Portia "Pip" Merriem has a dream to visit Egypt. But young gentlewomen of her time, the early 1800s, did not travel alone to such far off places. But now Pip is in her late twenties and has found another young woman who is willing to travel with her and together they are off to explore the exotic sights of a far away land: Egypt!
Things don't go as Pip had hoped. Turns out the traveling companion has a huge secret --- she is pregnant. And unwed. She hid her condition from Pip until they arrived in Egypt.
Things go from bad to worse when the woman dies while giving birth, leaving Pip with a newborn baby boy. Pip is baffled as to what to do next. It would be unthinkable to leave the baby behind in Egypt. It would also be unacceptable to Pip to give the baby to strangers. But if she returns home with a baby in her arms, everyone will think the worst and dismiss as a lie that the baby's real mother died.
Fortunately, an old friend from childhood, John Henry Lovell, is also in Egypt and he saves the day by volunteering to marry Pip and raise the baby as his own son. Perhaps the fact that he has been carrying a torch for Pip since they were teens might have something to do with it. But his love was unrequited and Pip feels trapped by the circumstances. She does agree to marry him and pass the baby off as their own child. Pip believes that John Henry, who comes from a more humble background than her, is marrying her to improve his own social standing. Little does she know that John Henry is now Sir John Henry Lovell, knight of the realm, and a very wealthy man, who needs neither her money, her social standing nor her connections, having done very well for himself on his own. And so they return home, wed but with no bliss. John Henry, determined to prove himself to his new bride, has hidden his improved standing and finances from Pip. And Pip is eaten up with resentment to John Henry for taking advantage of her difficulties to trap her in marriage. Looks like they are off to a very rocky start.
This was a pretty good read. I didn't really understand John Henry's motive for keeping his success a secret from Pip. Mainly it was just to add tension to the story, I guess. Seemed kind of silly and pointless. Also, after returning to England, Pip doesn't share the truth with her mother and stepfather, keeping the baby's origin secret for some reason that didn't make any more sense to me than John Henry keeping his secrets from Pip. More plot devices, I suppose.
Another thing I found more than a little odd was the rather graphic sex scenes juxtaposed with the pious, prayerful scenes. Not being a religious person myself, I wonder if readers who appreciate the piety would also care to read what is virtually porn:
Pip spread her legs beneath him, urging him to come into her, her small hand reaching for his engorged shaft, guiding it to her entrance.
I guess it's not porn if you say shaft instead of penis and entrance instead of vagina.
Porn aside and contrived plot twists aside, it was a pretty good story and I enjoyed it quite a bit.