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Three moon gifBallantine Books (Paperback), ISBN 0-449-00584-4
Fall in love with a woman who's mute and possibly mentally retarded? Who would tackle such a plot? Mary Jo Putney, of course, who often combines romance with social issues. In The Wild Child, Putney challenges romance conventions by creating Lady Meriel Grahame, a heroine who can't speak and appears mentally retarded.

Book: Mary Jo Putney, The Wild ChildAn orphan and an heiress, Meriel enjoys a protected life at Warfield Park. Hidden from the outside world, Meriel runs free among her flowers and woodlands, living as naturally as the flowers blooming in her lush gardens.

When Dominic Renbourne enters her silent world, he brings with him society's rules and the threat of marriage. Marriage will prune Meriel's freedom as harshly as her shears mold the shrubs in her topiary garden.

Meriel and Dominic's twin brother Kyle were betrothed in childhood. Ten minutes separates Dominic from his twin, making Dominic the spare and Kyle the heir to the vast Wrexham fortune. Since English society scorns those who work, Dominic can't become his brother's steward to manage Kyle's vast estates. After failing or rejecting the acceptable careers left open to the second son of an English aristocrat, Dominic finds success in living profligately beyond his allowance.

Kyle offers Dominic a chance to start over. For a few weeks, Dominic must impersonate his brother, while Kyle handles some pressing personal business. In exchange for the deception, Kyle will deed one of the more prosperous Wrexham properties to Dominic.

Book: Mary Jo Putney, Silk and ShadowsReluctantly, Dominic agrees to impersonate his cold, haughty twin, Lord Maxwell. Deceiving a mentally ill heiress couldn't possibly require much effort. Dominic also must prepare Meriel to accept Kyle as her husband. Since Meriel ignores outsiders, it makes little difference which twin she snubs.

Dominic's presence at Warfield Park grows like a weed that Meriel can't rip out. Meriel uses the pretext of mental illness to guard her freedom and to avoid society. Dominic upsets her routine and threatens her solitude. How can she push this interloper out of her life? Does she truly want to uproot him?

Dominic suffers problems of his own. He didn't foresee this intoxicating fairy-woman burrowing inside his heart. Seducing his brother's future wife will only deepen the estrangement between himself and Kyle. His sense of duty wars against the tempestuous emotions Meriel's wild spirit cultivates.

Mary Jo Putney once again captivates her readers. As Dominic and Meriel fight their way to love, Putney heightens their conflict with terrifying glimpses into the treatments and facilities available to the mentally ill. Putney leads them on an unsettling junket into what 19th century England considered its most "enlightened" care for those in the grip of "melancholia." In The Wild Child, Putney proves that only love -- not wealth -- can protect us from such horrors.

Doris Valliant

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