Broken Wings

Cover for Broken Wings



One last chance . . . before time runs out.

1996 – One chance, that’s all Colin Castle has to prove his worth.

But on a routine flight, piloting an antique airplane, something goes terribly wrong

And Colin lands fifty years in the past.

Right into the arms of the woman who’s haunted his dreams.

1946 – The mysterious Colin with his miraculous plane are Liesl Erhardt’s last chance to make good on her promise to her dead husband.

But can she risk her future—and her heart—on a temporary gift from the sky?

Broken Wings is a heartwarming time-travel romance tale of enduring love.


Chapter 1

Traders Field, Texas, March 1996.

“CastleAir one taking off,” Colin Castle informed the small airport’s dispatcher. He pushed the throttle forward, feeling the airplane’s engine surge to life. The excitement racing through his veins increased in direct proportion to the revving rpm needle.

He released the brakes and gave a whoop of pleasure as the 1948 replica airplane launched down the runway. She wanted to fly, but he kept her grounded. Today he would test his machine to its limits. He couldn’t afford any mistakes. Not this time. He’d made too many of those already. Everything had to be perfect for the air show.

Ten influential investors would witness the CastleAir’s unveiling at the Trinity Air Show in eight days. Five years of blood, sweat and tears would come to fruition then. And those who’d voiced their doubts would have to eat their words—including his father.

Don’t get started on that line of thought. Everything has to be just right. Concentrate on the airplane, nothing else.

The joystick shuddered in his hand. The airplane demanded access to the air. Colin denied the plane’s request, holding her in place. He was a good pilot—one of the best—but for this project to work, he needed to fly like the worst. If the airplane could hold up to the abuse of an over-confident, under-trained pilot, she could handle anything. Colin aimed to fly like the worst show-off, and prove he hadn’t put his faith into a losing proposition this time.

The airplane groaned its protest. Colin relented, easing back the joystick. She sighed off the runway, and her ahhh of satisfaction echoed in Colin’s heart, lightening it. His muscles unwound. His mask came off. Now it was just man and machine, muscles and metal, mind and matter. It washim alone in the vast blue sky.

He was free.

He never felt this way on the ground, weighed to the earth by gravity. He always had to be someone else—Jakob’s serious partner, the show circuit’s fearless fly boy, his father’s worthless son. But the sky, that was something else altogether. There he could relax. He didn’t have to pretend. He could be himself.

Colin urged the CastleAir into a steep ascent, heading straight for the observation tower. He flew closer and closer—close enough to see the dispatcher’s eyes grow wide. As Colin passed over the tower with a foot to spare, Harry ducked. Colin roared with laughter. You’d think Harry would be used to this by now. He raised the gear, then veered left and headed into the clear blue sky to put the plane through its paces in a non-populated area west of Fort Worth.

“CastleAir one, zis is Traders base.” The heavy German accent and the sharp, clipped tones left no doubt as to who stood at the other end of the microphone.

Colin sighed. “What do you want, Jakob?”

Jakob Renke worked metal with the skill and artistry of a master, and without his help this project would never have taken off, but lately, he’d been absurdly agitated over the plane’s well-being. As if Jakob’s future was at stake, not Colin’s.

“Come back and land zis instant.”

“Can’t, got work to do.” Colin adjusted the power for a steady climb.

“Vee agreed. No foolishness.”

“We agreed. I’m not fooling around.” Colin circled the area of patched brown and spring-green pastures, checking for other air traffic and looking for a promising field should the need arise. Fields as familiar to him as every nut and bolt of his airplane, as familiar as a part of his own body. A hawk floated to his left, catching a thermal to higher altitude. Colin joined him.

“Vat do you call zis stunt?”

Colin could imagine Jakob’s beet-red face with the temple veins raised and throbbing. The guy definitely needed to loosen up. “I call it the seventeen-year-old-boy-showing-off-for-his-girlfriend take-off.”

“Vee are not selling to boys! Vee are trying to attract grown investors.”

“Ever heard of a mid-life crisis?”

“You are going to ruin everything vit your crazy flying. Vat good is it to us if the airplane is crashed?”

The radio crackled in the silence that followed.

“I’m coming in.” Colin reversed his position with a Cuban roll and headed back toward the airport. If they were going to have a fight, they wouldn’t do it over the airwaves.

He greased his landing and parked the airplane in its spot next to the Vintage Air Factory hangar. He and Jakob reached the hangar door at the same time, but neither spoke until they stood inside Jakob’s workshop.

This hangar had served as Colin’s home for the past five years. He slept on a cot in the back room, and lived and breathed this project every waking hour. He knew the contents of every plastic bin hanging on the wall. He knew the name and function of every scrap of metal carefully catalogued on the shelves, of every tool in the shop. He’d memorized every blue line on the plans spread over the slanted board beside the workbench.

With the public’s renewed interest in history and flying museums, and a growing shortage of old planes left to be salvaged, Colin came up with the idea of building replicas—old planes from old plans with new parts.

His father had told him his plans were doomed to failure—like all of his previous schemes. Then, when he’d been looking for investors, he’d met Jakob by accident at an air show in California. Jakob put up the money to build the first plane. With their combined skills, they managed to pull the project together and come up with an improved version on an old classic, the 1948 CastleAir Special Edition. When Jakob suggested this particular model, the idea intrigued Colin because the airplane shared his last name. He took it as a good omen.

Now in the wings, plans to build a Grumman F3F biplane and a Messerschmitt Me262 jet fighter waited for the right investors. Their reality hung in a successful unveiling in eight days’ time at the Trinity Air Show. Colin’s personal success hung on a ten-minute flight that would either make him or break him. He didn’t appreciate Jakob’s lack of faith at this late hour.

“Vat vere you trying to do?” Jakob asked.

A shock of stiff white hair surrounded a round face with accusing round eyes and round glasses. There was nothing round about the rest of Jakob’s body. It appeared solid and wiry from the perpetual motion of eighteen hours plus of work every day for the past five years. The frustrated activity of a man laden with guilt, Colin often thought, and he’d never felt this assumption more clearly than he did now. For the first time since they’d met, he wondered at Jakob’s motives. Maybe more than workmanship attracted Jakob to this project. But what? They rarely spoke of anything except the CastleAir and the odd diatribe on the physics of time.

A curl of uncertainty unfurled deep in Colin’s stomach, but he ignored it. He flung his leather jacket over Jakob’s cluttered workbench. “I was making sure an idiot would be safe flying our plane.”

“Idiot? Vere is your head? Zese are professionals.”

Colin was right. The purple veins above Jakob’s temples did stand out and throb against his angry red skin. “Professionals my foot.” Colin paced away from Jakob, then spun back. “Professional lawyers and doctors, maybe. But not professional pilots. These are weekend pilots with barely a hundred hours of flight time logged in their books. They hardly know an aileron from an attitude. I want to be sure our airplane is forgiving enough to see them safely to the ground should they get in over their heads.”

Jakob pounded a fist on the workbench, rattling the spare parts of the electric gear motor. “But how can you risk our investment like zat so close to ze show.” Jakob ground his index finger on the workbench to emphasize each word. “No plane, no show, no investors, nicht wahr?”

Colin leaned his weight on his fists, and with an angry undertone, he mimicked Jakob’s accent. “Airplane kaputt after one flight by a jock with more balls than brains and no more orders, nicht wahr?”

They stared at each other, neither willing to turn away first. Both wanting to win. Both hating to lose. Colin understood Jakob’s point, but Jakob didn’t even try to consider his. What did it matter, anyway? They both wanted the same thing. Success. They just had different ideas on how to achieve it.

“Listen, Jakob,” Colin relented, scraping a hand through his hair. Damn, he’d forgotten to get it cut again. One more detail to take care of before Sunday.

He moved away a few paces, stuffing both hands into the pockets of his khaki pants, then turned back to face the old man. “This is my last chance. Do you think I’d do anything to jeopardize my opportunity for success? My father’s in the hospital tied to a dozen tubes. The lung cancer’s got him beat. The doctors don’t give him more than a month. If I don’t make it this time, he’ll die thinking I’m a failure.”

Jakob shook his head in slow resignation. “I’m not ready.” He unearthed a book from beneath his bench. “Your foolish attitude is forcing my hand.”

“For what?” Like the sudden silence of a failed engine in flight, Jakob’s nonsense mutterings sounded off trouble.

Flicking the pages once with the back of his hand, Jakob shook his head again. “The calculations, zey are not quite right.”

“Calculations for what?” Colin would know exactly what to do about a dead engine. He had no emergency checklist for a partner gone over the edge.

“For ze vindow.”

Jakob seemed to wind tighter and tighter with each passing moment, reminding Colin of his wind-up balsa-wood airplane when he was a kid. The more he wound the propeller, the tighter the elastic got until one more crank either broke the rubber band, releasing the tension, or the airplane sprang free from his hand, zigzagging an erratic path across the yard. Which would Jakob do?

“Jakob, you’re not making any sense.”

Jakob’s round glasses magnified his near colorless eyes, reflecting his desperation. What was going on? Why was Jakob so frantic, now of all times?

“Zis is my last chance, also.” Jakob thumbed through the pages of his notebook so fast several sheets tore part way. “If I don’t find Liesl ze first time, I may never get a chance to fix my mistake. I must stop zem from killing Kurt.”

“Liesl? What mistake? Who’s Kurt?” Colin stood still, keeping his voice low and slow, afraid to make the wrong move and release Jakob’s hold on sanity, afraid this latest failure would send him into a blind, high-speed spin into the ground. Colin latched onto a point of reference. They needed each other—at least until the air show. He couldn’t give up on success so close to the mark.

“He vaz my best friend and I betrayed him for Liesl’s love.” Jakob wiped his brow, tugging at the corner of one eye as if to remove a tear. “Instead, I killed zem both. First, she lost Kurt.”

One finger traced the outline of a girl’s face scribbled in pencil on the page. A pretty girl with high cheekbones, big, sad eyes and very kissable lips. Was she the reason for Jakob’s sudden madness?

“Zen she lost his dream,” Jakob continued, his voice laden with regret. “She died of a broken heart. Too young to die. All my fault. I have to go back and stop zem.”

He ripped the page out and threw it in Colin’s direction. Colin caught the paper and absently stuffed it in his pocket.

“Stop who?” Colin asked.

He rounded the workbench and stood next to Jakob. His hands started up to comfort his partner, then fell back to his side. Colin knew nothing about the man with whom he’d spent nearly every hour of every day for the past five years—not where he’d come from, nothing about his family, nothing about his past, except his extraordinary ability to work with metal and his odd fixation on physics. At the time, that had seemed like enough. Had he missed something important?

“Jakob, I’m worried about you. You can’t do this to me this close to the air show. What’s wrong with you?”

Jakob lifted his gaze from the book. Tiny spider lines of red webbed the whites and moisture magnified the pupils even more through the thick lenses. “Same zing zat is wrong vit you. I tried to impress the wrong person, using the wrong method. I paid for my selfishness all of my life. Even finding you vaz a torture of ze soul. Every day you remind me of vat I did. Looking at you every day pushed me to find ze vay. Did I ever tell you zat you look like him?”


But Jakob didn’t seem to hear him. He pointed to disjointed calculations on an unlined page. “I’m close. So close.” He turned the page. A diagram illustrated two cones joined by a narrow passageway overlaid on a map with Lake Schönberg highlighted. “Ze timing has to be perfect.”

“Timing for what?” Colin spoke through clenched teeth to keep his mounting irritation in check. He wasn’t going to let anyone mess with his chance to win. Not even Jakob. Not this time.

Lost in a world of his own, Jakob didn’t answer.

Colin stared at Jakob. The propeller clock, ticking loudly on the wall, stretched each second into minutes. The smell of aviation gas and grease dizzied him. The distant whir of engines buzzed in his mind like lazy drones. As the background blurred, Jakob’s face came into sharp focus. And the wild look in his eyes, the desperation etched in every line on the craggy face showed Colin a man who’d lost his hold on reality.

Trying to find a grip on his anger, Colin moved away. Jakob trotted in front of him, grabbed the front of Colin’s shirt and shook him with rash urgency. “You must do as vee agreed until after ze air show. I vill hold my end of ze bargain. I von’t leave until you have your orders. But you must hold yours. Vee agreed. No foolishness.”

Colin ground his teeth. “I’m not foolish. I’m safe.”

“You take foolish chances,” Jakob insisted. “Zink of Karen.”

“That was thirteen years ago.” Unable to stand the confining grip of the collar’s material against his neck, Colin ripped Jakob’s hands from his shirt and shoved them away. Air rasped painfully through his constricted throat. “I was a kid. Watching Karen die made me determined never to harm anyone. I’m the best damned pilot around because of what happened to Karen, and you know it. I won’t crash the plane.”

“Colin, bitte, like vee agreed. The maneuvers, nozing else.”

A spoke of sunlight washed through the hangar’s dirty windows, accentuating Jakob’s age and frailty. An old man was allowed an obsession, no matter how crazy it seemed to anyone else. If Jakob’s fixation on redeeming a past mistake made him work hard on this project, then so be it. The results would be the same. A successful flight at the air show would bring them both the rewards they sought.

“All right,” Colin agreed reluctantly, too tired to fight. “We’ll do it your way—this time. I better get back up before I run out of sunlight.”

Ja, gut, go back up, and do it exactly as vee planned. Do not do or touch anyzing you are not supposed to.”

“Aye, aye, Herr Kapitän.” Colin gave Jakob a mock salute, grabbed his jacket, and jogged out to the CastleAir.

With the responsibilities of earth weighing heavily on him, and his dizzying near crash with human insanity, he desperately needed a break.

* * *

Schönberg, Texas. March 1946.

“I’m leaving, Papa,” Liesl Erhardt called to her father standing at the back of the general store. He lifted a hand in acknowledgment, but didn’t look up from weighing out nails for a customer.

This was her favorite part of the day. Her duty done as postmistress in her father’s store, she could spend what remained of the day at the airport with Kurt’s airplane. Her father thought she was crazy, and lashed out regularly at what he called her morbid behavior. Her grandmother shook her head sadly, but Liesl thought Oma understood.

To Liesl, keeping the airport alive was the only way to make sense of all the sadness. Wearing Kurt’s shirt while she worked on his plane was the only way to get through the empty days. If she could make his dream of winning the Trinity Trophy Race and starting his own aviation school come true, then he wouldn’t have died for nothing, and she’d have a reason to live.

But today her steps dragged. She wasn’t sure she could bear going there. Two years ago he’d died—for no reason except unfounded fear. Normally, just thinking about that day, made her blood boil. But today, thinking about Kurt’s senseless murder raised goose bumps all over her body and sent a dreadful snake of premonition rattling in her stomach.

She stopped suddenly and raised a hand to her throat. The air thickened, making it hard for her to breathe. She gulped hard, and blinked.

A train whistle rent the silence. The high, piercing sound, the clickety-clack of speeding wheels, the strobe-like effect of racing cars playing with the sun accentuated the sense of impending doom she’d felt all night and fought all day.

Blasting wind from the roaring train flattened her cotton dress against her thighs, and in the backwash, she thought she heard her name. Lee-ee-sl-l-l. Long and drawn out like a lover’s questioning whisper in the night.

Haunting. Like her dream.

She shivered.

As she crossed over the railroad from the German side of Schönberg to the Anglo side, a weary sigh escaped her. Liesl wiped the frustrated tears collecting at the corner of her eyes. She hated the steel tracks that gave a physical division to the town. A division that had grown more obvious, more rabid over the past few years.

Holding her breath, she tread carefully past the brick-colored plank building fronting the rail yard, and sent a silent prayer Billy Ackley would be too busy to notice her today. She had enough on her mind without having to deal with him. About to call herself home free, she felt a hand on her shoulder. She jumped and found herself face to face with Billy.

“Hey, pretty Fraülein, I’ve been lookin’ for you.”

“Can’t imagine why,” Liesl said, resigned to his company until she reached the airport gate.

His white teeth gleamed, but Liesl wasn’t fooled by his killer smile. Behind the too pretty face, the too blue eyes, and the too sleek body hid a master manipulator. Billy wouldn’t stop hounding her until she gave in and sold him her airport.

But she wouldn’t.

She couldn’t.

She had to hang on to it—for Kurt, for her sanity, for her life to have meaning.

“I’ve been thinkin’.” Billy drew her proprietarily closer as he spoke. “And I think I’ve found a way for us to solve our little problem.”

“Which little problem would that be?” Liesl shrugged his hand off her shoulder and shifted her purse until it formed a barrier between them.

“You’re such a card!” He tipped back his white Stetson. “The airport, of course.”

“Of course. What else?”

Like a dog on a scent, Billy Ackley had a one-track mind. One set on power. He’d been such a sweet boy, Liesl remembered. What had gone wrong? It couldn’t have been the war, Billy’s flat feet had prevented his participation. But something had happened because, as a teenager, he’d renounced his German roots—to the extent of changing his name from Wilhelm Acker to Billy Ackley. Then once the war had begun, he’d started buying out the town piece by piece. He was now mayor, and banker, not to mention the owner of the rail yard, the Ford dealership, and most of the businesses on the south side of town.

He’d desperately wanted Kurt’s airport. But Kurt, filled with an idealistic dream, wouldn’t sell.

Billy had sensed success with Kurt’s death, only to realize Kurt had died one day too late. As his wife, Liesl had inherited the piece of precious land. She often wondered if Billy had engineered Kurt’s death.

Which gave her one more reason to hang on to her property.

“I’ve been thinkin’,” Billy continued, “maybe we should get married.”

Liesl stopped dead in her tracks and hugged the purse to her chest. “You’re joking, right?”

“I’ve never been more serious. We look good together. Two years of mourning is long enough, don’t you think? And think how good it would be for the town. Joinin’ the Ackleys and the Erhardts together might be just what the town needs to bring it back together again.”

As if you care. She took a deep breath. “Not to mention it would solve your little problem.”

“You’re a beautiful woman, Lise,” Billy coaxed. “You shouldn’t have to work in your father’s store. You shouldn’t have to dirty your hands running an airport. I can handle all those nasty little details for you, and keep you in the style you deserve.”

“I have everything I want. And don’t call me Lise.”

Liesl strode forward. Billy’s heavy cologne nauseated her. His proximity chilled her. Tightening her sweater around her, she counted the steps to the gate and freedom. And a different kind of hell, she thought, looking apprehensively toward the hangar. One more minute and Billy would turn back. For some odd reason, he never came onto her property and never crossed the tracks to the north side of town.

“You should be pampered,” Billy said. “Wear fancy dresses, be waited on hand and foot.”

“And raise a litter of your children?” Liesl snorted at the horrible image of a dozen little Billys yapping at her heels like hungry puppies forming in her mind.

“That could be arranged.” His grin widened a mile. “I’d be a good husband.”

Half the town’s females, on both sides, seemed to think so. But not her. She didn’t want a husband, especially one who would never cherish her the way…

Kurt’s smiling face swam into her consciousness. She shook her head in rapid, short strokes and scrunched her eyes closed. She didn’t want to remember. It hurt too much.

Billy touched her shoulder once more. Evinced by her roller coaster emotions, Liesl spun to face him and break the contact.

“Look, Billy,” she snapped. “We’ve been over this before. I won’t sell before the race.” I won’t sell—ever! But Billy was too dense to realize that.

Billy’s foot rose to the lower rail on the gate, hiking up his freshly pressed brown pants and showing off his brand new tan ostrich skin boots. He leaned one elbow on his raised knee and pulled down his Stetson, shading his eyes. “And I’ve told you before, you won’t find a pilot willing to fly for you.”

A situation carefully arranged compliments of Mr. Billy Ackley, I’m sure. “Then I’ll fly myself.”

“You’re not licensed, sugar. You won’t be allowed to fly.”

As Liesl pulled the rusty metal tongue on the gate latch, it hissed. “I’ll find a way.”

“Suit yourself.” He splayed both hands up in temporary defeat, then pushed himself off the gate. “I gave you the easy way out. For the life of me, I can’t see why you’d want to put yourself through this.” His mouth twisted to one side and he shook his head slowly. “It’s like losing twice, Lise. First Kurt, now his airport. Why put yourself through the pain?”

As Liesl pushed open the wooden gate with its peeling white paint, it creaked. No, Billy would never understand because Billy and his desires were the only things that existed for him. He loved himself too much to ever love anyone else. He couldn’t possibly appreciate her feelings.

“I’ll be seein’ you, Lise,” Billy called after her.

He lingered for a moment at the gate, but Liesl promptly forgot him. Her mind turned to the strange feeling of simultaneous wrongness and rightness enveloping the hangar.

Already the blue sky faded to a yellow haze on the horizon. Golden light bathed the world in a magical glow she’d come to associate with the airport. Her mind rang with the memory of the love and laughter she’d lived there. But today, the hangar didn’t welcome her. It stood dark and somber, its mouth wide and gaping, waiting to swallow her. Yet, at the same time, it drew her like a willing sacrifice with soft whispers to her soul, promising solace.

Even the bluebonnets swaying in the breeze seemed to sound a soft warning, then a giggle, as if they couldn’t make up their mind either. With her heart solidly lodged in her throat, Liesl continued down the hill to the small office beside the hangar, shrugged out of her dress and into Levi’s and one of Kurt’s shirts.

With Billy and his purchased power stacked decisively in his corner, the odds of success stood against her. What Billy wanted, Billy usually got. Liesl slipped into army boots, tugging hard on the laces.

She needed a miracle. And despite Oma‘s faith in them, Liesl had long given up on miracles. They didn’t happen. At least not for her. You must do better, always better. Papa was right, the only thing she could count on was hard work. If she worked hard enough, if she loved him strongly enough, Kurt’s dream would come true.

She crossed over to the hangar, and holding her breath, she slid open the corrugated door. The air felt strange today, thick, stale, unbreathable. She dropped her head against the door, touching the cool metal to her forehead. Her swallowed sob swelled painfully in her chest. “Why did you leave me?” she whispered.

“Liesl? Are you all right?”

“Max! I didn’t know you were here.” Liesl jumped at her cousin’s unexpected presence. Pushing herself off the door, she struggled to recover her composure. “I’m fine. I was just…” She couldn’t help it, her gaze shifted to the oak tree, dark and oppressive against the setting sun.

“I thought about it, too.”

Struck by the cracking of her cousin’s voice, Liesl turned back to him. Max stuck both his hands in the back pocket of his Levi’s and cast his dark eyes to the ground. Liesl gave a soft smile. Max would remember, too. He’d idolized Kurt, copying his dress and his mannerisms, pouring out affection he’d have showered on a father had he had one. And Kurt had given the boy the attention he sought.

Max had wrangled a promise of flying lessons as his sixteenth birthday present, a promise never fulfilled because of Kurt’s untimely death. Now toward a different end, Max shared her dream of a flight school, and showed up regularly to help her keep the airplanes in flying condition.

“I know.” She squeezed his arm affectionately.

Max reached in the inside pocket of Kurt’s war bomber jacket and retrieved a packet of cigarettes. “I’ve been waiting for you. So, what happened with Matson?”

He struck a match and Liesl blew it out. “I’ve told you before, not in here. It’s too dangerous.” Liesl sighed, marched into the hangar to ease her frustration, and stopped at the racer Kurt had built. She ran her hand over the airplane’s silver skin. “Matson turned me down flat. He said I couldn’t pay him enough to fly for me.”

Max chewed the end of his unlit cigarette, then spat out stray tobacco. “Ackley?”

“Who else? He stopped me today. Asked me to marry him.”

Max made a rude noise, then leaned his back on the airplane and looked at her expectantly. “So what do we do now? Matson was our last hope for a pilot.”

Liesl shook her head. “I don’t know, Max. If something drastic doesn’t happen soon, we’ll have to withdraw.”

And withdrawing would kill her as surely as the lynch mob’s noose had killed Kurt. Without his dream to follow, her life would have no meaning.

“Liesl, no!” Max grabbed her arms.

Though it hurt, Liesl forced herself to smile. “We still have a week.” She threw open the engine’s cowling and grabbed a wrench from the rolling tool tray beside the airplane. “Come on, we have work to do.”

For Max, she’d pretend there was still hope.

They worked side by side, but Liesl’s heart wasn’t in it. The air was so hard to breathe tonight, and the rattler in her stomach had started shaking its tail again. Her mind drifted elsewhere, listening, waiting. And with each passing moment, dread grew.

Slowly, softly, a buzzing noise pierced her heavy mood. She knew that noise, had heard it a thousand times. Her head snapped up. Her heart stopped for an instant, then jabbered erratically. The wrench she held dropped to the concrete floor with a clang.

Without thinking, Liesl bolted for the door.

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