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."
The Artisan Heart – Excerpt.
Having climbed down from the roof, Hayden went to the back veranda, where he had positioned two workhorses. A good sheet of corrugated iron lay over them.
His failed attempt at turning the leg for Bernadette's chair taunted him suddenly, but he brushed it aside.
"I can do this," he growled.
Stuffing a handful of nails into his tool belt, he returned to the ladder with the new sheet and climbed up to the roof. Hayden manipulated the sheet into position, until finally it slotted into place.
A snug fit, he mused, impressed with himself as he secured the sheet to the timbers.
He almost couldn't believe how easy it was.
"Handier than I thought."
Hayden leaned back and wiped his brow. His eyes drifted north along the road as it wound its way out of town. A grubby four-wheel drive appeared around a far bend, its tray piled high with firewood–so high, in fact, the vehicle slewed over the road under the weight. As it drew closer, Hayden noted it was moving with considerable speed.
He shook his head. There was only one person in the mountains drove like that.
The vehicle's horn began to blast, echoing through the valley. At first, Hayden frowned, thinking it was meant it for him, and he raised his hand in a hesitant wave. As he prepared to turn back to his work, the vehicle's headlights flickered, their high beams shining bright in the daylight. Hayden watched as the crazy vehicle continued to honk and flash. Glancing down over the front of the cottage, he saw a small figure dressed in bright yellow, standing in the middle of the road.
He gasped, dropping the hammer.
Without thinking, Hayden pushed forward and slid down the roof, his body accelerating on the slippery iron. Realising he was out of control, he grasped at empty air, scrambling to arrest his slide.
Puffing his cheeks, he sailed over the edge of the veranda. Hayden grasped at the air, somehow managing to grab a length of guttering as he dropped. He pulled it with him as he fell in a heap on the steps below. Despite the explosion of stars he saw bursting before him, he did not wait.
He sprang to his feet, careened down the steps and burst through the gate, locking his sights onto the tiny figure in the road.
He baulked when the child whipped a long object into view, oblivious to the four-wheel drive that was bearing down on them–a steel beast hell-bent on murder.
Hayden swept the child up in one arm without breaking stride. A scream of tyres on bitumen split the air and the truck veered at the last moment, close enough that Hayden felt its slipstream. It swerved, bouncing over the verge, and ploughed into the cottage fence, widening the area of damage. The engine gave one last scream of protest as the wheels spun, kicking mud and grass into the air, then it fell silent.
Clutching the child, Hayden skidded on the bitumen and he gaped, unable to stop himself from crashing into the bush. He collided with a thick branch, taking in a mouthful of hibiscus flowers and foliage as he collapsed to the ground, landing squarely on his behind.
Hayden shook his head as the child wriggled from his grip.
The door of the four-wheel drive snapped open behind him and a heretical voice shouted from within. "Qu'est-ce que tu fais?!"
Planting his hands on the road surface, Hayden pushed back, extricating himself from the bush. Once free, he tried to get to his feet but his hands slipped and he flopped uselessly like a fish out of water.
Is everything in this place wet!?
Suddenly, Hayden found himself glaring up into a wild and muddy face framed with wild ginger hair and a large, bushy moustache.
The rage that had infused the new arrival's expression vanished and was instead replaced by a look of amazement. "Mon ami! C'est toi! Hayden! Tu es ici!”
Chas Kraetzer grabbed his arm in calloused hands and dragged him to his feet. Hayden had no choice but to let him.
Finally upright, the world began to spin as he steadied himself against the exuberant Frenchman, the stench of halitosis and alcohol emanating from his bucktoothed grin. Hayden batted his hand in front of his face. "My God, Charlie! Do you bathe in a whisky still?"
Chas Kraetzer broadened his stupid grin, slapping Hayden's shoulder. "Bloody hell, it's good to see you, Doc!" he crowed in his thick accent. "I saw your Holden just the other day. Looks like I did a better job on your fence than you did, eh?"
Hayden glared at Kraetzer. "Did you not see a child in the middle of the bloody road? You didn't think to slow down?"
The Frenchman's visage fell and his expression morphed into a pained mortification, as though realisation had just hit him square in the chest. He opened his mouth to give voice to it, but Hayden turned on his heel.
Max jogged into view around the bend from the town centre with Sam trotting along beside him, barking joyfully. People from the houses nearby appeared in their gardens, peering out to see what all the commotion was.
The child was no longer in his arms. Shaking his head, he searched around him.
A flash of yellow caught his attention and he squinted, seeing a form crouching low in the hibiscus. Bending low, he leaned through the foliage.
The wide-brimmed hat was pulled low over the child’s face and the jacket covered the small frame. It was clear he, or she, was trembling.
"Are you all right?" Hayden asked, moving sideways and back again in attempt to see him or her.
There was no response. Glancing to his right, Hayden saw Chas's look of amusement, as though this was nothing more dramatic than a game of hide-and-seek.
Hayden leaned in further. "Hello there," he called, keeping his voice low. "Everything's okay. You can come out now. We just want to make sure you're not hurt."
The child did not move.
"Maybe offer him a sweet or something," Chas suggested. "I don't think that's going to make matters any–"
Without warning, a bloodcurdling scream tore at the air and the child exploded from the bush. Reacting belatedly, Hayden backpedalled, but he fell as the half-wall of yellow came at him. He yelped as one end of the broomstick thwacked down hard on his head. Chas's cheeks bulged as he leapt out of the way.
Hayden brought his hands up to protect himself from the relentless blows. The child seemed determined to beat the living daylights out of him. He tried to escape but he slipped on the bitumen.
A small booted foot smashed down dead centre in his groin and he croaked.
Chas’s loud cackle ceased abruptly and he sucked in a breath at seeing Hayden crumple. He was compelled to action. As he grabbed the child up and away from Hayden, the yellow hat flew off, revealing a cherubic face with wide, dark eyes and a mop of auburn curls.
Max rushed to Hayden's aid as the child bucked and kicked in Chas's grip, screaming in fury. She swung the makeshift weapon, clocking Chas in the side of his head.
"Oww!" he cried, as she struggled free and dropped to the road in a heap.
Hayden had recovered enough to clamber to his haunches with Max's assistance. He winced, holding his groin. Looking down at the road, he saw the girl’s discarded weapon, with its sodden paper mask and bright marker colours now running. He turned to the child, who was panting where she sat, glowering at him.
Max glanced across at Chas. "Get on the UHF and radio Isabelle," he snapped.
The Frenchman complied without protest.
Hayden glared at the child. "That hurt," he growled. "Why did you do that? I was trying to help."
The girl stared at him.
"Not much use asking her questions," Max offered. "She won't be able to answer."
Hayden looked blankly at Max.
"She's deaf," Max continued. "Has been most of her life."
Max leaned in and helped Hayden to his feet, then stepped across to the child and held out his hands. Much to Hayden's surprise, the child got to her feet and stood close to Max's side.
"This is Genevieve Sampi," Max introduced with a formal flourish. "Genevieve is Isabelle Sampi's daughter."
Hayden was puzzled. The name didn't immediately register.
"Isabelle Sampi," Max repeated. "Surely you'd remember her. Rex and Charmaine's granddaughter. They bought the old bakery building after it closed down."
"No," Hayden wheezed, resting his hands on his knees. "Can't say I do."
Chas returned from the truck. "She's on her way," he said cheerily, rocking on the balls of his feet.
Hayden bit his lip against the lie he had just told.
Great, he thought darkly, indeed knowing that name very well once the connection had been made.
Max waved at the residents opposite. "Everything's all right, Hermione! All sorted here."
He stooped to pick up a cooler bag he'd dropped on the road, along with Genevieve's abandoned weapon. He held out his hand to her. "Perhaps we should get off the road in case any more drunk drivers come barrelling out of the mountains."
Chas fidgeted as they stepped over to the grass in front of the cottage.
"In fact, if I were you, Charlie Kraetzer," Max continued. "I would make yourself scarce before Isabelle gets here and kicks your arse."
The colour drained from the Frenchman's face. Without another thought, he turned and climbed into his vehicle.
The truck started and he was able to reverse it back onto the road without trouble. Beaming through the window, Chas Kraetzer pointed. "Don't worry about your fence, Doc! I'll bring some timbers up to you tomorrow. I'll repair it myself. A bientôt!"
With a theatrical salute, Chas gunned the engine and took off in a cloud of diesel smoke.
Brushing himself down, Hayden limped over to the front steps and sat down. "That girl has a killer kick," he hissed.
As they appraised the child, Max brought his hands together in front of him and began twisting and turning his fingers. She studied him while Hayden cocked his head. At the conclusion of this strange little dance, Max looked to her, as if to question the adequacy of his gestures. The child's face broke into a cheeky grin and she gave him a thumbs-up.
"Seems she appreciated your comment about her kick." Max observed. "I picked up a fair bit of Auslan from your mum over the years, but I've let my skills lapse since...you know." He gestured towards the girl. "Genie is teaching me again."
Hayden's brow flickered. Bringing his hands up, he held them out towards her.
"What did you think you were doing, marching out into the middle of the road?" he signed.
Genevieve Sampi blinked and she was unsure of where to look. She was surprised at his ability to sign. She retreated further behind Max, though she kept her eyes on Hayden.
Max signalled at Hayden's hands. "Whatever you said, it put the wind up her."
Hayden sat straighter, examining the quivering child. "Are you all right?" he signed with less rancour.
Genevieve blinked, but did not respond.