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 / Chapter 7 / Chapter 8 / Chapter 9/ Chapter 10 / Chapter 11
SINCE WHEN DID HE SIT around with a big grin on his face?
Luke glanced around the open-air restaurant to see whether anyone had noticed, but truthfully, he didn’t care. Something about Madison Grey fascinated him and he looked forward to spending another day getting to know her better. He checked his watch. Past eleven o’clock. She would be here any minute. His heart skipped a beat. When was the last time he had such feelings of vulnerability in the relationship department? He shook his head. Many, many years ago, if at all.
There hadn’t been anyone serious since high school, and even then, it was far from true love. He flexed his fingers around the sweating glass of iced tea. The nearest he had been to a romantic relationship since then was with his coworker in Africa. Jennifer. Haven’t thought of her in a long time. They were close and even prayed about the potential relationship developing, but they both came to the conclusion it was not God’s will. Couldn’t argue with that. She married someone else the following year. And he accepted life as a bachelor.
He picked up the brunch menu and scanned it for the third time. This morning served as a good opportunity to think about his life, pray for guidance, and request a huge dose of wisdom. He loved being a missionary and was willing to stay in Mexico forever, if that was what God wanted him to do. But something inside shifted. Nothing definite, but a nudge of some sort, almost daring him to open up to Madison. Was it his imagination? Was something blossoming? Maybe he should nip it in the bud before either one of them got hurt.
Luke pulled his shades from his face and rubbed his eyes. He had spent hours awake last night, praying. That magical bonfire had ignited feelings he didn’t even realize were lying dormant. He couldn’t be sure yet, but he had a sense that she was developing feelings for him, too. Of course, there was the real possibility he was so out of touch with romance that he was misguided. Maybe all she wanted was a friend for the week or a shoulder to cry on and another Christian to talk to.
No. It’s more than that. The way those chocolate-brown eyes spoke to him last night at the bonfire was not his imagination. Madison wasn’t good at hiding her emotions, and there was no disguising the transformation over the past three days. Could the wary, untrusting young woman he first met be the open, hopeful girl he saw at twilight yesterday?
Luke gave his head a shake and slid his sunglasses back on. He checked his watch yet again. Twenty minutes late for brunch. Where could she be? He already picked up the fact that Madison was punctual to a fault and the most organized person he had ever
met. So far, she had been early to each meal or activity, and he noticed she had lists for everything. He could go up to her room to check on her, but it may be inappropriate. She might have taken a nap after her run, or she could have lost track of time. Surely, she hadn’t blown him off? A fleeting thought of her stalker crossed his mind, but she would have contacted him at the first sign of trouble. She had his phone number, after all.
Luke poured himself another tea and decided to give her ten more minutes in case they had their wires crossed. Perhaps she thought brunch was at eleven thirty instead of eleven. What if she did decide to cool things down and not see him again? His heart sank and that’s when he knew it for sure. He was falling.
An hour later, he had fallen into a pit of despondency, as nothing about the day was going as planned. Luke ate brunch alone and with little appetite. He tried multiple times to contact Madison by phone—but her voice mail picked up each one. After leaving a message with the concierge for her to call him if she came by, he now sat alongside the pool, still waiting. Like a dumb puppy dog waiting for a treat.
Lord, is this a sign for me to back off? Is this the “No” I asked about? It didn’t seem right to give up. Not after the promising signs of yesterday. Perhaps he would wait a few minutes longer.
His neck ached from craning every time a brunette walked by in case it was Madison. People were going to get the wrong idea about him soon. Should he try to get ahold of Chloe? Umm, no—his brother would never let him hear the last of it if he interrupted their honeymoon.
He finished his mystery novel. Time for a trip up to his room. A replacement book would at least relieve the boredom of waiting. Maybe he would check again with the concierge on his way back down or even knock on her door. He got up from the lounger, threw on a T-shirt, slid into his flip-flops, and grabbed his novel. Scanning the crowd, he sauntered through the lobby and caught the elevator.
Luke slowed his steps in the corridor when he noticed the door to his room was wide open. Curious. Housekeeping could be in there, although they usually left their cart outside. His heart rate sped up as he reached the room. Could the guys fighting at the second dock on Friday night have discovered his room number? Or was Nathan in some other kind of trouble? Tentatively, he poked his head around the doorframe.
“Luke, I was about to call you on your cell.” Nathan paced by the French doors. Luke exhaled. “Hey, I guess you still have your key. What’s up? Did you forget something?”
“I just received this.” Chloe sat in the armchair to his right. She burst into tears. Luke rushed to her side. “Chloe, what is it? Are you okay?” His first thought was of Madison. Where was she?
Nathan pointed to the piece of paper in Chloe’s trembling hand. “No, she’s not okay, man. Read it.”
Luke looked from Nathan to Chloe. Had Madison checked out and gone back to Seattle? He forced himself to focus on the letter. It was typed on generic printer paper, stark and bold. He read aloud:
CHLOE GREY- WE HAVE MADISON. SHE IS ALIVE…FOR NOW. IF YOU WANT TO SEE HER AGAIN, DO NOT CONTACT THE POLICE. YOU HAVE 24 HOURS TO GET 2 MILLION DOLLARS CASH TOGETHER. WE KNOW THIS SHOULD NOT BE A PROBLEM. HAVE IT READY BY MIDDAY TOMORROW AND AWAIT FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS. EXPECT A CALL TO YOUR ROOM AT 2 P.M. TODAY TO PROVE WE HAVE YOUR SISTER.
Luke’s hand shook. His ears whooshed and his heart thumped. He had the numb feeling one had when floating between a dream and reality. Maybe it was a sick hoax, or maybe he was still asleep by the pool, having a surreal nightmare…
“Luke?” Nathan shattered the dream illusion. “Where did you get this?” Luke handed the note back to Chloe. She wiped her eyes with a tissue. “They phoned our room from the front desk and said there was an urgent message, so we went down to check. I thought maybe one of you was sick or something. Anyway, the receptionist handed us this piece of paper in a sealed envelope.”
“Did she say who delivered it?” Luke raked his fingers through his hair. Could it be her blond stalker? Maybe security cameras would have caught something.
Nathan huffed. “No. She said it was left sitting on her computer keyboard so she couldn’t miss it. But nobody saw the person who put it there.”
“This is insane. Who would do a thing like this?” Luke collapsed onto his bed, feeling a hundred years old. “I should go down and question the staff in the lobby again. Maybe someone else saw something.” He tried to recall whether anyone fitting Blue Eyes’s description had been hanging around when he was there earlier leaving a message for Madison. No. He had eyes only for a certain brunette this morning.
Chloe stood. “Please don’t. We have to be careful not to attract too much attention. No police, remember?”
Nathan joined his wife and settled her back into the chair. “We’ll be careful—don’t worry. No police.”
“I’d prefer to have the police on our side. We know nothing about this island. But I agree.” Luke crouched in front of Chloe. “Do you still have the key to Madison’s room?”
She nodded. “We checked to make sure she wasn’t there. I was hoping it was some hoax. But the room is empty and there was no sign of a struggle.”
“Okay. The last time I saw her was last night at around midnight. We ate dessert down by the bonfire after we ran into you guys. And then we were supposed to meet at eleven for brunch. I know she was going for her usual run on the beach first thing. Who would have taken her in broad daylight?” Yet, that was her fear, wasn’t it? On Saturday when she suspected she was being watched—should he have insisted on security looking into it more thoroughly? And this morning, there he was, sipping his iced tea and eating brunch while Madison was being kidnapped…
Nathan shrugged. “But how many people are up and about super early on a resort like this?”
“Good point. But wouldn’t someone have noticed? Where was that security guy? He’s always on patrol.” And the resort manager promised to be extra vigilant after their report on Saturday night. “Was she whisked away in a car? Or maybe someone tricked her into going somewhere with them. I can’t believe this. Poor Madison.” Luke’s heart rate quickened as he pictured her chocolate-brown eyes so full of fear.
Chloe looked up. “My sister is the most cautious person in the world. She would never accept a ride with a stranger. She’s not into wild adventures and she’s scared stiff of the ocean. She was taken. They kidnapped her for sure. I hope they haven’t hurt her.” Luke stared at the wall. They had just begun to conquer that fear of the ocean. God, please let her be safe. “When she didn’t show up for brunch, I thought she forgot or maybe changed her mind or got distracted…”
“Madi doesn’t get distracted,” Chloe whispered. “They must have taken her earlier this morning.”
“I should have offered to go running with her, and then we might not even be in this mess.” Why didn’t I think of that? She shouldn’t have been alone.
“Don’t beat yourself up.” Chloe curled up in the chair. “It’s my fault she’s even on this island in the first place.”
Nathan leaned over and hugged her. “Hey, I asked you to marry me, so we could keep playing the blame game all day. We need to focus.”
Luke stood. Nathan was pretty cool about all this. Was he being brave for his wife, or was he still hiding something? No, if Madison’s life was at stake and Nathan knew something about it, he wouldn’t keep it a secret. “Okay, let’s try and think this through. Chloe, can you think of anyone who might do something like this? Has anyone threatened you or mentioned wanting money from you recently? Other than the Sam situation, I mean?”
“No, I’ve been racking my brain, trying to think of anyone who would do a thing like this. At first, I thought maybe it was some sort of prank, but it’s not, is it?”
Nathan stroked her wavy blonde hair. “I don’t think anyone would try to pull a stunt like this, honey. It would be sick and wrong. I hate to say it, but we have to believe these people are serious.”
“How can this be happening?” Chloe wept into Nathan’s side. Luke felt sick to his stomach, but someone had to keep them focused on sorting out this mess.
“Chloe, these guys seem to presume you can come up with this much cash overnight, so I’m wondering if your money has been in the news lately for any reason? I’m a bit out of the loop in Seattle these days.” And out of my league talking about millions of dollars.
“No, nothing. Madi and I had our fair share of weird phone calls and stuff straight after our parents’ accident was in the news, but that’s going back a while now. Daddy was well known in the business world, and you wouldn’t have to be a genius to work out we inherited a sizable chunk. We never flaunted it, though. Madi protected me—I know that much. She had a lot more of the pressure being the eldest.”
Luke chewed his lip. “Hmm, if it was a couple of years ago, your money’s not breaking news, then. What about this Sam guy, Madison’s ex-fiancé? Would he stoop to something like this? From what I’ve heard about him, he sounds like a nasty piece of work.” Luke clenched and unclenched his fist as he recalled Madison’s faltering voice when she mentioned Sam’s final threatening words.
Nathan shrugged. “I never met him. He was out of the picture before I came along.” “Yeah.” Chloe screwed up her nose. “I can’t imagine Sam still hanging around Madison after a whole year. She told me he’d been out of her life since they broke off the engagement. He was a prize jerk and was ticked off when she discovered he was only after her money, but neither of us heard from him since then. I think he was relieved to get away without Madison pressing charges. He’d be a fool to try anything else.”
“Sounds like a real gem.” Luke reached out a hand. “May I?” He took the letter back from Chloe and studied it, looking for inspiration, a clue, anything. “Madison mentioned to me she was worried about someone following her for a while after the breakup with this Sam. Do you know anything about that?”
“She was so upset and nervous after Sam ruined everything, it doesn’t surprise me one bit. Look how jumpy she was when we saw you guys last night. She tried not to get me involved, but it was easy to see how freaked out and nervous she was all the time. But as the weeks went on, she became less agitated, so I presumed everything was okay. She started going to church, and from that time on, faith played a major role in her life— you get that. As far as I know, she hasn’t had any weird stuff going on for months. I’m sure she would have told me otherwise, although I know she always likes to protect me.” Her eyes pooled. “But she doesn’t have anyone to protect her now, does she?”
Luke’s heart leaped at the thought of being her protector. It felt right. He was in deep. “Okay. We need to have a plan here, guys.” He paced back and forth from the bed to the
windows. “As much as I’d like to go straight to the police, I think we need to believe they are serious about their threats, so we have to rule out that option for now.”
“So, where does it leave us?” Nathan leaned down and kissed the top of his wife’s head. “I’m not sure, but we can’t put Madison’s life in danger, no matter what. Do you agree, Chloe?” Luke stopped. “I can’t even imagine how hard this is for you. I’m so sorry.” Chloe sniffled. “Madi is the only family I have left.” She looked at her husband. “I know I have you now, but you know what I mean. We have to play this by their rules if I want my sister back safe and sound. I can’t bear the thought of anything happening to her.” Nathan held her in his strong arms. “It’ll be okay, honey. We’ll figure this out. Right, Luke?”
Luke nodded, deep in thought. “Listen. I think we need to take a breather here for a moment. There’s too much at stake and a lot to consider. Chloe, try to clear your head for a while. We’ve got about thirty minutes before they call. Think about anyone from your past or your family’s past who might go to this kind of extreme to get to your money. Go as far back as you need to.”
“You’re right. We have to be smart. Like the police on those TV shows.” Nathan shook his head. “But, dude, shouldn’t we get out there right away and start looking for her? She’s already been gone for several hours. Time is of the essence.”
“I know what you mean.” Luke stared at the ceiling. “It’s beyond frustrating, but where would we even start looking? They could be on the other side of the island in a getaway car by now.”
“So, what should we do?” A vein in Nathan’s neck pulsated. “First things first. I need you to make some calls. See how feasible it is for you guys to get the money wired out here from the States. We have to be prepared to hand over what they want if we have a hope of getting Madison back safely. I have no idea how the money transaction works, but I’ll bet our kidnappers have already looked into it and know if it’s doable. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have asked.”
“Sure.” Nathan nodded and squeezed Chloe’s shoulder. “Sounds good. I’ll get right on it. I may need you to be close by, honey, for verification and stuff.” He turned to Luke. “What are you going to do, bro?”
Luke looked at the newlywed couple. Their new life had plummeted from ecstatic to traumatic in the space of hours, and his heart lurched. He walked over to the room safe and grabbed his wallet. “I’m going to be ready to leave the resort if necessary. I think we should all head up to your room in about ten minutes in case they phone early and sit tight to wait for the call. It may give us some kind of clue to go on. I know you guys aren’t big on faith and hope, but I am. I feel out of my depth here, so I’m going onto the balcony to spend a few minutes doing something vital for Madison. I’m going to pray.”
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