Cordina’s Crown Jewel
by Nora Roberts
(Silh. Sp. Ed. #1448, $4.50, PG) ISBN 0-373-24450-9
****
It’s a pivotal moment in the life of a romance reviewer. It begins with the arrival of a package of new books. I open it, as always, with anticipation - what surprises are in store this time? Then one name leaps out of the pile.

Nora Roberts.

Gulp. I say a spontaneous prayer to the patron Saint of books. Please don’t let this be the moment Ms. Roberts runs out of gas. If it ever happens, I so do not want to be the messenger. I take my courage, and the book, in both hands.

Princess Camilla of Cordina is a tireless fundraiser and gracious representative of her country. Following a nasty run-in with the paparazzi, however, Camilla realizes that four years of devotion to official duties has left her drained and on the verge of losing control. She has to get away before she falls over the edge, so she cuts her hair, borrows a friend’s rented car, and asks her assistant to give her a few hours’ head start before telling her parents she’s gone.

Ten days into her impromptu road trip, and already feeling like a new woman, Camilla goes off the road in a storm when a deer jumps in front of her car. Fortunately, a few minutes later, a battered truck pulls up and the owner begrudgingly offers her a lift. She’s a bit miffed that he won’t help with her luggage, until she realizes that his arm is in a sling.

Delaney Caine is an archaeologist, home recovering from injuries he sustained in a car accident. It’s a good opportunity to catch up on paperwork, but he’s frustrated by pain and incapacity, and hates being away from the site of his latest dig.

Del takes Camilla to his cabin where they find that the storm has knocked out the power and the phone. He’d like to get rid of her, but there’s no way to do it until the weather improves.

I have a bad moment here, as Camilla makes several really rude remarks about her rescuer’s housekeeping, but she redeems herself by rolling up her sleeves and getting to work. She can cook, too, and cheerfully makes herself useful. While they’re waiting for her car to be fixed, she also helps Del to organize and type his research notes. She finds herself fascinated by his work and oddly attracted to this ornery but obviously intelligent man.

Del knows she’s hiding something, but one thing is perfectly clear. The woman is trouble. And since she’s not exactly hiding her attraction to him, it’s up to him to make sure that nothing happens.

One of the things I like about Nora Roberts’ characters is that they fall in love with each other’s brains, not just their bodies. In order to accomplish this, the characters have to actually have brains; something too many authors forget. Del and Camilla really connect with each other (and, as a result, we connect with them, too). The dialogue is intelligent and entertaining, and sparks fly.

By the way, for most of this book, Del and Camilla are alone together. The story is about them getting to know each other - no dead bodies, terrorists, jewel thieves or spies. Heaven.

Equally important, the characters don’t rush into bed. The sexual tension teases and builds until all of us feel like there better be some consummating quick or somebody’s gonna get hurt.

Del is a nicely complex character. “He was rude, demanding, easily annoyed, impatient. And brilliant, passionate, reluctantly kind.” In other words, he’s interesting and he’s real. Camilla is slightly less complicated, but redeems herself with a healthy dose of self-confidence and a willingness to take the initiative when Del hangs back.

And (one of my personal favorites), they take their senses of humor to bed with them.

My only real complaint is that, after the characters had been so smart and so determined for so much of the book, I thought the crisis was less than convincing.

For the most part, though, this book reminds me of why I enjoy Nora Roberts’ writing and why I’m happy that she continues to find time to write these little category gems.

Whew.

--Judi McKee


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