The story starts off with Rafe Ramsey nearly breaking his neck (and fashionable curricle) as he raced with his friend to alleviate some sour feelings. Rafe and buddy,Luke Ripton, were on their way to a friend's wedding, when previous to their departure, Rafe had an audience with his brother, the Earl of Axebridge, where he was informed of some troubling news. The long-accepted fate of the Earls wife's inability to get pregnant laid the responsibility of begetting an heir and continuing the line of Ramsey Heir's at Rafe's door. Rafe accepted this, and although he dragged his feet and found ways to put off the inevitable, he had every intention of marrying the women his brother arranged his betrothal with. That is, until he was told of a stipulation he couldn't come to terms with. His brother and his possible wife negotiated the terms of their first born son being raised by the Earl and his wife instead of with Rafe and the young Lady Lavinia Fettiplace. As if he wouldn't give a care of his own son, he thought with sarcastic vehemence.
While seated at the wedding festivities next to an old friend of his beloved grandmother, he was treated to the old woman's story of a long lost granddaughter she presumed to be dead at the age of 7. Said granddaughter was spotted very much alive and even painted by a family friend and artist who subsequently showed the old women. The painting was of a 13 year old girl (the granddaughter) and her father (Lady Cleeve's only surviving son at the time). This was proof that the young girl must still be alive (despite previous reports claiming otherwise) and Rafe also saw this as the opportunity to escape confronting Lady Lavinia and his brother.
So Rafe sets out for Cairo,Egypt, the last place Alicia Cleeve was spotted alive. Needless to say, what he finds in Egypt literally knocks him over. Alicia, or Ayisha as she apparently wanted to be called, was not a refined, young lady, but a hardened, un-trusting, dweller of the streets. She disguised herself as a boy at the death of her mother and father to avoid the attentions of unscrupulous men (some of whom were still after her and intended to sell her on the slave market).
Ayisha had to rely on the generosity and companionship of another woman named Laila, who took her and a young boy named Ali, into her home (well, Laila's brother insisted the street urchins stay out in the backyard).
Before she went anywhere with Rafe, she first wanted to secure Laila and Ali's safety and future. While Rafe settles matters for the two, Ayisha's cover is blown and she is attacked by the man whom she successfully avoided long ago at the death of her mother (whom wanted a young, white virgin to sell then and now). Rafe saves her and a few days later, they set off for England.
On the journey home, Rafe contracts a fever (which is feared to be the plague) and is almost cast away by the ships other occupants. Ayisha, already having tender feelings for the man who saved her life and was bringing her to presumably a better one, rushes Rafe into his cabin and locks them both inside under the threat that she will kill the first two men to walk over the threshold. She looks after him and helps him through his illness and subsequently, a bond is formed between them that puts them on the fast track of passion (and love).
Rafe proposes to Ayisha, who accepts, although she is leery of the threat of Rafe renouncing his intentions once he learns she isn't EXACTLY who she says. They land on English soil and go straight to her grandmother's house. After a frosty greeting which included Rafe being summoned separately to speak with Lady Cleeve, while Ayisha is shown the kitchen (an insult to a respected guest), it is clear that the grandmother found out Ayisha's secret before Rafe. Ayisha listens in on their conversation and hears the disgust in which Lady Cleeve informs Rafe of Ayisha's true parentage (being born by a sex slave out of wedlock to her son).
Determined not to ruin Rafe's life, Ayisha flees the house before she can hear Rafe's gallant speech and persuasion of Lady Cleeve to change her tune about the only bit of family she has left. Distraught, Rafe spends 2 weeks searching for her and seeing to the task of making their marriage an easy transition; which includes getting the Earl to accept the union.
He finds her right under his nose and as is always said: 'the rest is history'.
My Favorite Part of the Book: Is when Ayisha saves Rafe from being cast away. He catches a deathly fever on the boat as they are crossing over to England. When Ayisha sees what is going on, she rushes Rafe into his cabin and locks the door, threatening to shoot the first person to walk over the threshold. This is one of my favorite chapters EVER. Ayisha's determination to nurse Rafe back to health, which wasn't easy, was truly heartfelt and brave. You can see the first blooms of love start to take form as Ayisha struggles to keep Rafe alive.
Anne Gracie is a new author for me, but I enjoyed her book nonetheless. It had just enough cultural content to make me want to book a plane ticket to Cairo and not feel like I am in an old history class. The romance was a bit slow in development; although the emotion was steady and ever-building. It isn't until after the half way point in the book where we actually get some displays of affection. All in all it was a dynamite book for me!
*Another Gracie title to pick up would be, 'The Stolen Princess' ,Gabe's story (a minor character in the book and apart of the series from which 'To Catch a Bride' is from). This is the first book of the series.