Read an Excerpt
Sunday 9 December
The morning was typical of December in Massachusetts. A brushed aluminum sky blended into three-day-old snow covering the cornfields along Route 127. Dulled by streaks of road salt, Jared Samuels’s red MGTD roadster still sparkled like a flare against the landscape.
From the passenger seat, Kate Bennett watched her husband negotiate the country road using only the thumb and first two fingers of his left hand. His dark brown eyes, though fixed on the road, were relaxed, and he seemed to be singing to himself. Kate laughed.
“Hey, Doc,” Jared asked glancing over, “just what are you laughing at?”
“Well, that’s a relief. For a moment there I thought you were laughing at me.… Tell me what I was doing that was so funny, I might want to write it down.”
“Not funny,” Kate said. “Just nice. It makes me happy to see you happy. There’s a peacefulness in you that I haven’t seen since the campaign began.”
“Then you should have turned on the bedroom light last night at, oh, eleven-thirty, was it?”
“You didn’t just pass out after?”
“Nope. Five minutes of absolute Nirvana … then I passed out.” He flashed the smile that had always been reserved for her alone.
“I love you, you know,” Kate said.
Jared looked at her again. It had been a while since either of them had said the words outside the bedroom. “Even though I’m not going to be the Honorable Congressman from the Sixth District?”
“Especially because you’re not going to be the Honorable Congressman from the Sixth District.” She checked the time. “Jared, it’s only nine-thirty. Do you think we could stop at the lake for a bit? We haven’t in such a long time. I brought a bag of bread just in case.”
Jared slowed. “Only if you promise not to poach when goddamn Carlisle starts hitting to my backhand.”
“Once. I stole a ball from you once in almost two years of playing together, and you never let me forget it.”
Was he being serious? It bothered her that after almost five years of marriage she couldn’t always tell. “No poaching,” she vowed finally, wary of making a response that would chip the mood of the morning. Lately, it seemed, their upbeat moods were becoming less frequent and more fragile.
“The ducks bless you,” Jared said in a tone which did nothing to resolve her uncertainty.
The lake, more a large pond, was a mile off 127 in the general direction of the Oceanside Racquet Club. It was surrounded by dense thickets of pine and scrub oak, separated by the backyards of a dozen or so houses—upper-class dwellings in most communities, but only average in the North Shore village of Beverly Farms. At the far end of the ice cover, hockey sticks in hand, a trio of boys chased a puck up and down a makeshift rink, their bright mufflers and caps phosphorescing against the pearl-gray morning. Nearer the road, a spillway kept the surface from freezing. Bobbing on the half-moon it created were a score of ducks. Several more rested on the surrounding ice.
The couple stood motionless by their car, transfixed by the scene.
“Currier and Ives,” Kate said wistfully.
“Bonnie and Clyde,” Jared responded in the same tone.
“You’re so romantic, Counselor.” Kate managed a two-second glare of reproach before she smiled. Jared’s often black sense of humor was hit or miss—“kamikaze humor,” she had labeled it. “Come on, let’s duck,” she called.
Her runner’s legs, objects of the fantasies of more than a few of her fellow physicians at Metropolitan Hospital of Boston, brought her easily down the snowy embankment, her auburn hair bouncing on the hood of her parka.
As she approached the water, a huge gander, honking arrogantly, advanced to get his due. Kate eyed the bird and then threw a handful of bread over his head to a milling group of smaller mallards and wood ducks. A moment later, from atop the bank, Jared scaled an entire roll precisely at the feet of the gander, who snatched it up and swaggered away.
Kate turned to him, hands on hips. “Are you trying to undermine my authority?”
“Always side with the overdog. That’s my motto,” he said brightly. “I even voted for Mattingly in the Sixth Congressional race. I mean who would “want to waste his vote on a sure loser like the other guy?”
“A two-point defeat when you started out twenty-two behind? Some loser. Slide on down here, big boy, and I’ll give you our traditional Sunday morning kiss.”
“We have a traditional Sunday morning kiss?”
Jared surveyed the embankment and then chose a safer, albeit much longer, route than Kate had taken.
She stifled a smile. Never lift up your left foot until your right one’s firmly planted was a favorite saying of Jared’s father, and here was the scion—the disciple—embracing the philosophy in its most literal sense. Someday, Jared, she thought, you are going to lift up both of your feet at the same time and discover you can fly.
His kiss was firm and deep, his tongue caressing the roof of her mouth, the insides of her cheeks. Kate responded in kind, sliding both her hands to his buttocks and holding him tightly.
“You kiss good, Doc,” he said. “I mean good.”
“Do you think the ducks would mind if we started making dirty snow angels?” she whispered, warming his ear with her lips.
“No, but I think the Carlisles would.” Jared pulled free. “We’ve got to get going. I wonder why they keep inviting us to play with them when we haven’t beaten them once in two years.”
“They just love a challenge, I guess.” Kate shrugged, tossed out the remaining bread, and followed him along the safe route to the road.
“Did someone call this morning?” he asked over his shoulder.
“While I was in the shower.” Jared turned to her as he reached the MG and leaned against the perfectly maintained canvas top. “I thought I heard the phone ring.”
“Oh, you did.” A nugget of tension materialized beneath her breastbone. Jared hadn’t missed hearing the phone after all. “It … it was nothing, really. Just Dr. Willoughby.” Kate slid into the passenger seat. She had wanted to choose carefully the moment to discuss the pathology chief’s call.
“How is Yoda?” he asked, settling behind the wheel.
“He’s fine. I wish you wouldn’t call him that, Jared. He’s been very good to me, and it sounds so demeaning.”
“It’s not demeaning. Honestly.” He turned the key and the engine rumbled to life. “Why, without Yoda, Luke Skywalker would never have survived the first Star Wars sequel. What else could I possibly call someone who’s three feet tall, bald with bushy eyebrows, and lives in a swamp? Anyway, what did he want?”
Kate felt the nugget expand, and fought the sensation. “He just needed to discuss some twists and turns in the politics at the hospital,” she said evenly. “I’ll tell you about them later. How about we use the little time we have to plan some kind of strategic ambush for the Carlisles?”
“Don’t poach. That’s all the strategy we need. Now what was so important to ol’ Yoda at eight-thirty on a Sunday morning?”
Although the words were spoken lightly, Kate noted that he had not yet put the car into gear. From the beginning of their relationship, he had been somehow threatened both by her career and by her unique friendship with her aging department head. It was nothing he had ever said, but the threat was there. She was certain of it. “Later?” She tried one last time.
Jared switched off the ignition.
The mood of the morning shattered like dropped crystal. Kate forced her eyes to make and maintain contact with his. “He said that tomorrow morning he was going to send letters to the medical school and to Norton Reese announcing his retirement in June or as soon as a successor can be chosen as chief of the department.”
“And I think you know already what comes next.” Deep inside her, Kate felt sparks of anger begin to replace the tension. This exchange, her news, her chance to become at thirty-five the youngest department chief, to say nothing of the only woman department chief, at Metro—they should have been embraced by the marriage with the same joy as Jared’s election to Congress would have been.
“Try me,” Jared said, gazing off across the lake.
Kate sighed. “He wants my permission to submit my name to the faculty search committee as his personal recommendation.”
“And you thanked him very much, but begged off because you and your husband agreed two years ago to start your family when the election was over, and you simply couldn’t take on the responsibility and time demands of a department chairmanship—especially of a moneyless, understaffed, political football of a department like the one Yoda is scurrying away from now—right?”