New York Times Bestselling Author
A breathtakingly poignant novel of suspense about a woman who must face a past she'd rather forget in order to uncover a dangerous legacy that threatens her future.
Ten years ago, U.S. State Department intelligence officer Jordan Weiss’s idyllic experience as a graduate student at Cambridge was shattered when her boyfriend Jared drowned in the River Cam. She swore she’d never go back—until a terminally ill friend asks her to return. Jordan attempts to settle into her new life, taking on an urgent mission beside rakish agent Sebastian Hodges. Just when she thinks there’s hope for a fresh start, a former college classmate tells her that Jared’s death was not an accident—he was murdered.
Jordan quickly learns that Jared’s research into World War II had uncovered a shameful secret, but powerful forces with everything to lose will stop at nothing to keep the past buried. Soon, Jordan finds herself in grave peril as she struggles to find the answers that lie treacherously close to home, the truth that threatens to change her life forever, and the love that makes it all worth fighting for. Fast-paced and impossible to put down, Almost Home establishes Pam Jenoff as one of the best new writers in the genre.
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Pam Jenoff is the author of several novels, including the international bestseller The Kommandant's Girl, which also earned her a Quill Award nomination. Pam lives with her husband and three children near Philadelphia where, in addition to writing, she teaches law school.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
I barrel through the double doors and across the lobby of the State Department, bypassing the metal detector and waving my plastic identification badge at the guard, who nods in recognition. My heels echo off the marble floor as I race down the corridor past the row of brightly colored flags, the tall glass windows revealing smokers huddled under umbrellas in the courtyard. A display of student artwork left over from Black History Month decorates the otherwise drab white walls.
I reach the elevators and press the up button. In an office across the hall, two jacketless, gray-haired men wearing identical brown ties lean over a cubicle divider discussing Cuba, their voices dispassionate and unhurried. A dying fluorescent lightbulb flickers angrily in the ceiling fixture above them. I turn back and press the button several more times, tapping my foot. The smell of scorched coffee, an empty pot left too long on the burner, hangs in the air. The door creaks open and I leap into the elevator, swiping my badge in front of the access scanner before pressing the button. Don't stop, I pray, leaning sideways against the faux wood paneling and watching the numbers light up as the elevator slowly rises.
A minute later, the door opens. I step out, then pause, momentarily forgetting my haste. August and imposing, the executive floor is worlds away from the bureaucratic lethargy below. Oil paintings of every secretary of state since Jefferson line the tastefully lit beige walls, staring down at me sternly, reminding me to stand straight. Large potted plants sit to either side of the elevator bank.
Steeling myself for the conversation I am about to have, I turn away from the closed double doors that lead to the Secretary's office, following the chronological progression of gold-framed portraits down the navy-carpeted hallway. At John Calhoun, I stop and adjust my collar before turning the knob of a familiar, broad oak door.
"Hello, Patty," I say, entering the office and passing through the reception area before the stout, auburn-haired secretary can try to stop me. I knock twice on an unmarked door at the far end of the room, then open it without waiting.
"I want London," I announce.
Behind the massive oak desk, Paul Van Antwerpen looks up from the cable he was reading and blinks once behind his glasses.
"Oh?" he replies, raising his eyebrows and running his hand through his thinning hair.
I hesitate. For the normally impassive Van Antwerpen, this is quite a reaction. He is surprised, I can tell, by the abruptness of my entrance as well as the nature of my request. The senior director of intelligence operations is a formal man; one schedules appointments to see him and does so sparingly.
"Yes," I croak at last.
He gestures with his head to the two chairs opposite his desk. "Sit down."
I perch on the chair closest to the door. The office is immaculate as always, the desk bare except for a few tidy stacks of documents, the walls adorned only by the obligatory photographs of the President and Secretary of State. On the matching credenza behind his desk sits a telephone with direct lines to the Secretary and the National Security Advisor. Encrypted text, providing real-timeupdates on intelligence situations worldwide, scrolls down a computer screen.
I smooth my skirt. "Sir, I know we had an agreement..."
"Have an agreement," he corrects. "One year."
"Yes." A year hadn't sounded that bad when the Director proposed it. Of course I was in the hospital at the time, two days out of Liberia, ten hours out of surgery, and so high on painkillers I scarcely remember his visit. Now, eight months later, a year seems like an eternity, indentured servitude. Not that working for the Director is exactly punishment; as his liaison to the National Security Council, I've spent my days shuttling between meetings at Foggy Bottom and the White House. I've gained a view of foreign policy at the highest levels of government, and I've seen things most people could not imagine in a lifetime. But I have to get out of here now.
And he's going to say no.
The Director, one of the only people who can still get away with smoking in the building, reaches for the humidor that sits on the far right corner of his desk. I fight the urge to grimace as he clips the end of a cigar and lights it.
"Don't get me wrong," he says at last, puffing a cloud of smoke away from me. "I didn't really think I would be able to keep you here a full year. I've had five calls about you in the last month alone. Karachi, Jakarta, Montenegro, Lagos, Bogota, all of the garden spots."
I smile inwardly. "Garden spots" is a facetious term diplomats used to describe the real hardship posts. Those are the most interesting assignments and until now, I always sought them out, proud to say I had never been stationed in a place where one could actually drink the tap water.
"And now you're asking me," he pauses, "for London...? " He sets the cigar in an empty glass ashtray behind one of the stacks, then pulls a file with my name typed across the top from his desk drawer. My stomach twitches. I didn'tknow he kept a dossier on me. "You've turned down London two, no, three times before. You don't even like changing planes there." He sets the file down, eyes me levelly. "So what gives?"
I avert my gaze, staring over Van Antwerpen's shoulder and out the window behind his desk. To the far left, I can just make out the Washington Monument in the distance, the pale stone obelisk muted against the gray sky. I swallow hard and shift in my seat. "It's personal."
I watch him hesitate, uncertain how to respond. Normally, such an explanation would be unacceptable. As intelligence officers, we are trained to separate our work and personal lives, almost to the point of forgoing the latter. But I've earned my stripes, spent nearly the past ten years putting my life on the line. He'll feel that he owes me this much. He has to feel that way; I am counting on it.
"If you'd prefer, I can take a leave of absence..." I begin, but the Director waves his hand.
"No, they'd kill me if I let you do that. You can have London. Martindale," he pronounces the name as though it hurts his throat, "will be glad to have you. She tried to steal you away from me months ago."
I smile, picturing Maureen Martindale, the vivacious, red-haired deputy chief of mission in London and Van Antwerpen's longtime rival. I haven't seen Mo in three years, not since we worked together in San Salvador. My next move would have been to call her, if the Director refused my request. He closes the file. "We're all set then. Just give me a few weeks to get the paperwork in order."
I take a deep breath. "I'm sorry, sir, that won't work. I need to get over there immediately. Tonight, if possible. Tomorrow at the latest." I know that I am pushing the envelope, risking his wrath by asking too much. "I'll buy my own plane ticket and use vacation time until the paperwork comes through. If it's a question of my projects here, I'll finish up remotely, help find my replacement..." The desperation in my voice grows.
Van Antwerpen is staring at me now, eyes skeptical. "What's wrong, Weiss?"
I hesitate. It is a question I no longer know how to answer. "Nothing, sir," I lie at last.
"If you say so." I can tell from his tone that he does not believe me, but I know he will not pry further. Paul Van Antwerpen is an extraordinarily distant man. In the years I have worked for him, I've never learned where he is from or whether he even has a family, and he affords his officers the same kind of privacy. His standoffish nature bothered me in the early years when I mistook it for disapproval. Now I just accept it as part of who he is, like the Coke-bottle glasses and the cigars. He stands up, extending his hand. "Good luck, Weiss. Whatever it is, I hope it works out."
So do I. "Thank you, sir."
Two hours later, I climb into the back of a battered navy blue taxi. "Arlington, please. Columbia Pike," I request, pulling the door closed behind me. The taxi driver grunts and veers the car away from the curb onto the rain-soaked street. Garbled Indian music plays over the radio. I slump back against the torn vinyl seat, exhausted. The reality of what I've done crashes down on me like a wave.
The cab lurches to a sudden stop as the traffic light at Virginia Avenue turns from yellow to red, sending the small cardboard box of personal belongings I was balancing on my knees to the floor. I bend to pick up the contents. Not much to it: a "Solidarity" coffee mug given to me by Kasia, one of our Foreign Service nationals in Warsaw, as a going-away present; a few reports that I need to finish up in London that I cannot entrust to the diplomatic pouch; a wood-framedpicture of my parents. I lift the photograph from the box, studying it. They are standing by the old maple tree in the backyard of our home in Vermont with identical burgundy wool sweaters tossed over their shoulders, looking like they stepped out of a J.Crew catalog. I run my finger over the glass. My mother's hair, dark and curly like mine, is streaked with more gray than I remember. There won't be time to see them before I leave. I know, though, that they have come to accept my abrupt, unannounced departures, the weeks and sometimes months without communication that my work necessitates. They will understand, or pretend to anyway, I think, gratitude mixing with guilt. They deserve grandchildren, or at least a daughter who calls before moving out of the country.
As the taxi climbs the Roosevelt Bridge toward Arlington, I sit back and reach into my coat pocket for my cell phone. For a moment I consider following protocol for once and going through the State Department travel office for my plane ticket. Then, deciding against it, I dial zero. "British Airways," I request. The operator promptly transfers me to a prerecorded message of a woman's voice with an English accent asking me to hold for the next available representative, followed by a Muzak version of Chopin's Polonaise.
On hold, I lean sideways and press my forehead against the cool glass window, st...
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