Title: To Have and To Hold
Author: Patricia Gaffney
Published: 1995, Topaz (NAL)
Category: Historical Romance
I have completed book 1 of my Classic Romance Challenge! And I knew this was a good idea. These books are classics for good reason. To Have and To Hold is a beautifully written and really emotionally gripping book.
We start with a rake, Sebastian Verlaine, rich, cynical, and selfish. He's just inherited a property, and as part of his new position he must act as magistrate of this little village where his estate is. One of the first cases he hears is that of Rachel Wade, a young woman who is being charged with "indigence and no fixed abode" (sort of appalling that this was a crime back then). Rachel has just been released from prison, where she's been for 10 years since being found guilty of murdering her husband. As a convict, she has been unable to find any work. Something about Rachel intrigues Sebastian, so he surprises the whole court by offering her the position of housekeeper on his estate. Rachel is relieved beyond imagination that she won't have to go back to prison, even though she realizes that Sebastian expects her to also be his mistress. Which he absolutely does.
I have to admit that there were some parts of this book that made me pretty uncomfortable. Because Sebastian really is a bad man at the beginning (no fake rake here)--he hires Rachel because he's bored and intrigued by the idea of having complete power over this rather pathetic woman. And he exerts that power fully--and though it's a bit spoilerish I have to say that the first time they have sex, it is rape. She wants to keep her job; she just doesn't have any other option. Add to that Rachel's tons of emotional baggage from prison and an abusive marriage and you have to wonder how these two could ever move past this inequitable relationship to find mutual understanding and love.
But I totally bought it, and the romance was fantastic. Rachel must take a chance at life again, and Sebastian actually wakes up out of his cynical self-hatred to find that true affection can be a reality. Both characters were really complex and interesting. I think one of the reasons I'd been putting off this book was because these over-the-top dramatic and passionate stories can be too much for me. But this book (especially the second half) was just lovely. A bit sad and heartbreaking in places, but ultimately very warm and satisfying.
This is the second book in the Wyckerley trilogy. To Love and to Cherish is first and Forever and Ever is the last. I'll definitely be reading them at some point. :)