October 1962. In Cuba: Soviet ships off-load what intelligence reveals to be nuclear missiles. In Washington, President Kennedy and his advisers are in furious debate over how long they can wait to discover what the Soviets intend before dropping the first bomb. And, in Ithaca, New York, Margo Jensen-a nineteen-year-old Cornell sophomore-is swept up in a "bizarre concatenation of circumstances" that will make of her the "back channel" liaison between Soviet Premier Khrushchev and Kennedy. Events unfold too quickly for her even to ask "why me?" But the stunning answer is revealed bit by bit as she races from Ithaca to Bulgaria to Washington, D.C., drawn ever more deeply into the crossfire-figurative and literal-of infighting between governmental agencies, both American and Soviet; into the confidence and-unsettlingly-the affection of the president of the United States; into desperate negotiations to avoid nuclear war; and, finally, into the secrets of the extraordinary legacy-of honor and bravery-she inherited from the father she never knew.