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Spotlight: The Artisan Heart by Dean Mayes

"Hayden Luschcombe is a brilliant paediatrician living in Adelaide with his wife Bernadette, an ambitious event planner. His life consists of soul-wrenching days at the hospital and tedious evenings attending the lavish parties organised by Bernadette.

When an act of betrayal coincides with a traumatic confrontation, Hayden flees Adelaide, his life in ruins. His destination is Walhalla, nestled in Australia’s southern mountains, where he finds his childhood home falling apart. With nothing to return to, he stays, and begins to pick up the pieces of his life by fixing up the house his parents left behind.

A chance encounter with a precocious and deaf young girl introduces Hayden to Isabelle Sampi, a struggling artisan baker. While single-handedly raising her daughter, Genevieve, and trying to resurrect a bakery, Isabelle has no time for matters of the heart. Yet the presence of the handsome doctor challenges her resolve. Likewise, Hayden, protective of his own fractured heart, finds something in Isabelle that awakens dormant feelings of his own.

As their attraction grows, and the past threatens their chance at happiness, both Hayden and Isabelle will have to confront long-buried truths if they are ever to embrace a future."

Excerpt

Hayden lost himself in the day's work, though he sensed Magda hovering close by. She assisted him where she could and shielded him from any questioning from the other staff. He appreciated it and he appreciated her asking him only work-related questions. It was as though she knew that as long as Hayden was working, he was better off.

Ainsley Rafter walked past sometime mid-morning, but Hayden kept his distance. He overheard him step up to Magda in the fishbowl and ask, "What's up with Luschcombe?" As Hayden scribbled a note in a patient record, Rafter continued, unaware he had an audience. "The man has barely stopped. And I overheard some gossip suggesting he slept in one of the treatment rooms last night."

Magda didn’t bite. "Don't know. He came to work and he's working. As far as I'm concerned, he's on top of things. He hasn't allowed the waiting room to clog up, which is always refreshing."

Without waiting for Rafter to respond, Magda looked over his shoulder as a pair of ambulance officers wheeled in a gurney, on which sat a dishevelled woman cradling an inconsolable child. The woman pushed a long lock of multi-coloured hair from her face and wiped her running nose.

Dressed in pyjama bottoms, a pair of grubby slippers, and a tank top that exposed tattooed arms, the new arrival scanned her surroundings through swollen red eyes. A man accompanied her, dressed in ripped track pants and a tight blue singlet, his own tattooed hand resting on her shoulder. He, too, surveyed the department as they entered, appearing nervous and agitated.

Approaching the new arrivals, Magda noted the little girl's legs, groin, and lower abdomen had been wrapped in cling film. The skin underneath was an angry red and, in some places, had begun to blister. Nodding over her shoulder, she directed them towards a cubicle as she took paperwork from the ambulance officer.

"Thirteen-month-old female," the officer began. "Parents were preparing to bathe the child this morning and reported to us that they didn't check the temperature of the water before placing her in the bath." The officer paused as she wheeled the gurney into the cubicle. Magda stepped towards the anguished mother and encouraged her to relinquish her hold on her daughter. Magda lifted the child as the mother stood from the gurney and, curiously, stepped away into the embrace of her partner, rather than return to her daughter.

Magda set the child down on the hospital bed as she took in the magnitude of the little girl's injuries.

The ambulance officer continued, assisting Magda with the IV fluids they had commenced. "Both parents say the child was in the water for less than thirty seconds."

Magda shot an incredulous glance at the officer, ensuring it was out of view of the parents as she spotted Hayden approaching. She rose to her full height as he entered and the officer turned to acknowledge him.

Hayden moved to examine the child. Her eyes were closed and she was grizzling and whimpering.

"How much analgesia is on board?" he asked the ambulance officer.

"Initial dose of eighteen micrograms intranasal fentanyl given en route. We repeated the dose just prior to arrival."

Hayden surveyed the scalded and blistering legs, leaning over to see around their circumference. He noted several blisters had already popped behind her knees. The groin was also afflicted; the child's vulva had begun to swell, and the skin had blistered and broken underneath the cling film. Hayden depressed his thumb to an unaffected area on the child's hip. He attempted to rotate her body so he could see behind, but the child shook and he retracted his hand.

Hayden turned towards the parents. "What time did this happen?"

The mother glanced at her partner. "Th-this morning. About an hour ago."

"And what was the temperature of the water?"

Again, the mother cast a nervous glance at her partner, who was now shifting from foot to foot. His jaw was set, he was grinding his teeth, and he glared at Hayden.

"I-I thought it was all right," the woman responded. "I checked it before I put her in."

Hayden glanced sideways at the ambulance officer.

Turning back to the child, Hayden continued his scan upwards, across the child's abdomen. When he arrived at the level of the navel, he noted a sudden line of demarcation where the scalding ended. The skin above was completely unaffected. Hayden's jaw locked. As he lifted her arms above her head, he took one of her small hands in his and examined a random pattern of blisters, indicative of splash scalds.

"And where was the father at the time of the accident?" Hayden asked.

When he did not receive a reply, he turned towards the parents. The father's expression was taut. His right fist was opening and closing, even as his partner tried to clasp his hand. He shrugged belligerently. "Wasn't there," he said. "Was out at the shops."

Hayden shot a look at the ambulance officer, and this time, she raised a finger and scratched the bridge of her nose.

The universal sign for I call bullshit.

"I’ll take it from here." Hayden dismissed Magda and the ambulance officer with a nod, and after they’d left he turned to face the parents.

"The area of skin affected by the scalding–her legs, her groin, and abdomen–and the severity of the blistering, suggest she was in the water for longer than thirty seconds. There are also marks on both arms indicative of some sort of struggle. And this–" His hand hovered over the child's belly. "This line of demarcation, between the affected skin and the unaffected skin. It suggests these injuries weren't acci–"

"What the fuck are you getting at?" the father spat.

The mother grabbed his arm as he steeled himself like a predator, ready to pounce, and glowered at Hayden.

Hayden snatched up the ambulance report from the bench and scanned the document, tracing along with his finger as he read. "You said you weren't at the house when the accident happened."

“Yeah–so?"

"The ambulance officer reported you were outside in the garden and came into the house as soon as your wife shouted for help."

Incredibly, the father allowed a slick grin to cross his lips. "Like I said, mate, what are you getting at?"

Hayden turned towards the mother. "Why didn't you test the temperature of the water before you lowered your child into the bath?"

"I-I did test the water," she implored.

Without warning, the father erupted, barrelling forward and swinging his arms. Hayden reacted, ducking to avoid the blow, but the man's fist connected with his cheek, and his neck snapped back.

Clutching the side of the gurney, the child's father steadied himself, preparing to attack again. Hayden fought to clear his head and he cradled his chin. His jaw throbbed.

The father launched again, whirling his fists anew. Hayden tried to anticipate the punches but suffered several blows. Bringing his own arms up, Hayden lurched forward, his hands latching onto the man's neck. The mother screamed. The man's eyes bulged in shock and his arms fell to his sides.

The curtain of the cubicle was yanked aside and Magda shifted into the cubicle behind Hayden. "Code Black! Code Black!" she shouted. The two men were now wheeling in a circle.

"Security!" screamed one of the other nurses.

"You bastard!" the father spat as he flailed his arms.

Hayden locked his elbows to keep him from retaliating. He shoved the man hard against the rear wall. The man's head snapped back, hitting an oxygen regulator, and he roared.

"Remove the child!" Hayden croaked.

Magda complied, holding the little girl as she backed away from the two men.

Hayden's desperation fluxed as he tightened his grip on the man's throat. And then it was no longer desperation driving him. Glaring into the man's reddening features, Hayden felt anger blossom.

Anger. Rage.

He relished it.

The man's arm jerked forth and went rigid as he struck Hayden repeatedly. His strangled cries reached Hayden's ears but he blocked them out. One of the man's legs came up, his knee searching for Hayden's groin, but Hayden anticipated the move and shifted to one side.

Then, the unthinkable happened.

Hayden responded in kind. He thrust his own leg up and it struck home. The man cried out, and all at once, the fight went out of him. His eyes rolled back in his head and his body went limp.

But Hayden refused to back down. He maintained his grip, not wanting to let go, baring his teeth with the effort. He was determined to punish him.

Then, he felt arms and hands on him, yanking him backwards. His fingers retracted and the man dropped like a stone.

Horror flooded him, colliding head-on with his anger. He barely registered the security guards dragging him away. The room began to spin and sound became a series of loud echoes and disjointed noise.

Rafter marched into the cubicle. "What the hell is going on here?!" he shouted, blinking at Hayden in the arms of the guards, while the father flailed like an overturned beetle on the floor.

More guards arrived while nurses frantically pulled the curtains of the other cubicles across to block the spectacle.

The director’s look shot from the father to Hayden to Magda, who was still holding the child. He was apoplectic. Jerking a thumb up, he glared at the guard. "Get him out of here!"

He then jabbed a finger at the man on the floor. "Him, too! And call in the police. And get Child Protection down here, now! Jesus Christ!"

The guard holding Hayden eased him back and he submitted without protest. His awareness shattered. He did not notice the shocked stares of the people in the department–the nurses and doctors, children and parents, and other nameless faces, all of whom stood stunned as he and the guard passed by.

Shame crashed over him like a tidal wave.

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About the Author

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When he emerged in 2010, Adelaide based Intensive Care Nurse and author Dean Mayes, had almost given up on the prospect of ever being published. by then in his 30's with several abortive writing attempts under his belt, Dean believed he had missed his opportunity. But Dean had an idea for one last story he wanted to tell and, rather than allow it to wither and die in his imagination, he decided to blog it instead.

Quite unexpectedly, Dean's blog took off and after a chance encounter with Canadian based publisher Central Avenue in mid 2009, Dean's dream like tale about a young man who discovers he has taken on the memories and dreams of a complete stranger, became his first novel. Dean was signed to an initial two year contract and in 2010 "The Hambledown Dream" was published. The novel has since gone on to receive global attention and critical acclaim.

Dean set about penning a follow up novel that was not merely a repeat performance and in 2012 "Gifts of the Peramangk" a powerful Australian family saga. Chronicling a dysfunctional Aboriginal family in the struggle streets of Adelaide's suburban fringe, "Gifts of the Peramangk" has been described as significant literary achievement. In October 2013, it was nominated as a finalist in the prestigious EPIC Awards for contemporary fiction.

Dean's third feature length novel, a psychological thriller set in Melbourne called "The Recipient", showcased his ability to cross genres and deliver a taut and gripping tome about a heart transplant patient who discovers her organ donor was a murder victim - and that the murder remains unsolved.

Dean is currently editing his fourth novel, a return to his romantic roots, called "The Artisan Heart", which is scheduled for a September, 2018 release.

He lives in Adelaide, Australia with his partner Emily, their two children Xavier and Lucy. An Intensive Care Nurse with over 15 years of clinical experience in adult, paediatric and neonatal medicine, he can often be found lying on a hospital gurney at 3 in the morning with a notebook in hand, madly scribbling ideas while on his break.

Dean is represented by Michelle Halket and is published by Central Avenue Publishing of Vancouver, Canada.

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