I had a vague idea for a story, but inspiration evaded me until I was sitting in the doctor’s waiting room. With two patients ahead of me, I flicked through another magazine and read an article on how a person’s true character emerges when faced with extreme danger, unexpected poverty or wealth, or life-threatening circumstances. The tough he-man turns to water and runs. Discarding old friends for the rich crowd. Jumping fully clothed into rough seas to rescue a drowning dog. At that time, I was going through old family papers and found my grandfather’s WW1 military records. He served with the Australian Imperial Forces in Belgium and France and was involved in some of the bloodiest battles. He came home but was never the same. Intrigued I researched the events leading up to the German invasion of Belgium in August 1914 and what was called The Rape of Belgium. I was reading the atrocities my grandfather found painful to talk about.
I had the inspiration and the setting for Perilous Love.
As the world rushes towards a war, the British government orders wealthy businessman, Adrian Bryce to leave his mistress and accompany his estranged wife, Gabrielle, to Belgium. They require proof Gabrielle’s uncle is supporting the German Empire. Adrian discovers secrets which plunge him and Gabrielle into a nightmare of betrayal. Forced to run for their lives as Germany invades, they must trust each other in the midst of danger, brutality, and injury.
Gabrielle enjoys her role of mother of their two children. Wanting only to be with her lover, and now fearful of exposure, she readies herself and her children for a difficult trip. With no way out, Gabrielle knows the visit with her aristocratic traditional family will be a trial, and Europe is on edge. She had no idea the danger she, Adrian and her children would be in.
Will Adrian and Gabrielle reach safety? If they do, are they out of danger or will the intrigue and treason follow them back to England?
“Go down to the floor,” Adrian waited until she scrambled down then lowered himself step by step to join her. His arm went around her shaking shoulders and he had no idea how long they sat without moving before the smoke, followed by terrified screams found their way through the slits in the walls. A huge boom followed by explosive smashing into something solid made them jump. Adrian could only surmise the massive convent doors were now in smithereens or a hole had been blasted through the thick stone walls. Maniacal roaring filled the air, sending waves of fear and revulsion through him. He didn’t have to see to know the soldiers were pouring into the convent and smashing everything in their path. The crashing and violence grew louder, he heard Gabrielle crying softly and pleading with every deity in the universe to protect those in the cellars. The smoke thickened and assailed their noses and mouths.
“They are setting fire to the whole place. All of us will be smoked out of hiding.” Gabrielle whispered. “We will die in here.”
Adrian pulled off his shirt. “Can you reach the water? Wet this and we’ll hold it against our faces. It will help.” The noise of destruction continued unabated and above the obscene came the cries of terror and screams for mercy. Gabrielle clapped her hands over her ears and pushed her face into her lap. Adrian pulled the shirt tighter over his head, but nothing could block out the sounds of cheering, the obscenities and the demands to be next. Nor could he stop the vision of innocent gentle nuns being hauled out from their hiding, stripped naked and violently raped by one, then another and another. He heard Gabrielle’s voice whispering, “Where are you God, where are you?” Adrian pulled her closer as they sat frozen on the bottom step, with his shirt covering their heads. He was unaware the damaged roof had drawn most of the smoke upwards, he was unaware the small shafts of light were fading to smoky grey.
His sense of time had gone, he had no idea how long they’d huddled together until their minds recognized the complete absence of sound. It was eerily quiet, and that was almost as frightening as the unspeakable evil before it. Adrian removed his shirt from their heads, and they listened intently. A soft sound, perhaps murmuring, then it went silent again. When he stood up, Gabrielle grabbed at his hand. He squeezed hers briefly. “Just pray it’s over, I’ll look through the hole,” he whispered, and crawled over to remove two boards. He pushed his face to the gap, half expecting a pistol to be pointed at him, but there was nothing. Pushing aside the other boards, he reached for his crutches.
“No!” Gabrielle whispered furiously. “Don’t go out there.”
“We can’t stay in here forever and hide while they…” he rubbed his eyes. “Whoever is left will need our help.”
“We can stay here, we have food and water,” she pleaded.
“I think it’s dusk, Gaby, there is every possibility the Germans have gone. Do not follow me, stay here.” Yet he hesitated for a few moments before repeating, “Stay here.” He then crouched down and pushed his crutches before him through the hole. The smell of charred wood and smoke hit his nostrils as he crept closer to the smashed rear door of the now silent convent. The hairs on the back of his neck prickled as he inched forward into a scene from hell. It looked like every door had been pulled from its hinges; smoke still drifted out from blackened rooms. The inner courtyard gardens were trampled into the ground, broken statues and religious artefacts were strewn everywhere. His brain registered ripped black cloth among the debris. Bile rose in his throat. In front of him were the naked bodies of four women with cropped hair. Horror washed over him. Nuns, their faces unrecognizable. The crutches tapped softly with each step as he moved into the interior of the convent. Another body lay crookedly in a doorway. He stood still, trying to absorb the ghastly scene and forced his mind to think clearly. Where was everyone? He hoped to God that Anton managed to hide the children in those old passages beside the cellars. Why hadn’t the nuns hidden with them? Had the Germans killed everyone? His eyes turned to a burnt door, partly ajar. It looked like a small schoolroom which had escaped the worst of the fire. He paused, listened, then opened the door and stopped dead.
An aristocratic face under a German officer’s cap looked up and pointed his pistol at Adrian’s chest. “You will stand perfectly still or you will be shot.”
Jan Selbourne was born and educated in Melbourne, Australia and her love of literature and history began as soon as she learned to read and hold a pen. After graduating from a Melbourne Business College her career began in the dusty world of ledgers and accounting, working in Victoria, Queensland and the United Kingdom. On the point of retiring, she changed course to work as secretary of a large NSW historical society. Now retired Jan is enjoying her love of travelling and literature. She has two children, a stray live in cat and lives near Maitland, New South Wales.