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When Dr. Corinthia Madsen Salas, Doctor Maddie to her friends, hires Medical Assistant Ella Lewis to join her group, she has no idea of the impact this will have on their future. Maddie, Ella, and, nurse, Sandy Webber, make a great team, taking care of patients in Maddie’s clinic like a well-oiled machine. But Maddie and Ella each harbor a secret— a strong attraction to each other—and each has reservations about voicing their attractions as Lights of the Heart opens. As the women struggle with their feelings, wondering if they are ever to find love again, a policy of not dating co-workers squelches any attempt either woman might be willing to risk to voice their desires.
One day, Sandy announces that she is unavailable to accompany Doc Maddie to the annual medical conference at which the doctor is to give a presentation and Ella must take her place. The pronouncement forces Ella to wonder how she’ll endure being in Maddie’s presence without expressing her feelings and makes Maddie nervous about the five hour drive together filled with her growing desire for her new employee.
The journey to the conference, however, finally allows the two women to find a level of comfort in each other’s company, and subtle hints of their orientation and attraction seep into the conversation as they head toward their destination. Still, neither woman voices their feelings until Maddie, having completed her conference obligation, is whisked away on a day of exuberant fun at a roller skating rink by Ella. Afterwards, the two finally declare their attraction and begin a relationship in which it quickly becomes apparent that these two are soulmates, intended to be each other’s lights of the heart, as Maddie says.
As they return home from the conference, Ella knows she must decide how to handle their relationship among co-workers and friends, possibly moving on from the clinic, but before she and Maddie can discuss a course of action, tragedy strikes. The result: these two women find themselves in a world very different from the one they lived in before attending the conference.
We are drawn to Maddie’s quiet strength, tinged with just a little hesitation and uncertainty, and Ella’s wistful determination to find a way into Maddie’s heart. Told in an alternating first person narrative from the point of view of the two main characters, this story begins as tentative attraction, blossoms into unbridled romance, finally morphing into a tale of tension-filled tragedy, taking the reader on a heart-wrenching roller coaster ride.
Secondary characters are well written and support Maddie and Ella in each of their rolls. Maddie’s Aunt Florida is an open-minded, sympathetic, and wise family member; Sandy is a dedicated employee and friend. Dixie Odelia, who is a bit of a vamp, tries to seduce Ella during the conference and continues to pursue her later, forcing some challenging moments in Ella’s already turbulent life. Even Julio, Ella’s Maine Coon cat, is an interesting minor character with a personality all his own, who supplies brief and welcome moments of comic relief to the tension of the story.
In her portrayal of the aftermath of a terrible event and the resulting traumatic brain injury (TBI) to one of the characters, Burns has given us the ultimate “write what you know,” resulting in an emotional and insightful portrayal of what a person endures while trying to establish a new normal in recovering from a TBI. She also gives us understanding into the experiences of family, friends, and lovers, as they make their way through the plethora of emotions and learning experiences trying to help and understand their loved ones’ situation.
In this riveting story of happenstance love, love snatched away, love longed for once again, we wonder if Maddie will ever find her way back to some semblance of her old self—and if Ella will endure to be witness to it. Lights of the Heart is a fascinating tale of romance and hardship from an author who writes it with authority and tenderness.
Lights of the Heart
By Nat Burns
Paperback, 9781594935244, 221 pp.