To Have and To Hold

To Have and To Hold - Patricia Gaffney This is a tough book for me to rate. It's definitely somewhere between a four and a five for me.On the one hand, this book is a phenomenal character study. Too often authors use the term "rake" as shorthand for a fun-loving libertine. When Gaffney uses the term here, she means business. Sebastian Verlaine is a rake of the first order. Debauched, selfish, lazy, and privileged, Sebastian uses the people around him for his own enjoyment. As the book begins, there's nothing lovable about him. He's not a bad boy with a big heart underneath, he's just a plain ol' douchebag.Rachel Wade is the completely damaged woman who catches his eye while he plays at country magistrate. Rendered scared and meek from ten years spent in prison for the murder of her abusive husband, she's brought up on the charge of vagrancy, as she's been unable to find employment to pay for lodging. Seeing a fun little diversion, Sebastian offers her a job as his housekeeper as an alternative to prison, with the intention of seducing her, of course.Gaffney didn't mess around with Rachel's emotional scars either. Girl is busted up. From the rigid discipline of incarceration she now has trouble making the simplest of decisions. Far from the typical genre fare of feeling an inexplicable attraction to the hero, she's friggin terrified of him. Their first coupling is not quite consensual and there are no miraculous orgasms caused by the hero's magical wang. In many ways it's ugly and sad, and she resents him for it, even though she accepted it.Despite this ugliness, Sebastian's transformation is believable, as is Rachel's recovery. Upon a visit from his libertine friends from London, Sebastian begins to see in them his own ugly nature and resents it. He throws them out of his home and, after wallowing drunk in self-pity for a few days, begins to show through his actions that he is a changed man and worthy of Rachel. For her part, Rachel stays wary of Sebastian, while taking comfort from him at the same time. You see Sebastian act more and more selflessly while Rachel becomes braver and more independent.Where I take issue with the book is with Sebastian's journey. I felt that he did not suffer enough or grovel enough for his truly despicable behavior earlier. All he had to do was change his ways, and he got what he wanted. I wanted more penance from him, for him to feel loss, humiliation or pain of some sort. Just being sorry wasn't enough.Regardless, To Have and To Hold was a superbly written book of truly memorable characters. It is absolutely worth the trouble of tracking down a copy.