Once Upon A Royal Christmas

Once Upon A Royal Christmas

by Teri Wilson
Once Upon A Royal Christmas

Once Upon A Royal Christmas

by Teri Wilson

Paperback

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Overview

She pretends to be a princess at children’s parties.
But can she melt a real prince’s frosty heart?
Get swept away by a Christmas story from Hallmark
and bestselling author Teri Wilson—
the queen of royal romance!

“I’m Prince Nikolas of San Glacera. Oh, you’ve never heard of us? Well, you’re not the only one. Our country relies on winter tourism, but we’re attracting fewer and fewer visitors. I admit it’s a problem. I just don’t think the solution is an American who likes to play dress-up.

You see, while I was away on a trip, my younger sister convinced the palace to hold a contest. The winner gets to star in our annual Ice Village festivities and accompany our royal family to holiday events.

And who did they choose? Gracie Clark, who runs a children’s party business and performs as—I kid you not—‘Princess Snowflake.’

Of course, I do respect the fact that she volunteers at children’s hospitals. I suppose to some, she might have a certain charm... But the whole cheap spectacle is beneath our dignity.

I’m not going to shirk my duty to my kingdom. I’ll go to every event with her. At least, once Christmas is over, she’ll be gone...”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781952210754
Publisher: Hallmark Publishing
Publication date: 11/01/2022
Series: Once Upon a Royal Series
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 370,075
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

USA Today Bestselling Author Teri Wilson writes heartwarming contemporary romance with a touch of whimsy. Three of Teri's books have been adapted into Hallmark Channel Original Movies by Crown Media, including UNLEASHING MR. DARCY (plus its sequel MARRYING MR. DARCY), THE ART OF US and NORTHERN LIGHTS OF CHRISTMAS, based on her book SLEIGH BELL SWEETHEARTS. She is also a recipient of the prestigious RITA Award for excellence in romantic fiction for her novel THE BACHELOR'S BABY SURPRISE. Teri has a major weakness for crowns, cute animals and pretty dresses, and she loves ballet and Audrey Hepburn films.

Read an Excerpt

Oh. My. Gosh.

Gracie’s eyes drifted closed. She might have even sighed out loud.

Scratch that—she’d definitely sighed, and not in a discreet, princess-y sort of way. She sounded more like Goldilocks probably had after greedily gulping down three bowls of delicious porridge.

What was porridge, anyway? It didn’t sound all that appetizing, frankly. Definitely not as decadent as the sip of rich cocoa Gracie had just taken. Then again, what was?

Ingrid hadn’t been exaggerating. San Glacera’s hot cocoa was like nothing Gracie had ever tasted before. Creamy. Luxurious. Like drinking a melted bar of the purest, richest gourmet chocolate in the world.

“What kind of magic is this?” she whispered into her cup.

“Not magic at all. Just one of our kingdom’s finest delicacies,” someone behind her said—a male someone, if the deep timbre of his voice was any indication.

Gracie turned around and immediately found herself colliding with a flash of white and chestnut fur barreling toward her shins. It took her a second to realize it was a dog. The pup had huge, perfectly round eyes, a short muzzle, and feathered paws that sort of made him look like a character from a Dr. Seuss book.

“Mittens, no,” the man holding the other end of the leash called, just as the little spaniel threw himself, belly-up, at Gracie’s feet.

The dog pawed at the air until Gracie stooped to rub his belly with her free hand. “Well, aren’t you the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen?”

“Sorry, he’s a little excited.” The man cleared his throat. “He doesn’t get out much.”

“That’s a shame. Clearly, he loves the attention.” Gracie laughed as the dog bit gently at her mitten. Then she stood to meet the strange man’s gaze.

Her stomach fluttered. He had eyes like steel, and a perfectly chiseled jaw to match. His spine was ramrod straight, and he carried himself with an air that seemed—dare she think it—regal. Clearly, Gracie had been spending far too much time playing princess.

The man shifted from one foot to the other as if he, too, didn’t get out much.

Gracie tilted her head and bit back a smile. “Mittens? Did you really name your dog after a winter fashion accessory?”

He looked at her for a beat before cracking a reluctant smile. “Yes and no. I let my sister name him, so it was either that or Tiara. She’s really into that sort of thing.”

“Fashion accessories?” Gracie narrowed her gaze at him. “Or princess paraphernalia?”

He barked out a laugh and then seemed to collect himself. “Both.”

“Smart girl. I like her already,” Gracie said. Her gaze flitted toward the castle. Snowflakes swirled around its slender turrets, and guards dressed in bright crimson coats and tall hats flanked the entrance. They looked like toy soldiers in a magical Christmas fairy tale.

No wonder men who looked like Prince Charming and dogs named Mittens roamed free in this place.

“You just missed my sister, I’m afraid. We came for the chocolat chaud, but then she...ran off,” Mittens’s dad said.

The dog scrambled to his feet and looked back and forth between them. A clump of snow clung to his petite nose.

Gracie felt herself frown. “Chocolat chaud?”

He nodded toward the cup in her hand. “French for hot chocolate. We make it in the Parisian style, but with a secret surprise.”

Gracie had never been to Paris, or anyplace else that glamorous—which was half the reason she’d let her family convince her to travel to San Glacera during Christmas. If she’d known about the chocolate, she might have been more eager to get on the plane.

You don’t have to sing for five more days. You’ve got loads of time.

Then why did she feel like Cinderella on the brink of midnight?

“What’s the secret surprise?” She took another sip, and the decadent cocoa warmed her from the inside out.

A group of people passed by, chatting and laughing into the wind. Mittens’s dad quickly looked the other way as they walked by. Gracie followed his gaze in an attempt to see what had captured his attention, but all she could see were the tents of the Christmas market stretching the length of the square.

When she turned back toward him, he smiled and nodded toward her cup of cocoa. “You’ll find out what the secret surprise is when you get to the bottom.”

Gracie tilted her head. “That’s awfully mysterious.”

He regarded her for a moment, and his eyes went from steel to a soft dove gray. “Actually, if you’re into Christmas treats, there’s something else you simply must try.”

“Something better than this?” She took another sip of chocolat chaud, suddenly anxious to discover whatever surprise lingered at the bottom of her cup. “If so, I’m in.”

He held up a finger. “Not better. But almost as good.”

Gracie’s stomach growled. The airplane meal she’d eaten hours ago wasn’t cutting it anymore. “I’m still in, but can I ask you a question first?”

“Certainly.” He nodded.

“Why are you doing this?” Denver was a friendly place, but no one there had ever taken such a vested interest in her holiday snack preferences before. “I don’t even know your name.”

“My name is Nick,” he said quietly as his gaze dropped to her cup of cocoa. “And I’m just happy to see a visitor enjoying Christmas in San Glacera. It’s a special place.”

Gracie nodded. “I can see that already. Okay, lead the way. I’m ready to try this mystery treat.”

“Follow me, then.”

***

“This probably won’t make a bit of sense to you at all, but do you ever feel like you’ve gotten so accustomed to playing a role that you sometimes forget where that role ends and the real person begins?” The words tumbled out of her mouth before she realized what she’d meant to say, as if they’d been waiting right there on the tip of her tongue for just the right time...just the right person to hear them. “Like, to the outside world you’ve got everything completely under control, but inside...”

He gave her a lopsided smile and finished the thought for her. “But inside, you feel like you’re just one mistake away from causing everything to crumble to the ground?”

Gracie blinked. He’d just perfectly described the way she’d been feeling for weeks, starting with all of those horrid bank interviews and culminating with the realization that she’d have to sing in order to collect her contest prize money. She felt like he’d just handed her a long-lost piece to a jigsaw puzzle—the kind her family always did together on Christmas morning.

“That’s it exactly,” she said, breathless.

“In that case, we’re both a little out of sorts in the same way.” His gaze locked with hers until a thick lump formed in her throat. A strange sensation washed over her, almost like homesickness.

He held her gaze just a little longer before he looked away. For a second, she could almost breathe again.

“Sometimes it almost feels like the public role is a sort of hiding place, even though it’s the part of you that everyone in the world sees,” he said. “As long as everyone is paying attention to that very public face, you don’t have to worry about anyone knowing the real you and all the messiness that goes with your true hopes and fears.” Nick kept looking toward the castle until his brow furrowed. Then he shook his head and glanced back at Gracie. “I have no idea where that just came from. I’m supposed to be feeding you waffles, not a heaping dose of existential angst.”

“More like honesty. And that pairs perfectly with everything, in my humble opinion,” Gracie said.

“Mine, too.” The corner of his mouth turned up in a smile. “It seems that you and I make a fine pair.”

Gracie nodded, thoughts in a whirl. “We do, don’t we?”

Her heart thumped hard in her chest. She’d traveled halfway across the world and somehow found a kindred spirit—someone who understood exactly what it felt like to wear a princess gown and a perfect royal smile every day. To do her best to spread joy and hope, while at the same time wondering if she was really up to the task. People relied on her. Not just children, but her employees too. If she messed up this trip, she wouldn’t just be letting herself down. Her entire business could fail.

How was it possible that a perfect stranger could articulate what that weight on her heart felt like?

“Honesty.” The corners of Nick’s lips rose. “I like it. One of my favorite virtues, right up there with kindness and authenticity.”

I like him. Gracie smiled into her cocoa. I like him a lot.

“You haven’t forgotten about the secret surprise, have you?” Nick arched an eyebrow and cast a meaningful look at her paper cup.

“Oh, that’s right.” Hope fluttered inside her as she took the last few sips. Then she looked down and gasped.

An intricate picture was stamped into the bottom of the cup in gilded ink. It depicted a chocolate kiss surrounded by delicate snowflakes and the words Chef’s Kiss.

“Every cup has a special artist rendering of a chocolate kiss inside. It represents the kiss that’s dropped into the cocoa just after it’s poured,” Nick said.

“So the secret surprise is a kiss,” Gracie said, and when she looked up and met Nick’s gaze, her cheeks went warm.

A kiss.

Gracie had the sudden, improper urge to rise up on tiptoe and press her lips to his.

She didn’t dare, obviously. Good grief, what had gotten into her? She felt like she’d taken a royally big bite from an enchanted apple.

“Indeed.” His eyes flickered with...something. And Gracie got the feeling that neither one of them was talking about chocolate anymore.

She hadn’t been imagining the sparks between them, had she? He felt it too.

All her breath seemed to gather in her throat. Had she somehow landed in the middle of a fairy tale?

Mittens’s wagging tail beat against Gracie’s shin, and the little dog looked up at her with huge, melting eyes. The animal was so cute that he almost didn’t look real. Gracie

wanted nothing more than to keep wandering the kingdom’s cobblestone streets with this captivating pair, but her first official San Glacera appearance was in less than two hours and her ballgown was still crammed into her suitcase, along with everything else she needed to transform into Princess Snowflake. She couldn’t just wave a magic wand and turn into a princess. These things took time, and tonight would be the most important appearance she’d ever had.

Until Christmas Eve, anyway.

“Um.” Gracie let out a shaky breath. “This has been lovely, but I should probably go. I have kind of a big night ahead of me.”

Mittens let out a mournful sigh.

“A big night, hmm? Might you be attending the opening of the Ice Festival?” Nick asked.

“Ice sculptures, royalty, and storybook characters?” Gracie bounced on her toes. “I wouldn’t miss it.”

He nodded. “It’s going to be quite something this year.”

“Will you be there?” she asked.

“With bells on,” he said in a tone that was strangely flat. For someone who loved San Glacera so much, he didn’t seem too enthusiastic about what was supposed to be one of the kingdom’s biggest holiday traditions.

He’d been so kind to her, and she wanted to reciprocate in some small way. And if she was being honest with herself, she also wanted to see him again.

Mittens peered up at her and cocked his cute little head. If Gracie didn’t know better, she would’ve thought the spaniel could read her mind.

She glanced up at Nick. “Can you keep a secret?”

He chuckled. “Better than you could possibly imagine.”

Never in her life had Gracie disclosed her Princess Snowflake identity to a total stranger. Back when she’d started Perfect Party Princesses, she’d read an article about theme park characters and how the actors portraying them weren’t allowed to disclose their real identities. Not in real life and not on social media. It was a way to make visiting the park as magical as possible for the attendees.

Gracie had adopted the same policy for all the party princesses, including herself. And here she was, about to break her own rule.

She leaned close to Nick—close enough to breathe in his crisp evergreen scent. Like he’d been off somewhere chopping down Christmas trees. Then she reached inside her coat and pulled out the VIP badge that hung from the lanyard the palace had left at the B&B in her welcome packet, with strict instructions to wear it every time she left the hotel.

She flashed Nick the purple badge and whispered, “I’m the princess.”

Mittens dropped into a play bow and wagged his tail. Nick’s eyes glittered.

“What an astonishing coincidence.” Nick shook his head. Then he dropped his voice to a murmur that sent a chill up and down Gracie’s spine. A chill that had nothing to do with the cold. “I’m the prince.”

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