Welcome back to our Wednesday and Saturday serial installments! We are happy to continue to share The Glass Bottom Boat by Laura Thomas.
“MORNING, BEAUTIFUL BRIDE.” MADISON SWISHED the voluminous curtain aside and allowed the bright Jamaican sunshine to pour over her sister, still burrowed under the rumpled bedding. “And this, my dear, is why you didn’t get married in Seattle.” I could get used to waking up to glorious sunshine every day. I wonder if Luke takes that for granted in Mexico.
Chloe rolled onto her back and pulled a pillow over her face. “What?”
“No chance of rain today. It’s perfect. It’s seven o’clock already, so do you want to laze around in here for a bit while I shower? Or you can shower first, bride’s prerogative. Or I could go for a run.” A run would be good. In spite of a fitful night’s sleep, Madison was determined to make the most of every moment of this special day and put yesterday’s scare behind her. Mornings were so full of promise—wasn’t there a Bible verse about God’s mercies each morning? She twirled around the room while waiting for a response.
Chloe’s face emerged from beneath the pillow. “You’re chipper this morning. Anyone would think it was your wedding day.”
Madison stopped twirling. A year ago, it should have been hers. Would she ever experience a beautiful wedding day? “I wish…”
Chloe sat bolt upright in her queen bed. “I’m so sorry. That was horrible. Me and my big mouth. Why am I such a grump in the morning?” She ran fingers through her long hair, catching a few knots in the process, then rubbed her face until it turned pink.
Madison perched on the edge of Chloe’s bed. “Don’t be silly. Although I think I should warn Nathan to give you a wide berth first thing. You’ve never been a morning person.”
“Yeah, unlike you. I hope Nathan is okay. He seemed preoccupied last night after you mentioned your stalker, don’t you think?”
The guy with the piercing eyes had invaded Madison’s dreams last night. Her stomach turned. But no, today was all about Chloe, and nothing was going to ruin the wedding. “Nathan was being protective. That’s all. And he wasn’t a stalker. My nerves were giving me the jitters. I don’t want you giving it another thought.” That’s my responsibility—I’ll worry so you don’t have to. “This is your one precious wedding day and I intend for it to be perfect. Okay?” She took Chloe’s hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze.
“You’re right. Only isn’t it supposed to be me with the jittery nerves? I’m the one committing to a lifelong relationship. It is rather daunting.” She gazed through the window to the sublime ocean view. “I believe Nathan is the one for me, but how does anyone ever know for sure?”
Madison took a moment before answering. She thought she knew Sam and that he was the one, but she wouldn’t be fooled again. That was before she knew God. Everything was different now. “I think for me, next time, if there ever is a next time, I’m going to be confident because I’ll pray through every step of the relationship.”
Chloe wrinkled her nose. “What if the guy isn’t religious?”
“Then it won’t work. He’ll have to share my faith, Chloe. I don’t trust my own judgment much anymore, but I do trust God’s.”
“I suppose that makes sense.” Chloe smirked. “So, what you’re saying is Luke would be an ideal husband for you.”
Madison grabbed a pillow and whacked her sister around the head. “Enough. Would you please quit with the matchmaking?”
“But don’t you think it would be perfect? You’re the only religious fanatics in our respective families. Plus, he’s smokin’ hot. I know it’s weird that the first time we get to meet him is right here at my wedding, but it’s obvious he’s an amazing guy. Nathan talks about him all the time. You two would make the most adorable babies with your chocolate-brown ringlets, his green eyes…”
Madison gasped at her sister’s audacity. “Are you contemplating our babies? My walls are officially up, remember? You can forget your quest to find me love anytime soon. Even with the hunky missionary.”
“So, you do think he’s hot, then. Interesting.”
Incorrigible. Madison grabbed the pillow and clouted her sister over and over, until Chloe picked up another and gave Madison a good thump in return. Madison burst into laughter and Chloe collapsed on top of her on the disheveled bed.
They caught their breath and Madison sighed. “I’m going to miss you so much, little sister. More than you can ever know.” Their enormous, five-bedroom house was way too big for one person. “Home won’t be the same without you.”
“It’s okay for you to sell the house, you know.” Chloe plucked an elastic from her wrist and pulled her hair into a bun as she spoke. “You don’t need to stay there all by yourself. I know we wanted to live there after Mom and Dad died to keep their memory alive, but now that I’m moving in with Nathan, it might be good for you to move on.”
Madison blinked back tears. “I know. Half of me wants to start afresh and get my own place, but I love our family home. We grew up there, and I can’t imagine someone else living in it. But you’re right. I guess it’s time for me to move on—with my whole life.” She glanced up through moist lashes. “Promise me you’ll be my interior designer if I ever get my own place?”
“I should hope so.”
“Good. But don’t worry; I have no intention of rushing into any major decisions anytime soon. And today, I’m so happy for you, I could burst.” Why did this have to be so bittersweet? She would savor every last moment of it being just the two of them and lock them in her heart to hold on to always.
Chloe kissed her cheek. “You’ve been a rock to me. And before you say it, I know you’ll tell me it’s because of your faith and all that, but I think it’s because of you. You’re stronger than you think.”
“I’m not strong.” Madison took a deep breath. “Really, I’m not. I still have my stupid fear of drowning, I still miss Mom and Dad every single day, and now I have crazy trust issues when it comes to men. Any strength I have comes from God, and He’s still got a truckload of work to do with me. If I hadn’t made the decision to step inside a church last year after I broke up with Sam, I dread to think what would have become of me.”
Chloe gave her a big hug. “Will you be praying for me and Nathan?”
Looking through a blur of tears, Madison clung even tighter. Would Chloe ever embrace a faith of her own and share in the joy of knowing that a heavenly Father loved her? “Of course I will. Every single day.”
While Chloe claimed the shower, Madison changed into running clothes and pulled her hair into a ponytail. She slid a pair of sunglasses on top of her head, grabbed her iPod, and left her sister to enjoy some alone time in preparation for the biggest day of her life.
She descended the empty elevator and breezed through the lobby. Engrossed in selecting her iPod music, she barreled right into someone.
“I’m so sorry.” She scrambled to hold on to her iPod while her sunglasses fell to the tiled floor. “I’m such a klutz.” She looked up, ready to apologize further.
“No problem.” Amused deep green eyes met hers, and she burst into laughter.
“Luke? Of course, it had to be you.” Madison slipped the iPod into her armband while he bent down to retrieve her glasses.
“Here you go. One pair of sparkly, pink shades. I hope this doesn’t mess with Chloe’s tradition—the maid of honor seeing the best man before the wedding and all.”
“No, I think we’re safe, although I shouldn’t mention this encounter. She’s feeling nervous already.”
Luke tilted his head. “Yeah, Nathan isn’t himself either. But that’s nothing for you to worry about. You look after the bride and I’ll do my best with the groom. I guess she’s not joining you for a run?”
Madison chuckled. “Not her thing, especially this early. What are you doing up and about?”
“I couldn’t sleep.” He rubbed his eyes and squinted. “I had a lot on my mind. So, I came down for a morning read by the pool before the crowds claim the loungers. I should get up to the room and wake that brother of mine.”
Madison slid her sunglasses back on top of her head. “Thanks, and sorry about my clumsiness. We’ll see you later.”
Luke winked. “Absolutely. Have a great day.”
“You too.” Her heart skipped a beat. Get a grip, girl.
As soon as she reached the sand, Madison inserted her earbuds and started running. Perhaps the music would drown out the pounding of her giddy heart and ridiculous thoughts. No, he wasn’t even on the market, and she wasn’t ready to open her heart up to anyone. Was that why she felt so comfortable around him? It sure didn’t explain the butterflies in her stomach.
Focus. I don’t want to ram into anyone else today. She looked along the stretch of deserted beach. Hardly anyone else was around at this time, which made it even more special. Special yet unnerving. She would have to be vigilant, even at this hour.
Running on sand required extra effort, and Madison’s thighs burned in protest. Slowing her pace, she pulled out her earbuds and savored the sounds of the island instead. She inhaled and looked out at the shimmering ocean. Gentle waves lapped the shore alongside her, the water as clear as a sheet of glass. Birds swooped and cawed overhead, while palm fronds rustled in the breeze.
Paradise complete with a hotel security guard, who patrolled the entire stretch of beach, keeping unwelcome vendors and locals at bay. The image of the creepy guy from last night popped into her head. Thank goodness for hotel security…
Madison scanned the shoreline and noticed a couple walking hand in hand up ahead, and an older man snorkeled in the shallow water. She stopped to stretch out, bent over, and glimpsed someone lingering in the shade of a palm tree. A man she was sure hadn’t been there a minute before. Weird.
He leaned against the tree and stared right at her. Instant goose bumps. Average height, stocky, spiky light blond hair, black shorts, black T-shirt, dark shades. Could it be the same guy as last night in the lobby? Hard to tell without seeing his eyes.
As she turned away to stretch again and calm her breathing, her mind went to Sam. Crazy, as her ex-fiancé loved his business suits and hated the beach. Plus, he had dark hair. Nothing like this guy. She shuddered when she remembered Sam’s parting words: “You’ve made a big mistake, Madison.” The biggest mistake she ever made was putting her trust in him in the first place.
She glanced up to see the man still under the tree. What was he doing? And why did the constant stress and paranoia from her overactive imagination make her suspicious of everyone? She shook her head and exhaled.
Natural—she had to look natural. She popped her earbuds back in, turned around, and broke into a jog back to the resort. Her heart pounded with every labored breath, but she managed to keep a steady pace. She slowed when a group of strolling seniors crossed her path. After waving to them, Madison allowed herself a quick peek behind. Nobody. The guy had disappeared. The lone security guard now stood in the distance at the edge of the hotel property.
She rolled her shoulders and took several deep breaths. Why did her body react with such intense fear to some unassuming stranger leaned against a palm tree? She continued on and grabbed a water bottle as she walked past the breakfast buffet. If only she had been able to see the color of the stranger’s eyes.
Want more? The book is FREE on AMAZON this week!
More books by Laura Thomas:
The Orphan Beach (released 2/18!)