Welcome back to our Wednesday and Saturday serial installments! We are happy to continue to share The Glass Bottom Boat by Laura Thomas.
THE GLASS BOTTOM BOAT by Laura Thomas
Chapter 1 / Chapter 2 / Chapter 3 / Chapter 4 / Chapter 5 / Chapter 6
MADISON STEADIED HERSELF, WISHING SHE’D picked flats instead of heels, but this was a wedding, and she was the maid of honor, so comfort took second place to fabulousness. If only she could stop her hands from shaking.
The whole experience was surreal. Here she stood, in Jamaica with the turquoise Caribbean Sea for a backdrop, watching her little sister get married. Chloe looked breathtaking.
She was head-to-toe perfection from the bejeweled tiny tiara to the sparkly strappy sandals hidden beneath her hem. The ladies at the salon had styled her hair, pinning most of it up and curling the wispy blonde strands around her face. The strapless white wedding dress was full length and softly pleated, much like the style Madison was wearing, complemented by a diamond-encrusted belt to showcase Chloe’s tiny waist. The subtle veil shimmered in the gentle breeze. A fairy-tale princess.
The music stopped, and the pastor began with “We are gathered here today…” Poor Nathan already had beads of sweat forming on his forehead. Guys always got the short straw at weddings, having to wear tuxes or being stuffed into suits. But the Alexander brothers did look exceptionally handsome today. She stole another quick look at Luke’s profile.
They both wore black tuxedos and bow ties, on Chloe’s insistence. Luke’s wavy dark hair was expertly groomed this afternoon, and his tan popped against the white collar of his shirt. Broad shoulders filled his jacket with just the right amount of muscle—yes, he was perfectly proportioned and made for his tux. Unlike his brother, whose biceps looked ready to burst right out of his sleeves. Luke’s strong chin and straight nose looked good in profile, and when he glanced in her direction, dimples appeared in his cheeks, making him look ten years younger. She whipped her head back to the pastor.
“Who gives this woman away?” The pastor looked at Madison.
She inched closer to Chloe and put a hand under her elbow. “I do,” she said, “for our mother and father.” She kissed Chloe’s cheek and they shared a sad smile. As she took the bouquet from her, the afternoon sun caught the diamond in Chloe’s necklace.
Chloe had been so excited with her special wedding-day gift. Madison spared no expense and bought her a necklace from Tiffany, which she’d presented to her earlier this afternoon while they were dressing. The simple silver chain held a diamond solitaire set in a locket. Inside the locket were two tiny photographs, one of their mom and one of their dad. “So, they could be part of your wedding day,” Madison explained before they both dissolved into tears and were forced to redo their makeup.
She stepped back and placed Chloe’s bouquet on an ornate side table. Thoughts of their parents swirled in Madison’s head while the pastor continued with the rest of the formalities. They would have loved this day. Dad would have been proud to walk Chloe down the aisle, and Mom would have bawled like a baby. Madison felt her chin quiver and dabbed the corners of her eyes with a tissue tucked under her bouquet.
“If anyone has any objections to this man and woman getting married, let them speak now or forever hold your peace.” The pastor paused and Madison half expected her stalker to appear. Crazy. She peeked over her shoulder at the beach, just to be sure.
The rest of the ceremony went smoothly, and by the time Chloe and Nathan both said the romantic vows they had written to each other, everyone was in tears. She even spotted Luke wiping his eyes with a handkerchief. Before she could blink, the couple were pronounced man and wife and shared a kiss as the photographer snapped away.
“Congratulations, little sister.” Madison set down her bouquet and pulled Chloe into a huge hug. “I’m so proud of you. Everything was exquisite.”
Chloe threw back her head and laughed. “We did it.” She clutched her locket. “Thank you for sharing all this with me.”
Nathan joined them and kissed Madison’s cheek. “I guess we’re family now.”
“Welcome.” Madison gave him a squeeze. “You two make the most adorable bride and groom I’ve ever seen.”
“They certainly do.” Luke joined them for a group hug.
Right away, the wedding planner, pastor, and resort manager all offered their congratulations, armed with flutes of champagne for the wedding party. As Madison sipped her drink, she saw several fascinated vacationers photographing the festivities, and the excitement in the air intensified when the reggae band started playing outside the resort restaurant.
After a few moments, the wedding planner clapped to gain everyone’s attention. “And I think our photographer wants the bride and groom now for some romantic shots on the shoreline.”
Chloe picked up her bouquet from the table and squealed as she led her new husband by the hand back up the aisle and toward a private section of beach, leaving Madison and Luke at the altar.
“That was so beautiful. But maybe we could find some shade for a few minutes?” A trickle of sweat meandered down Madison’s back. “I’m sweltering, so you must be roasting in your suit.”
Luke fanned himself with both hands. “I’m about to pass out. We can watch them from under the gazebo on the beach if you’d like?”
They walked down the aisle and were halfway to the gazebo when Madison realized something was missing. “I’m sorry. I left my bouquet on the table back there. You go ahead and grab us a couple of seats, and I’ll follow in a second.”
“You want me to go fetch your bouquet for you?” Luke glanced between the shady gazebo and the arbor.
Madison giggled. “As much as I’d love to see you prancing down the aisle with a fistful of gorgeous flowers, I think I’ll let you find us somewhere to sit instead before you faint in this heat.”
“That sounds great. Thank you.” Luke hurried off to the shade.
While she strolled back up the aisle, Madison’s heart was heavy with unfulfilled dreams. This could have been me last year, the blushing bride. She could be blissfully married if Sam hadn’t turned out to be such a cold-hearted fraud. Not for the first time, she sent up a prayer of thanksgiving that she found out the truth before they were married.
She collected the bouquet, swung around, and started back toward the beach again. As she walked, a chill passed over her. Almost like someone was watching again. Out of the corner of her eye to the right of the aisle, she noticed a black-clad man standing alone on the beach, just staring at her. The other clusters of gawkers had already dispersed. Madison refused to even peek in his direction; she picked up her pace and found Luke seated at a small table next to a bush with tropical foliage. She hadn’t realized her breathing was so rapid and shallow until she sat down and Luke put a hand over hers.
“Madison? What is it?”
He was so in tune with her emotions.
“Nothing. I think I’m getting overheated. That’s all.” She tried to sound nonchalant and calm. Chloe could see them from where they were posing for photographs on the beach, and there was no way she wanted to project any alarm.
His eyebrows met in the middle and his green eyes filled with concern. “I’m serious. Something’s wrong and I know it. Between you and Nathan, I don’t know what’s normal anymore.” He followed her gaze to the newlyweds and lowered his voice to a whisper. “Please tell me. I want to help.”
Madison sighed and stared at her shaking hands clutching the bouquet. She willed them to stop. “I think someone’s watching me again, but please don’t make a fuss. This is Chloe and Nathan’s special day, and I don’t want anything to ruin it. Promise me?” She looked up into his eyes.
“Fine, but on one condition. We’re going to talk about this later. After Mr. and Mrs. Alexander decide to ditch us for the honeymoon suite, you and I are going to try to get to the bottom of this. Okay?” He rested his hand on her arm and gave it a gentle squeeze.
“Sure.” And maybe I’ll stay holed up in my room all week just to be on the safe side.
“Where do you think this guy is right now? Is it the same one as last night?”
Madison twisted around as if stretching her back as she searched the pool area and the beach. The whole resort was humming with people sunbathing and swimming, making the most of the last couple of hours before sunset. “I don’t even know. It was a split second, a guy on his own. Wearing black. Maybe he wasn’t even watching me and I’m losing it. Let’s blame the heat.” Am I going to be scared of every blond guy I see wearing black from now on? This is crazy.
“Hey, you guys.” Chloe called from the beach. “Can we have you for some more photos? You might want to take those heels off, Madi. I totally sank in the sand.”
Madison forced a laugh. “We’re coming.” She gave Luke one more pleading look.
“Later.” He squeezed her hand.
Her secret was safe. She squared her shoulders and resumed her maid-of-honor frame of mind. Time enough to worry about her stalker later. At a resort full of people, how much danger could she be in?
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