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Read an extract from The Awakening by Nora Roberts


The Awakening packshot





Sitting on a bus that seemed to have a bad case of the hiccups, Breen Kelly rubbed at the drumming ache in her temple.

She’d had a bad day that came at the end (thank God!) of a bad week that had spilled out from a bad month.

Or two.

She told herself to cheer up. It was Friday, and that meant two whole days before she’d be back in the classroom struggling to teach language arts to middle schoolers.

Of course, she’d spend a chunk of those two days grading papers, doing lesson plans, but she wouldn’t be in the classroom with all those eyes on her. Some bored, some manic, a few hopeful.

No, she wouldn’t stand there feeling as inadequate and out of place as any pubescent student who’d rather be anywhere else in the universe than the classroom.

She reminded herself teaching was the most honorable of professions. Rewarding, meaningful, vital.

Too bad she sucked at it.

The bus hiccupped to the next stop. A few people got off; a few people got on.

She observed. She was good at observing because it was so much easier than participating.

The woman in the gray pantsuit, phone in hand, frazzled eyes. Single mother heading home after work, checking on her kids, Breen decided. She probably never imagined her life would be so hard.

Now, a couple of teenage boys—high-tops, knee-length Adidas shorts, earbuds. Going to meet some pals, play some H-O-R-S-E, grab some pizza, catch a flick. An age, Breen thought, an enviable age, when a weekend meant nothing but fun.

The man in black, he . . . He looked right at her, looked deep, so she cut her eyes away. He looked familiar. Why did he look familiar? The silver hair, the mane of it, made her think: college professor.

But no, that wasn’t it. A college professor getting on the bus wouldn’t make her mouth go dry or her heart hammer. She had a terrible fear he’d walk back, sit next to her.

If he did, she’d never get off the bus. She’d just keep riding, riding, going nowhere, getting nowhere, a continual loop of nothing.

She knew it was crazy, didn’t care. She surged to her feet, rushed toward the front of the bus with her briefcase slapping against her hip. She didn’t look at him—didn’t dare—but had to brush by him to make the doors. Though he stepped to the side, she felt that her arm bumped his as she passed.

Her lungs shut down; her legs went weak. Someone asked if she was all right as she stumbled toward the doors. But she heard him, inside her head: Come home, Breen Siobhan. It’s time you came home.

She gripped the bar to keep her balance, nearly tripped on the steps. And ran.

She felt people look at her, turn their heads, stare, and wonder. That only made it worse. She hated to draw attention, tried so hard to blend, to just fade.

The bus hiccupped by.

Though her breath whistled in and out, the pressure on her chest eased. She ordered herself to slow down, just slow down and walk like a normal person.

It took her a minute to manage it, and another to orient herself.

She hadn’t had an anxiety attack that severe since the night before her first day in the classroom at Grady Middle. Marco, her best friend since kindergarten, had gotten her through that, and through the one—not quite as bad—before her first parent/teacher conference.

Just a man catching the bus, she told herself. No threat, for God’s sake. And she hadn’t heard him inside her head. Believing you heard other people’s thoughts equaled crazy.

Hadn’t her mother drummed that into her head since . . . always?

And now, because she’d had a moment of crazy, she had a solid half-mile walk. But that was fine, that was all right. It was a pretty spring evening, and she was—naturally— dressed correctly. The light raincoat—there’d been a 30 percent chance of rain—over the spring sweater, the sensible shoes.

She liked to walk. And hey, think of all the extra steps on her Fitbit.

So it messed up her schedule a little, what did it matter?

She was a twenty-six-year-old single female, and had absolutely no plans for a Friday night in May.

And if that wasn’t depressing enough, the anxiety attack worsened her headache.

She unzipped a section of her briefcase, took out a little pouch, and picked two Tylenol out of it. She downed them with water from the bottle in her briefcase.

She’d walk to her mother’s, pick up and sort the mail—as her mother refused to have the post office hold it when she was out of town—shred the junk mail, put bills, correspondence, and so on in the correct trays in her mother’s home office.

Open the windows to air out the duplex, water the plants—house and patio, as it hadn’t rained after all.

Close the windows after one hour, set the alarm, lock the doors. Catch the next bus and go home.

Toss dinner together: Friday night meant a salad topped with a grilled chicken breast, and—yes!—a glass of wine. Grade papers—post grades.

Sometimes she hated technology because school policy demanded she post those grades—then deal with students or parents who objected to same.

She walked, ticking off items on her list while people around her headed toward happy hour or an early dinner, or anywhere more interesting than her own destination.

She didn’t envy them—too much. She’d actually had a boyfriend, had worked dinner dates, theater dates, movie dates into her schedule. Sex, too. She’d thought it had all gone well, smooth and steady.

Until he dumped her.

That was fine, she thought. That was all right. It wasn’t as if they’d been madly in love. But she’d liked him, felt comfortable with him. And she’d thought the sex had been pretty good.

Of course when she’d had to tell her mother Grant wouldn’t escort her to her mother’s forty-sixth birthday party, and why, the stylish, successful Jennifer Wilcox, Philly Brand advertising agency’s media director, had rolled her eyes.

And done the expected “I told you so.”

Hard to argue as, well, she had.

Still, Breen had wanted to lash back.

You got married at nineteen! You had me when you were twenty. And less than a dozen years later you pushed and pushed and pushed him out. Whose fault is it he walked away from me—not just you, but me?

Was it her own? Breen wondered. Wasn’t she the common denominator with a mother who didn’t respect her and a father who hadn’t cared enough to stay in her life?

Even after he’d promised.

Old business, she told herself. Put it away.

She spent too much time in her head, she admitted, and felt relieved to find herself a block away from her mother’s town house.

A pretty, tree-lined neighborhood. A successful neighborhood, one populated by successful people, businesspeople, couples who enjoyed urban living, close access to good bars and restaurants, interesting shops.

All those rosy redbrick buildings, the perfectly painted trim, the sparkling windows. Here people jogged or hit the gym before work, walked along the river, had elegant dinner parties, wine tastings, read important books.

Or so she imagined.

Her best memories bloomed from a tiny house where her bedroom had a slanted ceiling. An old brick fireplace in the living room—not gas or electric, but wood-burning. Where the backyard was as full of adventure as the stories her father told her before bed at night.

Magical stories of magical places.

The arguments had spoiled it—the ones she heard through the walls, the ones she heard inside her head.

Then he’d gone away. At first just for a week or two, and he’d take her to the zoo—she’d been desperate to be a vet back then—or on a picnic on his Saturday visit.

Then he simply hadn’t come back.

More than fifteen years now, and she still hoped he would.

She took the key out of her change purse, a key given to her with a detailed list of instructions three weeks before, when her mother had left for one of her business trips followed by a restorative spa/meditative retreat.

She’d leave the key, along with a quart of milk and the other groceries on the list, after she picked up the mail the following Wednesday, as her mother returned Thursday morning.

She retrieved the mail from the box, tucked it under her arm before she unlocked the door, stepped into the foyer to deactivate the alarm. Closed the door, put the key back into her change purse.

She went back to the kitchen first, an HGTV contemporary marvel of stainless steel, white cabinets, white subway tile, farm sink, and walls the color of putty.

She dumped her bag, the mail on the central island, hung her raincoat over a backless stool. After setting her timer for an hour, she began opening windows.

Through the kitchen and great room, back to the living area—all open concept with glorious and gorgeous wide-planked flooring. Since the powder room had a window, she opened that, too.

Barely a breeze to stir the air, but the chore was on her list, and Breen followed the rules. Retrieve the mail to take upstairs. In the third bedroom, one her mother had redesigned into her office, she set the mail on the L-shaped counter that served as a workstation.

Café au lait–toned walls here, and chocolate leather for the desk chair. Ruthlessly organized shelves held awards—her mother had garnered quite a few—books, all work-related, and some framed photos, also work-related.

Breen opened the trio of windows behind the workstation and wondered, as she always did, why anyone would put their back to that view. All the trees, the brick buildings, the sky, the world.

Distractions, Jennifer told her when she’d asked. Work is work.

She opened the two side windows as well, the ones flanking a—locked— wooden filing cabinet. Wide windowsills held thriving green plants in copper pots. She’d water those and the rest after she opened the other windows. Then she’d sort the mail, and wait out the timer. Close all the windows again, lock up, be done.

She opened them in the perfect, welcoming guest room—where she had never slept—in the guest bath, in the simple elegance of the master and its en suite.

She wondered if her mother ever took a man to that lovely bed with its summer-blue duvet and plumped pillows.

And immediately wished she hadn’t wondered.

She went back downstairs, started for the patio door, then backtracked as the phone in her bag rang.

She glanced at the readout—never answer unless you know who was calling—and smiled. If anyone could make this crappy day a little better, it was Marco Olsen.


“Hi your own self. It’s Friday, girl.”

“I heard that.” She took the phone outside to the patio, with its stainless-steel table and chairs and the tall, slim pots on the corners.

“Then get your well-toned ass down to Sally’s. It’s happy hour, baby, and the first round’s on the house.”

“Can’t.” She turned on the hose, began to water the first of the pots. “I’m at my mother’s dealing with all that, then I have papers to grade.”

“It’s Friday,” he repeated. “Shake it loose. I’m on the bar till two, and it’s Sing-Out night.”

The one thing she could do in public without anxiety—especially after a drink and with Marco—was sing.

“I’ve got another”—she checked the timer on her wrist—“forty-three minutes here, and those papers won’t grade themselves.”

“Grade ’em Sunday. You’ve had the brood on, Breen, and that Grant ‘Asshole’ Webber’s not worth it.”

“Oh, it’s not just that—him. I’m in, you know, a kind of slump, that’s all.”
“Everybody gets dumped.”

“You haven’t.”

“Have, too. What about Smoking Harry?”

“You and Harry decided, mutually, your relationship in that area had run its course, and are still friends. That’s not getting dumped.”

She moved on to the next pot.

“You need some fun. If you’re not here in—I’m giving you three hours so you can go home and change, put some sexy on your face—I’m coming to get you.”

“You’re working the bar.”

“Sally loves you, girl. He’ll come with me.”

She loved Sally, drag queen extraordinaire, right back. She loved the club where she felt happy, loved the Gayborhood. Which was why she lived in the heart of it in an apartment with Marco.

“Let me get done here, then see how I feel when I get home. I’ve had a headache for the last couple hours—not making that up—and I had a stupid anxiety attack on the bus here that made it worse.”

“I’m coming to pick you up, take you home.”

“You are not.” She moved on to the third pot. “I took Tylenol, and it’s going to kick in.”

“What happened on the bus?”

“I’ll tell you later—it was just stupid. And you may be right—I could use a drink, some Marco, some Sally’s. Let me see how I feel when I get home.”

“You text me when you get there.”

“Fine, now go back to work. I’ve got one more pot out here, the plants inside, the stupid mail, and the damn windows.”

“You oughta say no sometime.”

“It’s not that big a deal. I’ll be done in under an hour, catch the bus home. I’ll text you. Go pour some drinks. Bye.”

She went inside, carefully locked the patio door before she filled the watering can to deal with the inside plants.

A breeze kicked up, had her standing by the window, eyes shut, letting it blow over her.

Maybe it would rain after all, a nice, steady spring rain. It kicked up harder, surprising her because the sun continued to beam through the glass.

“Maybe we’re in for a storm.”

She wouldn’t mind that either. A storm might blow the damn headache away. And since Marco had given her three hours when two would do, she could spend that hour starting on the papers.

Less guilt that way.

Carrying the watering can, she started back upstairs while the wind—it had graduated from breeze—sent the window treatments flying.

“Well, Mom, your house is definitely getting aired out.”

She walked into the office, and into chaos.

The bottom filing cabinet drawer hung open—she’d have sworn it was locked. Papers winged around the room like birds.

Setting the watering can down, she rushed to grab at them, scoop them off the floor, snatch them from the air as the wind whirled.

Then died, like a door had slammed shut while she stood with her hands full of paperwork.

The ever-efficient Jennifer would be seriously displeased.

“Put it back, put it all back, tidy it all up. She’ll never know. And there goes my extra hour.

“Sorry, Marco, no Sally’s for me tonight.”

She picked up empty file folders, scads of paper, and sat at her mother’s workstation to try to sort them out.

The first file’s label puzzled her.


She didn’t have any investments, was still paying off her student loans for her master’s, and shared the apartment with Marco not just for the company, but to make the rent. Baffled, she picked up another folder.


Another listed the information with the addition of: CORRESPONDENCE.

Had her mother started some sort of investment account for her, and not told her? Why?

She’d had a small college fund from her maternal grandparents, and had been grateful, as it helped her get through the first year. But after that, her mother made it clear she’d be on her own.

You have to earn your own way, Jennifer told her—repeatedly. Study harder, work harder if you ever want to be more than adequate.

Well, she’d studied in between two part-time jobs to manage the tuition. Then took out the loans she figured she’d be paying off this end of forever.

And she’d graduated—adequately—landed an adequate teaching job, then added to the debt because she’d needed that master’s degree to hold on to it.

But there were investments in her name? Didn’t make any sense.

She started to sort through the papers, intending to make stacks that applied to each folder.

She didn’t get far.

While she couldn’t claim to know or understand much about investments or stocks or dividends, she could read numbers just fine. And the monthly report—as it clearly stated—for May of 2014, when she’d been struggling to make ends meet, working those two jobs and eating ramen noodles, listed the bottom line in the account as over nine hundred thousand—thousand—dollars.

“Not possible,” she murmured. “Just not possible.”

But the name on the account was hers—with her mother’s name listed as well.

She pawed through others, found a consistency of a monthly deposit from the Bank of Ireland.

She pushed away from the workstation, walked blindly toward the windows as she yanked out the tie holding her hair back.

Her father. Her father had sent her money every month. Did he think that balanced just leaving her? Never calling or writing or coming to see her?

“It doesn’t, it doesn’t, it doesn’t. But . . .”

Her mother knew and hadn’t told her. Knew and let her think he’d simply vanished, stopped paying child support, left them both without a thought.

And he hadn’t.

She had to wait until her hands stopped shaking, her eyes stopped burning.

Then she went back to the workstation, organized the papers, read through the correspondence, studied the latest monthly report. The resentment, the grief coalesced into a low and steady burn of fury. Taking out her phone, she called the number for the account manager.

“Benton Ellsworth.”

“Yes, Mr. Ellsworth, this is Breen Kelly. I—”

“Ms. Kelly! What a surprise. It’s so nice to actually speak with you. I hope your mother is well.”

“I’m sure she is. Mr. Ellsworth, I’ve just become aware that I have an account with your firm with funds and investments totaling three million, eight hundred and fifty-three thousand, eight hundred and twelve dollars and, um, sixty-five cents. Is this correct?”

“I can get you the account value as of today, but I’m not sure what you mean you’ve become aware.”

“Is this my money?”

“Yes, of course. I—”

“Why is my mother’s name also on the account?”

“Ms. Kelly.” He spoke slowly. “The account was opened when you were a minor, and you expressed the wish to leave the account in your mother’s hands. I can promise you, she’s been scrupulous in overseeing your investments.”

“How did I express this wish?”

“Ms. Wilcox explained that you had no desire to deal with the investments, and you never communicated with me or the firm to request the account be turned over to you exclusively.”

“Because I didn’t know it existed until today.”

“I’m sure there’s a misunderstanding. It might be best if I met with you and your mother to sort this out.”

“My mother is out of town, currently at a retreat where she has no access to phone or internet.” And some god somewhere had been looking out for her, Breen thought. “But I think you and I should sort this out.”

“I agree, absolutely. My assistant’s gone for the day, but I can set up an appointment for Monday.”

No, no, she’d lose her courage over the weekend. It would drain. It always did. “How about now?”

“Ms. Kelly, I was on the point of leaving the office myself when I took your call.”

“I’m sorry to inconvenience you, but I think this is urgent. I know it is for me. I want to talk to you, get a better understanding of this . . . situation before I contact a lawyer.”

In the silence, Breen squeezed her eyes shut. Please, she thought, please, don’t make me wait.

“It might be better if we met now, talked this all through. I’m sure, as I said, this is just a misunderstanding. I’ve been told you don’t drive, so—”

“I don’t have a car,” she corrected, “because I can’t afford one. But I’m perfectly capable of getting to your office. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

“I’ll meet you downstairs, in the lobby. We’re a small firm, Ms. Kelly. Most will have gone for the weekend before you get here.”

“All right. Thank you.”

She hung up before he could change his mind, and sat—shaking again.

“Get your guts up, Breen. Get your stupid guts up, and go.”

She put all the papers she’d stacked in their appropriate files. She left the watering can, left the file drawer open, and went downstairs. She thought of the bus, how long it would take her to get to the offices in City Center.

Then she did something she’d never done.

She took an Uber.

Traffic was horrible. But then again, it was Friday rush hour. The Uber driver, a woman about her age, chatted, then stopped when Breen just put her head back and closed her eyes.

She wanted to read through the files again, but she’d get carsick. Not a good way to meet the man who was, apparently, her investment broker for the first time.

She needed a plan, but couldn’t think through the distress, the anger. Her schedule for the weekend included—or had—sitting down to pay bills, juggle funds, squeeze them. She’d planned that sad chore for after her workout. At home, as she couldn’t afford a gym membership.

Not just couldn’t afford, she admitted, but felt weird and uncomfortable working out with other people around.

Whatever came of this meeting, she still had bills to pay.

She opened her eyes to see they’d broken out of the worst of the traffic and made some progress along the river. The sun, dipping down in the west, still beamed, hit the bridges, the water, made it all shine to her eyes. No rain after all, she thought, and realized she’d left her raincoat in her mother’s kitchen.

Had she remembered to lock up, reset the alarm?

After a moment’s anxiety, she closed her eyes again, walked herself back.

Yes, yes, she’d done that. All that was just autopilot.

When the car pulled up in front of the dignified brick building in the shadows of steel towers, she tipped the driver. There went Sunday night pizza.

When she crossed the sidewalk, a man opened the door. He stood, tall and lanky in a navy pin-striped suit, crisp white shirt, bold red tie. For some reason the gray, salted through his brown hair, made her feel easier. He was older, she thought. Experienced. He knew what he was doing.

She sure as hell didn’t.

“Ms. Kelly.” He held out a hand.

“Yes, hello. Mr. Ellsworth.”

“Please come right in. My office is on the second floor. Do you mind the stairs?”


She saw a quiet, carpeted lobby with a glossy reception counter, several oversize leather chairs, a few big green plants in big terra-cotta pots.

“I want to apologize for any part I’ve played in this misunderstanding,” Ellsworth began as they walked up to the second floor.

“Jennifer—your mother—indicated you weren’t interested in the details of the account.”

“She lied.”

That hadn’t been in the plan—whatever the plan might be. But it came right out of Breen’s mouth. “To you, if you’re telling me the truth. To me by omission. I didn’t know there was an account.”

“Yes, well.” Ellsworth gestured toward an open door.

His office, bigger than the living room in her apartment and airy due to the big windows, held an old mahogany desk beautifully refinished, a small leather sofa, two visitor chairs. A counter held a fancy coffee maker. Framed photos—obviously family—covered a floating shelf.

“How about some coffee?”

“Yes, thank you. Milk, no sugar.”

“Have a seat,” he invited while he walked to the coffee machine.

“I have all the files,” she began as she sat, pushed her knees together because they trembled. “From what I can see, the account was opened in 2006. That’s when my parents separated.”

“That’s correct.”

“Can you tell me if the deposits starting then were child-support payments?”

“No, they were not. I’d suggest you speak to your mother about that, as I can only talk to you about this specific account.”

“All right. My mother opened the account?”

“Eian Kelly opened the account, in your name, with your mother as guardian. He made arrangements, at that time, to have a monthly deposit wired from the Bank of Ireland. For your future, your education, your financial security.”

Now she gripped her hands together as they trembled, too. “You’re sure.”

“I am.” He handed her the coffee, then took his own and sat, not behind the beautiful desk with its computer but in the chair beside hers. “I arranged it for him. He came into the office, opened the account. I’ve been managing it since that time.”

“Has he—has he been in touch with you?”

“Not since that time, no. The deposits come. Your mother has overseen the account. She’s been scrupulous, as I told you. If you’ve looked over the reports, you’ll see she’s never taken out a penny. We have quarterly meetings, more if there’s something we need to discuss. I had no reason to think you were unaware.”

“Do you have many clients— Am I a client?”

He smiled at her. “Yes.”

“Do you have many clients who take no interest at all in an account worth almost four million dollars? I know Allied’s a prestigious firm, and that’s probably a small account, but it’s still a great deal of money.”

He took a moment, and she knew he chose his words with great care. “There are situations where a parent or guardian, a trustee, may be better suited to make the financial decisions.”

“I’m an adult. She’s not my guardian.” She felt it, sensed it, knew it. “She told you I was irresponsible, unable to handle money.”

“Ms. Kelly—Breen—I don’t want to get personal. I can tell you, without hesitation, your mother has always had your well-being in mind. With your issues . . .”

“What are my issues?” The anger rose up again, so much better than the nerves. “Irresponsible. Not too bright either, am I? Maybe even just a little slow on the scale.”

He actually flushed a little. “She certainly never said anything like that directly.”

“Just implied. Well, let’s get to know each other, Mr. Ellsworth. I have a master’s degree in education—hard earned just this past winter, and for which I owe a mountain of student debt.”

She saw the stunned look, nodded.

“I teach language arts at Grady Middle School, and have since I graduated from college—already with considerable hills of debt despite working two part-time jobs. I’m happy to give you the name of my principal, names of various professors.”

“That won’t be necessary. I was under the impression you didn’t work, or hadn’t kept a job.”

“I’ve worked since I was sixteen—summers, weekends. I still work through the summer, to pay off that debt, and I private tutor two evenings a week for the same reason.”

Tears began to swirl in her eyes, but they were hot, hot with anger.

“I shop sales or thrift stores, have a roommate. I balance my bank account—such as it is—to the penny every month. I—”

“Here now. Here.” He closed a hand over hers. “I’m very sorry there’s been this—”

“Don’t call it a misunderstanding, not when it was deliberate. My father wanted this money for me. Instead I waited tables and took out loans to pay for college when the money he sent for me would’ve—it would’ve changed my life. Knowing he sent anything would’ve changed my life.”

She set the coffee aside, pulled in a breath to try to compose herself.

“I’m sorry. This is my mother’s doing, not yours. Why wouldn’t you believe her? You said I was your client.”

“You are, and we’re going to fix this. When is Jennifer due back?”

“Next week, but I need to know something now. Is this my money?”


“So I’m authorized to withdraw funds, transfer funds.”

“Yes, but I think it would be best to wait until your mother’s back, for the three of us to sit down and talk.”

“I’m not interested in that. I want to transfer funds, establish another account—in my name only. Can I do that?”

“Yes. I can set up an account for you. How much do you want to transfer?”

“All of it.”


“All of it,” she repeated. “Or when I meet with you and my mother, I’ll have a lawyer, and I’ll sue her for, I don’t know, embezzlement.”

“She hasn’t touched the money.”

“I’m sure a lawyer will know what term to use. I want my money so the next time I sit down to pay bills I can pay off my student debt and take a full breath again. This money came from my father into your hands. He trusted you to do the right thing by me. I’m asking you to do the right thing.”

“You’re of age. You can sign a document to have your mother’s name removed from the account. I’ll need to see your identification, you’ll need to fill out some forms. I’ll need to call in one of our notaries and a witness.”

He laid a hand over hers again. “Breen, I believe you. But would you mind giving me the name and number of the principal at your school? Just for my own peace of mind.”

“Not at all.”