A Dangerous Act of Kindness

A Dangerous Act of Kindness

by LP Fergusson

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Overview

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 MontefiorePraise for A Dangerous Act of Kindness

'A story of love, kindness and hope against the backdrop of World War Two weaving in themes of tragedy, guilt and treason. Beautifully written, with believable, well-rounded characters. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this, and will be re-reading again before long!' Reader review

'This book appealed to me when I first heard about it. What I did not expect was to be completely and utterly blown away by it. It is such an exquisitely written and well-researched, thought-provoking novel... this one is going to stay with me for a very long time' Reader review

‘A completely absorbing read, I loved every page of it, it is so well-written, plotted, paced – it had me holding my breath as the tension built and built… an exceptional book’ Reader review

‘I absolutely love historical fiction, especially from the Second World War period. A Dangerous Act of Kindness did not disappoint. It was well written and a brilliant storyline. I could not put it down it was truly captivating’ Reader review

‘Definitely a must read if you enjoy reading historical fiction based around World War Two’ Reader review

‘Historical fiction at its best’ Reader review

‘Set during the Second World War and beautifully written… a story of love and kindness and hope’ Reader review

‘I was gripped by this wartime romance with a difference’ Reader review

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781788633673
Publisher: Canelo Digital Publishing Ltd
Publication date: 03/28/2019
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 350
Sales rank: 40,577
File size: 613 KB

About the Author

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.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

The explosion was deafening. It juddered up through the Messerschmitt, into Lukas Schiller's body. He felt his stomach twist, a fizz of terror squeezing the tip of his tongue. Had he been hit?

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 ...

Silence.

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.

Nothing happened.

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.

CHAPTER 2

Millie Sanger woke with a start. It was dark outside but she could hear noises coming up from the farmyard. Jack, she thought momentarily but as she ordered her untethered thoughts, grief thumped in, like a blow on a bruise. How many months had to pass before she began to heal?

And why, just once, could she not make it to the cowshed before the Land Girl?

Cursing, she pulled her clothes out from under the bedding, still warm from her body and hauled them on over her pyjamas. She struggled with the buttons; she'd always thought only old people got chilblains but this morning her fingers itched like hell.

Downstairs she tugged on one of her husband's overcoats, pausing momentarily to press her nose into the collar in the hope she might catch the faintest scent of him. There was nothing but the dusty smell of wool. She sighed and wrapped it round her, tying a piece of binder twine several times round her waist and pulling it tight. Struggling to bend, she pulled on her boots, snatched her gloves off the line above the range and tied a headscarf around her ears before heading out into the darkness.

The light from the milking shed seeped out along the base of the blackout baffles. Not a cow in sight. Brigsie had rounded them up into the byres all on her own. Millie stood for a moment, composing herself, fighting down her unreasonable irritation. She ducked into the shed and called out,

'Why didn't you wake me?'

Brigsie's head popped up over the back of a cow.

'I thought you needed your sleep,' she said, and that, thought Millie, is the impossibly irritating thing about my darling friend Brigsie; her intentions are kind but she makes me feel utterly inadequate.

'Thanks, Brigsie,' she said.

The head disappeared again, Brigsie's voice floated up over the animals into the steamy air.

'Mrs Wilson saw a plane come down last night.'

'Did she?' Millie said.

Her Golden Labrador trotted up the shed towards her. The cows shifted and stamped in their byres. He swerved as a cloven hoof lashed out backwards and skittered on, his tail wagging as he trotted. Millie squatted down and pulled gently on the dog's ears, soft as suede.

'You'll get such a kick one day, Gyp,' she whispered, laying a kiss on the top of his head.

'Said it didn't make a noise at all,' Brigsie was saying, 'no flames, nothing. Disappeared over the horizon.'

'That's good then.'

Millie went through to the dairy to collect a clean bucket.

'It came down somewhere near Norrington,' Brigsie called out, 'over at Manor Farm. Morney Beswick took a gang of his men up there with pitchforks to get the crew.'

Millie squeezed a path between two cows in the double byre, pressed the stool against her coat and sat.

'Good old Morney,' she said.

The milk whined into the empty bucket, the sound growing lush and deep as it filled.

'It must have blown up when it hit the ground,' Brigsie called. 'They heard the explosion from a mile away. By the time they got there it was completely burned out.'

'How many bodies?'

'It was a fighter apparently, so just the one. Blown to pieces they say.'

'Poor chap.'

'You wouldn't say that if you had family in Bristol. Well over a hundred dead, I heard. Morney's got a daughter over there. He told the men to skewer any crew they found on the spot.'

'Blown to bits or skewered by Morney. Some choice.'

Millie rested her head against the flank of the cow and listened to the rhythm of the milk squirting into the bucket. She used to find it soothing but nowadays she couldn't stop her mind wandering back to the summer, working on her own in a fury because Jack had shut down again, unable to work, unable to drag himself out of bed. She shuddered at her own cruelty, tearing the covers off him to make him get up.

'I can't,' he'd said, reaching out weakly to pull the bedding back.

'Can't means shan't,' she said.

He did get up, eventually. He made it all the way down to the barn in Wigstan Combe.

* * *

On the other side of the valley, Hugh Adamson was battling with a starting handle. The tractor rumbled twice, shuddered and spat out a cloud of exhaust, black as soot, before settling down to a regular chug. He climbed up into the seat and turned out of his farmyard onto the lane leading over the Downs to Enington Farm to collect Millie's churns from the dairy.

Getting the Fordson going in the morning always warmed him up but as he travelled the mile and a half along the top of the Downs, the December wind began to bite through his father's old army coat and he hunkered down into the collar.

He used to be able to see Millie's lights from here, burning out in the darkness on the other side of the combe but not now. Not since the blackout. The sky ahead seemed paler but he couldn't work out if it was dawn or the glow of the snowfields.

The tractor began to drop into the combe and the roof of a dark barn, crouching in the valley, rose up into his field of vision.

Bad business all that, he thought. Place still gave him the spooks, the way the mist lay in that airless gorge. As he watched, a pair of rooks rose up from the snow like black rags blowing in the wind. Millie should have that barn pulled down. It's too far from the dairy to be of any use to her and God knows, she could reuse the materials. He wondered if she ever went down there, ever looked up at that beam and remembered.

He pushed the Fordson into a lower gear to get a bit more power, get him past the combe as quickly as possible and as the track rose, so did his mood. He saw the roofs of Enington Farm ahead; heard the cows stumbling out of the shed, their hooves clacking on the concrete.

'Morning ladies,' he shouted over the noise of the engine.

Millie was swamped by Jack's old coat. He wished she wouldn't wear the bloody thing. About a week after it all happened, he'd walked into her kitchen and she was wearing that damned coat, bending forward, putting something in the bottom oven and he thought for all the world that Jack was back. He told her it was odd, wearing it like that but she'd shrugged, said it was warm.

Millie turned, raised a hand and waved. One of the cows slipped beside her, a hoof veering sideways through the muck. The animal lumbered and tossed her head, slumping against the others.

'Whoa, Patty – get a move on,' Millie shouted, slapping her on the rump. Hugh smiled. Millie was certain cows with names were more productive.

'C'mon, move Daisy, move,' as she slapped another.

He could see Brigsie inside the shed. That woman never felt the cold. No coat or gloves, just her Land Army jodhpurs and jumper. There she was, built like an Amazon, a big, powerful woman, solid, pushing a cow round to face the exit. That type of woman pumped out heat. He half expected to see steam rising off her.

'Go on, Betty. Go on,' he heard her shout.

As the cows began to move outside, Hugh hopped down from the tractor and strode into the shed. He grabbed the rubber hose and began to spray into the corners of the byres, stepping through the dung and straw river as it flowed towards the centre of the shed.

Millie turned in the yard, gave him ... well, the most wonderful smile. She looked so delicate, swamped in that coat and, with the quickness of a boy, she bounded over, grabbed hold of a broom and started pushing the river along, out through the door and over the edge of the concrete, turning the snow ochre yellow.

In the dairy Brigsie was clanking the lids onto the top of the churns and thumping them down with her fist.

'Better fetch the trailer,' he said and Millie paused, leant her elbow on the handle of the broom and nodded, her face a small, white triangle under the skeins of dark hair escaping from her headscarf.

The Fordson was still guggling away at the top of the yard. He climbed back up, crunched it into gear and backed the trailer up to the door. He could see Brigsie, legs apart to steady herself, rocking the first churn backwards and forwards, dragging it towards him. Millie hauled away at the second. She may be half the size of Brigsie but she was strong, tough.

He jumped down, heaving the final one past them. Standing on the trailer he tugged the churns up, his head raised with the effort, then hopped down, barely out of breath, wiping his hands on a piece of cloth.

'Didn't need to cool it this morning,' he said.

'Be lucky if they collect it before it freezes.'

'Can you spare a cup of tea, Millie?'

'Of course. Brigsie?'

'No. I'm all right. I'll start on the litter,' Brigsie said.

CHAPTER 3

'She's a hard worker,' Hugh said when they got inside, 'We're lucky to have her.' He stripped off his coat and threw it over the back of a kitchen chair. 'So, how are you getting on? Were you all right last night? A plane came down over Norrington.'

'I heard.'

'I thought about you.'

'I was fine.'

The kettle began to crack and pop as the water heated.

'I think about you a lot,' he said.

Millie, who was watching the kettle with her back to him, rolled her eyes. She wished he wouldn't do that. She was always pleased to see him, genuinely liked having him around but ever since Jack died, he was like a dog starved of affection. She knew if she patted him, he'd be all over her.

She turned and leaned against the towel bar along the edge of the chipped range. He was sitting forward, his elbows resting on his knees, his hands linked beneath his chin, looking up at her. Compared to the service men, his hair was long, dark as a gypsy's, messed up from where he'd pulled off his hat.

'You mustn't worry about me,' she said.

He laughed lightly and sat back in his chair.

'Did you hear? Bristol got it again last night,' he said.

'I thought I heard the bombers coming over.'

'Coventry, Southampton, Bristol – when will it ever stop?'

'When Britain surrenders?'

'Then it'll never stop,' Hugh looked up at her. His eyes were so deep-set, the pupils so dark, they seemed all of a piece with his eyebrows when he frowned hard.

'Do you think we're in danger here?' she said.

'Coltenham maybe. They might target the munitions factory but we're pretty safe up here.'

'What about the plane that came down?'

'It wasn't a bomber; it was a fighter. I suppose it went off course. It was flying low and the gunners at Shawstoke hit it.'

'Take me over to Norrington today. I'd like to see the wreckage.'

Hugh looked at her and his expression changed.

'I most certainly will not. Women shouldn't see things like that.'

'Really, Hugh?'

'It's not just a plane, Millie. It's a man.'

'Brigsie said there wasn't a body.'

'Not as such.'

'Meaning?'

Hugh got to his feet, his movement sudden and impatient.

'For goodness sake, Millie. What's got into you?' She stared at him, knew he would blunder on. 'All right,' he said. 'The front half of the plane was blown to smithereens and that wretched pilot would have gone the same way. What are you hoping to see? A hand hanging in a tree? A foot under a hedge.'

'I suppose,' she said, 'I'd quite like to see the body of a man who'd been killed in action.'

'Why?'

Millie gave a laugh.

'It would make a change.'

'Oh, stop it, Millie,' and Hugh paced away from her, picked up his coat, paused and flung it back down. He swung round and said, 'You need to put it behind you, move on.'

How many times had she heard that bloody mantra during the past six months? She wanted to mock him for his lack of imagination but she felt an infuriating stinging behind her eyes, saw the room distort as tears oozed into her eyes.

'Oh no – come on, don't cry,' he said, irritated or maybe embarrassed. He stepped towards her, jerking her against his chest, the wool of his jumper prickling her cheek.

'I'm sorry,' she said, her voice muffled against his jumper, 'I didn't mean to bait you.'

She pushed away from him.

He reached behind her and snatched a dishcloth off the rail, offering it to her as a handkerchief.

'Don't blow your nose on it,' he said; his little joke, but Millie wasn't ready for that yet.

'I'm too angry to move on, Hugh. I can't forgive him. I can't forgive myself.'

She'd suffered grief before, losing a mother and a father within a year of each other. The sorrow she felt then was pure, like a sharp knife cutting deep and clean. Jack's death had left a different wound, torn and muddied by guilt. She wondered if it could ever heal.

'Yes, yes,' Hugh said. 'That's enough of all that.' He moved a strand of hair from across her forehead and tried to poke it back underneath her headscarf, his fingertip rough, then he glanced towards the window. Looking for escape, she thought.

'You've had a stinking run of bad luck,' he said. 'It's enough to knock the stuffing out of anyone but it's best not to dwell.'

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "A Dangerous Act of Kindness"
by .
Copyright © 2019 LP Fergusson.
Excerpted by permission of Canelo Digital Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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A Dangerous Act of Kindness 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous 5 months ago
Characters draw you in, right from the beginning. Story line actually made me gasp a few times, as I was so invested in the characters! Almost couldn’t put it down at times, but folks around here expect to be fed. I started it as part of a “library read” late in the promo, and was only half way through the book when it ended! I couldn’t wait the “hold” time, so I BOUGHT it! THAT is something I almost never do! Highly recommend this book!