LUKE SURVEYED THE LOBBY ONE more time in search of the stocky blond guy and then followed the others to the elevator. What was with Nathan? He was acting skittish, which was out of character. Mr. Cool was rarely bothered by anything and cruised through life on his own terms. What was with him scouring the room with a wild look in his eye, shaking like a leaf? I’m going to grill him later about this.
The elevator dinged and the doors swooshed open. “After you, ladies.” Luke ensured the doors didn’t close on them. Madison squared her shoulders. Something had spooked her earlier, but now the color had returned to her cheeks, and she didn’t appear to be shaking. Brave girl. When she breezed past him, the scent of vanilla made him heady. It was fresh and warm and suited her perfectly. He inhaled. What is the matter with me?
He gave his head a subtle shake. He was here for a week, then in Seattle for a further six days before heading back to the orphanage in Mexico, where he would return to his regular single life. Unless he heard otherwise from God in the meantime. This could be a pivotal week, and he needed to focus on his future, not a pretty girl. His stint in the Mexican orphanage was coming to an end, and he had a huge decision to make: Should he renew his contract and stay two more years in Mexico, or was God calling him somewhere new? Or even back to Seattle?
As the doors closed, he was treated to another waft of vanilla. Madison. She wouldn’t be interested in any romantic relationship after her experience last year anyway. Their earlier conversation about her ex-fiancé confirmed that fact. His heart ached. How could anyone deceive this beautiful woman?
While Nathan pushed the buttons for their respective floors, Luke chanced a sideways glance at her. Yes, he was single and intended to stay that way—but Madison was stunning. Not in a showy way, but she exuded class and gentleness and had a natural beauty about her.
Long chocolate-brown ringlets framed a flawless porcelain face. A smattering of light freckles on her nose gave a youthful appearance, even though she had to be in her mid-twenties. Twenty-five? That seemed about right. Her whole face lit up when she smiled, yet it sometimes hinted at a great deal of hurt still being worked through. That much was clear from their conversation. She was a long way from being ready to dive into another relationship. But those captivating dark eyes…
Had he really offered to help her overcome her fear of water this week? Since when did he have the gall to invite a gorgeous woman to spend time with him in paradise? Good grief. Madison should be like a sister. After all, she was a sister in Christ as well as a future sister-in-law. She was vulnerable and off limits, even if he were looking for someone special in his life. Which he wasn’t. Right, God?
The ding and swish of the elevator doors stirred him from his musings. Chloe squealed. She was not about to let any creepy guy dampen her enthusiasm.
“This is our stop. My goodness, this is it. I’ll see you at four tomorrow. Nathan?”
Luke glanced at his brother. He was staring straight through the open doors in some sort of daze. He snapped out of it in time and bent down to kiss Chloe’s cheek.
“Sorry, honey. I guess I need some sleep.” His voice was way too cheery. “You have a great day tomorrow, and I’ll see you when you’re dressed in white and ready to race down the aisle to me.”
She shook her head. “You do need sleep. Luke, promise me you’ll look after this guy and make sure he’s not late to our wedding?”
Luke reached over and ruffled his brother’s hair. “I take my responsibilities seriously—don’t you worry. He’ll be there.” He looked at Madison. “Enjoy your day tomorrow.”
She grinned. “We will. It’s the last chance for me to have my sister all to myself.”
Chloe pecked Nathan’s cheek and linked arms with Madison as they exited the elevator.
As the doors slid together, giggles faded into the night. The guys traveled up two more floors in silence. Seconds later, the doors opened one last time, and Nathan stepped out, followed by Luke. The air smelled like jerk chicken as they made their way down the dimly lit corridor until they reached their room.
“I have my key here. Give me a minute.” Luke managed to get the temperamental piece of plastic to work on his second attempt. He held the door open for his brother and flicked on the lights.
Nathan plodded over to the wide expanse of windows, where he stood with his hands in his pockets and gazed out over the ocean.
Something was bothering him, and since Nathan wasn’t one to open up, this could make for an awkward conversation. Luke gave him a moment and then joined him at the window.
“So, you must be looking forward to having a couple of weeks off work?”
Luke shoved his hands in his pockets and stared at his brother’s profile. “How are things going in the world of realtors these days? Business picking up yet?”
“It’s not bad.”
“Chloe must be thrilled about your new place. Mom emailed me some photos—it looks amazing. She’s a talented designer.”
Luke raked his fingers through his thick hair and sighed. “Scintillating conversation. What’s wrong with you? You’re acting weird.”
Nathan continued peering through the window. “Nothing. I’m good.”
“No, you’re not.” Luke shook his head. How many scrapes had he rescued Nathan from over the years? Would he ever grow up? He was getting married tomorrow. Lord, I need a good dose of patience and wisdom here. “Something’s upset you and I don’t think we’re talking pre-wedding jitters.”
Nathan glared at him. “How would you know? I don’t remember you ever getting married before.”
“No, you don’t. You can’t fool me, brother. I’ve known you your whole life. I know how that brain of yours ticks, and something got under your skin down in the lobby.” He put a hand on Nathan’s shoulder. “Did you see Madison’s mystery guy—the one with the ominous eyes? Because that’s when you started acting all paranoid, and you’re not one to get spooked by some random character.”
Nathan shrugged away from Luke’s hand and stomped over to the armchair next to the bed. He collapsed into it and folded his muscular arms. “No, I did not see Madison’s guy, okay? I’ll bet she imagined it anyway. Chloe says she’s a bag of nerves.”
Luke could take rejection from Nathan, but he wouldn’t have him attacking Madison’s character. “That’s not fair. She’s been through a lot. I heard some of her story tonight. And the way she trembled afterwards, I’m positive she didn’t see the Invisible Man.”
“Maybe it was a ghost. She’s super spiritual, you know.”
Luke clenched his jaw. Always the spiritual dig. “She’s a Christian, like me.”
“No duh.” Nathan squinted and tapped his fingers on his chin. “Hmm, seems to me like you’re being overly protective about someone you just met. Has the single guy been smitten with all this talk of weddings?” He waggled his eyebrows.
Luke blushed. Hopefully, his Mexican tan disguised it. “I know you’re trying to deflect the attention here. And don’t be crazy. I’ve known her for what—six hours?”
Nathan stood and unbuttoned his shirt. “Yeah, but she’s your type.”
“In need of rescuing, a Bible basher, and beautiful. Your perfect combo.”
Luke exhaled a bubble of laughter. “That’s nonsense. You know I haven’t any intentions of getting married, and as much as it irks you, that’s how it is. I don’t expect you to understand but I’m happy being single. It suits my life on the mission field.” At least that’s what I thought until now… Perhaps it’s just the wedding atmosphere messing with my head.
“I respect you, man, but I sure don’t understand you. All I remember of our childhood is you wanting to be a missionary.”
“Yep. Since I went to Bible camp when I was eleven years old. Accepting the invitation to go with my buddy from school was the smartest thing I ever did. It changed my life. Mom and Dad had never even mentioned God to us up until then.”
Nathan sighed. “I’m quite sure they didn’t want to mention Him after that either. Work is Dad’s jam and shopping is Mom’s. They’re happy enough, so why mess with it?”
“Because I love them and I want them to know Jesus like I do. They’re not happy deep down. They don’t have peace.” Luke’s heart ached. “Do you?”
“Dude, you’re way too serious. Don’t you ever wish you had a wife? I mean, doesn’t it ever get lonely for you? You sure aren’t getting any younger. Just saying.”
Always the deflection. The conversation was going the same way it always did. Luke grabbed a throw pillow and hurled it at his brother. “Thirty is the new twenty. Look. I know it’s different for everyone, but I think God used my lack of family responsibilities to make me available to work anywhere He led me—India, Africa, and, for the past five years, Mexico. Sure, I prayed about it quite a lot in my early twenties, but He gave me contentment in being single.” And that’s where I’m staying until I hear otherwise. Loud and clear.
“Maybe. But I don’t know any different. You know I only ever had two girlfriends in my life, and that was in ninth grade.”
Nathan jabbed his brother’s chest on his way to the bathroom. “Hey, man, third time’s a charm.”
“I don’t think so,” Luke whispered into the empty room.
What would it be like to share his journey with someone special? These past months, he’d caught himself daydreaming in the long evenings, all alone. His thirtieth birthday was fast approaching, and with tomorrow’s wedding on his mind, Luke couldn’t keep his thoughts straight. Thirty. Where had the last decade gone? Perhaps he was going through some sort of early midlife crisis. He began pacing.
It’s all in Your hands, God. My future, wherever that might be. Do You want me back with my family in Seattle? He was close with his parents and brother, and his home was always full of love and laughter, but none of them shared his faith. It was tough growing up as the only one with any beliefs. His parents and Nathan were supportive of his vocation, but it would mean so much more if they understood his passion for sharing God’s love.
The shower blasted in the bathroom, and Luke stopped pacing to lean against the window. Nathan was always the clown in the family, and they were surprised when he announced his engagement to Chloe. How long had they been dating then? Three months? And then they wanted a short engagement with a simple wedding. Typical Nathan.
There’s no denying the boy is in love. Luke had spoken several times with his brother by phone and was shocked to discover he had fallen head over heels. Chloe fit into the Alexander family seamlessly. Luke closed his eyes when he pictured his mother’s smile on the screen as they had video chatted—she was overjoyed to have another female in the family at last.
He took a deep breath. His little brother was beginning a new life tomorrow. Chloe and Nathan were indeed a perfect match. Maybe one day they would both share a real faith to make their lives even richer. Lord, help them to see their need for You. How much richer their relationship would be with You in the midst.
Several minutes passed until Luke opened his eyes to the ocean view. Even at night, it was glorious, bathed in the glow of the moon. Maybe Nathan would come snorkeling with him in the morning. Share in the pure joy of being in the water. He could never get enough of the ocean—swimming, sailing, diving, whatever was available. How heartbreaking it must be for Madison with her fear of drowning.
I can’t imagine anything worse. If only she could get past her fears and experience God’s peace in her life. Then she might even take him up on his offer to help overcome her water woes this week. He bit the inside of his cheek. It could be uncomfortable for them both or it could be amazing. What if it were amazing? What if the attraction was one-sided? What if he quit overanalyzing? Fresh air was required.
Luke opened the French doors and stepped out onto the balcony. The night air was warm and humid, much like Mexico.
Something caught his eye farther down the beach.
Flashlights shone out from the end of the second dock, and several men waved their arms at one another with raised voices. One of the lights shone onto the side of a small vessel. Luke squinted. Painted in bold letters were three words: Glass Bottom Boat.
“Sweet. I’ve got to check that out this week.”
The commotion intensified and a smack sounded from the dock. Luke spotted one guy lying sprawled out, clutching his nose. This was turning nasty. He saw enough violence overseas and was never one to sit by and ignore someone in distress.
They might not hear him, but he could hear their muffled cries, so it was worth a shot. “Hey, you guys. Stop. Or I’ll call the police.”
In a matter of seconds, the whole group dispersed and the area was deserted.
Nathan stepped onto the balcony, clad in a fluffy white towel. “Bro, who on earth are you hollering at? Do you know how late it is? You’re not in Mexico now, you know.”
Luke pointed to the second dock, which now held one boat and zero rowdy men. “Yeah, yeah, I know. But I saw some guy being beaten up down by that boat and I figured I could at least try to scare them off by shouting. I didn’t exactly have time to catch the elevator.”
“Want me to call security?”
“I don’t think so. The excitement’s over.”
Nathan leaned over the railing and looked down toward the two docks and the stretch of beach to his left. “Where is he now? I don’t see anything suspicious.”
“That’s because they all scattered when they heard me, even the guy on the floor. The second dock’s empty, other than the boat. I guess he wasn’t too injured. Better to be safe than sorry.”
Nathan patted Luke’s back. “Well done. A Good Samaritan off the mission field as well as on. I’m impressed.”
“Yeah, well, I hope they didn’t see which room I was yelling from. I have you as my beefy bodyguard for one more day; then I’m on my own.” Luke elbowed his brother. “But I think I’ll take a trip out in that little glass bottom boat this week…”
Nathan’s mouth fell open. “What are you talking about? There’s no glass bottom boat at this resort—we already asked and they said it was away getting repaired.”
Luke pointed back at the dock where all the action occurred. “Either they fixed it or there’s a little miracle out there bobbing in the ocean.”
Nathan stared bug-eyed at the boat as his voice dropped to a whisper. “You have to be kidding me.”
Come back on Wednesday for the next chapter!
Want more? Find the whole book at Amazon.com!
More books by Laura Thomas:
The Orphan Beach (Preorder today! Coming February 18)