My husband’s birthday is May 1, the day when Mother Nature officially declares the garden of earthly delights open for the season. It’s a good fit for a man with a lusty heart and the greatest passion for life of anyone I’ve ever known. When we began to plan the barbecue we were hosting to celebrate Zack’s fiftieth, I reminded him that the rule for the number of guests at children’s parties was the child’s age plus two. Undeterred, Zack kept adding names, and we mailed out seventy-five invitations. It promised to be a lively crowd: our family, Zack’s law partners and associates, friends of mine from the university and politics, people we simply wanted to get to know better. On the afternoon of the party, Zack came home early and together we made a last pass through the house, making sure everything was where it should be. As we checked out the rented crystal in the kitchen, Zack was impatient. “Come on,” he said. “If there aren’t enough glasses, people can drink out of the bottles. There’s something I want to show you outside.”
“I’m all yours,” I said. He grinned. “And I’m all yours. Now come with me.” He steered his wheelchair across the deck onto the ramp that led to the side of the house. Before we turned the corner, he reached up and took my hand. “Prepare to be dazzled,” he said. And I was dazzled. Sometime during the day, our forsythia had burst into full golden bloom. It was the first splash of colour from the summer palette, and for a moment we stood, hand in hand, simply letting the brilliance wash over us.
“My God, that’s a beautiful sight,” Zack said. “I love that bush. I love this house. I love our life, and I love you — not in that order, of course.”
“Of course not.” I leaned down and kissed him. “It’s good to have you back,” I said. “Since Ned died, you’ve been pretty unreachable.”
“I know, and I’m sorry. There was something I had to take care of, and I was trying to keep you out of it.”
“Zack, I don’t want to be kept out.” He met my eyes, and I could see the pain of the last two weeks etched on his face. “Who was it who said that it’s the loose ends of our lives that hang us?”
“Do you want to talk about what’s been going on?”
“Nope, because the problem’s gone. I’ve taken care of it — at least I hope I have.” He took out his pocket knife, cut a twig of blossoms from the bush, and handed it to me. “For you,” he said. “The dark days are over. Let’s get back to having the time of our lives.”
I stuck the forsythia in the buttonhole of his jacket. “I’ll drink to that,” I said. “In fact, why don’t you mix up a couple of Ned’s Bombay Sapphire specials and we’ll christen those snazzy new martini glasses I gave you.”
Zack made the drinks, and we took them to the deck and waited for our guests to arrive. It was a five-star afternoon — filled with birdsong and blooming. Signs of new life were everywhere. The trees along the creek banks fuzzed green, the Japanese lilacs against our fence were in tight bud, and the first bright shoots were pushing through the perennial beds. As I sipped my martini and turned my face to the sun, I could feel myself unknot. When our guests began arriving, it seemed that they, too, were shrugging off the heaviness of winter. Free at last of the burden of boots and jackets, our granddaughters raced around the fishpond, thrilled by the possibility that a careless step could send them into the shining waters where they could splash with the koi until responsible hands plucked them out. The adults were equally light-hearted. Shoes were kicked off and sweaters abandoned. The bar was well stocked, the appetizers were piquant, and the arrival of a surprise political guest set the freshets of rumour and innuendo rolling.
Our country was in the midst of a federal election that was too close to call, and one of the tightest, dirtiest battles was being waged in our riding. The incumbent, Ginny Monaghan, had stopped by to wish Zack many happy returns, and no matter their political stripe, our guests were riveted by her presence.
Six months earlier, I had interviewed Ginny for a television project I was working on about women in politics. We met at her Regina constituency office at the end of what must have been an exhausting day for her. She’d flown from Ottawa that morning and been in meetings all day, but as she swept the remains of someone else’s fast-food chicken dinner into a wastebasket, put her feet up on the newly cleared desk, and discussed her future, Ginny exhibited the same energy and unshakeable confidence she’d shown twenty years earlier when she’d been the ponytailed captain of the Canadian women’s basketball team. The night of the interview, it seemed that nothing could alter the smooth trajectory of her plan to become Canada’s next prime minister.
From the moment Ginny’s team medalled at the Olympics, she hadn’t taken a false step. She had hired a sports agent, who negotiated the endorsement deals that turned her bronze medal into gold. Then, without breaking a sweat, she finished her degree in marketing; signed on as the public face of an investment conglomerate; married Jason Brodnitz, the handsome and ambitious vice-president of a rival conglomerate; produced engaging twin daughters; and ran successfully for the Conservatives, the party currently in power. Grudgingly accepting the fact that he had a rising star in his caucus, the prime minister appointed Ginny minister of Canadian heritage and the status of women, and she was on her way. It had been a flawless performance, but then Ginny and Jason’s marriage had imploded, and the personal became political.
For months, Ginny’s supporters had been gleeful at the prospect of an election that would allow her to display her intelligence, showcase her appealing family, and position herself for the leadership race ahead. But when the writ was dropped, Ginny was not shaking hands and burnishing her profile, she was closeted with her lawyer preparing for a court battle for custody of her fourteen-year-old twins. Any confirmation in court of her rumoured sexual rapacity and her seeming indifference to her children might cost her not just custody of her daughters but her political future. Sean Barton, a young associate at Zack’s law firm, was representing Ginny. He was good, but his case was not. Ginny had been careless. Like many people on whom the sun has steadily shone, she believed she was invincible. Jason Brodnitz had been smarter. He was a player, but he was a player who appeared to know how to cover his tracks. He also knew how to hire a private investigator. Ginny was in big trouble.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from The Brutal Heart by Gail Bowen. Copyright © 2008 by Gail Bowen. Excerpted by permission of McClelland & Stewart, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.