Welcome back to our Wednesday and Saturday serial installments! We are happy to continue to share The Glass Bottom Boat by Laura Thomas.
MADISON REACHED FOR HER GLASS and took a sip of pineapple juice. Her stomach churned. She had to put the earlier incident out of her mind and concentrate on Chloe, but why couldn’t she shake the memories of Sam’s deception? Brunch was over, and now she had to have this awkward conversation. She turned her head to gaze at Chloe relaxing beside the pool. She adjusted her lounger so she was sitting up and took a deep breath. “You know I want this to be a joyful day, but I do have to ask you something.”
“Ask what? That doesn’t sound good.”
“I know Dad would have given you a grilling long before now.”
“A grilling? About what? Nathan?”
Madison cleared her throat. “I know you’re in love—and I like him, too—but are you quite sure money is not a factor in you guys getting married?”
“Really?” Chloe sat up and swung her legs to the ground. “I can’t believe you’re asking me this hours before my wedding. Just because Sam was a deceptive money grabber, it doesn’t mean Nathan is, too.” She yanked off her sunglasses and looked into Madison’s eyes. “We fell head over heels in love before he knew anything about my bank balance or my address. He’s not wealthy, but he’s not exactly dirt poor. They’re a wonderful family. His brother’s a missionary, for goodness’ sake.”
“I know. I know. And I like Nathan a lot, but I needed to ask, and you’ve answered, so we’re good. I’m sorry.” Madison exhaled. Dad, that one was for you. You’re welcome.
“Do you ever hear from him?” Chloe wound a strand of damp hair around her finger.
Madison’s eyes shot open. “Dad?”
“No—Sam. I know you don’t like talking about him, but seeing as how we’re doing the awkward-question thing, I had to ask.”
“Sam? No, I haven’t heard a word from him in almost a year, thank goodness.” Madison shuddered at the thought of her narrow escape.
“Doesn’t anyone know where he went? It’s kind of strange.”
Madison shrugged. “He had to stop working for Dad’s company and I dropped all our mutual friends.”
“I don’t blame you. At least the jerk didn’t get his filthy hands on your inheritance.”
“Do you think that even matters to me? I don’t care about the money. He stole my heart.” And my dream of a man loving me unconditionally. Madison sighed. “But no more talk of Sam—it gives me the shivers. This is your day. Let’s talk about you.” She reached across and held Chloe’s hand. “Do you know how proud I am of you, little sis? You graduated, got an awesome job, and now you’re getting married. Wow. You’re going to be the top interior designer in Seattle before long—I know it.”
“Thanks.” Chloe bit her lip. “For everything. It’s going to be weird being apart, isn’t it?”
“Yes. It’s a new chapter. For both of us.” What will that bring for me?
Chloe put her sunglasses on. “For the record, you deserve your Prince Charming, too, sis.”
“Maybe one day. But right now, we should go indulge in some retail therapy in that gorgeous resort boutique. What do you think?”
“I’m all for shopping. I’ve had my eye on a dress in the window since I arrived. Lead the way.”
Madison leaned back in the recliner and allowed the spa staff to work their magic on her feet. She looked down at her arms. “That canary-yellow dress is going to pop against my tan, don’t you think? Maybe I’ll wear it tomorrow.”
“No kidding.” Chloe inspected her own skin color. “I could never wear yellow. I’m pleased with our purchases, though. I love my dress so much.”
“It was a beautiful store. And now all you have to do for the next hour or two is relax.”
“We should do this more often.”
“I agree. You’ve been working so hard with that client, I feel like I’ve hardly seen you the past couple of months.”
“I know. But I had to get everything organized so we could take some time off. I always thought being an interior designer would be so glamorous and that I could make my own hours.”
“Remember when you used to renovate our big old dollhouse when we were kids?”
“Ah yes. That’s when it all began. I was way too creative for my own good.”
“And I was the neat freak who cleaned up all your messes.”
Madison relaxed into the comfortable chair beside Chloe. Her feet soaked in some deliciously scented warm water while a manicurist made preparations to perform a color transformation on her toenails.
Soft reggae music played from nearby speakers and lulled her into a complete state of tranquility while she observed her surroundings. The spa was situated right on the beachfront with an unobstructed view of the inviting turquoise ocean. The area was given privacy by a row of palm trees and foliage separating it from the resort pools.
Even though they were in the shade, Madison kept her sunglasses on so she could enjoy gazing out at the glaring white sands beyond. It also aided in her vigilance. She was still in protective mode over her little sister.
“Chloe, I have to confess, I was a bit worried when you suggested having such a small wedding here.”
Madison angled her head to face her sister. “I don’t know. I guess I didn’t want you to ever regret not doing the massive white wedding in a church packed with distant relatives.”
“Hardly. Do you think I would rather be running around after a dozen bridesmaids, checking on the weather every five minutes, and worrying about what embarrassing comment Great-Aunt Gladys might make during the ceremony? I don’t think so.”
Madison grimaced as she recalled those exact concerns when she was planning her own wedding last year. “Yeah, you’re right. This is the perfect way to go into a marriage—relaxed and happy.” Lord, if I ever get my Prince Charming, would you remind me of this wisdom? “You’re a smart girl.”
Chloe grinned. “I am, aren’t I?”
Madison chuckled and they fell into a comfortable silence. Peace and contentment were luxuries she hadn’t experienced in a long time. It felt good. While Chloe dozed in the next chair, Madison prayed for her little sister. Today her friends at church in Seattle would be praying for sure, and she felt the bond of her spiritual family even across the miles. Across the miles. She arched her back in the chair. Would she ever live in another country? Now that Chloe was moving on with her life, would Madison’s dream to live in Spain ever become a reality? Maybe. Maybe not. God was in control now. And I’m fine with that. Right now, this is perfection.
She opened her eyes to take another peek of paradise from behind her sunglasses, and her breath caught in her throat. She probably looked like she was napping beside her sister but her eyes fixed on something in front of her. Someone.
The same blond guy from her run this morning. Still dressed in black and wearing shades…and still staring at her from beside a palm tree. Unbelievable. How dare he watch her from less than fifty feet away?
Should she jump up and scream or play possum while studying the man for any distinguishing marks. That would be useful. Yes, she spotted some kind of tattoo on his left forearm. Ugh. A snake or a dragon or something gross.
What was he doing now? He slid a phone from his pocket and had the audacity to snap a photo of her. Enraged, Madison sat bolt upright, and the next second, he vanished behind a palm tree.
“Miss, is everything okay?” The manicurist stopped painting a toenail midstroke.
Madison remembered to breathe out and reclined back into the chair. “Yes, I’m sorry about that. Something made me jump. That’s all.” She forced a smile.
“Madi?” Chloe stirred in the chair next to her. “What’s up?”
“Oh, nothing. I jumped in my sleep. You know how I am.” Unshed tears burned her eyes.
“Yeah, I do. This day is so perfect, though, isn’t it?”
“Absolutely.” Madison straightened her sunglasses. Chloe couldn’t see the tears of fear and look of panic on her face.
Her pulse returned to normal and her hands stopped shaking. Thank goodness the manicurist was busy massaging her calves and wasn’t trying to wrestle with her fingers yet. Calm down, girl. Hold it together.
She focused on the fuchsia nail polish. That guy could be the same one from last night. If only she had seen the eyes hiding behind those shades. On second thought, those icy blue eyes were the last things she wanted to see. Who on earth is he? And what does he want?
Nothing was going to get in the way of Chloe and Nathan celebrating the most important day of their lives. There must be some logical explanation anyway. Maybe he was taking a photo of the spa for his wife. Yeah, right. With a shudder, Madison realized she would be on her own after this evening.
So would Luke. Luke. He had a quiet, solid strength and a genuine heart. He would know what to do and she would feel a lot better telling someone about it. Maybe tonight after the wedding dinner? Yes, they would chat together then. She let out the breath she had been holding. He succeeded in calming her down without even knowing what she needed.
As much as she didn’t want to admit it, the missionary occupied her mind an awful lot, and she feared her obsession might spread to her heart.
Madison bit her lip. The last romantic experience left her shattered and hollowed out, and she could not allow that to happen ever again. It would be her undoing.
Want more? Buy the book on AMAZON!
More books by Laura Thomas:
The Orphan Beach (released 2/18!)