Antonia Wingate and Richard Allerton, Duke of Lyonshall had been betrothed to each other two years earlier, but Antonia called off the engagement abruptly and without explanation. Now, Toni's grandmother has invited both of them to spend the Christmas holiday at her estate of Wingate Castle, and has rather improperly chosen to give both of them rooms in the same wing of the castle. To top it all off, a snowstorm has blown in, ostensibly leaving them stranded there for possibly weeks. During their first dinner together, Antonia puts on a calm facade while underneath she is roiling with emotions. Richard for his part plays the consummate seducer, making it difficult for Toni to resist his charms.
It is obvious to nearly everyone that Toni and Richard are still in love, and Richard has come with the intention of finding out why his betrothed jilted him and hopefully rekindling her affection. Toni is unwilling to discuss the matter though, until a pair of ghostly lovers take over Richard's bed chamber leaving Toni little choice but to temporarily share hers. Together they begin a search for the history of the apparitions who continue to appear every night. The more details Richard and Toni discover, the more apparent it becomes that the lives of their ghostly visitors parallel their own, but it seems that there was no happy ending for the phantom lovers. As they try to unravel the mystery, Toni must learn from the lessons of the past in order to look forward to a future with Richard.
Although Holiday Spirit had the well-worn romance novel cliché of a misunderstanding coupled with a lack of communication as it's main premise, there was the added uniqueness of some ghostly characters and the intrigue of the ill-fated love affair of Antonia's ancestors to help enliven the plot. Sometimes in a novella, it can be difficult for the author to fully capture the essence of their characters, but Kay Hooper made good use of the short story format to make me care about her characters, both human and ghost. I enjoyed finding out the history of the ghostly lovers right along with the heroine. While their story was both romantic and tragic, they, with a little help from Antonia's grandmother, were able to bring about a reconciliation between Antonia and Richard, which I also enjoyed reading. I tend to like stories about lost love that is found again.
The Christmas theme was secondary to the rest of the story, but I think there is no greater gift one can give or receive during the holidays besides love. Overall, I found Holiday Spirit to be a quick and easy read that held my attention well with it's light mystery surrounding the tragic lovers, while at the same time being very romantic and sensuous. This was the first time I had read anything by Kay Hooper, and I will definitely be checking out other works by her in the future. Holiday Spirit was orginally published in the anthology, Christmas Love Stories, and was later reprinted in the Gifts of Love anthology.
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