Wild Heart by Lori Brighton
Ella Finch is not at all pleased when she is tricked into becoming a governess for a fully grown man, but she agrees to it because she is promised a cottage for herself and her friend Fran at the end of six months. Leo Roberts is the heir to an earldom after recently returning to England. He had accompanied his parents on a tour of India and both parents had been killed when some of those they trusted turned on them. Leo and his friend, Ashkay, had hidden in the jungle for several years before Leo had ended up in Italy and learned to paint. Ella quickly discovers that Leo's animal like behavior is an act as when she tries to teach him how to dance and which utensils to use he already knows. Leo's grandfather holds out hope that Leo can be civilized because he responded far more positively to Ella than he had towards any other person. Ella has a "gift" that enables her to feel animals' emotions and also allows her to, in a sense, get in their mind, and influence their thoughts or calm them. Leo is the first person that Ella has been able to use her gift on and she knows that there is a special connection between the two.
Leo is back in England for one purpose only: he wants to find who killed his parents, exact his revenge, and then go back to Italy. Ella is definitely standing in his way and he finds himself desperately wanting this young lady and, despite his actions to the contrary, he does not want to hurt her. Leo and Ella try to repair his damaged reputation but his cousin, Henry, is working very hard to ensure this does not happen by baiting him into acting "uncivilized." But Leo cannot let go of his hatred for those who wronged him and it does not take long for those who hunted him in India to reappear in England. Soon the two of them are racing around the countryside, and back and forth to London, chasing down leads, and trying to discover the truth behind what happened to Leo's parents, and Ella's Uncle, and why it happened. Leo knows that the deaths had to do with a map, but he is unsure what or where this map is, until it is discovered that this map is linked to a statue that gives the possessor/s unlimited power. Leo and Ella are the key to this map/ statue and there are some very dangerous, and very close, people trying to get them to unlock this power- even if it means their deaths.
Ella was not entirely a likable character. There were many instances she tipped precariously close into TSTL land such as when she goes hiking through the forest by herself after someone has tried to kill her and then when she goes to her nasty, mean ex-employer for help. I found Ella's gift absolutely ridiculous. I assume we were supposed to get a sense of how mystical she is and how wonderful she is because all the little creatures in the forest love her. It does impact her interactions with Leo in that there are many times when she feels what he feels (this happens a lot during the steamy scenes), but it just seemed, if not pointless, then absurd. Leo is very attracted to her innocence, her complete naivete and lack of guile, and her big blue eyes that look up at him so attractively. Ella is attracted to Leo's loyalty, but the only loyalty I could find from Leo's character was his slightly crazy loyalty to his dead parents. He certainly doesn't have any loyalty to her as he constantly keeps her off balance, threatens to leave her, and purposely baits her by having her do things she doesn't want to do- like posing nude for a painting by promising he'll participate in lessons. It did not make him very likable either.
It was very difficult to be truly intrigued in a romance between two such dumb characters and it did not help that the main thing they had going for them as far as I could tell was their attraction for the other. Unfortunately they only had sex once and that was not all that steamy either. And of course the revenge/ murder/ attempted murder/ magic statue/ secret power stuff was... interesting. It actually was written very well and certainly did keep me interested and reading, but I was not expecting it at all. I also felt as though the whole thing could have been handled much better, and much faster as the book was over 400 pages, if either Ella or Leo had just had better sense. If Leo could have just pretended to adhere to the rules of English society, or Ella had not been so damn trusting of everybody despite the fact that someone was trying to kill her, it would have been a much better story. The magic/ mystical/ secret power part of the book I really just tried to ignore and push to the back as that sort of thing always takes me out of the story with a little jolt.
Rating: I did not like the characters and that inevitably made the romance very lacking. I did not mind the murder plot although it definitely took over the book and I really did not like that NO mention of it, or the magic/ statue/ secret power stuff, was made on the back blurb.