The Wild Child
by Mary Jo Putney, historical (1999)
Ballantine, $6.99, ISBN 0-449-00584-4

Gosh, it's been ages since Mary Jo Putney released a new historical romance (rewriting of Regencies doesn't count). When the international paperback edition of The Wild Child hits the bookstores, I'm the first in line to grab a copy. I'm somewhat disappointed by The Wild Child - it doesn't have the emotional intensity I associate with stories by this author. But beautiful writing and a hero to-die-for makes this book far better than many books out there on the romance shelves.

Meriel Grahame is thought by everyone to be simple-minded. She hasn't spoken a word since her parents died in a fire in India when she was a child. She has been held captive by a native tribe - who knows what horrors the poor dear has suffered. Now she may be a beautiful woman, but she spends her time playing in the gardens of Warfield Manor, befriending the little birdies and squirrels.

Meriel, however, is betrothed to Lord Kyle Renbourne. Kyle, however, coerces his twin brother Dominic to pose as he to test the waters, so to speak. Dom would find out if Meriel is really the loony rumors portray her to be. Dom may have a mistress, but he falls for Meriel the moment he sees her.

Now, it is not easy to write a story with a heroine who "sees the world through the eyes of a child", to use a shopworn nauseous phrase popular among back-to-innocence advocaters. The last book with a "simple" heroine I read, Annie's Song by Catherine Anderson gives me the creeps because the hero lusts after the heroine all the while comparing her to an innocent little girl. Ugh. But Miss Putney succeeds in showing me that yes, while Meriel and the phrases innocent, guileless, and pure go hand in hand too much for my liking, Dom does see her as a woman and not as some child-like girl to play perverted games with.

And Dom, what a wonderful man! His increasingly tormented desires between repairing the rift with his estranged twin brother and Meriel, dear Meriel, makes me sigh and my eyes grow misty. He is the perfect gentle soul with shoulders strong enough to bear one's burdens. I still get the shivers whenever I recall how he slowly coaxes Meriel back to life.

But Meriel - eeek. I am sure I will adore her, for I love animals and have been told more than once that I daydream too much. But that woman is irritating, and her motives for her increasingly silly antics as the story progresses can make for some trying reading.

Still, Dom and the wonderful secondary characters - Meriel's family - make up for that female Sylvester the Cat's antics. Even Kyle, who could've been the stereotypical Bad Brother, has a secret that will make him a potential tortured and fabulous hero in his own story. Miss Putney creates wonderful characters so real and likeable that I would love to invite them all to tea and chat about life. And that is why her stories are always - okay, most of the time - a pleasure.

I'd leave Meriel out of the invitation though. Too bad really. She spoiled what could have been a grand keeper. She's lucky Dom's a very patient and gentle hunk.

Rating: 85

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