Chapter 14: The Glass Bottom Boat by Laura Thomas

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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 / Chapter 12 / Chapter 13

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

LUKE HEARD EVERY WORD AND watched Chloe’s face crumple. She took a shaky breath and flung the hotel phone onto the table as if it burned her.

“Why are they doing this?” She plucked a pillow from the bed and hugged it before collapsing onto the armchair. “Blue eyes?” Sobs racked her petite frame while Nathan stroked her hair.

Luke met his brother’s gaze. Nathan opened his mouth as if to speak and then bit his lower lip and looked away.

“Blue Eyes,” Luke whispered. He was close enough to hear Madison scream those two words, and it broke his heart when he heard the slap. “She was giving us a clue. You know that’s the guy who’s been following her this weekend. At least I think it was the same guy as Friday night in the lobby. Remember when she freaked out because someone was watching her? We were hoping he was a random—”

“Wait. You two were discussing it?” Chloe stopped crying and stared at Luke. “What was there to discuss? I thought that was a one-time incident. Did she see him again after Friday night?”

Luke winced and perched on the end of the bed. “You have to understand Madison didn’t want to worry you. It was your wedding day, after all.”

“What?” Chloe swiped the tears from her cheeks. “How could she keep something like this from me? Nathan, did you know about this?”

“No clue. I’ll get you some water.” He plodded over to the suite’s bar area.

Chloe blew out a long breath and pulled her hair into a ponytail. For a second Luke saw the resemblance to her sister, and it felt like a punch in the gut.

“Tell me everything. And don’t candy-coat it. I don’t deserve to be kept in the dark when my sister’s life is on the line.”

Luke went into as much detail as he could recall. He explained how the man appeared and stared at Madison on her run, followed by the unnerving spa incident with the camera and then her suspicion of being watched straight after the wedding ceremony.

Chloe accepted the glass of water from Nathan and guzzled half of it down. “I can’t believe I was oblivious to it all. So, this creep was watching us both at the spa? I was right there next to Madison and didn’t have a clue. Why am I so self-absorbed? This is awful.” Her face paled.

Nathan leaned against her chair. “Sweetheart, it was your wedding day. Don’t blame yourself. It’s the one day in your life you’re allowed to think about yourself first. And you can’t blame Madison. If it were the other way around, wouldn’t you do everything possible to give her a perfect day and protect her from anything spoiling it?”

“Of course I would. But I still feel guilty. She was kind of jumpy, but I guess I’ve gotten used to it. She was trying so hard to protect me.”

And Madison needed someone to protect her—so far Luke had failed dismally. But he could change that. Starting now. Think. “She said she knew the guy was watching her rather than you. He made it obvious he was photographing her, even though you were close by. Madison knew you weren’t in danger, Chloe.”

“But didn’t she want to report him? There must have been something she could have done to stop him.”

Nathan squeezed her shoulder. “It’s no use worrying about that now.”

Luke cleared his throat. “Actually, we reported it all to the resort security late Saturday night. Not that they could do much with what we told them. It’s not like they could harass someone for having icy blue eyes and a camera.” And we can’t even check with security now anyway.

“Icy eyes.” Nathan shook his head.

“Yeah.” Luke glared at his brother. What was bothering him? “The guy that freaked you out so much on Friday night.”

“I should never have left her alone.” Chloe hugged herself. “She’s been through too much already this past year. Did you hear him on the phone call? Luke, that thug hit her. I can’t bear the thought of anyone laying a hand on my sister.”

Luke’s nostrils flared. They better not lay another finger on her. “She’s stronger than you think.” He clenched his jaw as he pictured her with Blue Eyes. “She refused to let this guy scare her enough to keep her locked away in her room all week. He didn’t appear anywhere yesterday, and by last night, it didn’t seem to be on her mind at all. She was relaxed and happy. She wouldn’t have gone out running this morning if she harbored any fears about him still stalking her.”

Chloe sniffled. He had to be calm for her, even with his heart beating out of his chest.

“I don’t need to tell you that your sister has a solid faith in God. She knows she’s not alone wherever she is, and I guarantee she’ll be praying her way through this. It’ll keep her strong.” God, please be with her right now.

Luke observed Nathan. He stood and shifted his weight from foot to foot and raked his hands through his blond hair. Something was wrong. Something other than concern for his sister-in-law. Luke knew Nathan almost as well as he knew himself, and he was usually a tower of strength.

“What is it?” Luke slid off the bed and stood toe to toe with his brother. “Come on. I know something’s off with you. You’re cool in a crisis, but right now, you look like you want to flee any second.”

“Nathan?” Chloe pulled herself up from the chair and touched his arm. “Are you okay? You look awful.”

“Blue Eyes.” His voice was monotone as he stared at the far wall. “Madison said the dude had the most piercing icy blue eyes she had ever seen. Right?”

“Yeah. They freaked her out.” Luke folded his arms across his chest. “Listen. I know the whole incident in the lobby on Friday made you skittish. Is there something you’re not telling us?”

“Nathan?” Chloe raised her voice and broke his trance.

He came to life and started pacing, avoiding eye contact with either of them for several seconds. “You have to hear me out before you start grilling me, okay?”

“Sure.” Perhaps we’ll get to the bottom of this at last. Luke held his breath.

“What is it?” Chloe rubbed her arms. “You’re scaring me.”

“Let me start way back, about three months ago. Chloe, when we announced our engagement, I was approached by a bunch of wedding planners and stuff. Remember?”

She nodded. “That newspaper announcement stating our intentions to have a destination wedding? The worst idea ever. We were inundated with wedding planners. It was a nightmare.”

“Exactly. I met with some of the planners. I wanted to have this resort arranged to perfection for you. One meeting was kind of creepy, and I never told you about it because you had enough to think about getting your business off the ground. There were these two guys, photographers specializing in destination weddings. They came to my realty office in the city and gave me the hard sell—you know, tried to persuade me they were giving me the deal of the century, blah blah blah.”

“Okay.” Chloe squinted. “What about them?”

“The one guy gave me a bad vibe. They seemed legit with their portfolio and stuff, but they were super pushy. Wanted to know every detail about the wedding. This bad-vibe guy even said Madison’s name, guessing she would be a bridesmaid before I even mentioned her…”

“What?” Luke frowned. “How would he even know about Madison?”

“Who knows? Their dad was well respected and his death was all over the news when it happened. It wouldn’t be hard to deduce Madison would be in the wedding party. Plus, I think these dudes did their homework online about the family before pitching their services.”

“All right, but what makes you think they would have anything to do with this kidnapping thing? It’s a bit far-fetched, don’t you think?” And why on earth didn’t you mention any of this before?

“Bro, that’s it. One of them—the bad-vibe guy—had the freakiest eyes I’d ever seen. They sort of looked straight into you. Made me uncomfortable to be in my own skin.”

Chloe gulped. “Freaky eyes? Like how?”

“Real light blue. And cold. Icy. I think it could be Madison’s stalker.” He stopped pacing. “And before you ask, I deleted them from my phone contacts—out of sight, out of mind.”

That would have been helpful. “And you don’t have any emails or anything from them?”

“No. None. It was a couple of meetings in person and maybe three calls.”

Luke stared out the window at the ocean. He bit his tongue. Why hadn’t Nathan offered this information on Friday night rather than keeping it to himself? It was obviously preying on his mind. He gnawed on his lip. This kidnapping was well thought out and planned. Whoever held Madison hostage was serious about getting his money. The whole scheme had been in the works for months.

“I’m so sorry, honey.” Nathan pulled Chloe close and held her. “I should have said something on Friday. I hoped it was a weird coincidence. That’s all. I wanted our wedding to be perfect. I hadn’t thought about those guys in months. They weren’t even on my radar. Heck, if I knew he was following her on Saturday, I would have found him myself. I feel such a fool. I only hope she’s okay.”

Luke tapped his chin with his fingers. Something wasn’t quite adding up. “What I don’t get is why you didn’t mention this to me on Friday night. I understand you not wanting to upset Chloe the night before your wedding, but something hit a chord with you. You should have shared the burden, man.” He shook his head. “No wonder you were so edgy. Hey, these guys never hounded you again, right?” He shot him a big-brother stare.

Nathan’s shoulders slumped. “That’s not quite the whole story.” He held Chloe at arm’s length and looked straight into her eyes. “I never spoke to the dude with the blue eyes after the one meeting, but the other guy was more persuasive. He was the one who suggested we come to this resort, and he even pulled a few strings for me to get a good deal, even though I didn’t hire them as the photographers. Said he had connections. You know I can’t resist a good deal, honey, don’t you?”

Chloe’s eyes filled.

“I got suspicious when he started asking details about Madison being your bridesmaid, and then he got pushy about arranging one of those glass bottom boats for the wedding party.”

Luke’s mouth fell open. The glass bottom boat was involved? No wonder Nathan looked sick at the sight of it when the fight happened on that dock on Friday night.

“The guy thought it would be a cool idea, but I said I’d have to run it by you and Madison, and he didn’t like that. He wanted it to be a surprise for you. He got kind of mad and frustrated, but I put my foot down. Why would we want to go on a stupid boat on our wedding day? There was nothing more to arrange, so after the meeting, I stopped having any contact with him. That was months ago. I swear I haven’t heard from him since.”

Chloe shook loose from his grip and collapsed back into the chair. “Wait. A glass bottom boat? Madison got super upset on Friday night when we went for our walk and she thought she saw someone watching us from one of those kinds of boats. It was hitched to the secondary dock.” She pressed a hand to her stomach. “I was about to go charging over there to prove she was imagining things until she made me stop.”

Nathan knelt by her chair. “I’m sorry. For all this mess.”

“What was the second guy’s name?” Luke rubbed his chin. “Presuming it was his real name he gave you.”

“Jacobs. Steve Jacobs. He seemed like a good guy, as long as he wasn’t with Blue Eyes. He was kind of pushy about the boat idea but a solid businessman type. Smart, smooth, eloquent…”

“What did he look like?” Chloe’s eyes were wide. “This Jacobs guy. Can you describe him?”

Nathan squinted and pursed his lips. “He was a bit taller than me, maybe six foot two, skinny, tanned, great hair. Jet black and wavy—you know, kind of movie-star hair. Always wore a suit. He drove a black Beemer, I think. Older model.”

Chloe gasped. “No. It can’t be.”

“What’s wrong?” Luke’s stomach tightened. “Do you know who it is?” There was only one man he was aware of who had threatened Madison.

Chloe grabbed her husband’s arms. “Did he ever ask to meet with me? Did he even want to say hello?”

Nathan frowned. “No. We met a couple of times, and I suggested we invite you, but he thought you would prefer to think I planned everything on my own. Like a gift to you. I said it was cool. That’s why I never mentioned it. Why?”

Tears streamed down Chloe’s face while she looked from Luke to Nathan. “Because this man, this partner of Blue Eyes, sounds just like Madison’s lowlife ex-fiancé. He’s behind all this. He knows Madi is petrified of drowning and has this crazy fear of glass bottom boats. He would only suggest it in order to get back at her for canceling their wedding before he could steal her money.” She buried her face in her hands.

Luke’s mouth went bone dry. “Sam kidnapped Madison.”


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More books by Laura Thomas:

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The Lighthouse Baby

The Orphan Beach

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