasm for winter weather. Maybe it was the way they embraced public drinking from the many mulled-­wine stands or how they fundamentally understood that cheese and butter made everything better. But while all of those were reasons why Jack loved Milwaukee, none were the top reason. That spot was reserved for Her.

He remembered when they first met fourteen years ago.

Jack had looked up to help the next customer who stood in front of him at the bakery counter, and it was a young woman accompanied by three friends, all four of them wearing identical red knit hats. Her eyes sparkled with laughter at whatever her friend had just said, her cheeks almost as pink as her lips. A charming dimple on her right cheek deepened the more she laughed. Sparkly ornaments dangled from her ears and she wore a bright red winter coat and green scarf—the embodiment of Christmas spirit. Jack loved to see it.

“What can I get you?” Jack said.

Without looking up, she pointed to the cherry kringle. “That one, please.” She blinked as her blond friend whispered something in her ear. “Shut up,” she said to her friend. She turned back to Jack.

Her friend whispered in her ear again as he picked up the kringle slice and a bag to slide it into.

“Fine,” she whispered, louder than she meant to, given the pink flush to her cheeks. Directing her comment to him, she said, “I bought a pack of five hats.” She pointed to her head. “And I have an extra one. Would you like it?”

The two friends behind her giggled and elbowed each other.

The dimple-­cheeked girl held up the hat. Jack looked down at his hands, which were full of kringle and sticky with frosting, and leaned his head over the bakery case so she could reach him. She slid the hat over his dark blond hair, making sure to pull it down far enough in the back so it wouldn’t fall off. Her hands were gentle yet confident enough to make sure it fit snugly. When she pulled her hands back, he straightened and smiled.

“How do I look?” Jack said.

Her eyes twinkled.

“Like Santa’s younger brother.”

“If I’m going to accept this, then you need to accept something from me.” Jack looked around the bakery for something he could give her. On shelves around the bakery stood dozens of nisse figurines wearing red pointy hats, small elves that were a part of Scandinavian Christmas traditions. He liked to carve them at night after completing the bakery work. It kept his hands busy. Using a piece of parchment paper so he wouldn’t transfer any of the sticky frosting from his hands to the figure, he picked out a small wooden one with a large nose and fluffy white beard sticking out from the bottom of a bright red hat that covered his eyes. “Here’s a nisse.”

Even with the parchment paper barrier, Jack felt a tiny spark when he set the gnome in her outstretched hand, like a tiny static electricity jolt, most likely from the dry winter air, but enough for him to pause and look into her eyes to see if she felt it, too, but her facial expression did not change. She stayed focused on what he had said.

“Knees—oo?” she said, sounding out the word.

“Yep. Spelled n-i-­s-­s-­e. Or with an R at the end if there are more than one; that’s pronounced knees-­ah. They are the Danish Christmas elves. We have to give them rice pudding on Christmas Eve or they cause all sorts of mischief.”

“Nisse.” She said the word with more confidence, holding the small figurine in the palm of her hand. “Thank you. I’ll make sure he gets his rice pudding.”

“Jack,” Orn growled at him, a warning to get back to work. She paid for her kringle and her friends filed out of the store. When she turned back one last time, Jack nodded his head, then turned his attention to the next customer.

“Jack’s got a girlfriend,” Mads said, speaking in Danish so the customers didn’t understand what they were talking about.

“You mean that barely adult child who just left?” Jack asked.

“She said you look like Santa’s younger brother,” Mads said.

“Yeah—that means I look old to her, at least twice her age. Santa is ancient. Old Johan could look like Santa’s younger brother.”

He straightened the hat on his head, noticed how nice it felt, and returned to work.

She had just been a friendly customer on a busy day who gave him a lovely hat he still owned.

He hated that he still didn’t know her name after meeting her so many Yules ago—fourteen years in Outside time. Each time he’d learned a little more about her. Each time she had forgotten him and the Julemarked completely, just like the rest of the customers. Somewhere over those fourteen years, he’d started anticipating their next encounter, dreaming about what he’d discover next.

This year, he knew what he wanted to learn—what he had to learn. Her name.

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