THE RELUCTANT RULER
Alexandra Jordan was hardly thrilled to be appointed leader of her late grandfather's ancient Russian tribe, but she had to help her people, who were long on troubles and short on everything else, especially weapons -- and men! So when Omega Agent Nate Sloan showed up, allegedly to deliver a champion stallion, Alexandra couldn't help but be suspicious - even though she was as aware of his charms as any of her love-starved tribe mates...
Nate was after Alexandra, all right -- for the crucial nuclear coding device she had in her possession. But as the Wyoming rancher-turned-agent found himself increasingly mesmerized by Alexandra, he began to wonder if the key to her people's future was all she held in her delicate hands...
Very good story, especially for a twenty year old book. It has the tension of the political aspects of the time, the romance of the two lead characters, and some funny occurrences to help break up the tension. It starts with Alexandra being called to her estranged grandfather's deathbed, to find out that he expects her to take over leadership of his tiny tribe. Half American, Alex has a growing career of her own as a fashion designer and feels vastly unqualified to take on their trouble, but there is no one else.
Nate is a former Air Force pilot, a rancher and a part-time agent for OMEGA. Because of his ability with horses, he is tagged with delivering a champion horse to the tribe and trying to locate a missing nuclear coding device before it falls into the wrong hands. The Karistani people are sitting on top of several formerly Soviet nuclear missile silos that need to be neutralized.
It was really easy for me to get invested in the story as I am old enough to remember the tensions of the time. Nate and his fellow agents are truly worried about what could happen with those missiles, especially considering the tensions between Karistan and its neighbor Balminsk, and Nate will do whatever he must to stop it from happening. Alex looks at that little black box as her bargaining chip, the key to helping her people recover from years of war. She wants to keep it hidden until she knows the best way to use it. Also involved in the story are Nate's coworker Maggie, who goes undercover on the inspection team in Balminsk, and the young and brilliant scientist who heads the team.
Nate and Alex struck sparks off each other from the moment they met. It was interesting to see Nate's American cowboy persona try to deal with Alex's Karistani attitudes. She may have spent most of her time in America, but her Karistani heritage is a big part of who she is. Nate is secure enough in his manhood not to be intimidated by Alex's treatment of him. In reality, it intrigues him and adds to his attraction to her. In fact, he doesn't hesitate to use it to rile her up. I loved seeing him get to know her and see and understand the strain she is under. Alex fights her attraction to him for as long as she can, not wanting to be distracted by the good looking cowboy. I liked seeing her begin to trust him and open up to him a little bit about her problems. Alex is conflicted over what she sees as her duty and what she would rather be doing. There were some fun "get to know you" scenes. When their attraction got to the point where they gave in to it, things really heated up fast. Things were looking good between them when his real reason for being there came out. Alex had to deal with her feelings of betrayal at the same time as a crisis, and face her feelings quickly and honestly. Once it was all over, I loved Nate's big moment. It was impressively romantic and perfect for Alex. She was also able to settle her leadership problems in a way I didn't see coming.
I really enjoyed the suspense of the story. Though Alex was the one in possession of the device, it seemed that more of the action was on the other side of the border. I loved seeing Maggie's transformation and seeing her deal with Richard and his awkwardness. Their arrival in Balminsk definitely showed what they were up against. As tensions increased, Maggie found a unique way to buy them some time, though it later caused her some problems. The final confrontation was nerve wracking, with a surprise player having a huge effect. I loved the post confrontation negotiations - they may not have been particularly realistic, but they were great anyway. The follow up when they returned to the US was fun, especially the parts with Adam and Maggie. I really want to read their story.