Read with: Kindle Paperwhite
Genre: Historical Romance
POV: Third Person, Dual
Series: Wyckerley Trilogy, #2
Publisher: NAL Trade
Hero: Sebastian James Ostley Selborne-Hammond Verlaine
Heroine: Rachel Crenshaw
Published On: September 01, 1995
Started On: January 12, 2022
Finished On: January 13, 2022
Even now her husband obsessed him. He lifted his face from the hot hollow between her neck and shoulder to ask, “Did he hurt you, always? Was there never any pleasure for you?”
She wouldn’t answer.
Reading a Patricia Gaffney is always an experience – whether you enjoy it or not, learn from it or not is a whole different story. Book 2 in the Wyckerley Trilogy, To Have and To Hold, would be my second read by Ms. Gaffney and this was riveting in many ways.
The story begins when 28 year old Rachel Crenshaw is brought in front of 30 year old Sebastian James, Viscount D’Aubrey, who resides as a judge in their small town. Accused of stealing, Rachel would have easily been thrown in prison as someone with a record, who was jailed for ten years for the murder of her husband.
Sebastian is a man called many things—rake, sensualist, seeker, dilettante, degenerate. Those very traits within him sit up and take notice of Rachel from the very first moment he lays eyes on her. The sensualist in him drawn to the drab form Rachel is, a woman who has erased the very essence of who she is. His curiosity drives Sebastian to do the unthinkable and he hires Rachel as his housekeeper. The story that follows is one that was compelling.
Sebastian’s goal is simple – to goad his new housekeeper into revealing bits and pieces of herself until she is no longer the mystery that his brain works to solve every single day. Sebastian invades Rachel’s personal space, deliberately tries to get a reaction out of her when she would not give him much, and obsesses with the fact that she was married and what it is that her husband must have done to be murdered at the hand of his wife mere hours after their marriage.
It is only when the story reaches its pivotal point that much is revealed about the horrors that Rachel underwent, the hard blow that life had dealt her, after the way her family had brought her up to cultivate the right sorts of relationships and acquaintances to snag just the perfect match that would take her places. Ultimately, the only place it had taken her was to the gaol and a life of loneliness and hardship of the kind she had never known.
Sebastian is a hero that many a reader would love to hate – the way he pursues Rachel, someone who has undergone abuse and is clearly suffering from the memories of it is something that many readers would not be able to condone. However, we are talking about a time when people did not acknowledge the trauma of abuse, when it was seen as the woman’s duty to accept whatever form of abuse that was doled out by their spouses. Even at present day, we still have a hard time understanding and empathizing, and I would not expect someone like Sebastian to have understood where Rachel was coming from.
While Sebastian makes you want to smack him a time or two, those very characteristics made the story that much more enticing when the transformation ultimately happened. Sebastian reminds me of heroes written by Anne Stuart, men who are rakes and degenerates who live up to their reputations, up till the point they finally accept that they have fallen in love and that there would be no going back.
What happens to Sebastian too, is similar. When he ultimately finds out the extent of the damage that had been done to Rachel, the wooing he does, the patience he exerts, and the results which emerge when Rachel finally lets go of the shackles that binds her to the past; that is what made this story stand out.
The story Lily being the only other novel from Ms. Gaffney which I read prior to this, I was expecting something similar that would consume the whole of me. Those expectations were ultimately not met. There were things about Rachel that I wished to be true for her towards the end. I wanted her to be stronger than who she was; for the most part, neither Sebastian nor Rachel had the mind to question what was happening to her and assess the circumstances. Had it not been for a particular piece of correspondence that cleared up Rachel’s name, she would in all probability have been forced to go to prison before the story was through.
This story also made me think deeply about the attitudes of the criminal justice system towards women who have undergone a life of abuse. Has much changed? Not really, if you ask me. There are so many cases where women finally fight back only to find themselves in prison for defending themselves from someone who would have most likely killed them due to escalation of violence which is only inevitable. Makes me want to hang my head in shame for all that and more.
Recommended for fans of historical romances featuring heroes that won’t sit well with most readers! The transformative experience makes it worth the pain!
Final Verdict: Ms. Gaffney takes the reader through a journey that makes you question how far society has come when it comes to women and the criminal justice system.
Leaning in, he ran his tongue along the prickly line of her lashes. She had stopped breathing. She waited for him to do the next thing, take the next conscienceless liberty with her body. Very well, he would. He gently inserted the tip of his middle finger between her lips. Her mouth moistened it, and he wet her lips with his finger, smoothing it back and forth, going back inside for more wetness when her lips went dry. He thought she might be trembling, and brought his other hand to the back of her neck to see. Yes. Soft, subtle quivers coursing through her, like a light breeze rustling the leaves of a small, slight tree.
He put his hands flat on her chest, feeling her heart thud, thud, as she drew a choking breath. She was going to the stake like St. Joan, brave and above it all. He slid one hand to her face, spreading her lips to the sides a little with his thumb and forefinger, parting them. She made a soft sound, helpless. He put his open mouth on hers, breathing on her, and tasted inside her lips with his tongue, circling them slowly.
Heat jerked through him, rough and willful, out of control.
“Hold on to me,” he told her, and she did that at least, clutching his sides with stiff, loveless fingers. He took her as gently as he could, and until the last second it was a cool, controlled act of sexual release. Then he lost his head. He saw the light around him dim and recede, objects disappear. In absolute blackness, he drove and drove into her, conscious of nothing but pure sensation, impossible pleasure, storming and raging in him, until he surrendered and let it take him over the blinding white edge.
He slicked his hand into the jar again, and this time he took a taste of the ointment on his tongue. The wicked smile flashed. “I like it,” he announced, and began to soothe her other breast with the same slow, careful, painstaking enjoyment. Her toes curled. She could not possibly like this. She hated sex, which was violent, brutal, and degrading. She could endure it, but she could not enjoy it. No matter, completely irrelevant, that some people claimed to take pleasure in it—she knew what she knew. And yet, when Sebastian leaned over her and put his mouth on her, put his lips on the nipple he’d warmed and stimulated with his hands and his devilish unguent, a stab of such exquisite pleasure shot through her that she groaned, and the longer he teased and tongued and bit, the more excruciating it became.
He drove her higher, pushed her against the rails, cold wood hard against her shoulders, driving, driving. Sweat glistened on his face and chest, his straining arms; sweat dripped from his damp hair and fell on her breasts. He kissed her, opening her mouth wide, thrusting into it with his tongue in rhythm with the steady plunging of his sex inside her. She knew what he wanted, knew he wouldn’t stop until she gave it to him. She wanted it, too—but it was out of reach, impossible. She let him pull her legs around him, tight around his waist, and she moved her own body to his fevered rhythm.
“Let go,” he panted against her neck, grazing his teeth across her throat. “Give in.”
He lay down beside her and propped his head on his hand. Watching her eyes, he tilted the vial and poured a drop of oil on the nipple of her right breast. She caught her breath. “Don’t close your eyes. Look at me.” Their gazes locked while he plucked and rolled the tight, crinkling bud between his fingers. She moaned softly. “If you knew what you look like. Your mouth . . . you have the most delicious mouth.”
“Kiss me . . .”
“I’ll tell you what I want,” he said threateningly, leaning over her until they were mouth to mouth. While he spoke, he skimmed his finger down the moist crease of her sex, making her suck in her breath through her teeth. “I want to put my cock inside you very slowly. Feel your heat. Feel you stretch and tighten around me. I want to feel the beat of your pulse deep inside. I want to see your face when you lose control—and you will lose control. And when you come, Rachel, I want to hear you cry out my name.”
Two spots of bright pink color stained her cheeks. She couldn’t catch her breath. He rested his finger over the tight, swollen nub of her sex just to let her know he knew where it was. “What do you want?”
“I want you to touch me,” she ground out through her teeth. “There. Now. Do it.”
“Don’t hold back. Give yourself to me, Sebastian. Because I want you.”
She let him keep her hand when he grabbed for it. He squeezed it tight, so tight he was hurting her—but then his punishing grip slackened and a groan tore from his throat. Panting, he lifted his head from the pillow and dropped it back heavily, twice, too stunned to speak. She could feel him trembling, feel the tension in his muscles and the light sheen of sweat everywhere she touched him. His fingers tangled in her hair. “Rachel,” he said on a sigh, and he sounded sated, resigned, almost hopeless. “Too much. Oh God, Rachel.”
She rested beside him, her arm across his waist, thinking, Ah, then you know how it feels. It was good that he knew. When she left him, they could feel, at least for a time, the same loss.