He strained around in his seat, staring into the twilight. The sky was empty. No puffs of ack-ack, no Spitfires. He looked at the temperature gauge: 120°C and climbing. What the hell just happened? Could he make it back across the English Channel, back to the German base at Coquelles? Yes, maybe. But not up here. He must drop down, hide in the cloud base, let the engine cool.
‘Now, mein Schätzchen,’ he said, ‘See how carefully I treat you. I won’t let you burn your insides out.’
He reached forward to turn off the ignition. His hand was trembling, he knew he must steady himself. The engine cut and he was gliding now, his breath booming in his helmet as he watched the needles drop. There was even time to glimpse enemy fields between the breaks in the clouds. They were white with snow like the alps of Swabia. He felt calmer, listening to the gale outside, calm enough to wonder if he would ever walk in the mountains again, see the ice crystals forming rainbows in front of his eyes.
He pulled off his oxygen mask to give himself more freedom and a smell smacked into his nostrils, hot metal and fuel. Waves of panic swelled inside him, pushing up into his throat. He was low now, eight hundred feet, grey clouds boiling all around him. Time to fire up the engine again. Metal screamed against metal, his ears pulsed under the agonising volume then…
The engine had seized.
He needed to move fast. He tore off his flying helmet, his elbows crashing against the cockpit. He grabbed at the lever and jettisoned the canopy. The sudden explosion of wind and noise was terrifying. He gasped, gulped at the freezing air. The canopy was wrenched from his hand. He heard it grating along the fuselage behind.
He released his seat belt, pushed up into the slipstream. Pushed again. And again. He was jammed. His parachute pack was wedged, the gale raging around him, forcing his body down. Beneath him he felt his plane begin her final dive, a roll to the right, a drop of her nose. He was going down with her, down into the void.
With a great pump of adrenaline, Lukas leant into the roll and pushed with all his might.
And he was out, rolling along the side of the plane, the powerstorm tossing him like a rag doll. He tried to brace his head with his arms, certain he was going to smash into the tail section but then he was falling. He was clear. Tumbling through the sky, he reached up, grasped the handle and pulled.
He was dropping like a stone, the wind thundering in his ears. Fields widened, expanding beneath him as he plummeted. Cold earth, hard as iron, rushing towards him.
He grappled behind his neck, his hands desperately trying to feel the opening to the pack to help the ’chute out. Billows of silk and line bubbled up by his side, wrapping itself around his arm. Lukas twisted and tossed his body about to give it free passage.
Silk streamed past him. He looked up, saw the parachute fill, felt the full force of the deceleration in his shoulder and pain – a panting, searing pain. The cord shook the arm free, dropping it limp and useless by his side.
He twisted, trying to lessen the pressure of the harness against his shoulder but the ground was coming up fast. The parachute rotated him.
His plane swam into focus, way over there, in the distance. She was diving silently down towards a field. A herd of cows bolted away from under her, their tails held high, their hooves kicking up lumps of mud and snow. His plane sank out of sight, over a ridge and he heard a muffled thud as she hit the earth.
The parachute spiralled him round again and the wind carried him further away from her, swinging him towards some trees. As he pendulumed down towards a spinney he heard her ammunition begin to fire, a fanfare calling the enemy to muster and search but as he crashed down through the branches he heard a crackling explosion. His Messerschmitt had destroyed herself.
What would you risk for a complete stranger?
When widow Millie Sanger finds injured enemy pilot Lukas Schiller on her farm, the distant war is suddenly at her doorstep. Compassionate Millie knows he’ll be killed if discovered, and makes the dangerous decision to offer him shelter from the storm.
On opposite sides of the inescapable conflict, the two strangers forge an unexpected and passionate bond. But as the snow thaws, the relentless fury of World War Two forces them apart, leaving only the haunting memories of what they shared, and an understanding that their secret must never see light.
As Millie’s dangerous act of kindness sets them on paths they never could have expected, those closest to them become their greatest threats, and the consequences of compassion prove deadly…
A Dangerous Act of Kindness is a beautiful, harrowing love story, perfect for fans of Rachel Hore and Santa Montefiore
LP Fergusson grew up on the borders of Wales in a Tudor house on the banks of the River Wye. As a child she longed to go back in history. Now she does, through her writing. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Oxford Brookes University and won the Blackwell’s Prize for MA Creative Writing. Her stories have made a number of shortlists for competitions run by the Orwell Society, Oxfordshire Libraries and Flash500. Her psychological thriller reached the final three of a Quercus/Psychologies Thriller competition and her wartime novel A Dangerous Act of Kindness was Highly Commended in the Caledonia Novel Award 2018. She edits the historical blog With Love from Graz which was featured on BBC Radio Wales, Radio 2 and BBC4’s A Very British Romance with Lucy Worsley. She now lives in an Oxfordshire village beneath the chalk downs where her debut novel is set.