The Wild Child

By: Mary Jo Putney

Series: Bride Trilogy

Book Number: 1

Star Rating:

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Spoiler Disclaimer


Dominic Renbourne is offered a generous bribe by his identical twin brother, Kyle, to spend a few weeks at Warfield Manor, courting Kyle's betrothed, Meriel. Because she hasn't spoken since childhood, most people believe Meriel to be mentally compromised, so Kyle, who has important business elsewhere, thinks she won't recognize any difference. Although Dominic doesn't entirely feel right about the situation, Kyle's offer is too tempting for a mere second son with limited prospects to pass up. However, Dominic never expected to be immediately entranced by the barefoot beauty who flits through her gardens all day like a fairy nymph but who can also behave like a proper lady when she must. Through patience and perseverance, Dominic earns Meriel's trust, sharing an unbreakable bond with her, while also trying to keep some distance between him and his brother's intended. But soon the seductive pull is more than he can resist and he realizes he's fallen into a forbidden love. He'll do anything to keep the woman he loves safe, but when one of her uncles discovers his deception, he throws Dominic off the estate and has Meriel locked up in an asylum, leaving Dominic racing to find a way to save her from the horrid place and make sure it never happens again.

Lady Meriel Grahame hasn't spoken since witnessing her parents' murder in India many years ago. She was also kidnapped and spent a year in captivity before finally being returned to England where she's the sole heir of her parents' fortune. Her two uncles have been her guardians ever since. One wanted to institutionalize her while the other managed to convince him to allow Meriel to live freely on her mother's estate. There she spends her days cultivating the beautiful gardens and caring for wayward animals, which brings solace to her troubled mind. When Dominic appears, she almost immediately realizes that he isn't Kyle, the man she'd previously met and who is her betrothed. In fact, Dominic is a far different man, one she finds herself extremely drawn to. Having an unconventional upbringing, she's been curious about relations between a man and a woman, so she sets out to seduce Dominic, who proves to be quite stubborn in his gentlemanliness. Once Meriel succeeds, though, he feels honor-bound to marry her, something Meriel doesn't really want, as she values her independence. But when her uncle throws him out and locks her up, she reluctantly discovers that perhaps the only way she'll be safe from such an experience again is to accept the protection of Dominic's name if he can get to her in time.


The Wild Child is the first book in Mary Jo Putney's Bride Trilogy. Dominic has been mostly estranged from his identical twin brother, Kyle, for years, so he's shocked when Kyle shows up at his door, asking for help. Kyle is committed to visiting and courting Meriel, his betrothed, but some other matter, which he won't reveal, has come up, leaving him unable to go. Since Meriel is widely considered to be mad and likely wouldn't even know he's there and the courting simply cannot wait until his other business is finished, Kyle bribes Dominic to pretend to be him and go engage with Meriel until he can return. Dominic doesn't entirely feel right about the situation, but Kyle's offer is one he cannot refuse. He travels to Warfield, the vast estate Meriel inherited from her mother, where he finds a beautiful but mysterious and ethereal young woman who cannot speak and who flits around the gardens barefoot all day. Meriel was traumatized at the tender age of five when her parents were murdered in India and she was kidnapped by the attacking forces of a maharajah. After spending over a year in captivity, she was finally returned to England and placed under the guardianship of her two uncles. She hasn't spoken a word since, leaving most people believing that she's mentally deficient. Through patience and persistence, Dominic slowly gains Meriel's trust and they share many emotional moments of connection. Because she has lived an unconventional life in which she's closely studied flora and fauna, Meriel has a curiosity about a physical union between a man and a woman. Dominic is someone she wants to be with, but he keeps her at arm's length until he can no longer resist the pull between them. Soon he realizes he's done the unthinkable and fallen in love with his brother's intended. However, when one of her uncles discovers the other's scheme to marry her off, he throws Dominic off the estate and locks Meriel up in an asylum, leaving Dominic racing to save her and find a way to protect her from ever being sent to such a horrid place again.

Although inseparable when they were young, Dominic and Kyle's estrangement began when they were sent to different schools as boys. They began to grow apart with Dominic harboring some feelings of resentment for being relegated to second son status simply for being born ten minutes later, and for Kyle trying to tell Dominic how to run his life. They've barely seen each other for the past decade when Kyle comes to Dominic promising to give him a valuable estate in exchange for his help courting Meriel. As someone who's always loved the land and wanted an estate of his own to run instead of his small monthly allowance, it's too good of an offer to pass up. However, from the moment he meets Meriel, he sees something in her that others don't. He recognizes her genius in the flowers and plants she tends in the garden and her kindness and compassion in the animals who've become loyal companions to her. As he patiently pursues her, he comes to realize that despite her lack of speech, she's far from the madwoman others seem to believe she is. She also has a seductive side that is hard for him to resist, but he tries for the sake of his deal with Kyle. Eventually, though, Dominic realizes he's fallen madly in love with Meriel, and tells her the truth of his identity, which doesn't surprise her, as she'd surmised as much. But when the uncle who supports her marrying falls ill and the other one who wants to have her committed hears of the scheme, it places both Meriel and their love in danger.

Dominic is a beta-leaning, cinnamon-roll hero who is nothing but sweet to Meriel. I loved how he saw the best in her and not the worst like most other people. He appreciates her unconventional floral arrangements and connects to her love for animals. He sees all the things about her that everyone else, even the people who support her the most, miss. He was gentle and compassionate with her, just the right person to gain her trust and help her reconnect with the outside world. Dominic may have met Meriel under unusual and less than honest circumstances, but he came clean with her at exactly the right time. He's also smart enough to realize that things aren't going to be easy just because they love each other. He knows that as a younger son with no real money or property of his own that he'll likely be viewed as a fortune hunter who took advantage of Meriel, but he doesn't let it stop him from protecting her the best he can. Dominic is also very understanding of Meriel's desire for independence and gives her assurances that he won't step on her toes if she marries him.

After being traumatized by her childhood experience in India, Meriel hasn't spoken a word. Her paternal uncle would've liked to see her locked up, while her maternal uncle believed that she would do better if she was allowed to live a more normal life. Luckily the latter's opinion prevailed, so Meriel, who as the only daughter of her parents, is a very wealthy heiress, lives on her mother's estate with two elderly widowed cousins who treat her kindly and an Indian bodyguard who came with her to England as a child and is her trusted friend. Warfield has become her sanctuary, and she spends her days there tending the gardens and befriending and caring for the animals. Now that her supportive uncle is aging, he wants to make sure Meriel is properly cared for if anything should happen to him, so he invoked a previous marriage contract with Kyle, wanting him to wed her quickly while her other uncle is out of the country. Meriel had met Kyle when he'd previously made a brief visit and hadn't been impressed with her betrothed. But when a man looking like him returns, she finds herself almost immediately attracted to him. She can read people's auras and senses something different about him. This man actually sees the real her and understands her like no one else does, which only solidifies their bond. Meriel has seen animals mating and is curious about what it would be like for humans, but she's never felt a real desire for that kind of connection until she meets Dominic. She sets about trying to seduce him, but he surprisingly clings to his gentlemanly side for much longer than she would have expected. However, even after he tells her his true identity, she's reluctant to marry him for fear of losing her independence, but she may not have a choice when her uncle tries to commit her.

Meriel is easily one of the most unique and unusual romance heroines I've read. Because she's had no real contact with the outside world and because her cousins mostly leave her be, she harbors an interesting combination of traits. She can play the genteel lady with impeccable manners when she must, but it's exhausting for her. Conversely she doesn't feel at all constricted by the dictates of society, so she runs around barefoot all day, wants to remain an independent woman, and has no moral hang-ups about sex. Dominic shakes up her carefully ordered world, in both good ways and bad. He provides a deep human connection like she's never experienced before and truly understands her. But his presence is, in part, responsible for her being sent to the asylum and having to make difficult choices about whether to risk her independence to marry him for the protection his name can provide. Meriel is just a delightful mixture of sweetness and light combined with strength and resolve that was very endearing.

The third main player in this story is Kyle who has several of his own POV scenes as we follow him on his journey to take care of the matter that is keeping him from courting Meriel and that he won't reveal to Dominic. It would be easy to dislike him if one's view was based simply on his opening scene where he asks for Dominic's help. He has a rather imperious attitude, it appears that he can't even be bothered to get to know his own bride-to-be, and he seems somewhat set on remaining estranged from his brother even though Dominic agrees to help. However, as Kyle's part of the story progresses, we see a man who is deeply in love and at loose ends over the impending death of someone very close to him. We get to see him in the throes of grief and just how tender and loving he can be toward another human being. While I think that his decision to marry Meriel despite not loving her was a bad one and not at all fair to her, I was still much more sympathetic toward Kyle by the end of the story than I thought I'd be, which is good since he's the hero of the next book, The China Bride.

The Mary Jo Putney books I've read so far have been a mixture of ones I thought were merely good and others that I loved, and I'm happy to say that The Wild Child fell into the latter category. Meriel captivated me from her opening scenes and continued to impress me the further I read. She's such an interesting and unique character who grows a great deal throughout the story. Dominic equally enchanted me with his down-to-earth demeanor. Aside from his gentlemanliness when Meriel is trying to seduce him, which I appreciated, he's never stuffy and isn't afraid to get dirty in the garden with her. I just love how he treated her like a whole person right from the start, and as a result, she blossomed under his attentions. Dominic and Meriel were absolutely perfect for one another and I love how they fought for a future together free of society's prejudices. Kyle's part in the story was equally well done, leaving me very interested in reading his book. In some books she has that were passed down through the women in her family, we're also told about Meriel's ancestor who has the same name and that earlier Meriel is the heroine of the book, Uncommon Vows, which is considered by some to be a prequel to this series. As a whole, the characterizations were superb, showcasing all the different facets of the characters and showing them developing well throughout. The story itself was very rare and distinctive to the genre, so that alone kept me engaged and reading. I was even rather morbidly fascinated with the peek inside the horrors of an asylum of the era that the author gives her readers. All the elements simply came together to create a fantastic read that I thoroughly enjoyed.


Mary Jo Putney


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