|Rafe Ramsey, younger son of the late Earl of Axebridge, doesn’t want to get married, and certainly not to a woman of his elder brother’s choosing. But Rafe’s brother, the current Earl, has been married for ten years and produced no children. In order to finally do something right within the family, Rafe agrees to a betrothal to Lady Lavinia, a woman of his brother’s choosing. Then Rafe learns something abhorrent about his fiancée. Wanting to simply get away from all of it, he offers to go to Egypt and search for the missing granddaughter of elderly Lady Cleeve, a friend of his late grandmother’s.
Ayisha has been an orphan for six years, navigating the streets of Cairo dressed as a boy. With the help of a sympathetic widow who bakes bread for a living, Ayisha has managed to carve a niche for herself and fend off the white slavers who would have sold her virginity to the highest bidder. When an Englishman arrives in the city, asking about a young girl whose portrait was sketched years earlier, Ayisha’s past comes back to haunt her. It’s only a matter of time before someone will recognize Alicia Cleeve beneath her careful disguise.
Through a series of events, Ayisha must leave Cairo for her own safety. Going with Rafe to the land of her father’s birth seems like a logical thing to do, though Ayisha is not at all sure of her reception once the truth comes out: she’s Henry Cleeve’s daughter, all right, but she’s illegitimate. (This isn’t a spoiler – the author alludes to it early in the story.) But having no place to turn, she puts her fate in Rafe’s hands. The majority of the story details their journey aboard ship through the Mediterranean and on to England. When Rafe falls dangerously ill and Ayisha makes a brave decision to lock herself into his cabin and nurse him back to health, their fate is sealed: to avoid a major scandal, they must become betrothed.
Rafe is quite happy to marry Ayisha, with whom he’s fallen in love – or as close to it as he thinks he can get. Ayisha, harboring her secret, agrees to marry him once they get to England, knowing that Rafe will likely cry off when the truth comes out.
To Catch a Bride is dependably well-written, as Anne Gracie’s books usually are. Ayisha and Rafe are intelligent, capable people whom life hasn’t treated fairly, and they’re both very likable. But something was missing here. There was a distinct lack of chemistry between them, and I never really felt they had any deep connection. Rafe thinks she’s beautiful. Ayisha thinks he’s handsome. Perhaps it was because the author never showed them being just friends, but I didn’t feel they really knew each other except for an understanding of the events that placed them together. It just didn’t sparkle. This was a huge disappointment, because Ms. Gracie at her best can write a showstopping romance.
A secondary romance between Laila, the kindly widow, and an ex-patriate Englishman was more interesting, and I wish there had been more time to explore it. The setting, however, was different – hardly any of the book takes place in England, and the combination of Cairo and shipboard was interesting. And the climax, when it comes, is handled well. Where it could have taken the path of utter predictability, Gracie moves the story in a different – and more satisfying – direction.
To Catch a Bride isn’t my favorite by Anne Gracie, but it’s still a good read. If you, like me, have enjoyed this author before then I recommend you pick it up.